Rear-Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson, 1758–1805

What is leadership?

by Andrew Hill on June 25, 2011

Leadership has many definitions. Is any one definition more correct than others?

If leadership is what leaders do, then leadership may be described in innumerable ways. Here is a short list of broad, general definitions that might be applied to the work that leaders do.


  • use the current state of morale of others to direct their energies towards the outcome the leader desires
  • persuade, compel, influence or otherwise cause somebody else to do what the leader want them to do.
  • uses his/her authority to direct and coordinate the actions and resources available to others
  • define a goal that enables others to solve a perceived problem
  • shape the habits of others so that their actions fulfil the leader’s goals and they adopt those goals as their own
  • coordinate and guide others to achieve their own predetermined goals

The selection of any one definition at the exclusion of others would depend on its applicability to an leader’s actions within a particular situation or context. The choice of definition may also depend upon who it is making the selection – a leader or authority figure, subordinate or follower, or client or external observer. Each observes and appraises the act of leadership from their own particular standpoints. Observers will also apply their own assumptions and values to the interpretation of what they see.

Which of these definitions ring true to you? Can you suggest other definitions that could be added to this list?


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