What Is Leadership?

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Church Matters is a blog for those “who love and lead the Church.” But who exactly is a leader? And what do we mean by “leadership”?

Here’s how some experts define leadership:

“An influence relationship among leaders and followers who intend real changes that reflect their mutual purposes.” - Joseph Rost, Leadership for the Twenty-First Century

“Mobilizing people to tackle tough problems.” - Ronald Heifetz, Leadership Without Easy Answers

“The art of influencing others to their maximum performance to accomplish any task, objective or project.” – William Cohen, The New Art of the Leader

 “The process of influencing the activities of an individual or a group in efforts toward goal achievement in a given situation.” – Paul Hersey & Kenneth Blanchard, Management of Organizational Behavior 

“The art of mobilizing others to want to struggle for shared aspirations.” – James Kouzes & Barry Posner, The Leadership Challenge

Notice the themes:

  • Influence

  • Relationship

  • Movement

  • People

  • A Goal

Over the years, I’ve reflected and attempted to synthesize into my own definition of leadership. Here is what I’ve come up with so far:

Leadership is influence on people to movement toward a vision.

First, leadership is influence. We often tend to think of leaders as those with a specific position or title within a formal organization. But the essence of leadership is influence, not a particular title or role in one particular context. That influence can be gained or given from a number of sources: Positional authority or title; other types of power (financial, emotional, physical); perceived benefit from an interaction; or personal relationship and trust. Influence is not restricted to a certain age, appearance, ability, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, personality type, or ethnicity. It can be exercised up, down, and all around, wherever God has placed you. 

Second, leadership involves people. Influence is exercised in relationship. We often think of leadership in the context of corporations or large groups, but leadership can take place in much more intimate contexts as well, including one-on-one relationships and small groups. If you have any type of influence in any kind of relationship, you are a leader. So, yes, you are a leader if you are a CEO, a pastor, a director, a manager. But you are also a leader if you are an employee, a colleague, a volunteer, a mentor, a discipler, a teacher, a writer, a friend, a neighbor, a spouse, a parent. The question is not whether you have influence, but how (and how well) you are using that influence.

Third, leadership involves movement. Notice the words in the earlier definitions of leadership: progress, change, mobilization. All imply movement. That movement can be positive or negative, forward or backward, but leadership involves some type of movement. 

Finally, leadership involves a vision — a picture of a desired outcome, whether that is increased profit; a completed project, organizational growth, a changed life, a personal goal, community influence, or cultural transformation. Again, the vision can be morally positive or negative. It may or may not be consciously or clearly articulated. But leadership involves some idea of a preferred future or outcome.

All four of these components – influence, people, movement, and vision – must be in place for true leadership to be present. 

  • Without influence, a potential leader is just a person in a crowd.

  • Without people, a potential leader is simply a lone ranger. 

  • Without movement, people stay stuck.

  • Without vision, people wander aimlessly.

For Your Consideration

  1. With whom do you have influence?

  2. Are you using your influence positively or negatively?

  3. Do you have a clear vision for what you want your influence to accomplish?

Thumbnail photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Angie Ward