Welcome to the first installment of “Ask The Leadership Expert” on GovLoop. I am pleased to contribute to the GovLoop community!
Leadership is a hot topic. A Google search on “leadership” yields around 150 million hits. On Amazon.com, a search of “leadership” under book titles produces around 27,000 results, and a keyword search of “leadership” produces a total of over 350,000 results.
Some folks, however, don’t do a very good job of defining what they really mean by leadership when they talk about the subject. They’ll often use leadership as a synonym for management, vision, initiative, fortitude, integrity, or chutzpah. Indeed, there are more definitions of leadership than there are stars in the sky. Here are some examples:
— Leadership is the ability to step outside the culture to start evolutionary change processes that are more adaptive. Edgar Schein
— Leadership is a function of knowing yourself, having a vision that is well communicated, building trust among colleagues, and taking effective action to realize your own leadership potential. Warren Bennis
— A leader is the person in a group who directs and coordinates task-oriented group activities. Fred Fiedler
While these are all fine pronouncements about leaders and leadership, none of these descriptions includes a word that I think is imperative for a shining definition of leadership. That word is influence.
For a simple definition of leadership, I like the one offered by leadership guru John Maxwell: Leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less. If I’m looking for a more academic definition of leadership, I’ll usually cite the definition from Peter G. Northouse: Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal. According to Professor Northouse, leadership has four key components: (1) leadership is a process, (2) leadership involves influence, (3) leadership occurs within a group context, and (4) leadership involves goal attainment.
In both the simple and academic definitions of leadership, the key word is influence. Anyone can be a leader by using influence to move others toward achievement of a goal or set of goals. You do not need to have a formal management position in an organization to be considered a leader. And in my humble opinion, simply because you hold a formal management position in an organization doesn’t mean you’re a leader. Managers have employees; leaders have followers.
So, how do you define leadership?