They say a picture is worth a thousand words. If that is so, then the image above exemplifies a thousand-word divide between the conventional concept of a leader and a true concept of a leader. It also illustrates the difference between the mantras, “Do as I say but not as I do,” and “Lead by example.” Much of this disparity is due to the lack of understanding of what leadership is and what it is not.
Kevin Kruse preferred to discuss what leadership is not before settling on what it is. Kruse writes that leadership is not seniority, it’s not related to a company’s hierarchy, it’s not bestowed upon somebody in the form of inherent traits and leadership is definitely not management (2013). What we see in the example of a “boss” above, may very well be seniority, company hierarchy, authoritative traits and the management of other individuals but it is not leadership.
Kruse goes on to give his own definition of leadership:
Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal (2013).
The boss is focused on delegating the tasks that are required to drive the mission forward while the leader is working with the team using social influence to achieve a common goal. Social influence is a major component of the definition since it supplies the “how.” In the case of the boss, workers motivation may be provided by coercive power or purely positional power. The leader, on the other hand is fueling the motivation of the team through the use of social influence – by being an inspiration or saying inspirational things that cause the team to be focused on the mission.
We don’t know anything about the positional power of the leader in the image above. For all we know he could be the “boss” or he could simply be a team member. This confirms the idea that a leader is not defined by position or determined by seniority. A leader certainly could be in a position of seniority but the position alone is not what makes a leader. What makes a leader is defined by what their team accomplishes. A leader is defined by whether or not their team consists of followers and how their team was motivated to move toward a goal.
In short, leaders emerge at all levels of an organization independent of their positional power, their title or their traits. There are leaders at the top of an organization’s hierarchy and at every level of each department. What makes them leaders is their understanding of the overall mission, or at the very least, their part of the mission and the will to inspire others to strive for it and want it as badly as they do.
Kruse, K. (2013, April 9). What is Leadership? Retrieved September 7, 2014, from Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/kevinkruse/2013/04/09/what-is-leadership/