Want Different Results? Change Your Definition of Leadership

Until recently,* “leaders” were primarily white, male, educated and wealthy. While we’re now seeing people who look different filling more positions of authority, are these leaders actually behaving or leading differently than their predecessors?

This moment in history provides a wonderful opportunity to examine what leadership means and what it looks like. Leadership is changing as old models are crumbling and the new faces of leadership are challenging long-held concepts of power and its use.

A narrow definition of leadership refers to a person in a position of authority within a group or organization where their actions automatically constitute leadership because they come from the authority figure. My career has been dedicated to expanding the definition of leadership. I believe that leadership is more than holding a position, title or degree. True leadership is about identifying and living our best selves in a way that serves the communities where we work and live every day. Tweet this thought! Being this type of leader isn’t something obtained or achieved. It’s lived in our daily actions, behaviors and practices.

Which brings us to a rich conversation about leadership and its relationship to the current presidential candidates. Are not Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump “leaders” because they are their party’s respective nominees? Conventional wisdom would say yes, and yet, many people across the political spectrum argue that their past and current conduct does not reveal leadership that is ethical, moral, inspirational or even effective in creating results that benefit the greater good.

If people believe that leadership is a natural extension of being in a position of authority, then both Clinton and Trump are extremely “qualified” leaders – ironic, as that is one of the most frequent arguments against both of their candidacies. Large numbers of people across the political spectrum see individuals who have often diverged from the qualities we want in our leaders, such as authenticity, clarity, humility, vision, boldness, compassion, intelligence, etc. So if we want something different in our leaders then we must want something different in our understanding and application of leadership.

We’ve come full circle—the world’s most powerful democracy is going to elect a leader – a president – that looks different from anyone before him or her. We will either elect the first female president or the first non-professional politician, so we’re changing how leadership looks on the outside. The struggle that exists in this election season is a clear understanding of what leadership really means. Is it enough to believe that people in positions of power are leading or are we going to mindfully cultivate a definition that focuses on the actions of the individual each day as the true indicator of leadership, regardless of the position held?

For me, living leadership means that everyone has the opportunity to create meaningful impact in the world regardless of an external position or title. Tweet this thought! This definition of leadership means we can enrich our lives by harnessing our power to change ourselves, our choices and the resulting impact we have on others every day. This is leadership that is alive. If each of us embraces a broader definition of leadership, we create the opportunity for all of us to hold the “leaders” of our country to higher standards and to know that the change we seek can be found in the leadership we exercise each day.

*Kathleen Schafer redefines leadership as number 50 in Entrepreneur.com’s list of motivational quotes from inspiring women leaders.



35 thoughts on “Want Different Results? Change Your Definition of Leadership”

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