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Defining a Leader

Updated: Oct 5, 2019

What word is included in almost every job description and job posting, yet rarely defined? The vague descriptor that everyone requires but can’t effectively talk about, let alone teach…


The first definition in is “a person or thing that leads.” There is also the oft quoted: “a leader is someone who has followers.” Ugh, neither definition seems helpful.

It seems sensible that if a skill is required, and you accept it as part of your job description, you should be crystal clear on what it means and what is required of you. Right?

Whether you are the one writing the job description or the one applying for the job, shouldn’t you hold yourself to the standard of being able to define everything you’re requiring or agreeing to?

I’ve been writing, and re-writing, my own definition of “leader” since early in my career. It has evolved, just as I have, and will likely continue to evolve.

Today, my definition is:

A leader is a mirror in which your team is inspired to look. In this mirror, they learn to see everything they need to make progress on their own journey towards greatness. The mirror, always crystal clear, delivers love in all its forms; tough, fair, caring. The source of that love is the leader's personal commitment to excellence, combined with the knowledge that winning alone is not winning at all.

Ponder a few more definitions:

“Lead now—from wherever you are. …If you’re not a leader on the bench, don’t call yourself a leader on the field. You’re either a leader everywhere or nowhere… Leader is not a title that the world gives to you—it’s an offering that you give to the world.”

-- Abby Wambach, U.S. Soccer Olympic Gold Medalist & Author

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

-- John Quincy Adams

“A sign of a good leader is not how many followers you have, but how many leaders you create.”

-- Mahatma Gandhi

“Ultimately, leadership is not about glorious crowning acts. It's about keeping your team focused on a goal and motivated to do their best to achieve it, especially when the stakes are high and the consequences really matter. It is about laying the groundwork for others' success, and then standing back and letting them shine.”

-- Chris Hadfield, Canadian Astronaut

“Leadership is not a person or a position. It is a complex moral relationship between people, based on trust, obligation, commitment, emotion, and a shared vision of the good.”

-- Joanne B. Ciulla, Author, Professor & Director of the Institute for Ethical Leadership, Rutgers University School of Business

Got your own definition? Got a fave from someone else? Write ‘em down and share them with me.


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