The Real Definition of Leadership Explained

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Understanding the real meaning behind the definition of leadership can impact all aspects of your career, especially when considering advancement. Here’s how to start effectively leading now.

Dictionary.com defines leadership as “ the position or function of a leader, a person who guides or directs a group”, and while that is commonly agreed upon, the real meaning is a much simpler idea but often confused with only acts of valor.

And, let’s get something out of the way:

Let’s start with the real secret of leadership: it happens all the time, almost anywhere you look, and it’s frankly not that difficult.

Real-world leadership is much more mundane than our cultural narrative would have you believe. It’s typically understated, and it takes place every day.

In order to be a leader, it’s not necessary to be a genius or charismatic, or even the recognized leader of the group.

What you do need is the proper mindset, a basic skill set, techniques for dealing with the failures which inevitably arise and guidance on how to get started.

Here are some thought exercises to consider:

First, imagine yourself as a leader.

Take a second and imagine yourself in a “leadership” role. Did you picture “CEO” or “BOSS” somewhere on your license plate? A committee gathered around you or even a large team or crowd rallied behind you?

Maybe you envisioned having an elite status or a personal assistant. Buttoning down a five-piece suit, polishing your body armor, or encompassing a bold facial expression on the cover of a magazine.

Journalism has altered the true definition of a leader.

Society has led us to believe that leadership is an epic, transformational act of gallant when in reality, you just created a vision of  “heroic leadership” created by the press. While a colleague organized a mid-day brainstorming session and brought to the table action steps that lead to record sales and pivotable growth, it’s unlikely that you’d see her name reposted on social media. Is she a leader if she isn’t wearing a cape?

Review what leadership actually means.

The real definition of leadership can simply be defined as helping two or more people achieve their common goals.

Doesn’t sound too glamorous or complex, does it? It’s not! In fact, yes, the colleague did lead, and every day we witness leadership, but rarely recognize it…even when we are the one demonstrating it.

Hard truth: you aren’t leading if no one follows.

To pick the definition apart further… two or more people? It’s doubtful that you had a vision of only two others standing firmly behind you. Truth is, you may find yourself in a small (or big) team setting when all of the sudden you say something that helps move the group towards that unified goal. Did you know this was an act of leadership?

This robust, yet simplified idea of leadership takes the complexity out of the commonly perceived heroic term and reforms a realistic concept that doesn’t designate a leader to have a prestigious status, applause, or distinguished narrative.

You may already be leading and just need to shift your definition of success.

No matter how mundane the act, shifting intentional focus to uncover the attributes that make us leaders is monumental for growth, impact, and advancement for potential roles. But don’t worry about whether or not your efforts go unnoticed. No great leader leads because of potential praise; they lead because they want the enterprise to succeed.

Stop linking leadership and compensation.

Did you know, this perspective of leading has little to do with a company org chart or position?  While leadership directly impacts growth in the company hierarchy, it is inclusive. This means everyone on your team (yes that includes you) should be leading regardless of position, or even education.

Unfortunately, there is a deluded linear relationship between intelligence and perceived leadership which is a myth.  Thus, someone with an entry-level role can be a true leader in their sphere of influence just as likely as the CFO. Although we would agree that intellect holds weight in common placement on your company’s org chart, anyone that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more is a true leader—despite brilliance or intellect,  which is not compulsory.

Ask yourself the hard question: “Am I the leadership ‘type’?”

Over time we’ve become so accustomed to describing a leader backed with a big story when in reality, leadership is most headline-free. Once again, it’s a big cover story, the elite status, the heroine, the executive position instead of the simple perspective that real-world leadership is all around us.

Maybe you feel you are too indecisive or not passionate enough. Some leaders are born, others develop from their circumstances, but either way, you are the type! Understanding that social influence doesn’t automatically give you the lead role for a certain duration, rather,  you’ll be uncovering opportunities for your skills to be used most effectively for the organizational goal—which trumps individual standpoint.

Whether driving toward professional, organizational, or personal leadership, defining acts of leadership and discovering new opportunities to effectively lead will be climactic in your journey. You can do this!

Take influence to the next level.

Maybe you are already leading in some way, are in an upper-level role, or even have your eye on one. Consider the following questions when leveling up your leadership skills.

  • How do you describe your current efforts?
  • What have you learned from your failures?
  • Are you unified with the collective goal?
  • Are you using the hero-as-leader model?

So where do you go from here?

Regardless of where you are today, you don’t need anyone’s permission to lead, or to get started. Engaging in occasional acts of leadership is a laudable goal, however, if you want to be considered an effective leader, you are going to have to hardwire your mindset, learn from your failures, and take initiative when your natural leadership style matches the moment.

Become the ultimate leader with our self-assessment to help better understand your leadership and management style — and that of those you work with!

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