Defining leadership

November 4, 2015 § Leave a comment

As more and more of my practice develops into working with leaders – in formal or informal leadership roles – I thought I would put together some definitions of leadership which clients have found helpful so far.

I’ve chosen definitions which I hope are useful, and which are also offer a take on the realities of leadership in the early twenty-first century.

There are only four! – five, if you get to the end and find a comment on the difference between management and leadership.

Let’s start with the basics. This first definition is a favourite of mine because it’s comprehensive, and does not restrict the principle of leadership to a chosen few.

“Leadership may be defined as the capacity to influence people, by means of personal attributes and/or behaviours, to achieve a common goal. … It is important to recognise that most people, at some points in their lives, are leaders. Leadership is not just about the qualities of an elite few, and is not always associated with a formal managerial role, although the leadership skills of chief executives and their teams are of fundamental importance for organisations.”

Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, UK

Even shorter – but also here an emphasis on practice, and spelling out that leadership is indivisibly associated with working with others:

Leadership is “taking initiative in relationship”. George Lakey

In other words, not only working with others, but using as a platform the relationship that has already been built. So a leader’s priority is to build trust. This means a leader developing respect for those who might be expected to follow them, and providing opportunities for those ‘followers’ to understand why and how the leader is acting.

So we can take another step:

“Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal.” Kevin Kruse

Here we see three elements of leadership – influencing change, through coordinating (or at least inspiring) others, with a purpose.

And what is that purpose? We could call it the Why of leadership – leadership, but towards what end?

Or to put it another way, we need to draw a distinction between, for example, leadership as demonstrated by Bashar al-Assad and by Malala Yousafzai.

So the fourth quote:

“It 
is 
time 
for 
all 
the 
heroes 
to 
go 
home, 
as 
the 
poet 
William
 Stafford 
wrote. 
It 
is time
 for 
us 
to 
give 
up 
these 
hopes 
and 
expectations
 that
 only
 breed
 dependency
 and passivity, 
and
 that
 do 
not 
give 
us 
solutions 
to 
the 
challenges 
we 
face.
 It 
is
 time
 to 
stop waiting
 for 
someone 
to 
save 
us. 
It 
is 
time 
to 
face 
the 
truth 
of 
our 
situation — that 
we’re all 
in 
this 
together,
 that 
we 
all have 
a 
voice — and 
figure 
out 
how 
to 
mobilize 
the 
hearts and 
minds
 of 
everyone 
in 
our 
workplaces 
and 
communities.”
 Margaret Wheatley

In other words: leaders can no longer expect trust or followership simply because of their seniority. Leaderful behaviour (or leadership if you prefer – I use the terms interchangeably) needs to be encouraged at every level, because the complexity of the majority of work roles require initiative and accountability at all levels of organisations.

So I hope those definitions are interesting and thought-provoking. I will say more about twenty-first century leadership in my next post.

In the meantime, if this reflection on leadership has got you thinking about where does management come in, then here’s my fifth definition:

“It is incumbent on leadership to ensure that the organisation is effective in what it does; that its strategies, and the way in which it gives effect to these, are appropriate and have impact. It is incumbent on management to ensure that the organisation is efficient in what it does; that its internal systems function logically and smoothly. To put it simplistically, it has been said that while leadership ensures that the organisation does the right thing, management’s responsibility is to ensure that things are done right.”

Kaplan, Allan (1994), Leadership and Management, CDRA Community Development Resource Association. The full text is available at http://www.cdra.org.za/uploads/1/1/1/6/111664/leadership_and_management_allan_kaplan1994.pdf.

So we might see management as head down/’desk’ horizon; compared to a leaderful head up/’world’ horizon; or management accepting the status quo whereas leadership aims to challenge the status quo. Again, I’ll be writing more on this aspect of leadership in the future.

Any thoughts/comments? Please post below, I look forward to hearing from you.

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