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What is leadership?


What exactly is it?

Is it an action? A position? A thought process? I guarantee that if you ask five people to define it, you’ll probably get five different answers.

Some believe leaders are born, others believe they are made. When asked to describe a leader, some picture a leader as a CEO, guiding from a distance; others picture someone who works in the trenches with others, helping them reach goals.

First, let’s differentiate between management and leadership. My favorite clarification is found in a 2013 article from Harvard Business Review:

Management consists of controlling a group or a set of entities to accomplish a goal. Leadership refers to an individual's ability to influence, motivate, and enable others to contribute toward organizational success. Influence and inspiration separate leaders from managers, not power and control.

The main difference I see is management being task-based, leadership being influence.

But how do you go about gaining influence? And can you get it without power and control, as noted in the definition? You gain influence by connecting with people, and that requires a command of soft skills that are associated with leadership (here are some of the more popular frequently discussed, in alphabetical order):

  • Active listening

  • Communication

  • Courage

  • Creativity

  • Delegation and trust in others

  • Empathy

  • Gratitude

  • Integrity

  • Life-long learner

  • Motivation

  • Respect

  • Responsibility and accountability

  • Trustworthiness