What is a Leader?

There are so many ways to define leadership, but the following qualities are worth pondering. Wait! Before you do, take a moment to consider the question: What is a leader? How you define leadership will directly relate to the actions you take as a leader.

One Quality All Leaders Share

The simplest definition of leadership can be expressed by answering the question “What do Oprah, Trudeau, The Beatles, and your fourth grade teacher all have in common?” Think now, don’t just jump to the answer.

The answer is they all have followers. Leaders need followers or they can’t lead at all. Derek Sivers demonstrates succinctly and hilariously this fundamental trait of leadership in his 3 minute TED talk.

How Leadership Manifests

Daniel Goleman is the man who coined the phrase “EQ” – Emotional Intelligence Quotient. He took that concept and put together this chart to explain what high EQ at work looks like. Leaders have high EQ and the chart assists us in understanding what the behaviours of a strong leader are.

Self-awarenessThe ability to recognize and understand personal moods and emotions and drives, as well as their effect on others
  • self-confidence, realistic
  • self-assessment
  • a self-deprecating sense of humour
Self-regulationThe ability to control or redirect disruptive impulses and moods, and the propensity to suspend judgment and to think before acting.
  • trustworthiness and integrity
  • comfort with ambiguity
  • openness to change
Internal MotivationA passion to work for internal reasons that go beyond money and status – which are external rewards, – such as an inner vision of what is important in life, a joy in doing something, curiosity in learning, a flow that comes with being immersed in an activity. A propensity to pursue goals with energy and persistence.
  • strong drive to achieve
  • optimism even in the face of failure
  • organizational commitment
EmpathyThe ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people. A skill in treating people according to their emotional reactions.
  • expertise in building and retaining talent
  • cross-cultural sensitivity
  • service to clients and customers.
Social SkillsProficiency in managing relationships and building networks, and an ability to find common ground and build rapport.
  • effectiveness in leading change
  • persuasiveness
  • expertise building and leading teams.

Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner came out with their book The Five Practices of Exemplary Leaders in 1987 and we still think it says it all. Just what does a leader do, anyway?

After looking at these models, take a few minutes to develop your own definition. Decide what a leader is and what behaviours you need to exhibit to be the best leader you can be. Then go – put your strengths to work – and consider taking them to the next level with our Management Foundations and Leadership Foundations programs.

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Written By:
Tara Landes

Tara Landes is the Founder and President of Bellrock. She has spent over 20 years consulting and training in small to medium-sized enterprises. A sought-after speaker on a wide range of business topics, Tara has delivered workshops and seminars at conferences and industry associations across Canada. Tara obtained a BA (Honours) in Political Science from the University of Western Ontario (UWO) and earned an MBA from UWO's Richard Ivey School of Business.

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