The “Best” Definition of Leadership

My favorite definition of leadership comes from Kouzes and Posner:

“Leadership is the art of mobilizing others to want to struggle for shared aspirations.”

That’s a great, dense package that generates discussion about the complexity of leadership.

However, sometimes we need something more active. That’s why I like:

Leaders Meet Needs.

I know I’ve written about this before, but I’d like to offer a defense; critics find it incomplete and overly simple.

Well, I have something to say to those critics:

You’re right, but so what?

The Kouzes/Posner definition is more complex and complete, but it’s tough for folks to immediately put into action.

Too much leadership development and leadership writing is focused on theory, not action.

While it’s important to dive deep and not insult the capabilities of aspiring — or accomplished — leaders, it’s also important to provide hope, inspiration, and a way to put things into practice, regardless of how much “stuff” a leader has learned.

The world and workplace do NOT wait for leaders to be properly assessed, trained, and “developed.” Instead, people end up getting promoted because someone else left, or they take the chair of a committee because it’s “their turn.” And we’re all aware of The Peter Principle – and have certainly seen it in action.

As we continue to explore and develop leaders, we can all turn to this definition when we’re overwhelmed:

Meet Needs.

This requires curiosity – a leader has to ask “What’s needed?” then act on it.

It could be…

“What does she need from me?”

“What does this team need right now?”

“What does he need to hear to do his best work?”

but it all comes down to “What’s needed now?”

The answer the leader comes up with might be 100% right on, but it’s more likely to be 50-80% right on. Still, the resulting action is likely to be better informed and better motivated than action based on simply telling people what to do. They usually already know that.

Consider a bias toward action. The world moves when we do. Lack of initiative doesn’t result in lack of change, it results in decay. Meet needs.

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