A lot of people have their own unique definition of leadership and today, I want to share with you five or six definitions of leadership from prominent people and have you think about them.
Many people, many leaders, when I ask them, “what’s your definition of leadership?” They simply don’t have a definition. They think they know what it is, they feel what it is, and they know when they’re in the presence of someone who’s exceptional extraordinary or a remarkable leader. But in terms of a definition of leadership, it’s not something that is necessarily thought about. So, perhaps I could suggest some definitions of leadership and you could maul those over – do they apply to you? Is that how you think about leadership? Then we will go into the five qualities of leadership that will be helpful during this pandemic; during a time of social unrest, during a time of significant uncertainty in the world, and perhaps they’ll be helpful to you as well.
- The first definition was given by John Quincy Adams. He was the President of the United States and he said this: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” Pretty good definition, because it is a point of inspiration.
- Peter Drucker, the organizational behaviorist, has written scores of books, said this: “The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers.” Pretty straightforward. Very interesting, no qualifications.
- Warren Bennis who is the School of Leadership at UCLA in Los Angeles said, “Leadership is the capacity to turn vision into reality.” Again, something else, a visionary, who can turn that vision into reality.
- Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft said, “As we look into the next century, those who will be leaders are those who empower others.” It’s the notion of enabling others to be successful or to fail, but it’s to assist those in empowering themselves to go do the great things and leadership requires.
- John Maxwell who has written lots and lots of books and won the 21 rules of irrefutable leadership said this, “Leadership is influence, nothing more and nothing less.”
As we think about those kinds of definitions of leadership, I’ve been playing with one as well – trying to figure out what are the elements of leadership that are important to me and I invite you to do the same. Each of us should have our own definition of leadership, but I’d offer mine up and see if it’s helpful to you.
“Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others toward the achievement of a greater good.”
As I’ve observed great leaders, presidents, kings, queens, prime ministers, members of Congress, athletes, great CEOs, and Olympic athletes, as I’ve looked at leadership broadly, I’ve asked myself often, “What are the qualities that I’ve seen?”, “What are the qualities that I’m feeling?” And I would suggest to you that among the qualities that will serve us best during a time of crisis and during a time when we’re really challenged to be our best, there are five that are really interesting because oftentimes, in times of crisis, we have to do our best when it matters most. We have to do our best when things are at their worst and I think that’s where we are right now.
So, let me offer those five qualities that I think might be helpful for you to consider, to think about.
- The first one for me, that I’ve gained from the experience that I’ve seen, is humility. It’s the ability to be humble. It’s the understanding that we don’t know everything. It’s the notion that we are willing to put other people first.
In 1908, Robert Greenleaf wrote a book, Servant, where it defined the notion and concept of servant leadership. Something many of us aspire to. It’s the ability to coordinate our own interests to the interests of others first. Rather than take care of our own needs, our own ego, our own feelings first, we defer to others, we deflect what our needs are to subordinate them to the interests of others. In Servant, Robert Greenleaf also wrote about the 10 qualities of servant leaders and I invite you to read it. So, on my list of those things that are important in leadership, I’ve always found the most attractive quality in leaders to which I’ve listened to most is the ability to be humble, or humility.
- The second, for me, is the ability to listen. We have a lot of talkers in our society. We have a lot of people offering opinions. We have a lot of people who seek “me” first. I found over the years, in my experience, the leaders that I enjoy being around the most are those who are willing to ask great questions, be good listeners, who seek information before they state their views, who are willing to embrace lots of different viewpoints, and who listen and calculate those different viewpoints in forming their own thoughts and views.
That’s a very attractive quality. Think about your own personal relationships with your business partners or your family. Isn’t it always interesting and fun to be around someone who’s asking you questions or asking others questions? Who are willing to listen and playback the answers? We’re always engaged in asking the sort of follow on kinds of activities or comments that elicit more information. I think if we can do that, we gain the confidence of others and people then are interested in listening to us and hearing us.
There’s a quote that I like that maybe speaks to this. It says, “Some people see, but have no vision. Some people hear but have no understanding. Some people listen, but do not hear.” Often times, there’s a lot of chatter, a lot of voices. Our brain has about 40 million stimuli in a day that hits it; voices and choices. There are lots of voices in the world. We get to make the choices and one of those choices is who we listen to and we listen to others who are good listeners.
- The third is communication for me. The ability to communicate effectively in both written and oral form, and the understanding that there’s both verbal and nonverbal communication. About 60 to 70% of everything we communicate is nonverbal. It’s not the words we speak, it’s what we do. It’s the example we set and it’s allowing other people to watch us as leaders and to model behavior.
So, the nonverbal equation are part of communication is really essential. Every little thing we do becomes important and it sends signals to other people. In addition to the things that we actually say, the words we choose, the phrases we use, the way in which we express ourselves becomes really important. And so, whether it’s one on one or with our management team and in our family setting, it’s a broader community, it’s large presentations, whatever it is, let’s be very careful and thoughtful about how we present the very words that defines it make us, that makes us a communicator for good or for bad.
- The fourth point is EQ, emotional quotient. It is the ability to manage our emotions, it’s the ability to differentiate among emotions, our ability to adapt, to learn and to grow in the process of interchange of emotion. It’s optimizing our emotions and our responses to other people. It’s listening carefully and understanding, differentiating among emotions from other people. It’s all about behavior and the reactions of others to us, and reactions of others to other people. So, as we’re watching and understanding emotion, the EQ emotional quotient becomes a critical part of our successful leadership journey and I put that among the top five. I think our ability to understand people, to be empathetic with people, to understand the journey that they’re on, and to put ourselves in that journey with them is a critical piece to understanding leadership and how good it is, or not.
We all have different emotional experiences and our ability to manage those different emotional experiences really are ways that allow us to become exceptional leaders, or not.
- The fifth on my list of five is IQ. It’s about knowledge and the acquisition of knowledge. It’s about problem-solving. It’s about the ability to take information and make sense of it and then rationalize that in a way that creates solutions for other people. I think that is the comprehension of life that becomes important. There are specific things that we have to know to be successful. That might be marketing or accounting. It might be other kinds of learning that we have, but it’s the ability to acquire knowledge to use that knowledge to problem-solving.
So, as we think about leadership, let’s first have a definition in our own mind about what that leadership might be, a working definition. Then, let’s think about the leadership qualities that we believe are most important for us. I’ve named my five. What are your five and do you live those five?