What is Leadership?

Recent surveys suggest that between 45 and 70% of people in leadership positions within Australian companies have not received adequate leadership training. Companies will invest significant dollars into skills training but often require staff with leadership potential and aspirations to get training at their own time and expense. And they wonder why they have trouble retaining skilled staff and building a healthy company culture. Many companies still do not understand ‘what is leadership?’

What is Leadership?

A funny cartoon about leadership

Firstly a few things that Leadership is NOT:

  1. Leadership is NOT management or administration.

Now, while leaders cannot avoid being involved in some aspects of management and administration, there is a huge difference between a real leader and a manager, and even greater difference between a leader and an administrator. An organisation where every ‘i’ is dotted and every ‘t’ is crossed may look great but is rarely one that is kicking any goals. Organsiations that are growing and entrepreneurial will always have administrators who are a bit stressed and uncomfortable; managers will always feel like they are never on top of things. If they ever catch up with all their work, policies and systems it means that somewhere in the recent past leaders have stopped leading.

  1. Leadership is NOT to be confused with having a high level of skill at something 

So often we see it where the most skilled worker is promoted to be team leader with the assumption that because they are skilled at the task they will be the best leader. This is totally flawed thinking because it requires a totally different skill set to be a leader. A skilled practitioner is often a self sufficient and competitive loner, and may not enjoy relating to people. Now if such a person is appointed as team leader they may expect that everyone should just do what they do and all will be well. They often are unprepared for the level of effort and skill required to build and maintain working relationships. They often do not have the ability to inspire, to resolve conflict, to appreciate individual strengths, to bring out the best in people, to cast clear vision (even if it is simply helping the team to be inspired by how it is they fit into the larger picture of their organisation).

  1. Leadership has NOT much to do with a position ot title

You can be appointed to a position of leadership and be given a title and a name plate on your desk, or even an office with your title printed on the door, but that does not make you a leader. Some people work very hard to gain a certain position within an organisation and yet ‘positional power’ is the lowest form of leadership. When you have a position people follow you because they have to in order to keep their job or because they are committed to the organisation, but that does not make you a leader.

 So, what is Leadership?

Some Definitions:

            “Leadership is the discipline of deliberately exerting special influence within a     group to move it towards goals of beneficial permanence that fulfil the group’s real needs.” – John Haggai[1]

“Leadership is influence, no more, no less.” – John Maxwell[2]

Whereas Haggai tries to qualify his definition of leadership morally (I.e. only good leaders are leaders), Maxwell actually strips ‘leadership’ back to its raw essence. Leadership is all about one person’s ability to influence others. There are many styles and methods of leadership, just as there are many personality types and historical examples of good or bad leaders…but at the core leadership is defined and measured by influence.

7 Key points that help positively define ‘What is Leadership’:

  • Leaders can see a better vision of the future not only for themselves but also for their company, group, organisation or nation.
  • Leaders can articulate that vision clearly in terms that inspire others to also see and want to participate
  • Leaders, almost by definition, are always ahead of the game, seeing what is next. They get frustrated when things settle down and initiative is thwarted.
  • Leaders are decision makers. They grasp the opportunities that will lead to growth in line with clear strategy and goals that enable their organisation to fulfil long term vision.
  • Leaders’ decisions will inevitably bring change and a level of disorder. They are always working to create momentum, moving forward and never wanting to settle down. They know that standing still is really going backwards!
  • Leaders value and empower people around them to find their place and contribute their unique skills as part of a dynamic team
  • Leaders see and cast vision so successfully that everyone in their organisation catches it, is motivated by it and is inspired to run with it.
In conclusion, to answer the question: ‘What is Leadership?’ I believe Leadership is all about developing the skills to exert the kind of influence that moves people to change.
I’d love to know your answer to the question: ‘What is Leadership?’

[1] Haggai, John, Leadership (Word Publishing 1986) p. 10

[2] Maxwell, John C., Developing the Leader Within You, (Nelson, 1992), p. 1

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