What is leadership? It’s a subtle and sometimes confusing mixture of so many things. Ask ten different people what leadership is, and you’ll probably get ten different answers. Here are some of my favourite definitions, from people who have walked the journey and know what they’re talking about:

“Leadership is influence”, Oswald Sanders

“Leadership unlocks”, Geoff Elliott

“Leadership is the capacity to rally men and women to a common purpose, and the character that inspires confidence”, Lord Montgomery

“Leadership is taking people on a journey when you’ve not been there yourself”, Andy Stanley

“Leadership is a relationship; the relationship is one of service to a purpose and service to people”, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner

“Leadership is ultimately about creating a way for people to contribute to making something extraordinary happen”, Alan Keith


And my personal definition that I’ve started to use recently – leadership is taking responsibility.

What is leadership? It’s all of these things, which is why it can be so complex. John Maxwell states that leadership is ultimately the ability to get followers. If people follow you, then you’re leading. If no one is following then you’re just taking a walk.

I like all of these definitions, and have found all of them helpful in various situations over the years. They remind me of what my responsibility is whenever I find myself in a leadership role. But I’ve also started to unpack these definitions into a series of six key skills and character traits that I now try to work on. If I can develop each of these, then I think I’m exploring further what is leadership, and growing in my abilities as a leader. The six are:

  1. Vision: Seeing with clarity the future that I am working towards.
  2. Integrity: Maintaining a good character, with a reputation for honesty, trustworthiness, reliability and goodness.
  3. Planning: Being able to translate a vision into long and short term goals, and ensuring time and other resources are well managed, so we make progress.
  4. Communication: Listening well to understand others, and being able to clearly articulate vision, plans and roles, etc.
  5. Building Teams: Empowering others to use their gifting to contribute to the vision, and become part of teams that can achieve more than any individual could alone.
  6. Coaching: Teaching skills and encouraging development in individuals so they are growing.

What is leadership? To me it’s consistently doing these six things well. And if I keep on studying, developing and practicing them, then I hope to be able to make a difference in some of the ways listed in those definitions above.

Mark Williamson works as a director of One Rock. He’s an experienced leadership trainer, author of biographies on John Wesley and William Wilberforce, and is also passionate about praying for London. He enjoys good films, good food, and going for long walks with his wife Joanna. You can follow him on Twitter @markonerock.

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