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What is Leadership?What an obvious question! Just what is leadership? But it is a necessary one. If you want to be a leader you first have to have your own favourite answer, or definition of leadership.Favourite answer? Is there not one standard definition of leadership? No single characteristic of leadership that is so obvious that we all recognise it?Sorry but, no, there is not. Indeed, there are many different leadership definitions, ranging from the dictionaries, through the text books to those dreamt up by the practitioners.As you will see, each attempt to define leadership emphasises different aspects of leadership, or different leadership characterisitics, and reflects the originator's leadership values.Some leadership definitionsUnfortunately, most dictionaries dont really help us. For example, one actually defines leadership as:The ability to lead.Thankfully, Wikipedia is more helpful. It says that leadership is:A process of social influence in which one personcan enlist the aid and support of others in theaccomplishment of a common task.Another answer to what is leadership, by Akhil Shahani, puts it more simply as:The process by which a person influences othersto accomplish an objective.
Elements of LeadershipI find these interesting because they contain two essential elements of what is leadership; the people elements and the task elements (related to objectives). Every successful leader has to work with both of these.But I am concerned that these leadership definitions involve a common task or objective. These words suggest that the end goal is already provided, clearly defined or laid down. Leadership doesnt always have the luxury of such clearly stated purposes. Sometimes leaders and followers evolve these together, with the leader consulting others to gather opinion and win support.I prefer to think of leaders as providing direction (that is, a dream of an ideal future or a vision) which may then be crystallised into a "common goal" and objectives, perhaps involving some of the followers in doing so. But here we are touching on the idea ofleadership style. And thats for another part of the website.So, lets have another go at defining what is leadership.More definitionsTurning now to the text books, Peter Drucker, in The Leader of the Future, says:The only definition of a leader issomeone who has followers.While Peter Maxwell, in 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, says:Leadership is influence - nothing more, nothing less.My own leadership definition, based upon my own experiences, studies and observation as a practitioner, is that:A leader is someone whose direction and approachother people are willing to follow.And therefore, leadership is:Influencing others to follow a given direction.Implications for LeadersThis definition of what is leadership carries a number of implications. First, within an organisation leaders are not always managers or supervisors, formally appointed by others.In fact, this is one way of distinguishing between managers and leaders; managers are appointed from above (ie, by more senior management), leaders are appointed (or anointed?) from below (ie, by their followers).To really grasp what this means, think of terms like Ring leader to describe someone who leads a group of people into trouble. Ring leaders are not appointed from above but from within the group. We also talk of some people as being a Bad influence. We are concerned about people who are a bad influence because, once again, we recognise their ability to lead others into trouble.Ring leaders and bad influences are clearly not appointed, but they are most definitely followed.Secondly, leaders dont even need to have responsibility for a team. Sometimes people are recognised as having leadership characteristics or qualities by others, who then simply choose to follow what the person says or does. Good examples are people who lead religious (such as Jesus Christ), revolutionary (such as Napoleon) or civil rights (such as Martin Luther King) movements.Another implication is that being a manager does not make you a leader. A manager may have excellent skills in organising work, creating policies and procedures, following disciplines and delivering services. But if others dont willingly follow their lead, they are not a leader.So, leaders must offer others (their followers) a cause, direction or objective that is interesting, attractive or satisfying enough for others to wish to follow.Finally, is a leader created, or is leadership defined, by giving someone a job title? No, its defined by what a person is (their qualities), what they have learned (their skills) and what they do (their actions). Others recognise these attributes and choose, willingly, to follow.So, to answer the question "what is leadership?", leadership is:Influencing others to follow a given direction.And it can be thrilling, challenging, scary, satisfying, humbling andveryrewarding!
Leadership versus Management
Is there a Difference betweenLeading and Managing?My focus on Learn-to-be-a-Leader.com is on leadership versus management. But are these just different words that really mean the same thing? Some organisations seem to use the term leader as a more fashionable term for a manager. But there is a difference between the two roles, although please remember that many people combine both in one job.I believe:A leader is someone whose direction and approachother people are willing to follow.And therefore, I see leadership as:Influencing others to follow a given direction.The body that was set up in the UK to define national standards for managers (the Management Charter Initiative, or MCI) defined the role of the manager as:Helping the organisation to achieve its objectivesand to continually improve its performanceAlthough the MCI no longer exists, its successor, theManagement Standards Centre, has continued to use this definition.Same difference?At the core of this definition management is about purpose, structure, disciplines, processes, delivery and the mechanics of an organisation. We can contrast this with leadership, which is about vision, direction, influence, communication and the aspirations of people.Ancient Romans and Anglo SaxonsOne way of thinking about leadership versus management is to consider the differences between the Ancient Romans and the Anglo Saxons. The Ancient Romans were structured, well organised and disciplined. They were role models for management. The Anglo Saxons operated as small tribes, led by charismatic chieftains who ruled by the will of their people and based on loyalties to a territorial ideal. Their style exemplified leadership.Authority and powerManagers get their authority and power from being appointed to a position by more senior managers. Leaders get their authority and power from being able to influence and persuade others to follow them.This is why I often refer to leaders being recognised as such by their followers. In fact, they cant be leaders until they have people to follow them!This point about authority does raise the possibility of conflict between those appointed (ie, managers) and those anointed (ie, leaders). But thats a very different meaning of management versus leadership!Short, medium or long term viewAnother difference between leadership versus management is that managers, as disciplined organisers and deliverers, often have to focus on the short to medium term whereas leaders, who provide vision and direction, are primarily concerned with the medium to long term.Perhaps I am oversimplifying this distinction but it might help us to understand that leadership versus management are two different, if related, functions.Things right or right thing?You might have heard the saying thatManagers do things right, leaders do the right thing.To put it another way, managers concentrate on tasks, rules and compliance (that is, doing things right) while leaders concentrate on people, principles and purpose (that is, doing the right thing).Separate and distinct, or related?These various distinctions between leadership versus management might come across as suggesting that leadership and management are completely separate. In reality, actual people don't do either one or the other. They probably do some of each.Strictly speaking its not leadership versus management. The two are not separate or bipolar. They overlap. You can think of them as on a continuum with many steps between the extremes.Think of the distinctions as the two ends of a slider control that can be adjusted to emphasise one function or the other. Each leader / manager will adopt an approach somewhere between the two extremes, reflecting their skills and preferred management orleadership style.Skills and qualitiesJust as the role and functions of leaders and managers are different, so are the skills and qualities that people need to be good at each. I will examine theskillsandqualitiesof a leader in detail elsewhere but just think what skills (things people can do) and qualities (things that people are) a good manager will need.They might include: Understandinggoals and objectives Well organised Able to prioritise and plan Good communicator Works with groups and individuals Decision maker Works to systems, processes and procedures Monitors, reviews and improves.And so on.Looking at this list, you might put some (but probably not all) of these items on a similar list for leaders. The two roles have their distinctive features but do overlap!In practice many people are good managers as well as good leaders. But it is also true that many good managers are not so good at leadership and many good leaders are not so good at management!An example from the televisionAs I was writing this page, my family were watching a programme on the television. It featured a businessman setting up a new hotel.His vision was for a different style of hotel, totally flexible to demanding and wealthy guests who expected all services at