What is Leadership?

Kevin Eikenberry

By: Kevin Eikenberry - Chief Potential Officer, The Kevin Eikenberry Group

Category: Leadership

Your definition of leadership has a significant impact on how you lead. Leadership expert Kevin Eikenberry suggests spending some time thinking about the role and your beliefs - and offers a few suggestions about what leadership is - and isn't.

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This may seem like a fairly simple question. As an author who has written, trained and spoken on leadership for a number of years, I know there are nearly as many definitions as there are people to define it.

If you are, or aspire to be, a leader your personal answer to this question is important; it will, knowingly or not, inform and guide many of the decisions you make and the tasks that you perform while leading.

My goal in this article is to share some things that leadership is, and some things that it is not. I hope my insights will cause you to think and - whether you agree or not - to use these ideas to help you form a clearer definition of what leadership is.

What Leadership Is

Complex. In visiting with an experienced aerospace engineer (a.k.a. a rocket scientist), I asked him which was more complex - rocket science or leadership. His response was swift and simple. "Leadership is much more complex. In my world we can come up with the right answer. We know the equations and formulas. If we put the right numbers into them, and do the right things, we will get guaranteed results. But as a leader you are dealing with people - and people are inherently more complex. And the issues, while perhaps not as dramatic as sending a rocket into orbit, are far more dynamic and contain tremendous amounts of gray area." I couldn`t have said it better. Leadership isn`t easy or simple. And, like rocket science, it is something that requires lots of study and practice to become skilled.

Action. Leadership is often considered a thing, i.e. "She is the leader." From a dictionary perspective leadership is a noun, but it also is a verb. Leadership is not really something to have or possess; it is something to do. When you think about leadership, think actions; think behaviors. It is with better actions and behavior that you will gain better results.

Responsibility. If you are placed in or accept a formal (or informal) role of leadership, you have taken on a responsibility. It is easy to think about that if you are President, a C.E.O. or a business owner. The fact is that every leadership action carries responsibility - no matter your "title" or job description. People are looking to you. If you are leading, people are following you. You have a responsibility therefore for more than yourself and your own results.

Opportunity. As a leader you have an opportunity to make a difference: for Customers, for the organization, for those you lead, for the world at large. When you exhibit the behaviors of leadership you are actively trying to create new results that will make a difference in the world. Few things hold greater opportunity than this.

What Leadership Isn`t

Management. The skills of management are focused on things, processes and procedures. The skills of leadership focus on people, vision and development. Both are valuable skill sets and in many cases we need to exhibit both, but great leaders aren`t necessarily great managers and vice versa.

A title or position. You are a leader when people follow you. That action of others isn`t guaranteed by a job title, the color of your desk or the size of your office. A title that proclaims you a leader doesn`t make you a leader any more than calling a lion a zebra creates black stripes.

A power grab. Others giving you power as a leader is different than people who want power. True leadership comes from your relentless focus on serving others, not wanting to be powerful. Leaders inherently have a great deal of influence, and therefore a certain amount of power, but that isn`t a true leaders focus.

A gift from birth. Leadership skills aren`t doled out in the genetics of some while others are left wanting. Everyone is given a unique bundle of DNA that can allow some to become highly effective, even remarkable, leaders. Do some people have innate strengths that help them as leaders? Of course, but so do you - even if they are different strengths. None of that matters though if you don`t do the things to use those strengths and do the things to improve in areas that are harder for you. Few things are sadder than unfulfilled potential. Leadership success isn`t nearly as much about genetics as it is learning and improvement.

This isn`t a complete list in either case - creating some sort of compendium wasn`t my goal. My goal, as stated earlier, was to give you food for thought. I`ve set the table, now I hope you sit down and eat at this table of ideas to help you build your own definition of leadership.

Potential Pointer: Your definition of leadership will have a huge impact on how you behave and perform as a leader. Time spent thinking about the role and your beliefs about it will have a drastic influence on the results you see as a leader. Because of this, time spent thinking about and answering the question, "What is leadership?" is time well spent.

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