what is leadership?

Explore Answers To The Question "What Is Leadership?" From The Textbook And The Field.

Answers to the question "what is leadership?" can vary based on who you ask or where you search.

what is leadership?

Despite the variety of definitions you may find, a collection of answers can help you shape your own personal theory of leadership.

Exploring the textbook definition can lend to general understanding. However, it's the accumulation of knowledge from those with professional experience that can provide important, additional perspective.

The Textbook Definition Of Leadership.

textbook definition of leadership

As perspectives on leadership have evolved over time, and research continues, several definitions of leadership have been presented.

Here are a few examples:

  • Preston-Cunningham et al. (2017) refer to leadership as the process an individual follows to guide people toward a shared objective.

  • Nahavandi (2006) as cited in Preston-Cunningham et al. (2017) details a leader as supporting an organization's individual and teams in creating goals, influencing achievement, and allowing for effective outcomes.

  • Carson Dye is quoted as saying that leadership is defined by the behaviors of an individual relating to core competencies in the areas of self-awareness, visioning, ability to communicate, and style of execution (Buell, 2012).

What Is Leadership? Perspective From The Field.

Ardichvili & Kuchinke (2002) as cited in Kowske & Anthony (2007) note that cultural differences influence definitions of leadership and the characteristics most-desired in leaders.

Whether considering other cultures, industries, or the perspective that comes from those of different tiers of organizational hierarchy, access to varied frames of reference can improve your own ability to think critically in shaping vision or strategy.

In light of this, we're fortunate to have a special guest contributor, sharing insights on leadership from the field. Enjoy! ⤵️

rachel bretonConnect with Rachel on:
➡️ LinkedIn
➡️ RachelBreton.com

Rachel Breton.

Ex-Professional Soccer Player | Author | Media & Marketing Director | Photographer & Videographer | Sports Psych Mentor | Certified Trainer & Coach

"Leadership is not about titles, positions, or flowcharts. It's about one life influencing another." ~ John C. Maxwell

Often people don’t know that they have the capability to be a leader; it’s a matter of unpacking what is within us. As a coach, I see leaders on and off the field every day. I try my best to bring that out of my players and I’ve seen a common theme: fear.

It appears we fear the consequences of leading. We’ve put that word, “leader,” on a pedestal and often it is our OWN definition that haunts us. Ironically, being a follower is more severe and detrimental––you just go along with the flow. Do you know how many adjustments you must make living that lifestyle? Yet, we do it because it’s comfortable and we don’t carry that burden of deciding.

The truth is, we can all make a difference. Every day, you have someone looking up to you––wanting to be you. Your players, your friends, your teammates, your family; someone is looking up to you. I joke with my friend (well, sometimes not joking I actually mean it) that she is my favorite superhero. We don’t have to wear capes to make a difference.

There’s a misconception with leadership. You don’t need to be a Mother Theresa, a Gandhi, a Martin Luther King, Jr,––you can just be you. You can simply be the leader of your own life.

Leadership is just taking charge, it doesn’t have to be something astronomical, it’s just a way. It’s the trite saying, “leading by example.” There’s just an aura that we can present that says come with me.

‘Come, follow me, Jesus said, and I will make you fishers of men.’  At once they left their nets and followed him.”  Matthew 4:18-20 NIV.

As John Maxwell says, “it’s not about titles, positions, or flowcharts.” It’s not. It’s a matter of being. Think of that role model in your life that took you to the right places, that developed you into your growth. That’s a leader, and that’s you.

Putting The Pieces Together.

leadership puzzle

Some consider leadership to be a puzzle, the pieces gathered from a variety of sources.

To complete your puzzle and to refine your own answer to the question "what is leadership?" combine the following:

  • Textbook understanding of leadership
  • Pearls of wisdom from those in practice
  • Your own personal and professional experiences

Thank You To Our Special Guest Contributor.

We're fortunate to enjoy the contributions of insight and perspective from guest authors to the Inevitabl article library.

Today, our gratitude goes to Rachel Breton.

As she describes, leadership is not reserved for those of certain title or stature, over-complicated by system or process, yet exists as an ingredient within each of us that can be activated through desire, self-belief, and action.

For more from Rachel, be sure to:

For More On Organizational Leadership.

This section of the site is an excellent foundation for developing leadership skills, understanding different types of leadership, and exploring leadership styles.

To continue your learning:

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In health,

David Bohmiller

David Bohmiller, MBA, MS (he/him/his)
Founder, CEO and Consulting Executive
Inevitabl LLC

P.S. - Have a question about leadership or want to add your definition of leadership? Ask and/or share here.

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Buell, J. M. (2012). Defining Leadership: Behavioral Competencies for Success. Healthcare Executive, 27(6), 18.

Kowske, B., & Anthony, K. (2007). Towards Defining Leadership Competence Around the World: What Mid-Level Managers Need to Know in Twelve Countries. Human Resource Development International, 10(1), 21–41. https://doi-org.ezproxy.snhu.edu/10.1080/13678860601170260

Preston-Cunningham, T., Elbert, C. D., & Dooley, K. E. (2017). Defining Leadership: Collegiate Women’s Learning Circles: A Qualitative Approach. Journal of Leadership Education, 16(1), 133–147.

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