Defining leadership: Actions speak louder than words

Lisa Martin
Lisa Martin

One of my favorite topics is leadership. It’s one of those important things that, like pornography, you recognize when you see it, but is hard to define nonetheless.

How do you define leadership? We often draw from our experiences of both good and bad leaders we’ve known. We know the good ones we liked, respected, wanted to learn from and emulate. We learned equally important lessons from bad leaders — what we hope to never do.

As we think about these leaders, it’s hard to quantify exactly what made them very good, very bad or just mediocre. We likely remember more about how they made us feel than the specific things they did or said.

This leads us to the leadership challenge: If we can’t define leadership, how do we learn it or teach it?

Countless books have been written — and likely will be written in the future — to help us identify leadership.  We all want to know it and many strive to demonstrate it.

Webster’s Dictionary lists 21 definitions for leader, but only two for leadership. They are: “the office or position of a leader; and the quality of a leader: the capacity to lead.”

In his book titled “The Five Levels of Leadership,” John C. Maxwell details his belief there are different levels of leadership, from the most basic level one to the pinnacle at level five:

At level one, you obtain a position of leadership and the opportunity to practice leadership. You’re given the authority to lead and an invitation to grow. If you want to become a true leader, though, you must be willing to work hard and grow beyond the mere position.

At level two, people follow you because they want to, not because they have to. You’re building trust and relationships. People follow you because they know you have their best interests at heart and care about them. You offer respect and support, and they return it in kind.

At level three, you have the position, people have respect and trust in you and you demonstrate results.  People follow you because of their relationships with you and because you create positive results. Management guru Peter Drucker once said: “There are two types of people in the business community; those who produce results and those who give you reasons why they didn’t.” Level three leaders produce results with a willing and enthusiastic team.

Level four leaders do all of the above, but also actively involve themselves in people development.  These leaders don’t have insecurity problems. They hire the best and teach them everything they can to replicate leadership. These leaders are constant teachers who mentor others to achieve their own successes.

Level five leaders reach a pinnacle in which they create a legacy that extends beyond their businesses or organizations. The Dali Lama, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mother Teresa are all legacy leaders. We have legacy leaders in the Grand Valley as well. Who are they for you?

At what leadership level do you operate? What level to you aspire to achieve?