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What is leadership?

One of my colleagues recently asked me: Simon, what is leadership to you? It is an important questions that guides my whole approach to leadership. It affects my leadership style and how I approach and think about people.

Before I give my answer I think it is important to differentiate between what leadership is and what we do to do be effective at leading. Much of what I have written about at this blog so far has been in the latter category; what we do to be efficient at leading. They are related to each other in that our behaviours are guided by our motives; what we think leadership is will guide how we lead.

Here is what I think leadership is:
I think leadership is about showing the way. It is about having the courage to step up and showing how things should be done. It can be a CEO who through words and actions show where the company is going and why but also a programmer who takes an active role in discussing how the code should be structured and written to be future proof. I think leadership is about saying: follow me.

I also think leadership is about ownership. This is both a personal ownership, what we call integrity, but also a collective ownership for the people that I have been set to lead. I think a leader has a responsibility that extends beyond oneself. We can see this when things are hard and we need to make sacrifices. We rally behind leaders that takes ownership and shares the responsibilities in salary cuts and canceled bonus pay-outs but we despise the leader that are only looking for personal gain without any regards to the people they are leading.

Finally, I think leadership is about serving. As a leader I serve something else than myself; I serve the people that I am leading. It is their progress that gives me credit as a leader and I take pride in their success. Serving also mean that I coach the team to do things better, whatever the word ‘better’ means in your context. But in order not to be misunderstood, I also think it is important to say that serving does not mean meek. Being a servant leader does not mean that we are a run over. Sometimes we have to stand firm in what we believe, if it is for the benefit of the team, and fight for it to happen.

You might have a clear idea of what you think leadership is or you might not. I will pass on the question that I got from my colleague to you and ask: What is leadership to you?