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  • Writer's picturePhil Cole


New to Re:Define and our unique approach to leadership? This is the place to start.

First, let me tell you a few things that leadership is not.

Leadership is not:

  • A position

  • A specific action or actions

  • A personal characteristic

First, leadership is not a position. Just because a person gets to a certain point in an organization does not mean that he or she is effective at leading others. We all know people who are high up in organizations who do things wrong, and often do the wrong things. These folks aren't leaders. And, conversely, we probably know people who don't have a fancy title, but they seem like leaders to us - we respect and listen to them.

Second, leadership isn't a specific action or set of actions. Every leader has "the top 8 things to be a great leader" somewhere in their material. This approach suggests that if you just do these things, you'll be a good leader. What the approach ignores is that leadership is situational - the most effective approach varies based on the specific leadership challenge, the operational environment, the members of the team, and the leader him- or her-self. What works in one place won't work in a different place. (There is also a great deal of ego in this approach, which we will discuss in great detail.)

Last, leadership is not a personal characteristic. It's not charisma, or a sense of family, or integrity, or a true north, or any of the other nebulous personality traits that experts try to find in leaders. There are all types of successful leaders - loud, quiet, funny, serious, old, young, I could go on and on. If leadership required a certain personality trait or characteristic, all leaders would be one type of person. But leadership isn't born, it's learned.

Why start by telling you what leadership is not? Because, for many reasons, we are trained to think that leadership is a combination of all of these things. As a result, we don't have a solid definition of leadership, one that we can turn into action.

So what is leadership? Here's the definition of leadership, the only one that matters.

Leadership is the process of learning to build human relationships to turn a vision into reality.

There are three components, or cores, to leadership. These cores, and the connections between them, tell us how to be successful at leadership. Our work at Re:Define is to show you how to turn your understanding of the definition into leadership actions.

The first core is turning a vision into reality. Vision is the possible future that you want to create. This could be anything from a new company to a social movement to a successful conversation with your coworker or friend. You just have to believe that the world would be better if this possibility became real. Your vision is your leadership direction.

The second core is the human relationships that enable the vision to become reality. If you didn't need other people, the challenge wouldn't be leadership; it would be technical. So the way that you relate to others, and they relate to each other, is what you have to focus on. What do those relationships look like to make the vision happen? Relationships are your leadership momentum, the force that moves you and those involved towards the vision.

The third core is a process of learning - that's your job. Once you know what relationships you need to create, you have to find the actions or behaviors that will create them. As described above, these actions are situational. There are about a million possibilities for you in any situation, and an equal number of experts out there. Look at what you are doing with honesty and decide if it works or not, then figure out how to change to be more effective.

Here are some things to think about:

  • All successful leaders follow this definition. Most never consciously realize it, but they all practice the three cores.

  • Leadership doesn't happen instantaneously. You have to learn and build, so it takes time.

  • Visions are not created alone. They have to reflect the environment and the team, as well as the leader. You are responsible for synthesizing, not creating.

  • Leading requires change. If, in your own life and behavior, you aren't building on what works and improving what doesn't, then you aren't learning.

  • This definition is universal. It applies to leaders who do good things and bad, leaders who build big things and small, leaders we know and leaders who go unnoticed.

Write this definition down on your desk where you can see it every day. Think about it. Check yourself against it. When you don't know what to do in a specific situation, do a self-assessment: start at vision, then move to relationships, and then lastly learning. Ask yourself what's working and what is not, and then change.

This sounds simple, and in many ways it is. Re:Define was created to cut through the complications we put in our way, so that we can understand the fundamental nature of a complex issue. You can read more about us if you want. To keep learning, check out the basics in our blog posts.

Oh yeah, about ego -- We at Re:Define don't just believe that anyone is capable of leadership, we know everyone is capable of leading. Every single person. Don't let anyone tell you that you need a position, a specific set of behaviors or actions, or a certain personality characteristic.

If this makes sense, feel free to explore the site. And sign up for updates or come back often, as we're constantly adding new content.

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