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What is Leadership?

The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things. 

– Ronald Reagan

Summary Definition of Leadership:

Leaders are people who, regardless of their title or position, take the initiative to influence the thinking, actions and behavior of others."
 
If you Google “What is leadership?” as I did just now, you’ll find 619 million results. I didn’t have time to read them all, but what comes through is a multitude of meanings, such as “the action of leading a group of people or an organization” or “the state or position of being a leader.”
 
You’ll also find articles about “10 ways to define leadership” and “100 answers to the question, what is leadership?” This contributes to the feeling of a lot of people that leadership is the sole responsibility of the top dogs. It’s something ill-defined that other people do.
 
My definition is different and I think more practical. In my coaching and training, I say that leadership is “Influencing peoples’ thinking, actions and behavior.” 

This is true in business and in life. People who lead are those who influence others.

Are you a leader?

Speaking on “Storytelling for Leaders” at a business lunch event recently, I started with a reasonable question, “By a show of hands, how many leaders do we have here today?”
 
Now, I asked this question knowing that the majority of the 300 people in the audience, which happened to about 80% women, were trade association executives or salespeople who had some significant role in their organizations.
 
I was surprised when only a handful of people raised their hands to identify themselves as leaders. Another 30 or 40 people were tentatively raising their hands to table level as they looked around the room seemingly to determine if they were “leaders.”

So, I said, “Let me reword the question, how many of you have to influence people to make things happen in your workplace?” From the stage, it looked like all the hands went up. Then I asked, “how many of you have to influence people in the rest of your life – at home or in the community?” Again, the hands went up.
 
This points to the problem with how most of us view “leadership” in business and other organizations. We tend to think of leadership as being something conducted by the 5% at the top of our organizations – you know, the CEO and the leadership team.
 
But the truth is we are all leaders in multiple parts of our professional and personal lives. The sooner you recognize this, the sooner you confidently assert your leadership when it is most needed.

We are all leaders
 
This means that we are all leaders, or should be. You don’t need a title or position to lead, you just need to recognize your opportunities to lead others.
 
Even leaders with titles and responsibility for people often have a hazy view of what it means to exert their leadership. With this in mind, here are some tips exercising your personal leadership:
 
Adopt the Mindset: Confidence as a leader starts with your mindset. Change your awareness and focus on having an impact in your organization and your life.
 
Lead without the title: You don’t need a position or a title to be a leader. You have a sphere of influence, which is that circle of people around you in your personal and business lives.
 
People need your leadership. Recognize opportunities to use your power within your own sphere. Identify those times when you have a clear idea of where things should go but you normally sit back and let it happen. Instead, speak up, take action or give direction. You don’t need a title. You need permission. Be a leader.
 
Ask for action: Influence should have results – a call to action. What do you want them to do? Too many times meetings become pointless sessions with information and opinions but no clear next steps, or action. Make decisions, move the process forward, give people clear direction. In other words, be a leader.
 
Learn the rules of influence: The best leaders I work with are also students of leadership. They continuous improve their leadership and communication skills to stay at the top of their game. You can, too.
 
As I’ve written before, there are specific rules of influence, scientifically proven by Dr. Robert Cialdini, a professor at Arizona State University. He is the author of the seminal book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. My friend Brian Ahearn, who is one of only 20 people in the world certified by Dr. Cialdini to teach his method of persuasion, has a great weekly blog on influence.
 
Many people get frustrated by situations they see and believe are powerless to do anything. You have more control than you might realize. The choice is up to you. I hope you choose to recognize yourself as a leader and as take action to change your world.

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