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Leadership Defined

April 9, 2019

At the beginning of our leadership meetings at ADDO, a different person on our team will share a new insight or lesson they are learning. Recently, one of my colleagues stood up to facilitate the session and began talking about this idea of leadership. The information shared was insightful and compelling, but the definition of leadership didn’t sit well with me. I was feeling uncharacteristically adversarial that day and stopped my colleague in the middle of the presentation. I had a visceral reaction to this statement about leadership and had to let my team know that I disagreed.

ADDO is a leadership consultancy. But even within our company, it became obvious to me that we haven’t landed on a single definition of leadership.

So…what is leadership?

Harvard Business Review defines leadership as the accomplishment of a goal through the direction of human assistants.

Merriam-Webster defines leadership as simply the office or position of a leader.

John Maxwell says that “leadership is influence—nothing more and nothing less.”

I personally believe Maxwell’s definition is close, but I think there is a little more.

Leadership is influence, followed by action.


Influence is something that moves people mentally or emotionally. Influence changes their minds and their hearts. But changing someone’s mind isn’t enough if it doesn’t change their actions. True leadership causes people to do something differently.

So if this is leadership…who is a leader?

Some people say that the term leadership has been overused and watered-down, arguing that if you aren’t actually in a position of authority, you are not a leader. On the other hand, some people say that everyone is a leader.

I believe that everyone is not a leader. However, I believe everyone has the potential to be a leader. If leadership is influence followed by action, then all of us have the potential to influence and to inspire action.

We do this through relational influence. This leadership can happen in positions of authority, but it can also happen in our families, in our friendships, in our churches, and in our communities. When we have meaningful relationships with other people, we have the opportunity to influence and move them to action.

Why does it matter?

The world is looking for leaders.

People need help, and people need hope. Kids need to be educated; hungry people need food; individuals need jobs and opportunities; people need a faith to save and sustain them.  All of these things, from the more mundane to the meaningful, require somebody somewhere to stand up, leverage their influence, and move people to action.

So…what are you waiting for?

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