What Defines Leadership?

When someone is described as a good leader, what comes to mind?

Answering this question in a sentence or two is no easy feat, and undoubtedly, you’ll find different opinions depending on who you ask.

Googling the question “what is the best definition of leadership?” will throw up answers such as:

  • Leading a group of people or an organisation
  • The state or position of being a leader, and;
  • The ability to influence and guide followers.

While these definitions might be correct to some extent, those who have been in leadership positions know that there’s so much more to it than this. In essence, an effective leader adopts a ‘growth mindset’ and continually works on developing leadership skills like communication, promoting diversity and inclusion, providing feedback, coaching and more.

Why leadership can be learned

A true leader is never someone who dominates, micro-manages or controls those in their charge. This is the exact opposite of what leadership is – with its emphasis on developing people, team engagement, and achieving shared goals. While there might be certain leadership qualities good leaders share, all people have the ability to learn leadership skills and put them into practice.

The value of leadership styles

Over time, certain leadership styles have emerged such as ‘authentic leadership’, ‘servant leadership’ and ‘situational leadership’. Leadership styles capture the ways in which we can influence others to action and achieve goals – each with a slightly different philosophy. This demonstrates that there isn’t one right way to lead but different ways that can work for a range of people and personalities.

In fact, the mark of a good leader has been discussed and debated throughout human history.

We can even go back some 2,500 years and take a page out of ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu’s book – “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”

And in the 21st century, Microsoft’s Bill Gates says, “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.”

Chances are, if you’ve cycled through a few different workplaces, you’ve probably been on receiving end of both effective and ineffective leadership. So, thinking about your experiences and the leaders you’ve worked with – what defines good leadership to you?

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