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How do you define Leadership?

leadership: /ˈliːdəʃɪp/
noun: the action of leading a group of people or an organisation.

Peter Drucker: “The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers.”
Warren Bennis: “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.”
Bill Gates: “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.”
Steve Jobs: “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”
John Maxwell: “Leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.”

I love to ask this question and explore the answers people come up with.  It’s a question that I often ask and explore in a Leadership Masterclass, or ask rhetorically in a Keynote.  

My preferred answers have something to do with knowing where you’re going.  “Leadership is going from ‘here’ to ‘there’, after all if there is no ‘there’ to go to, why leave ‘here’.”

“Leadership is going from ‘here’ to ‘there’, after all if there is no ‘there’ to go to, why leave ‘here’.”

They also have something about taking people with you from ‘here’ to ‘there’.  After all, a leader with no followers is simply taking a walk, and to get people to go “there” they will need to know why they have to leave “here”.  

Many answers touch on something about a leader being inspirational, compelling and engaging, on leading the way and going first.

One of my preferred definitions is that leadership is intentional influence in the context of relationship.

“Leadership is intentional influence in the context of relationship.”

Genuine Influence starts with Integrity.  

Of course, people can be influential but not always in a good way, and it seems to me that to have genuine influence it must start with integrity.

Integrity comes from the same root word as Integer, which is a term for a whole number, so one definition of integrity is that our words and our actions are whole and complete.  Another definition might be that Integrity means NOT doing something that you wouldn’t like reading about in tomorrow mornings newspaper, or tonight’s evening news, or in social media in five minutes time!  But, I think integrity means more than that; I prefer to say that integrity means doing the right thing, even when no-one will notice.

“Integrity means doing the right thing, even when no-one will notice.”

I remember when I was growing up and I used to hang about with some friends, when one day a couple of them disappeared.  Well, those of us that were left were curious and we spread out to figure out where they’d gone; we found them in our local park, hiding in some bushes, smoking cigarettes.  We were all of an age when we were about to move up to high school and felt pretty grown up, and this seemed like a pretty grown-up thing to do, so we decided to join in.  I recall that we used to take it in turns to buy a pack from a vending machine outside a local shop for half a crown a pack, and still get change.

I remember walking home after spending some time at the park smoking and all of a sudden thinking: “what if mum finds out”, and even worse, “what if she tells dad”.  I had a think and came up with a brilliant idea to figure out if mum would find out.  I cupped my hands, blew into them and then carefully breathed in deeply … “No, I think I’ll get away with it” I said to myself.  

Of course, I didn’t get away with it at all; as any non-smoker will tell you, they can usually detect the slightest trace of smoke on a smoker for hours afterwards.  It’s a bit like that when a person compromises their integrity, they may be able to “get away with it” for a while, but it leaves a trace that others will detect sooner or later.

The good news about integrity though is that we’re not born with it — or without it — which means that it’s a behaviour-based virtue that we can cultivate over time. We can set a goal to show more integrity in everyday life and we can move towards that goal by practicing.

Modelling, or providing an Example

The first stage of influence I want to talk about here is called modelling.  We can see this in families, where children initially model themselves on their parents or older siblings, and then later perhaps on their friends, just as I did when I started smoking – although all models are an influence, not all models are a good influence.

Sometimes soaps like to run story-lines and then model behaviours that they want people to follow.  Do you know which is the longest running soap?  Well, it’s “The Archers”, which still broadcasts in the UK today on BBC Radio 4.  This radio soap started in 1951 and a key reason for its introduction was entirely for propaganda purposes.  The second World War had not long ended, food was in short supply and food rationing was still in operation.

At this time the government wanted to introduce some new farming methods to the farming community in order to maximise food production, so The Archers was set in a rural farming community called Ambridge in the county of Borsetshire, near to Warwickshire and Worcestershire in the Midlands.  Here the Archer family and their farming neighbours explored these new farming methods, decided to try them out and then discussed all the benefits accruing from doing so, in order to try and influence the British farming community to follow their example.

Apprenticeships

Another great example of modelling is found in apprenticeships, where apprentices model themselves on the “Master Craftsman”.

When I left school to go on to higher education, I was lucky enough to get a place as a student apprentice with the Michelin Tyre Company.  This meant that I worked there during the university holidays, and they gave me a salary and paid for all my University fees.  It was during this time that I learned my trade as a Chartered Engineer, working in a number of factories across the UK and in France.

We started off spending some time with these Master Craftsmen learning a variety of foundational engineering skills.  One of our first tasks was to learn how to use a hammer and chisel to cut a thin slice off a larger piece of metal.  While we were hammering away one of the craftsman would stop by each one of us in turn, point to a sign on the other side of the workshop and say: “Now read to me what that sign says, and don’t stopping hammering!”.  

Well, many bruises later we were getting quite good at chiselling, and that lesson also taught us something really important: to take our eyes off where the hammer was striking the chisel and focus on where the chisel was cutting the metal.  In other words, to take our eyes off the point of impact and focus on the point of application. 

Take your eyes off the point of impact and focus on the point of application.

A really valuable lesson in so many ways, and one which we would do well to remind ourselves of from time to time.  

So, modelling is one stage of influence, and genuine influence must start with integrity.  I’ll go on to share some ideas about further stages of influence in the next blog post.

About Roger Fairhead

Roger is a leadership specialist delivering Leadership for Business Achievement through Speaking, Training and Coaching to business leaders and entrepreneurs.

“He is articulate, tracks complex issues with ease and has an incredible gift for raising pearls of wisdom out of the murky depths of people and process.” His passion is to help people to learn effective leadership skills to lead their teams to capitalize on their strengths and passions to realize their dreams.

Leadership for Business also invests into the dreams of families in the world’s underserved communities to offer them small loans that empower them to invest in their future, to provide for their families and give back to their communities.