Leadership, What Is It, Really?

“Leadership is not about a title or a designation.  It is about impact, influence and inspiration.”

Robin S Sharma

Leadership.  Among many other tag lines and words, leadership seems to be thrown around like grass seed these days.  I used to think that I was being original utilizing “Leadership” as a mantra, because I’ve always placed value on someone’s ability to lead, rather than their ability to be a boss.  But now, it seems I see it and hear it everywhere, in every application you can think of.  It drives me crazy because I fear that it’s losing its meaning and uniqueness.

Here’s a thought.  I bet if you were to survey 100 people about the definition of leadership, I bet you’d get 100 different definitions. We’ll get to my definition of leadership, but first let’s see how Google defines leadership:

lead·er·ship – /ˈlēdərˌSHip/ – noun

the action of leading a group of people or an organization. the state or position of being a leader.

“different styles of leadership” “the leadership of the party”

Well, that’s pretty vanilla, isn’t it? Yawn!

I did read an article in the “Harvard Business Review”, and I found it insightful. What I took away from it was that Leadership isn’t just a noun, title, or position.  It is a feeling, an essence.  And it is and has to be, different for each person. We are, after all, individuals with our own perceptions and life influences, so it’s only natural that our version of leadership would have bits of us in it. As long as we maintain a core set of values, of course!

To me, leadership is also a state of mind.  It’s also not simple, because just like the Harvard article I referred to earlier, you can’t simply label leadership as any one thing.  You can go to school to learn how to become a business manager, or field supervisor, or even store manager, but they don’t teach you how to become a leader who will inspire others or emulate leadership qualities.  There are endless influences, circumstances, experiences, values, morals and ethics that have to go into being a leader.

What does a leader look like, anyway?

Good question.

Think of two leaders, famous or not, whom you admire and respect.

What do they do that is so different? What traits do they have that help them excel at a high level? Who do you picture?  Can you put yourself there?  Why not you?

It could be…If not you, then who?

What if I said that a leader doesn’t even have to have a title, position or role that puts them directly over others? They simply have to have a set of great core values & qualities, and be willing and able to put them into action.

These aren’t surprising qualities either.  Leadership qualities come from those famous “golden rules” our parents always tried to teach us as kids.  Always tell the truth and be respectful to others. Have good ethics, both professionally and socially.  Make good decisions.  Empathize with others.  Have a good moral compass.  Have some humility but keep a strong constitution (strong principles).

Leadership is knowing when to be strong when strong is needed.  Leadership is also knowing when to say “I’m sorry” when you need to own a mistake.  Leadership is being principled in what you do and say and sticking to your word even when others don’t.

Leadership is also a state of mind.  A state of mind to do the right thing, at the moment it’s time to do that right thing, and to do that at every single juncture.  Leadership is doing the hard stuff even when you want nothing more than to NOT have to do it.

Know what leadership isn’t?  Leadership is NOT “lip service”.

Lip Service – An avowal of advocacy, adherence, or allegiance expressed in words but not backed by deeds.

Yah, you know that guy.  Keeps promising that he’s going to fix that HR snafu, but never does.  Every week is a new excuse and every week you have to continue on dealing with a bad situation because your boss can’t go to HR and put in the work to fix it.  Yep, Mr “all show & no go” would be the opposite of leader.

This is because leadership is also a verb.  Leadership is about action, or taking action, which you cannot do without actually doing something.

Remember my quote at the beginning of the article?  Leadership is many things, but it is also made up of 3 very important ingredients.  They are impact, influence and inspiration.

 Impact

Impact is a strong effect one person has on another, either good or bad.  At any given time, you can impact or be impacted by others, whether unintentionally or intentionally. This is generally through deeds and actions that elicit a strong response from others, thus making an “impact” upon them.

“On his way home, Jimmy saw a little boy stop, take off his coat and give it to a homeless child sitting on the curb. Jimmy couldn’t get that moment of pure kindness out of his head and he was so moved by it that he later started a charity to provide winter clothing to the homeless.”

Influence

Influence is the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone.  This is similar to impact, except that influence is more of a day-to-day effect you have on someone such as an older brother always doing his homework and completing his assignments on time, therefore making his little brother want to do the same.

 Inspiration

This is the process of mentally stimulating someone that gives them a newfound clarity and opens their mind to new and creative ideas.

Inspiring people awakens them to new possibilities and removes borders and limitations that hamper their ability to grow and expand their imagination and capabilities.  Inspiration invoked without intention can be very powerful and can have a major, positive effect on important life outcomes.

Leadership is also one last thing.

Initiative

Leadership is initiative or getting involved.  Taking initiative to do whatever the situation is that calls for engagement.  This can be from picking up a piece of paper on the floor, to helping deescalate an argument, or taking time to help a coworker carry heavy boxes into the office.

I think when people don’t stand by the sideline and they get engaged, do what needs to be done, help others, take the lead because it needs to be taken and make a commitment to be their best, they are a wonderful phenomenon that can move mountains, if even they do it one grain of sand at a time.

I also think this is very empowering to that person, once they realize that they can be, and are someone that has leadership characteristics within them, and they can take the lead and show others by example.

These days with as much as doom and gloom that is force fed to us on a daily basis, we are all in need of leaders.  They are out there, everywhere.  I know I’ll be on the lookout for them, and when the opportunity arises, I’ll do my part to bring out the leader in them.

Will you?

A Leader takes people where the want to go.  A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.”

        Rosalynn Carter