Previously published on Forbes
Whether you’ve thought of yourself as a leader for many years or are just now beginning to consider the notion, it’s always a good idea to get back to basics. I remember a prominent football coach used to gather his team at the start of the season and hold up the brown, pebble-grained, spheroid-shaped ball, proclaiming, “Gentlemen, this is a football.”
A simple reminder that his team was back at the beginning again. And that it’s best to begin humbly rather than think you have something all figured out.
So, what is leadership? I think of it as someone who causes something to happen with and through the energy and commitment of followers. It’s someone who creates a future and enrolls others in that future through story, energy, and imagination. A leader naturally has followers. Followers are those who choose to give their time and talent to the leader’s ideals.
Of course, there are as many ways to define leadership as there are leaders. That’s part of the challenge. The waters can be murky. There is not one clear definition. Your task, if you are to step more fully into leadership, is to learn and integrate and ultimately define it for yourself. When the day is done, how do you define “leadership”?
Here are a few others’ definitions of what it means to be a leader. See if one has meaning for you:
“Leadership is a set of behaviors that, in a given context, align an organization, foster execution and ensure organizational renewal. They are enabled by relevant skills and mindsets.” McKinsey Consulting
“Leadership is showing up and stepping up at a time when people need you and doing the right thing, no matter how hard it is.” Keith Barr, CEO, InterContinental Hotels Group
“Leadership is helping believe in a better tomorrow or a better outcome than you have today.” Marissa Mayer, former CEO, Yahoo!
“Leadership, both as a research area and as a practical skill, encompasses the ability of an individual, group or organization to ‘lead,’ influence or guide other individuals, teams, or entire organizations.” Wikipedia
"The task of leadership is not to put greatness into people but to elicit it, for the greatness is there already." John Buchan
"All great leaders have one thing in common: the willingness to confront the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership." John Kenneth Galbraith
I believe that everyone is a leader, whether they have a title or not. When you speak in any context, you are “leading” a conversation with someone. You have an opportunity to be intentional in every single exchange you have.
In other words, what you say and do matters — in your family, your community, your workplace, your world. The definition of leadership isn’t as important as knowing that your voice and your perspective have influence. And how you show up matters.
What if each and every one of us knew that we were leaders in life? How would you move? How would you speak? What would you do or not do?
Embracing the idea of leadership means saying “yes” to influencing others. At that point, we can begin tackling the life-long journey of becoming a better human being and leader. All of it is worthy work.