The Definition of Leadership

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Defining leadership is a fundamental skill in business. However, most people offer a vague definition of leadership.

Some may say leadership is motivating a group of people to act towards a common goal. Others may say they help others do the right things like setting direction, creating a vision and inspiring others.

With these definitions, would you be able to walk into a room and identify leadership? 

Some people are too quick to point out a vague definition of leadership, while others are quick to describe actions of good leaders. Describing effective actions good leaders take does not specifically define leadership either.

That’s an attempt at trying to describe good leadership, not the definition of leadership. 

Let’s review common leadership definitions.

Common Leadership Definitions:

Merriam-Webster defines leadership as (1) the office or position of a leader (2) capacity to lead and 3 (the act of leading).

Other common definitions of leadership include:

  • Someone who has followers
  • Leadership is when someone sets a vision or achieves goals for a company
  • Someone who empathizes with others
  • The art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it. (Dwight D. Eisenhower)

There are millions of definitions of leadership. In fact, Jacob Morgan interviewed over 140 people for his book and did not receive one duplicate definition of leadership.

Why Are There So Many Different Definitions of Leadership?

When we all try to define the word leadership, we tend to describe what we think a good leader is. But the truth is that not all leadership is “good leadership.” We have to define leadership in a way that depicts good and poor leadership.

Before defining what good and bad leadership is, we need to understand what the term leadership is.

Definition of Leadership

I’ve studied thousands of leadership books, and definitions, and of all of a wide variety of definitions, this is the one that I find to be the most accurate definition of leadership:

A leader declares a future others emotionally commit to.

This definition can be broken down into two parts.

  1. Someone who declares a future

This part of the definition breaks down the vision part most people try to explain. The word “someone” could be a leader, it could be a leadership team, and it could be an organization.

  1. Others emotionally commit to

This part of the definition adds an element that we believe lies in the future of leadership. Leadership is not when people do what you say when they aren’t emotionally committed. That is compliance. Leadership is the art of creating a future that others emotionally commit to. 

Definition of a Leader

A leader is someone who creates a future others emotionally commit to. 

These two definitions can be used interchangeably. The distinction lies in whether there is one leader or a team of leaders.

By using this definition, we cover the issue of defining leadership in a way that covers “good leadership” and “poor leadership.”

Our Thought Process Behind Defining Leadership

Defining leadership is the foundation of where we begin in all of our work with leadership teams. The conversation around defining leadership is an important element in uniting the leadership team. They unite around a common term that can mean something so different to each person in that room. 

A seemingly simple conversation around the definition of leadership is important as they dive deeper into the importance of language. As leaders develop, they come to understand the vast range of words that have different meanings to different people. Effective leaders are skilled in curiously seeking the meaning behind certain spoken words so that they can better understand situations.

The conversation around defining leadership is an important element in uniting the leadership team around a common term that can mean something so different to each person in that room. By having the conversation around defining leadership, leadership teams can begin to open other conversations that dive deeper into the expansive field of leadership and find more opportunities to develop together as a team. Here, we can begin asking questions like, what is the purpose of a leadership team? What is our vision for the future of this team? What can we be the best in the world at? And the conversations continue from there.

Defining leadership is the start of many, many conversations high-performance teams and leaders have.

What’s Your Favorite Definition of Leadership?

Favorite Definition of Leadership

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