Leadership – What exactly is it? Are leaders born or made? Are leaders the smartest people in an organization? Do they use a certain style? Over the next few posts we will explore what leadership is and the role of human resources in developing and acquiring top talent that can effectively lead their organizations into the future.

Leadership is an intangible. If you get 25 people in a room and ask them to define leadership, I assure you, you will get MORE than 25 answers. And although everyone believes they know what leadership is, when asked to really define it, to put a fine point on it, it often becomes clear that everyone has a different concept or definition of what it really means.

According to Stephen Robbins and Mary Coulter, Leadership is the ability to influence the activities of others, through the process of communication, toward the attainment of a goal. But is this really THE definition of leadership? Is a single definition appropriate for all organizations? And what about leadership style? Is one style better than another?

In his book 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John C. Maxwell postulates that there are 21 irrefutable laws of leadership that must be present to truly be effective. If that is so, then why are some leaders wildly successfully in one organization only to leave and join another organization and suddenly fail? Does organizational culture impact the laws of leadership?

Leadership is much like an iceberg – 10% of it is visible, above the surface of the water, but it’s what’s below, what you can’t see and often can’t comprehend, that has the greatest impact on your organization. For example, the top 10% represents the skills of the leader including technical skills to actually do the job, human resources skills to work effectively with others, conceptual skills to think abstractly and trust building skills to move others.  Now, don’t get me wrong, that may be 10%, but it is a hugely important 10% and if that’s only 10%, what makes up the remaining 90%? For me, I believe the other 90% is the character of a leader. Thus, leadership is a combination of both skills and character.

Peter Drucker defined it this way, “The quality of character does not make a leader, but the absence flaws the entire process”.  How many times have we lamented in HR that we hire for skills and terminate for character? With that being the case, it is vitally important that we get this leadership thing right to have any hope of inspiring others to attain our vision and goals.

Next time we will explore the importance of defining leadership in the context of your organization and how that definition relates to the entire employee life-cycle.