What is Leadership? (And why you shouldn't care)

What is one of the most searched terms on Google, in relation to leadership? Well, that's quite easy to find out and the answer is "What is leadership?" On one hand, it is great that people want to know what leadership is and learn something about it; on the other hand they maybe wasting their time. 

Leadership is big business. Really big business. In 2015 over $14bn was spent developing leaders in the US alone. In this context you can appreciate that it is very much in the interest of the providers of leadership books and development, that you are persuaded to take up a specific view of leadership - preferably theirs! Pin your colours to their particular mast and they can sell you a whole range of 'stuff' related to that view of leadership. Their niche becomes your leadership base-camp and they are keen you stay there. 


Don't get me wrong, I'm all for broadening the debate. And I really admire adult learners -people who choose to continue exploring and developing. However, there is a danger that the debate has got way too broad and not always for the right reasons. Should you be an "Authentic leader", "Hero leader", "Quiet leader", "Brave leader", "Servant leader" or indeed any of the other titles you will have seen, if you have ever visited Amazon to get some inspiration on the topic. 

It is all way too confusing and rather than helping it just becomes unclear and leads to lots of people asking Google, "What is leadership?" Indeed, the cynic might suggest that this lack of clarity provides fertile ground for the next book or leadership development company to proclaim that is has found the Golden Fleece of leadership. 

Own it

The good news for you is that nobody - not Churchill, Gandhi, Mandela or Jobs - owns the definition of leadership. Indeed those superstars of leadership were often only sharing their own insights into leadership as they saw it. That last point is really important for you to realise. Every time you see a Tweet or Facebook page with a leadership related quote on it, just remember that is not necessarily advice for how you should lead, rather it is an insight into how that particular person saw leadership. Remember that! 

You are completely free to design your own version.You can't be wrong. Like a bespoke shirt, your own view of leadership (informed of course by some of the books we've discussed!) will fit you best. Rather than being led by the nose to blindly accept someone else's definition of leadership, lead yourself by creating your own. Whilst this will not necessarily be a quick process and it is probably something that as you become more experienced as a leader, you will change and edit over time, starting the process early and revisiting it often are key traits of effective leaders. 

Leadership On Purpose

The easiest way to start the process of carving your own leadership definition, whether you are new to leadership or an old hand, is to get really clear what you see as your purpose as a leader. You can start by exploring these three questions that will help you to reflect on your leadership purpose which in turn will help you define your own definition of leadership:

  1. Why did you want to become a leader?
  2. Why do you lead now? 
  3. What do you want your leadership legacy to be? 

I would strongly urge you to spend some time doing this exercise over the next few days and weeks. It will help you to become clearer about how you see yourself as a leader and allow you to begin to develop your own brand of leadership. Best of luck. 

Dr Glenn P Wallis

Performance Edge Partners Ltd help organisations embed change through developing great leaders. If you are interested in hearing more then please contact us here

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John Lewis
Little Hearts Matter