What is Leadership?

Leadership is another poorly defined concept in management. What is leadership? My quick, working definition: “Leadership is a relationship between two or more people concerned with the making of meaning”.

Let’s unpack that definition a little:

  1. Leadership occurs between two people or among more than that number.
  2. The making of meaning is the primary function of leadership.
  3. Meaning is made by interpreting experience (usually through the telling of meaningful stories or narratives).
  4. Leadership is concerned with change, for it is in times of organizational turmoil that meaning either needs to be made or existing meaning can become fragmented and lost.

A key feature of my book The New Ecology of Leadership: Mastering Business in a Chaotic World is the importance of asking good questions if one wants to get good answers. “What is leadership?” is a rather restrictive question.

To it one might add:

  • When is leadership? When is it needed? When does it emerge?
  • Who is leadership? Who initiates it? Who does it?
  • Why is leadership? Why do firms need leadership? What or whose purpose does it serve?
  • Where is leadership?
  • How is leadership?

The mental model in my new book helps address these and other questions. It shows where leadership fits in the dynamic livess of organizations and how it relates to other tools and settings.