One definition of leadership

08/06/2016–A leader is more than someone who is followed.

Leadership implies intent–a desire and expectation that others will follow. Further, the followers must be part of some group. There must be some way to identify the members of the group from non-members. Thus, the definition of “leader” I like best is:

“A person who’s a member of an identifiable group, who understands what’s important to that group, and who acts intentionally to encourage effective behavior in other group members.”

This allows for anyone to be a leader in his or her group; even multiple people at once.

Time might also be an element–a leader likely emerges among the first to act in the group. Still, I think this is not as important as simply acting in the way which promotes group sustainability.

Actually, all group members could be leaders simultaneously in this case. So, a better definition might be “a member of an identifiable group who acts to improve the behavior of 50% of the group”. This way, the leader is among the minority trying to get the majority to act differently. It can still be multiple people, but only until most of the group is acting the same way.

So, the qualifications of leadership are:

  • Group membership
  • Understanding group needs
  • Actively encourages behavior change of majority beneficially

Notice the “group membership” requirement means some people we think of as leaders aren’t, under this  definition. This is to distinguish the roles in a valuable/useful way. The coach of a team is not a leader of that team, because he or she isn’t a member of the team. Beyond semantics, this is useful because this puts ownership on the members of the team to lead for themselves. Certainly, coaches must find and develop at least one leader on the team (e.g. a captain) who fulfills each requirement for “leader”. Likewise, a manager is not a member of his or her employee “team”. As Manager Tools says, what “team” has one member who can kick out the others? Furthermore, when leaders are not able to rely on authority or role power to get behavioral change, it makes them develop skills vital to  leadership. Pick any–it’s helpful when you don’t have authority over whom you want to behave a certain way. The leader also must be affected the same as those he/she leads. The outcome of a leader’s recommendation must mean the same thing for all members, including himself or herself. Conversely, a manager can be on the same team as his or her directs in some other capacity–on the “team” that is the entire company, for example, or in the same affinity group. They can definitely lead groups which include their directs, in other words.

What’s the point of defining leadership? With an actionable definition, we can do two things: increase group value and distinguish poor quality leadership guidance from good guidance. We can increase group value by applying this definition to ourselves and to others. We can hold this definition up against advice we get from various sources to determine their effectiveness.

Interestingly, this definition is a self-limiting one. If a leader’s really effective, soon they’ll be in the majority. Thus, it’s a sustainable definition which promotes continuous prosperity. Once > 50% of the group is “following” the leader, new leadership is required to improve the majority of the group.

QOTW–“Don’t seek to follow in the footsteps of others. Instead, seek what they sought.”-Matsuo

?FNW–Do I start a group @ Crossroads? Yes, “Temple Maintenance”


12/5/2017 review–I don’t have much to add. Defining leadership is tough, and I hesitate to say my definition is better than any other. Still, it’s a useful definition even if it’s not always 100% accurate or measurable. And it’s simple while specific–you can easily tell if a person is a member of a group, you can roughly evaluate whether a person understands what’s good for the group, and overt effort to improve the behavior of other members is easy to recognize.

Think of a coworker or someone you’d think of as a leader. Do they fit these criteria? There are probably other criteria I haven’t considered, but I feel this describes most of the leaders pretty well, and helps me to effectively evaluate people on leadership qualities.