What is Leadership?

Living in this time where organizations, schools and society suggests that “everyone is a leader” we are left to wonder what leadership and being a leader really is. I’m not intending to be down on the idea that we all have leadership potential and that at some level we all lead something… at minimum I would hoe that we are all leading our own lives… however I am gravely concerned that we are diluting the very essence of leadership.

I believe that leadership is simply defined as one thing and requires one other “thing”.

First, I subscribe to Daniel Goleman’s definition of leadership. Goleman is the author of “Emotional Intelligence” as well as other books about emotional and social intelligence. He’s often credited as the father of “EI” and has sold thousands of books on the topic.

Goleman poignantly defines leadership as the ability to influence.

When one pauses to consider that leadership is truly the ability to influence others, this definition does cut to the quick quite nicely! As leaders we influence from many intentions and for many reasons. We might influence the thought or action of others towards an end-game that aligns with an agenda for example.

The notion of influencing others leads us to what I think leaders need: followers. A leader is a soloist, a free agent and no longer a leader if not for the followers. Personally, I have very poor follow-ship skills. Some people are just not cut out to follow. Keep in mind, leaders and followers are not opposites nor are they end points on a continuum either. Leaders can be followers and vice-versa depending on the situation. Followers can also go rogue and neither follow nor lead just as leaders can as well.

It is within the relationship we influence one another and become the leader or follower. We may simply submit to another’s influence because we trust and know them to take us where we desire to go. We might resist or fight the influence for a period of time until we gain enough confidence in a leader’s influence over our own free will and we might never succumb to the role of follower in certain situations.

The variations are endless and are likely impossible to measure or define in any helpful or complete way. What’s important is that we become more self-aware of both how we lead (influence) and follow (become influenced). Only then do we truly embrace what it means to be a leader.

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