What is Leadership?
The word leadership gets bandied about quite a bit these days. From car makers advertising that they are the leader in “small car luxury” or “full size pick-ups” to the pundits trying to define America’s leadership role in the world today.
Leadership has also been used as a measuring device in the stock market with the leaders, laggards, or bellwethers. It is routinely used in sports reporting with comments like, so and so is the leader in rushing, receiving, or some other accomplishment that will put one in the lead of another. Business leadership can also mean that one company sells or produces more than others, their stock price has risen the highest, or they are leading the way in innovation.
But the leadership that cannot be self-proclaimed — and only measured by whether or not others follow – is the leadership that really counts. It counts because it is this type of leadership that influences others to do things that they might not otherwise do. It also has the power to inspire all of us to do our best, even in the most difficult of times, because a true leader has convinced us that we are better than we think we are.
There is also a debate as to whether leaders are born or made. I would argue that true leaders could be a bit of both, but anyone with the right training and experience can learn to lead. In order to have the capacity to lead — thereby being influential and inspiring to others — requires a number of learnable traits.
Influential leadership can bring about the results that earn companies the right to claim that they, or their products and services, are the leader. Inspirational leadership can cause a team to rise to the occasion and to lead in this area, or that. It can even allow a company’s stock price to rise above the competitions. But how do any of us learn to lead in a way that will make the difference and bring about such outcomes?
My experience suggests that effective leaders are not born as such, but rather, are those who make it their goal to learn to lead. Anyone can choose to take advantage of the countless books on leadership. There are also universities around the country offering classes and major courses of study that relate to leadership. Being a student of leadership myself — spanning 30 years of leadership experience in firefighting and in business — I developed 20 Leadership Principles that were tested, refined, and proved to be influential and inspiring. The tools are out there, we just need to pick them up and learn how to use them.
Regardless of what they do or where they do it, people everywhere crave inspirational leadership. That’s because true leadership gives people something to believe in – starting with their own abilities. When practiced daily, leadership that improves those who follow becomes the spark that ignites the sort of breakthrough performance that drives success in any human effort.
Leadership continues to be defined in a variety of ways. However, the leadership definition that counts is the one where people are influenced to follow, finding inspiration from the meaning and fulfillment of purpose. Simply put, those who project influence, inspiration, and purpose… have learned to lead… this is leadership.