A recent article in a business journal asked “how can you be a good leader if you don’t know what leadership really is?” In an effort to answer this question, the article offered no less than thirty definitions, obtained from “30 business owners and experts”. While this list of answers points out the difficulty of arriving at a conclusive definition of leadership, I submit that it can be boiled down to one word: responsibility.
Almost all of the answers quoted in the article referenced something related to getting other people to act. This seems accurate, as leadership implies that there are followers who in some way must be motivated, guided, or otherwise compelled to move towards the leader’s end goal. What none of the answers seemed to acknowledge, however, was that getting others to join you in accomplishing a goal is simply a means of executing leadership, not the essence of leadership itself.
For example, if I am the leader of my child’s elementary school carnival, my job is to produce a carnival. If I can get said carnival put together by myself, I have accomplished the goal and thus been a sufficient leader of the project. It could be argued that I will probably have burnt myself out and isolated and offended many others, but my role as leader is fulfilled. As leader, have taken responsibility for an end-goal and seen that it was accomplished.
For the record, I think the solitary form of leadership referenced above is a bad method, but it underscores the point that I think too many leaders miss. When you step into leadership, you are accepting responsibility to accomplish a certain vision. There are usually many ways to accomplish a given vision, which is why there ends up being so many definitions of “leadership”, but in the end a leader is a person who says “this task is mine, and if it is not accomplished, I will not blame anyone else”.
According to my definition, leadership is a difficult and often lonely position. It takes wisdom, humility, strength, courage, and determination—all in varying levels depending on the size of the goal. It requires a crystal-clear knowledge of the vision that is being pursued. Effective leadership means knowing who can and, often more importantly, cannot help to accomplish the vision and recruiting them to the shared effort.
In the end, leadership is not for the faint of heart. It requires practice, which necessarily comes with failure. But leadership is worth it when you pursue a vision that is worthy.