What is Leadership?

What is leadership?

We all have different notions of leadership, and something that I’m going to encourage you all to consider is that there is not just one definition for leadership.  There are many ways to define and understand organizations, and there are far more definitions and understandings of what leadership is.

So I’m asking you, specifically, what is leadership to you?

Without any study or research on leadership, most people have their opinions on this matter (in the same way people who have no background on education have several strong opinions on education).

So one common opinion is that leadership is about making sure people are working hard, resources are being made available, and that everyone’s meeting the organization’s needs.  What I just described, however, is actually management.  Management is different from leadership.  Management is more about control and making sure things are operating smoothly.  Management is more about keeping status quo.  In fact, managers are often rewarded for how efficiently they keep the status quo by meeting benchmarks and deadlines.  Management is very important (there are whole fields of study dedicated to organizational management), but not all managers are leaders.  Some are.

Here’s a great article that describes management vs. leadership:  http://changingminds.org/disciplines/leadership/articles/manager_leader.htm

Another common opinion about leadership is that certain people are “born leaders.”  This opinion is probably inspired by seeing exceptional leaders like Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, MLK, Abraham Lincoln, Steve Jobs, etc.  People who hold this opinion think of leaders as larger-than-life individuals who possess powers of charisma and vision, and they get people to buy in to the vision.  This is, indeed, one form of leadership.  It’s often called “heroic leadership” or “entity leadership.”  But not all leaders are these kinds of leaders.

If you read the link I shared above, you’ll see that those authors agree with my understanding of leadership in that leadership is about influence towards change.  It means then that someone can be a leader without being in a position of authority like a managerial position.  You are probably already thinking about teachers who don’t have a position title of authority, but for better or for worse, they are leaders at your school.  It’s because they have influence.  And people respond to that influence.  Thus it’s possible to have a person in authority who doesn’t have the same amount of influence as someone who doesn’t have a title.


So I’m asking again, what is your definition of leadership?  I ask this over and over again rhetorically because what I’m asking you to do is to let go of your notions of leadership, and allow for new possibilities and understandings to be considered.  We will treat this as an area of research as well.  Your understandings are ultimately what will define your leadership-style, because ultimately your definition of leadership will determine how you behave.


Key Points:

  • Management is different from leadership.
  • Heroic leadership is only one form of leadership.  There are many other forms.
  • Leadership is about influence, not just positional authority.
  • Your understanding of leadership determines who you are as a leader.

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