What’s your definition of leadership?

It’s difficult to find one that people agree on. I have a quote from a 5th grader on my Facebook page: “Leadership is going first.” There is truth in that statement. John Maxwell is often quoted, “Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.” In a very broad sense this is true. But his definition includes those who lead or have influence in positive ways and also negative ways.

Over the years I’ve asked many high school students about the characteristics of strong leaders. They usually quickly share distinctives about whoever the current president is, or MLK, or Gandhi. I’ll then add in, “What about Hitler? Wasn’t he a leader?” They all agree that he was, which leads to a discussion about different types or styles of leadership.


In fact, here is a quote from Hitler: “The art of leadership ... consists in consolidating the attention ofthe people against a single adversary and taking care that nothing will split up that attention."  Is leadership focusing the attention of people against an adversary?

I don’t think so. At least not the type of leadership I want to have anything to do with.  My current definition for positive leadership is, “Leadership is helping others succeed.”

If you are helping others succeed, you listen first and often.  If you are helping others succeed, you think about what is best for the group or team, not just yourself; in fact, you might not be thinking about yourself at all.  If you are helping others succeed, you start by building trust.  An interesting side effect to helping others succeed is that most likely you will succeed as well.  In your leadership are you looking first to serve yourself, or is your default to first help those you areleading to succeed?

What’s your definition of leadership?

This is a guest post by Chris Theule-VanDam.  Chris is a Regional Director in the state of Michigan for Young Life.  Chris, with his his wife Arika  and their baby son Zeke live in  Allendale, MI.  You can follow Chris on Twitter, www.twitter.com/theule.  Chris is one of the few people I know who can be found on Twitter by just his last name.