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What Is The Definition Of A Leader?

Many people say your employees are your greatest asset and encourage you to be a great manager and evenly more importantly, a great leader.

That begs a question.

What Is The Definition Of A Leader?

What is a leader? What is the definition of a leader?

Is it one of those difficult to describe notions but obvious when you see it?

I’m sure you’ve had bosses who have inspired you to go above and beyond the call of duty. These are the leaders. Others can have the opposite effect and make doing the basics am unpleasant daily grind.

What is The Dictionary Definitions Of Leaders and Leadership?

The Merriam Webster dictionary says that a leader is “a person who leads”.

It then goes on to say that a leader is “a person who has commanding authority or influence”.

That doesn’t describe the notion of leadership for me. It’s not very helpful at all.

Using the same dictionary to find a definition for leadership it gives:

“1 : the office or position of a leader

2 : capacity to lead

3 : the act or an instance of leading”

Rather too much use of the word-stem “lead…” to make much sense there.

One of the great writers about leadership is Tom Peters. How does he define leadership?

Tom Peters And The Definition Of A Leader



He quotes other people on leadership. For example Robert Greenleaf (author of Servant Leadership) said “the essence of the leader is to induce people to grow” and Napoleon said “a leader is a dealer in hope”. He doesn’t define leadership himself.

Quotes About Leaders And Leadership

To find an answer, we can review the quotes on leaders and leadership to see if great wisdom makes the definitions any clearer.

Those of us who have experienced great leadership will agree that being an effective leader is different from being a good manager or a boss.

“A boss creates fear, a leader confidence. A boss fixes blame, a leader corrects mistakes. A boss knows all, a leader asks questions. A boss makes work drudgery, a leader makes it interesting.”  Russell H. Ewing

Personally I don’t have a disparaging view of the word boss so I’d replace boss with “bad manager” and put “good” in front of where the leader is in the definition.

“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

This is an interesting definition and I like the idea that it brings in the journey but it smacks of the old fashioned idea that “a leader knows best”.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”  John Quincy Adams (American 6th US President 1825-29)

Inspire is an important word for leadership but at the moment I am missing any sense of collective purpose.

“In simplest terms, a leader is one who knows where he wants to go, and gets up, and goes.” John Erksine

Whoops this definition of a leader seems to have forgotten all about the team of followers who need to be inspired.

“People ask the difference between a leader and a boss. The leader leads, and the boss drives.” Theodore Roosevelt quotes (American 26th US President 1901-09)

The leader is at the front, pointing the way forward, while the non-leader is at the back, try to push the employees to do something. This makes sense to me.

“The leader is one who mobilizes others toward a goal shared by leaders and followers… Leaders, followers and goals make up the three equally necessary supports for leadership.” Gary Wills

This seems to be moving towards my definition of what is a leader since it talks about bringing people together towards achieving a shared purpose.

What Does Wikipedia Say About Leadership?

Over on Wikipedia it says “Leadership is one of the most relevant aspects of the organizational context. However, defining leadership has been challenging.”

It has a definition from M Chemers. Leadership is the “process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task”.

It also quotes Alan Keith, “Leadership is ultimately about creating a way for people to contribute to making something extraordinary happen.”

My romantic soul likes the idea of “something extraordinary” and it links into a phrase I remember that leadership is about “creating extraordinary results from ordinary people.”

What Do You Think Is The Definition Of A Leader?

I didn’t expect to have this difficulty answering the question “what is a leader?”

I’m still polishing my definition but I’ve given you a few hints based on my responses to the quotes.

It seems strange to develop so many theories about the traits of great leaders and how you can become a better leader when there doesn’t seem to be a clear definition.

So what do you think?

What is a leader?

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Paul Simister is a business coach who helps business owners who are stuck or struggling with disappointing marketing, to get unstuck. You can then start attracting, converting and keeping more customers. If your business is based in the UK, you can have a free 60 minutes Business SOS consultation (please click) with me to get you unstuck.

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