Part II – A Personal Theory of Leadership – Definition of Leadership

Be sure to read Part 1 to establish some context for this article.

A topic must be defined in order to be studied. Therefore, I will begin by offering a definition of leadership. The following definitions were of particular interest to me as a part of this exercise: influence; (Maxwell J. C., p. 21) making things better; (Summerfield, 2014) the influential increment over and above mechanical compliance with the routine directives of the organization; articulating visions, embodying values, and creating the environment within which things can be accomplished; the process of giving purpose to collective effort; the process of making sense of what people are doing so that people will understand and be committed; and the process of influencing others to understand and agree about what needs to be done and how to do it, and the process of facilitating individual and collective efforts to accomplish shared objectives. (Yukl, pp. 3-7) After considering the experts’ definitions and my understanding of leadership, I offer the following definition:

Leadership is employing vision, communication, and role modeling in the process of influencing others to work together toward a common goal while facilitating the achievement of individual and shared objectives. 

Effective leadership is a process. It is not a one-time event or a position to which one can be appointed. According to Chewing, “leadership must be earned. It is voluntarily given by those who follow, not taken by those who lead.” (Chewning, Eby, & Roels, p. 133) Therefore, the importance of followers cannot be overlooked in this discussion. (Praschan, 2014) Furthermore, since the concepts of leading and following imply movement and direction, effective leadership facilitates movement through the communication of an inspiring vision of the future. Consequently, the level of ability demonstrated by the leader in the area of developing and communicating a vision has a direct causal relationship to the willingness of followers to follow them. Although dictatorship is leadership, the absence of follower permission of effective leadership results in compliance instead of commitment from the followers.

Effective leadership also requires action. An effective leader cannot simply talk or think about the future, they must take action to make the future happen. Therefore, an effective leader is a role model and a lead blocker. Regarding being a role model, or leading by example, an effective leader needs to be out in front and know what is going on where the rubber meets the road. Failure to act appropriately will hamstring leadership, especially with new followers who want to be part of a glorious present leading to a glorious future instead of just hearing about a glorious past. For me, whether it be a result of nature (personality) or nurture (raised to work hard), the quickest way for a leader to move from level one to level two and beyond is to roll up their sleeves and get to work with me.  Leaders can also rapidly ascend in power and influence by setting up followers for success and acting as a lead blocker. Why does the running back follow the blocker? Because the running back wants to score points – that’s his job. He may get the stats and the bigger paycheck, but the running back, the blocker, and the rest of the team know that he didn’t get there alone. An effective leader removes obstacles so their follower can succeed.

We now understand that effective leadership is a process that requires leaders and followers. We also understand that it requires thinking (vision), talking (communication), and acting (leading by example, clearing the path). Now, we will take a closer look at some of the crucial elements of leadership.

Chewning, R. C., Eby, J. W., & Roels, S. J. (1990). Business Through the Eyes of Faith. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.
Praschan, D. (2014, July 10).
Summerfield, M. R. (2014). Leadership: A simple definition. American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, 251-253.
Yukl, G. (2013). Leadership in Organizations, 8th Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Incorporated.

Be sure to check out:

  • Part 3 to discover the key components of leadership.
  • Part 4 to understand the leadership values I count as most important.
  • Part 5 to uncover the goals of effective leadership.