Leadership has always been an elusive concept to define. Perhaps that’s why it’s so hard to learn and great leaders are in such short supply.
There really is no one “right” definition of leadership – so instead, here is a collection of my favorite definitions, from both the famous and not-so-famous. Read them all, reflect on the kind of leader you want to be known as, and choose
one that best fits your own leadership vision.
1. “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” – Lao Tzu
2. “Leadership defines what the future should look like, aligns people with that vision, and inspires them to make it happen, despite the obstacles.” – John Kotter
3. “Leadership is the capacity to influence others through inspiration motivated by passion, generated by vision, produced by a conviction, ignited by a purpose.” – Dr. Myles Munroe
4. “Leadership is unlocking people’s potential to become better.” – Bill Bradley
5. “Leadership is simply causing other people to do what the leaders want. Good leadership, whether formal or informal, is helping other people rise to their full potential while accomplishing the mission and goals of the organization. All members of an organization, who are responsible for the work of others, have the potential to be good leaders if properly developed.” – Bob Mason
“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” – General Dwight Eisenhower
7. “Leadership is the art of mobilizing others to want to struggle for shared aspirations.” – Kouzes and Posner
8. “A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.” – Rosalynn Carter
9. “Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to high sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.” – Peter Drucker
10. “My own definition of leadership is this: The capacity and the will to rally men and women to a common purpose and the character which inspires confidence.” – General Montgomery
11. “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” – John Maxwell
12. “Leadership is the process of persuasion or example by which an individual (or leadership team) induces a group to pursue objectives held by the leader or shared by the leader and his or her followers.” – John W. Gardner
13. “My definition of a leader… is a man who can persuade people to do what they don’t want to do, or do what they’re too lazy to do, and like it.” – Harry Truman
14. “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” – Warren Bennis
15. “A leader is a dealer in hope.” – Napoleon Bonaparte
16. “Leadership is the collective action of everyone you influence. Your behavior – your actions and your words – determine how you influence. Our job as leaders is to energize whatever marshals action within others.” – David Casullo
17. “A leader has to be somebody who’s getting people to do things which don’t seem to make sense to them or are not in their best interest — like convincing people that they should work 14 hours a day so that someone else can make more money.” – Scott Adams (Dilbert)
18. “Leadership is about service to others and a commitment to developing more servants as leaders. It involves co-creation of a commitment to a mission.” – Robert Greenleaf
19. “[Leadership is] working with and through others to achieve objectives.” – Dr. Paul Hersey
20. “Management is about arranging and telling. Leadership is about nurturing and enhancing.” – Tom Peters
21. “Leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.” – John Maxwell
22. Effective leadership is putting first things first. Effective management is discipline, carrying it out. -Stephen Covey
23. “Leadership is the process of persuasion or example by which an individual (or leadership team) induces a group to pursue objectives held by the leader or shared by the leader and his or her followers.” – John W. Gardner
24. “Leadership is the ability to enable ordinary people and organizations to achieve extraordinary results.” – Dan McCarthy
25. “Leadership is a matter of how to be, not how to do it.” – Frances Hesselbein
26. “Leadership is the ability to establish standards and manage a creative climate where people are self-motivated toward the mastery of long term constructive goals, in a participatory environment of mutual respect, compatible with personal values.” – Mike Vance
27. “Leadership is getting people to work for you when they are not obligated.” – Fred Smith
28. “Leadership is the art of influencing others to their maximum performance to accomplish any task, objective or project.” – Cohen, W.A.
29. “There are almost as many definitions of leadership as there are persons who have attempted to define the concept.” – Stogdill
30. “Leadership is an intangible quality with no clear definition. That’s probably a good thing, because if the people who were being led knew the definition, they would hunt down their leaders and kill them.” – Scott Adams.
Question for you: What’s your own personal definition of leadership?