What is Leadership?  

Leadership Overview

Leadership is defined more by practice than by a set explanation. Leadership capabilities are difficult to measure, but easy to observe. Organizations can enhance their individual performance management processes, by including leadership dimension.


What is Leadership?


Leadership is like an ether, which fills-up the environment of an organization. Leadership is about people, sustainability, long-term perspective and doing more than what management can achieve.

Before we get into what is leadership, let’s understand on why we have included leadership as a section in our performance management domain. Leadership is the soft part or underlying factor in driving performance. It is the ether (apart from a clinical solution, ether is also known as the hypothetical invisible, odorless, colorless, weightless substance immersing the universe) of an organizational universe. Leadership is invisible but surrounds all what happens in an organizational environment. Leadership is the hand which holds the tools & techniques to deliver on the performance. In other words, leadership is like ‘man behind the performance management machine’.

Definition of leadership

We will avoid giving a single definition of leadership due to its soft nature. Here are few connotations:

Leadership is how and management is what

Many world-class organizations rank their employees on two streams-

  • Goal Rating- (which is also called G rating) this is linked to the results you achieved vis-à-vis your goal-sheet
  • Leadership Rating- (which is also called L rating) the leadership competencies demonstrated to achieve the goals.

This is out of the premise that, apart from the goal, the quality the journey to achieve that goal is important for long term sustainability of business and also for the work-culture.

For example-

A sales manager gets top goal-rating for surpassing the sales target, but gets average leadership rating. This is because he did not work on improving the sales representation methods, and he was not able to enhance team's sales capability. He achieved these sales numbers by sheer hard-work and personal involvement in most of the sales transactions. The leadership expectation from him is better training of the sales force to have better sales representation and having the sales force take greater responsibility for sales closure. As you can see- due to this lack of leadership, (and therefore a weak sales force) a good sales performance is not sustainable.

Leadership is doing more than what management says that you can do

Management is considered as a science or mathematics, which is not-lateral and follows set-principles. Leadership is considered to be looking beyond management to generate opportunities and new resources. Few examples-

  • To deliver a project in a given time and resources is Management. To deliver a project faster than the required time by questioning traditional methods, by taking calculated risks and by inspiring people to work beyond their defined responsibilities is leadership.
  • To manage service level agreement with vendor is Management, and sharing medium terms strategic plan with vendor to enable it to invest for your strategy, is leadership. 

Management is short term delivery and leadership is long term sustainability

Management is focused on delivering upon the given objective and goal. Leadership is to look beyond the short-term and look for long term sustainability. This may involve sacrificing short-term gains or investing more for the longer term. In other words, Management is to be in fortune 100 for next 5 years and Leadership is to be in fortune 200 for next 50 years

Management is business improvement and Leadership is Business transformation

Management is to do gradual improvements in business, and Leadership is about making quantum changes. For example, management is to increase the sales revenue by 10% per annum, and leadership is to increase it by 30%, by making transformation in product design, sales strategy and inspiring people to think big.

Some points to note

Leadership is not for senior management or people managers only

Given above views of leadership, it is evident that everyone needs to posses leadership competencies. The leadership is not only to lead people (for people managers) or to lead businesses (for senior managers), but also on how you do your own hands-on work, how you work with your peers, how you manage your own behaviors and how you handle and respond to the situations. Therefore, Individual contributors have as much need of leadership as anyone else.

Leadership is not only strategy but execution as well

Leadership is needed in everything that you do. While for strategic planning you need the leadership competencies like-

  • Thinking long-term
  • Build strong business foundation
  • Understanding customer needs with shareholders' etc...

For execution you will need following leadership competencies

  • Effectively communicating the strategy to people and defining their role in it.
  • Inspiring people to develop a sense of belonging to the organization vision and mission.
  • Defining expectations to the people
  • Organizing self and the team etc...

Leadership is about making people realize their true potential

Leadership is by inspiring and giving people opportunities so that they can explore the limits (and sometimes exceed) of their potential. Leadership is to put more on the shoulder of the people than what they can carry and then let those shoulders strengthen to meet that demand.

Leadership is not only about people

I have a humble disagreement to the phrase, which I hear in many leadership presentations. The phrase goes like 'leadership is all about people'. Yes, a good part is related to people. However, leadership also includes other aspects. Some examples are-

  • Taking tough decisions- True leaders can take unpopular decisions and drive them to closure, by influencing, authority and inspiring.
  • Maintaining composure- True leaders are not bogged down by the adversity. They maintain stability. A worried leader can have significant negative impact on all stakeholders.
  • Practicing principles- A true leader has his own constitution of principles, which he follows in all situations.