What is Leadership?

“Control is not leadership; management is not leadership; leadership is leadership.”

–Dee Hock | Founder and CEO Emeritus, Visa

For the better part of a month and a half, I have been discussing what leaders do, but now I feel it is important to discuss what a leader is – what leadership is.  Without the basic understanding of what leadership is, it is impossible to grow as a leader, to know what good leadership does, and, really, to know what good leadership is.

I feel we should first start with what leadership is not.  Leadership is not the ability to control or manipulate.  Dictators lead by fear and utilize manipulation to get what they want while neglecting the communal good.  Leadership is not the ability to articulate oneself well.  Just because someone is able to put their thoughts together coherently, is witty, and is a good public speaker does not make them a leader.  Leadership is not (necessarily) an extraverted personality.  Extraversion may be a good indicator of who emerges as a leader, but it lends very little to who is effective as a leader.  Last in this set of examples, leadership is not a title to be used as a means to achieve one’s personal goals or lord one’s position over another person.

A leader, I believe, is simply one who has influence over someone.  A leader has followers (this is perhaps a topic for further discussion elsewhere).  If you do not consider yourself a leader, look around you and see if someone looks up to you; if the answer is yes (I can almost guarantee it will be), you are a leader in some capacity.  If you’re a parent, you are a leader because your kids (especially at a younger age) look up to you.  If you’re a mentor, you are a leader because the person you mentor looks up to you.  If someone admires you for something that you do, you are a leader because someone looks up to you.

Now, before this gets to our heads, this has some pretty severe implications.  Because someone looks up to you, every move you make is being watched.  Every move you make is deemed as acceptable by the one who looks up to you.  If you make decisions that you’re not necessarily proud of, the person who looks up to you will likely make those same decisions without the same guilt.  Since your moves are being watched, make respectable decisions and the people who follow you will do likewise.

As a closing note, this week’s quote has a (typically) controversial statement that needs to be addressed.  “Management is not leadership.”  Many people believe their supervisors or managers are leaders, and they may well be (these are not mutually exclusive positions).  However, as mentioned before, a title does not make you a leader.  I have had countless managers who have had no influence over me, so they were always just someone there to maintain, to manage, the systems already in place.  A manager uses people to make a system work; a leader uses their influence to make the people around them better people.

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