The one quality every leader must have


Leadership is the topic of keynotes, webinars, and articles, with experts all around the world professing deep knowledge of the subject. Every day there are countless discussions on what makes a good leader, but a definition of the actual word is needed first (you wouldn’t start planning tactics if you didn’t have a strategy, would you?).

One oft-quoted, antiquated definition of leadership comes from management consultant Peter Drucker, who wrote “the only definition of a leader is someone who has followers.” Of course, this idea doesn’t take into account charismatic narcissists or individuals who will follow just about anyone, but I assumed Drucker’s definition of leadership was not the one many of us use today (in fact, we’re probably leaning more towards what he called ‘management’). When I did an image search for this post, however, the term ‘leadership’ generated images of people on pedestals or running ahead with others following closely behind, and I have a hunch that Drucker’s views are still commonplace.

Merriam-Webster defines ‘to lead’ as ‘to direct on a course or in a direction’. This may be true of many leaders, but what is involved in ‘directing’? This seems to be aligned with Drucker’s definition of a leader; however, not all managers are leaders, and not all leaders are managers.

Leadership is inspiring others to pursue your vision within the parameters you set, to the extent that it becomes a shared effort, a shared vision, and a shared success. – Steve Zeitchik (CEO, Focal Point Strategies)

Zeitchik uses words like ‘inspiring’ and ‘shared’, suggesting leadership is a collaborative effort. However, can someone be a leader if a vision wasn’t theirs, or if they didn’t set the parameters? What if they still inspire others to work towards a common goal and a shared success?

Jonas Falk’s (CEO, OrganicLife) definition resonates more with me as a millennial, since it is better aligned with today’s ‘we’ focus, rather than yesterday’s ‘me’:

Leadership is the ability to take an average team of individuals and transform them into superstars. The best leader is the one who inspires his workers to achieve greatness each and every day.

Falk’s definition still suggests that the leader is doing the transforming and that leader is in control. What about a team of superstars? Would a good leader be able to take them to a higher level as well?

I like Peter Economy’s introduction to one Inc. Magazine article where he refers to those seeking great leadership “to motivate your team to achieve the highest levels of performance.” Economy’s use of the word ‘motivate’ echoes Zeitchik’s notion of ‘inspiration’, bringing us closer to the leader as an external or third-party force, like an angel on your shoulder whispering “try this”.

Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal. – Kevin Kruse (Forbes Leadership columnist and NY Times Bestselling Author)

Do you see a pattern here?

Leadership is the act of empowering others to lead. A leader is the catalyst that enables others to succeed. It may be as simple as mentoring someone as they strive to reach their goals, or assembling a large team and creating a forum for them to collaborate, share insights, and work together on their way to the top. Think of a leader like a team captain: they still play the sport, but they’re tasked with being the group representative, entrusted by others to help everyone succeed.

I believe the one quality every leader must have is the ability to empower others to become leaders. And perhaps this very trait is the definition as well.

Do you agree? Disagree? Do you have a different definition of leadership?