We talk about leaders and leadership nearly every day in the business world, but have you ever tried to actually define leadership? It can be much harder than you may think, but taking the time to define leadership and what makes a leader is crucial to building a cohesive culture and developing future leaders.
Many people struggled or had to pause to think because it’s a word we use so frequently without really defining. We take the concept of leadership for granted and assume that we all know what leadership is and what a great leader looks like. Once the CEOs found their definitions, their answers ran the gamut.
With new leaders come new approaches to leadership, which impacts overall culture and employees. Who then is a leader? There have been countless people through history that led people but were inhumane and destructive. Does that still make them leaders? In my mind, a leader is someone who does more than just lead people.
A leader is someone who can see how things can be improved and who rallies people to move toward that better vision. Leaders can work toward making their vision a reality while putting people first. Just being able to motivate people isn’t enough — leaders need to be empathetic and connect with people to be successful.
Future leaders will actually be more diverse, which brings a variety of perspectives. Of course, other people could disagree with my definition. The most important thing is that organizations are united internally with their definition of leadership. With so many definitions of leadership, each organization needs to have a clear definition of what leadership is and what it means to be a leader within their company.
A shared leadership definition within the organization can keep everyone on the same page and help prepare certain types of leaders for the future. Organizations also need to have leadership filters so that the right people end up in positions to lead. If the shared leadership definition of an organization revolves around humble leaders acting as servants, that fuels the leadership filters and helps ensure leaders who fit those characteristics are developed and promoted.
One example of this comes from IBM, which created an intensive leadership program designed to attract, develop and promote the best candidates for leadership roles. IBM uses technology to identify the skills and mindsets required of successful leaders and then screens potential candidates for those characteristics to make informed hiring decisions.
Creating a cohesive definition within the organization is a crucial step for developing future leaders and maintaining unity and a strong leadership focus. Jacob Morgan is an author, TED and keynote speaker, futurist and creator of To comment, email editor@clomedia. com..
Say the word “leader” and most people think of a domineering, take-charge charismatic individual. We often think of icons from history like General Patton or President Lincoln. But leadership isn’t an adjective. We don’t need extroverted charismatic traits to practice leadership. And those with charisma don’t automatically lead. This is the big one.
A new Army Captain is put in the command of 200 soldiers. He never leaves his room, or utters a word to the men and women in his unit. Perhaps routine orders are given through a subordinate. By default his troops have to “follow” orders. Is the Captain really a leader? Commander yes, leader no.
Every spring you have a vision for a garden, and with lots of work carrots and tomatoes become a reality. Are you a leader? No, you’re a gardener. Bennis’ definition seems to have forgotten “others.” This definition includes “others” and empowerment is a good thing. But to what end? I’ve seen many empowered “others” in my life, from rioting hooligans to Google workers who were so misaligned with the rest of the company they found themselves unemployed.
Most of my work is in the area of employee engagement, and engaged employees give discretionary effort. I guess technically a leader could use social influence to just organize the efforts of others, but I think leadership is about maximizing the effort. It’s not, “Hey everyone, let’s line up and get to the top of that hill someday.” But rather, “Hey, see that hill? Let’s see how fast we can get to the top…and I’ll buy the first round for anyone who can beat me up there.” So what do you think of my definition of leadership? Social influence, others, maximize effort, towards a goal.
and author of the bestselling book, .