There is no shortage of ways to describe or define leadership. Typing the word leadership into a Google search bar results in over 785 million responses. Of the various definitions, leadership tends to fall into one of three camps:
Leadership-as-influence views leadership as a mechanism to accomplish a goal or create change. Leadership, when thought of in the context of influence, is about intentionally shaping the beliefs, desires, and priorities of others. Individuals who wield significant power and authority or hold a formal position can strategically utilize their influence for goal achievement. This shaping of beliefs, desires, and priorities is not tied to a value. Rather, the influence can be for what we might consider good or bad ends. Influence may take the form of inspiration. Or influence could be rooted in cultivating fear.
Leadership is also defined as a process. In this context, leadership can be thought of as an activity. “Mobilizing” is the process of choice for many who have formally explored leadership as an academic discipline. James MacGregor Burns, a forefather of leadership as a field-of-study initiated this idea of leadership-as-process: “Leadership is the reciprocal process of mobilizing, by persons with certain motives and values…in order to realize goals independently or mutually held by both leaders and followers.”
Ronald Heifetz, of the Harvard Kennedy School and developer of the adaptive leadership framework recognized mobilizing in a leadership context as “motivating, organizing, orienting, and focusing attention.” Others have described leadership as the process of facilitating, guiding, and managing change. Leadership-as-process is not reliant less on position or authority and more on the relationships between leader and follower.
Leadership-as-outcome defines leadership by what occurs following the leadership action. Leadership in this context is dependent on the end result. Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee detail that leadership should build “a sense of community and create a climate that enables people to tap into passion, energy, and a desire to move together in a positive direction.”
Most leadership definitions fall into one of the three camps:
Some leadership definitions, though, try to include all three components. Peter Northouse defined leadership as a “process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal”. In his understanding, leadership is a process in which influencing others is paramount. This influencing is for a specific end—the outcome. In this case leadership actions are designed to achieve a specific outcome—a common goal.
Although these three camps are where the majority of leadership definitions dwell, others have intentionally strayed away from those classifications. Dennis Roberts suggested leadership is simply Conviction in Action. “The reason I propose so simple a notion is to provide a way to start with agreement rather than hair-splitting critique over many words”. Rather than focus energy on the leadership-definition dialogue, Roberts preferred to explore specific assumptions of leadership through the lens of Conviction in Action.
Among these is the idea that leadership is inclusive – Conviction in Action allows for those in positions-of-influence and formal leadership roles as well as those who do not wield formal authority to engage in leadership. Leadership involves inner work – Conviction in Action is predicated on leaders engaging in meaningful self-reflection to uncover their vision and values. And leadership results in action. Conviction in Action is not solely about internal discovery though contemplation, but is action-oriented.
With over 785 million responses, leadership is understood in many diverse and distinct ways.
How do you define leadership—is it by influence, process, or outcomes--or maybe a combination of the three? Or do you define it another way?
During a speaking engagement at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Jonathan Kraft—President of the New England Patriots football team—was discussing where Tom Brady (the famed 199th pick quarterback) would end up if he were drafted today.
Although he’s a top-tiered QB, Kraft suggested that, even today, Brady might not necessarily be a high pick overall. Still, technological advancements in scouting aside, Kraft expressed Tom Brady has something not easily analyzed, but critical to effective leadership--‘the intangibles.'
Although Kraft did not illuminate what he believed the critical intangibles to leadership are, we have some thoughts:
Brady both purposefully pauses and intentionally acts. When he’s off the field, he’s able to find a quiet space (often internally) to recollect, reassess, and reengage. And then he’s able to deliver through methodical on-field play.
These intangibles are what make great leaders!
The Leadership Institute for Development, Education, and Research (LiDER) is a start-up 501(c)(3) non-profit leadership institute that will provide training, resources, and mentoring to students, women, and entrepreneurs in Nicaragua..
We envision a world where individuals are empowered to effectively lead with compassion and resonance. We believe this is possible through an intentional (re)framing of leadership.
Presently, leadership is globally (mis)understood as the power one wields, the position one holds, or the prestige one acquires. This misconception all-too-easily enables leaders who are focused on personal reward--what’s in in for me?
LiDER challenges these false assumptions and empowers people to ask different questions.
Leadership is about the authentic person:
Leadership is about the purpose with which one leads:
By asking these questions, a new understanding of leadership can emerge--one where individuals are empowered to effectively lead with compassion and resonance.
In order to cultivate effective leadership, LiDER offers a series of programs through a two-tier structure: A Community and Academic Center.
More information on The Leadership Institute for Development, Education, and Research can be found at our website: www.TheLiDER.org.
LiDER is a start-up non-profit leadership institute that provides training, resources, and mentorship to students, women, and entrepreneurs.
the LiDER Blog provides updates, insights, and reflections on leadership and our programs.