Defining and Developing Leaders

If we are going to develop leaders than it would naturally follow that we should start with a definition. That is, we should start with a goal in mind. What exactly is it that we are trying to develop? What are going to accept as the appropriate output from our input of development work? What, in the end, is leadership?

Many have taken a stab at this answer, and I can’t really say that anyone else is wrong in their definition of leadership. That’s hardly the point here. I do feel that it’s important to explore this process and arrive at a definition that you personally will accept. It’s a critical piece to development work, but also a critical process. What is your end game? What will you accept as an outcome?

For me there are three critical pieces to leadership: people, influence, and action. I feel that leadership can’t happen without these three. Thus my definition of leadership is:

Influencing people to take action.

People is probably the most obvious here. You have to be able to work with people to lead. Remove people and you have nothing to lead. Influence is pretty widely accepted and many authors and thinkers have explored this route. You must be able to influence others to lead. Without influence you have no ability to affect anything in people. Action is the critical addition for me that I don’t often see included. What is leadership without action? What is influence without action? I can’t think of a great leader that didn’t inspire action, movement, and change. I think defining leadership without action leaves out the most critical part. The test of a great leader? Can they make things happen. Can they get things done through others.

Considering this than, it would seem that leadership development should be structured around these three big ideas of people, influence, and action.

People: Leaders should be developing their people skills and knowledge of people. They should be learning the psychology behind what makes people tick, they should be developing relationship skills, and they should be learning to communicate effectively with others. Keep in mind this doesn’t mean that leaders must be good with masses of people. Some leaders are better in small groups or teams.

Influence: Leaders should develop their ability to influence. They should work on being trustworthy and respected. At the risk of being cliché, great leaders walk the walk. They do what they say and practice what they preach. They have integrity. Counterintuitively, they must effectively develop themselves to gain influence over others.

Action: Leaders should work to develop their ability to drive action. They should be good project managers, increase their ability to organize, and develop their abilities to focus, simplify, and move. Great leaders are not remembered for their ideas as much as their deeds. They are not regarded for their thought alone, but also for their implementation. Leaders execute. Leaders get things done and make things happen.

We should be developing leaders, and developing ourselves, to effectively influence people to take action.

How do you define leadership? What would you add?


2 thoughts on “Defining and Developing Leaders

  1. John Wenger says:

    Nice and simple, Micah. I like it. If leader development was simplified to these three elements, it could make it seem less daunting for some. I would stress that the three and inextricably linked and interdependent and that all three should be grown in tandem with each other. That would make for a real revolution in some organisations. Nice to read you again.

    • micahyost says:

      Absolutely they ALL have to exist and be developed. They are not independent. On that note, I think Action is what is left out too often. Even well intentioned leadership development might focus on people and influence but miss the boat on action. In the end, great leaders are remembered by what they actually get done.

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