What is Leadership and what makes a good leader?

A lot is talked about leadership but few people actually stop to ask: “what is leadership?” Here I will give you my answer, and that of other famous leaders. But I actually believe the answer lies in all of us, so I invite you to go beyond simply reading other people’s opinions and think more deeply about why you are asking the question and what leadership means to you.

If you aspire to lead, the chances are you have a calling to do so. By asking the question what is leadership, you clearly have a thirst for self-improvement and a certain humility, so important in leaders, that recognises we continue to learn throughout our lives. Only by constantly questioning ourselves and our constantly-changing environment can we begin to provide answers to the daily challenges we and our people face.

Here you will find a whole section dedicated to the answer, which we will be adding to over the next few weeks. In addition to a high level, philosophical discussion already started on this page (though it won’t all be so deep and “heavy”!), you will find specific areas explored, including:

Like a candle in the dark, good leaders attract and guide people along a path of hope to success

The answer to the question “what is leadership?” lies within all of us

The fact you are reading this means you obviously have an interest in leadership. The fact you have read this far implies that interest goes beyond a passing curiosity as most casual visitors do not read beyond what they can see without moving down the page.

As I write this and attempt to put myself in your, the reader’s position, I ask myself why that is. There is, of course, more than one possible answer, but I imagine only a very small proportion of you are not interested in being a leader, or a better leader. If not, you would not be asking what is leadership at all.

Through my years teaching and training groups and individuals - and indeed my own experience of training and being coached - I have come to realise and believe firmly that the seed of the answer to our questions does indeed lie within. Sure, we need to seek information - facts and knowledge - and reference the experience of others to help guide us. This is the food and water that seed needs to grow. But at the end of the day, it is the seed that grows and produces fruit, not the external stimuli, however necessary they are to the healthy growth of the plant (the tree of knowledge if you like!)

However desirable it is for people to know about the world, education is not about stuffing facts and figures into young (or old!) minds and insisting on repetitive regurgitation, especially in these technological days of instant access to almost all accumulated human knowledge. Nor is it about telling people what “should be done” and how. It is about helping people maximise their potential and their use of the available knowledge and resources to conceive solutions to the challenges of life. 

This is particularly relevant to leadership, which, as is often said, cannot be taught, but it can be learnt. Maybe you can now begin to see the point I am making with the above statement if you didn’t at the beginning...

A good coach, teacher or trainer really educates in the truest, original sense of the word - to “draw out”. To guide and enable independent, questioning thought using the natural talents all of us possess to a greater or lesser extent.  The “e” in education, as fellow scholars will know, means “out” in Latin. So education is not, or rather should not be, inculcation, which obviously has opposite connotations, and means “force in”. Sadly it usually is.

This is why I feel it’s so important to throw the question back to you and ask - what is leadership for you? What is it about leadership that attracts you, excites you, even impassions you?” It will hopefully be clear from this site (and the time and effort producing it) that this is not simply a cop-out on my part but a genuine conviction that leadership and learning are all about finding the answers within, helped along by strong guidance and unswerving support.

Similarly, a good leader is adept at seeing the often hidden talents of individuals (hopefully before hiring them!) and drawing them out, for the benefit of all: increased motivation for the individual and increased effectiveness for the whole team. They are also good at motivating people to take responsibility for those talents and the actions they take using them.

In order to do this, you first need to recognise and take responsibility for your own life and talents. If you are unsure about your leadership role, recognise this and take action. Either clarify your motivation and (re)connect with the reason you took - or want to take - the position, or step aside and take some time to find your true purpose and passion.

If you can truly say you have a calling to lead, recognise and believe you have what it takes, since however afraid or unprepared you might feel, you would not feel this way if you were not meant to do it. As the brilliant speaker Anthony (Tony) Robbins (the “Why Guy”) says, “if you can’t you must and if you must you can”. Everything flows from there! If we were to ask Tony “what is leadership?” he would probably answer something like “what’s in it for me to lead? And what’s in it for you to follow?

Why do people follow leaders?

So, one final thought for this page. Why do people follow leaders? Is it not because they offer hope of something better, something they wish to accomplish? To inspire people to follow you, you need to be credible, to have realistic solutions and to display the qualities to which they aspire even if they can’t see them (yet) in themselves. 

In fact, the people you attract should be better than you, in their fields - they pick up where you leave off, as Richard Branson puts it, in reference to recognising both your strengths and your limitations. After all, what’s the point in recruiting people to your organisation or cause if you can do the job better?!

Only in this way will people have the natural motivation to do whatever it takes to achieve the common objective, which also needs to be as clear and bright as a candle; while confidence is essential for credibility, it is dangerous without the humility to recognise that in reality it is the goal they are following not you, however charismatic you may be.

If confidence and humility are two (perfectly compatible) leadership characteristics required to attract people to follow you, I would say that passion and your ability to transmit it is the magnetism that keeps people with you on the path to success. Like a candle - a metaphor for a good leader - apart from giving off light, is also alive with the heat of fire. Your passion is the fire within which flows from inspirational leaders, lighting little fires in everyone around them. You can be an inspirational leader just by following your passion and feeding the flames!

--

Ok, so despite my proclamation at the top, I have sort of answered the question “what is leadership” for you! In broad terms, anyway, and the rest of this section will provide plenty more food for thought - and facts and figures! Not to mention anecdotes, quotes and even jokes. But I challenge you to look inside yourself for the answer to what being a leader means for you.


Applied Corporate Governance > What is Leadership?

Read articles from our corporate governance blog


Search this site:

Subscribe and receive a free ebook!
* indicates required
Don't worry, your email is totally secure - we promise only to use it to send you updates from Applied Corporate Governance.