Leadership Perspectives: Time to Define This Thing

A lot has been said and written about the concept of leadership through the centuries— from the perspective of servant, philosopher, and consultant to CEO.  Now is just as good a time as any to define this mystery word, because it does remain just that to some. So giving form to leadership remains a key act, in order to know how to apply it to our work and lives. To grasp the totality of its meaning provides a good start toward using its tenets.

But there’s a paradox of sorts here.

Like many other concepts, leadership means different things to different people in different situations. People I engage in workplace as well as life or community related conversations, informally survey and those I encounter while conducting seminars on the topic prove that. For this reason I like flushing this variety of perspectives and predicaments out. I'll share a few of my respondent’s definitions, taken from a cross section of demographics. What I did find in these personal renderings is that most perspectives point to leadership as a skill oriented, people, continuous and participatory process.

Question:  Define leadership.


The ability to reach a common goal through the combined efforts of yourself and others.
-----Female, military reserve officer, government writer

It is the trait and principle of knowing who you are and where you're going on a positive level, by taking control and setting an example for others to follow. The benefit of being a leader is self-worth. You begin to fall all the way in love with yourself, to build a foundation for self and afterwards you are able to build a foundation outside of self.
-----Male, father, beautician

An ability to direct, guide, embody a vision, usually in some type of organizational setting.
-----Female, former advertising and insurance executive

The ability to get people to perform a job and have them enjoy it.
-----Male, Fraternity president

The positive way in which a person shares, directs, or takes on and completes a project with a defined objective.
-----Male, program manager, former college quarterback

The ability to make decisions for oneself or for a group; to positively influence the actions of others.
Female, administrative assistant

Influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation, while operating to accomplish the mission and improve the organization.
-----Modified excerpt from US military doctrine

 A mix of inner and outer perspectives showed up in these definitions. The take-away: leadership involves an inward journey for outward action.

Then how do we take these actions to lead?

From two places we do this, self and others. It is important to realize that leadership is a life skill and does not stand alone.  Incorporating the principles of many other everyday skills, leadership is not a separate entity unto itself and coexists with other elements of life. What we abide by in achieving goals for ourselves and others gives way to its holistic nature.

Leadership, as a route to courageously get to where we want to be, is also a perspective and concept in flux. The times call for this work of being in charge, hinged on an internalized grasp of its fullness. Being able to recognize leadership’s value along with the required skills and tools needed, then use them effectively in spite of self-imposed or organizational barriers, creates our measure of task excellence. Relevant, purposeful, and giving.

How do you define leadership?  Make this thing personal.


Image: Photopin (Creative Commons)

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