Who’s The Boss?

I want people to stop flagrantly misusing the word leadership.

True leadership is:

  • the ability of a person or group of people,
  • to guide or influence the members of a group,
  • to achieve that group’s collective goal.

People misunderstand leadership because they equate it with authority.  In fact, I feel so strongly that I need to make a graphic:

Let’s get it straight, authority simply gives someone power.  It’s the ability in a certain context to make another person do something.  The C.E.O. of a company has authority.  Senior politicians have authority.  Police have authority.  They all have authority, but this doesn’t automatically make them leaders.

While we’re on it, here’s another graphic:

Power is also not leadership.

Power is dominance.  It can be physical or emotional.  Those with power can protect or harm, but this doesn’t make them a leader.

The good news is you don’t need authority or power to be a leader.  You don’t need a special title, or a special role bestowed upon you by the group.  What you need is a moment to take action and responsibility.  If a ship is sinking, make sure everyone gets on a life raft.  If the group is lost in the woods, take charge to help find the way.  Leadership happens in a certain context for a period of time.  I believe that it’s temporary, necessary, and can come from anyone.

It’s nice when those with power or authority act as leaders, but it’s not always the case.  I think more people than usual are lost in the woods these days and they have a choice: either find and follow good leadership, or step up and become a leader yourself.