What Leadership Is

When you hear leadership, what first comes to mind? Do you first think of leadership as a position, a title, a role, a skill, a personality, an inherited trait, a responsibility, an office, an art or a behaviour? 

Let’s consider some definitions of leadership:

The New Oxford Dictionary of English defines leadership as: ‘the action of leading a group of people or an organization’; ‘the state or position of being a leader’ (NODE, 2001).

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines leadership as ‘the office or position of a leader, the capacity to lead, and the act or instance of leading’ (Merriam-Webster, 2007).

According to Dwight D Eisenhower (1988) “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”

Bass (1990, p.19) defines leadership as ‘an interaction between two or more members of a group that often involves a structuring or restructuring of the situation and the perceptions and expectations of members’.

Gardner (1990, p.1) defines leadership as ‘the process of persuasion or example by which an individual (or leadership team) induces a group to pursue objectives held by the leader and his or her followers’.

Basically, leadership is about leading; leading a group of people or an organization/ministry/nation or becoming a leader – a pacesetter, a chief, principal, first, best, most important, or most successful at/in something. 

For instance, a person may be considered as a leader for being a political leader, a religious leader, a business leader, a leader of a small group of people, a family head, a school leader, etc. Or, a person may be considered as a leader for coming in advance of others or, going with or before others to show the way or, being first/most successful in something like becoming a leading manufacturer of something.


Leadership is simply having a destination/goal in mind or a clear vision of where you want to get to or want something or a group of people to get to, knowing how to get there and having a plan on how to get there, communicating how to get there and taking the necessary actions to get there while influencing, motivating, directing and guiding the actions of others to get there. 


·    having a destination/goal in mind or 

   a clear vision of where you want to get to or want something to get to.

·    knowing how to get to that destination or achieve the vision/goal.

·    putting that knowledge into a plan or strategy to follow – with others.

·    communicating that plan.

·    taking necessary actions according to the plan to get to your destination or achieve the vision/goal.

·    influencing, motivating, directing and guiding others actions to get to the destination or to achieve the vision/goal.

It’s true that being a leader can mean different things to different people, in different situations. But we can summarize leadership, as John C. Maxwell puts it, as “knowing the way, going the way and showing the way”.

·      “Knowing the way” means having a particular destination in mind – a clear vision of where one wants to be or wants an organization/ministry/nation/team to be.

·      “Going the way” means going beyond just having a vision or knowing where you want to get to, or knowing where you an organization/ministry/nation/team to get to, to actually living out the vision and achieving it. You can’t expect people to follow your steps without you even taking steps.

·      “Showing the way” means you are ensuring or helping others to follow your lead or achieve the same in their own lives. A true leader doesn’t start running full speed ahead and telling people to keep up. A good lead builds a team, leads the team, cares about the team, trains the team, communicates with the team, supports the team and ensures the success or wellbeing of the team and every member of the team. 

“A leader defines what the future should look like and aligns people with that vision and inspires them to make it happen, despite the obstacles.”  – John Kotter.

When a person creates an inspiring vision of the future, inspires and influences people to engage with that vision, manages the delivery of the vision, coaches and builds a team so that it is more effective in achieving the vision, that person is considered a good leader.

Leadership is about translating vision into reality. While leaders set the direction or create the vision, they must use communication skills to get others to think like the leader or see what the leader is seeing or envisioning, and use managerial skills to motivate, direct and guide others to the intended destination.

·      A leader knows what must be done and does not force people to do what he/she wants to get done. But one who rather inspires, encourages and positively influences others to do what he/she wants them to do. 

·      A leader is one who maximizes the efforts of others towards the achievement of a vision through social influence, not force or abuse of power.