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A working definition for Leadership

By Ken Ideus

As we said in the introductory article, we are not trying to come up with the “definitive” all encompassing, all bells ringing definition of leadership at this point. What we needed for our project was a working definition, something we can use and relate to in our discourse.

Are leaders born or made?

First a wee bit of context. A question that is often raised is this: Are leader’s born or made? (Please don’t yawn to quickly, given this question has been around so long says something).

To get a start on this I’d like to turn to the arts. We could ask a similar question, i.e. “born or made?”, of painters, sculptors, musicians, poets or writers.

In art and in leadership,
we don't see the hard work that goes into developing the talent that led to the product.

Ken Ideus

We could, then, also categorize leaders as artists. There is actually a good argument for doing just that. Then when we ask the question we ask it of all artists of all mediums.

While there are “naturals” or “prodigies”, most of the art we experience comes from an early dedication to mastery, a nice way of saying lots and lots of hard work. We see the end product but not the hours, days, months and even years of hard work and dedication that have gone into developing the talent that led to that product.

The same with leaders, some are naturals, perhaps even prodigies but the majority of good leadership is the result of intentional focus and discipline.

What do artists and leaders do?

createAnd what do artists, including leader’s do? They tend to focus on creating things that did not yet exist; on expressing something that has not yet been expressed. The poet Philip Larkin went so far as to say that “on that green day” when you examine your life, the worst catastrophe is to find that you have only tread where others have tread before, but in a different manner.

What is the difference between leadership and management?

Let’s add one more bit of context. That is the context of organization with people, resources and missions. It is from this context that we will draw our first working definition of leadership. Some of you might call this more a condition, than a definition, but here goes.

You lead when you create a future that does not yet exist.

Ken Ideus

An individual is engaged in Leadership whenever they are creating (conceptualizing, conceiving, generating) a future that does not yet exist.

What does it mean to lead?

Let’s take a moment to explore this just a bit further.

The word lead implies a few things.

  1. One, is being in front, influencing those who might choose to follow.
  2. A second is dynamics. Leading tends to bring up the sense of movement, toward something. The toward something brings up another implication which is that leading implies movement toward some destination, real or symbolic.
  3. Lastly, leading implies a motivational relationship with others. While we might be jointly or singly conceiving of a future, it only comes out into the world when we engage others, thus our link to communication.

What is management?

Management is about planning, organizing and deploying the resources to bring about a future.
Ken Ideus.

Now, to clarify the distinction from management, we could add:

Management then, is less about conceiving and generating the destination and more about putting things in place to get there, i.e., resources, plans, people etc. It is the implementation arm of the partnership between leadership and management, between conceiving of a future and making it happen.

You need different voices for leading vs managing.

In our streamlined organizations, most leaders are doing a combination of both. This is why I like to refer to organizational or business leadership. What is important to be aware of and distinguish is when you are leading and when you are managing. They call on different skills and capabilities and from a communication standpoint, different voices.

Ken Ideus

This series on authentic leadership is written by Ken Ideus who is well known globally for his work on "The Leaders Voice". Ken has worked for the last 30 years with multi-national corporates in over 30 countries, doing both consulting and senior leadership development in the USA, Europe and Africa. You can read more about his articles and tools, and about The Leaders Voice.

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