What is Leadership and how to get there?

Let’s start by asking the question: “What is Leadership?”. The Academy of Leadership sciences in Switzerland, has answered this question by suggesting that every theory is subjective and will change, therefore every definition would be relative. As such, what leadership is, is also relative. Here are a few examples of how some thought leaders in the space have defined leadership.

“Leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.” – John Maxwell

“Successful leadership is leading with the heart, not just the head. They possess qualities like empathy, compassion, and courage.” – Bill George, Professor at Harvard Business School

“Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes.”  – Peter F. Drucker

“Leadership is not a person or a position. It is a complex moral relationship between people, based on trust, obligation, commitment, emotion, and a shared vision of the good.” – Joanne Ciulla

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In his book, “The 5 levels of leadership”, John Maxwell has provided insights into what perceived leadership is and by whom. 

Level-1: Position

At this level, a position or a title is granted, along with authority. People follow because they have to.

Level-2: Permission

You have built credibility and crafted relationships, as such people give you permission to lead them, based on mutual trust.

Level-3: Product

You are delivering results and are becoming a change agent, so people want to follow your example and learn from you.

Level-4: People Development

People (especially other leaders) want to follow you because of what you have done for them. At this level, it’s about developing other leaders and helping them grow.

Level-5: Pinnacle

This is the tip of the spear, people follow you because of who you are and what you represent.

According to Maxwell, only a few leaders reach the "Pinnacle" level of leadership. A key point to note here is that every higher level builds on its predecessor. As such, it could be argued that leadership is not innate, rather a learned set of skills. At every level, leadership demands time and evolution from individualistic tactical approach to broader people, organization and strategic approach.