Leadership Definition

Ten Steps to Leadership Development
Step Two: History of Leadership Definitions

Leadership definitions have evolved over time, but each one provides valuable lessons, and knowing the lessons of the past will help prevent you from making those same mistakes.

What is the perfect definition of leadership? In order to understand what you are trying to achieve, it's important to understand a true leadership definition.

Leadership takes into account several key characteristics – 14 Leadership Traits. Each leadership trait is clearly defined.

While keeping the 14 leadership traits in mind, one must understand the differentiation between a Manager, and a Leader.

In short, Management involves making sure that tasks are completed properly and in a timely manner. In contrast, Leadership is more about dealing with people versus tasks. In effect, leadership is more complex because people are so complex.

Great leaders are able to positively influence people to do what’s necessary to complete a task. Not because a person of authority has instructed them to complete the task, but because the employee wants to complete the task.

In short, the definition we subscribe to is:

“Leadership is effectively influencing others.”

It’s important to note that as our society has evolved, so has our understanding of leadership. In the early 1900’s, leadership was seen as an innate quality.

All of the great ones had it and everyone else admired those superb individuals. Leadership was perceived simply as a quality certain individuals were born with.

In the 1930’s, leadership was defined as a characteristic one could learn and develop with the assistance of a respected mentor. In 1948, General Omar N. Bradley defined leadership as, “the art of influencing human behavior through ability to directly influence people and direct them toward a specific goal.”

In 1958, this leadership definition was offered by General Maxwell D. Taylor, “Leadership is the art of influencing and directing men in such a way as to obtain their willing obedience, confidence, respect and loyal cooperation in order to accomplish a mission.” Note the shift in thinking to include the concept of willingness.

Jump ahead to 1986, and General John Wickler’s leadership definition, “the process by which an individual determines direction and influences others to accomplish the mission of the organization.”

It’s true, not only do leaders use their talents and experience to influence others, they also focus only on those activities necessary to achieve a desired outcome.

Leaders help others to believe in the vision, goal or objective. Leaders define the work environment and provide the framework to support their team. Leaders identify the priorities as well as provide the direction for completing tasks on time.

In conclusion, it is important to note that the primary measurement of leadership success, is the final outcome or result. Every leader is 100% accountable for the bottom-line results of the team.

Great leaders are the first to give the credit for successful results to the team. These same great leaders are the first to accept the blame personally when the team fails to perform.

In this same spirit, President Harry S. Truman subscribed to the famous leadership definition, “The Buck Stops Here!

(Back to Step 1) (Go to Step 3)

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