It started with Bennis.
Bennis wrote that “Managers do things right, leaders do the right thing.” With all due respect to one of the brightest minds of leadership theory, I still have no idea what that is supposed to mean. Perhaps it’s the lack of clarity in the definition that set us on a crusade to draw up a final draft.
Perhaps we bit off more than we can chew.
Now we have:
“Leadership is influence.”
“Leadership is the ability to impress the will the leader on the followers.”
“Leadership is an influence relationship.”
“Leadership is what leaders to in groups.”
“Leadership is inspiring others to take action.”
“Leadership is the ability to get someone to do what you want them to do and like it.”
On and on it goes until we’re left more confused than we were with Bennis’ definition alone. It seems like leadership scholars are gridlocked in their debate over the precise wording of a leadership definition. It seems like leadership students are lost in definition.
Allow me to be the first to raise this question: who cares?
Should the study of leadership be any different than biology or psychology? Gather a roomful of biology scholars and you’ll likely get a roomful of definitions of biology. Yet they find a way to work together to progress their field. Why should leadership be any different? Indeed, the definitions above all share a similar resemblance.
We must move beyond this need to define. We must stop asking ourselves what a leader looks like so we can begin to tackle the more important, more vital questions:
What makes a leader effective? What makes “good” leadership?
Introducing David Burkus, with his first guest appearance at Never Mind the Manager. – Thank you David.
David Burkus is the editor of LeaderLab, a community of resources dedicated to promoting the practice of leadership theory. He is an executive coach, a sought-after speaker and an adjunct professor of business at several universities. David focuses on developing leaders putting leadership and organizational theory into practice. Follow David on Twitter