The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

Defining leadership

Like so many of the ideas we are confronted with, leadership is an idea in the mind.

One people will find confusing the moment they try to define it.

Discussing their description with others, they’ll notice that views, understanding, and approaches differ. The longer the conversation lasts, the more details they’ll try to integrate into the perceived work leadership has to attend to.

Looking at the leadership-industry, they’ll notice how varied the definitions are. Often due to the personal interest of those defining or to fit the service organizations are offering.

Another element that influences many definitions is how leadership is being judged or expected to be ethical, supportive, beneficial, authentic, etc. However, these definitions depend on the context and its values, otherwise, they will not be grounded wherever this leadership is being exercised. Such definitions also relate more to the outcome than to the execution.

A broad but neutral definition of leadership is the following:

“Leadership is the process of influencing others to understand and agree about what needs to be done and how to do it, and the process of facilitating individual and collective efforts to accomplish shared objectives” – Leadership in organizations (Yukl, Gardner, Uppal, 2020)

It’s a definition that addresses the what as well as the how. What it doesn’t do, is decide on what it is that will be influenced. Nor does it define if something is good or bad.

It allows to observe and describe how leadership is executed. It also allows evaluating if the outcome corresponds to the influence used and the expected impact.

Leaders will find it easier to describe their work based on such a definition, possibly ending up with their own definition. Teams on the other side will find it easier to use such a definition to process what is happening in the team. It possibly will also assist them in determining a set of common expectations.

While fancy definitions may come up after a creative process or a period of introspection. It helps to start defining one’s idea of leadership based on something simple and descriptive.


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