What is a Leader?

I’ve been pondering the question “What is a Leader?” for a while now.  It’s a question that’s always in the back of my mind and I’ve never really gotten a good answer too.

What is a leader?  Well…many definitions boil down to the old adage of ‘motivating people to do something for the common good’. Some definitions say that leadership is ‘getting people to do stuff they don’t want to do’. These are OK definitions, but they don’t capture the essence of being a leader.

I run across people all the time claiming to be leaders and talking about “what they’ve done”  but I’ve found that most of these folks are the last person in line to actually do what it takes to lead. Leading people is hard.  You’ve got to do difficult things and make decisions that aren’t popular. More than the difficult things, you’ve got to do the right things.

I’ve found a great quote about leadership from the Chinese Taoist Philosopher Lao Tzu, This quote says a lot about who and what a true leader is:

With the greatest leader above then, people barely know one exists.
Next comes one whom they love and praise.
Next comes one whom they fear.
Next comes one whom they despise and defy.

When a leader trusts no one, no one trusts him.

The great leader speaks little.
He never speaks carelessly.
He works without self-interest and leaves no trace.
When all is finished, the people say, “We did it ourselves.”

We need more leaders who are willing to put their heart and soul making their team and organization successful. I’ve had it with the selfish folks who call themselves leaders.  You know who they are…perhaps you are one of them.  Those folks who put their own goals above thier team and organization.

Enough of the selfish leader. Enough of the hated leader. Where’s the Leader who works tirelessly to help their team be successful? Been a while since I’ve seen one.

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9 responses to “What is a Leader?”

  1. Glenn Whitfield Avatar


    Great article! Sad but so true, that many who think they are leaders are only concerned with how they can get to the next level, and being able to take credit for "leading" the group. What is sad is that our society rewards this behavior – the quiet, solid leader who is "making all the right moves", but doesn't stand up and say, "look at me!" gets cast aside.

    These leaders are out there, but most people don't know about them.

  2. New blog post: What is a Leader? http://bit.ly/rVWDG

  3. RT @ericdbrown: New blog post: What is a Leader? http://bit.ly/rVWDG

  4.  Avatar

    Very interesting post, I love finding a good quality blog thats not full of rubbish. I would love to do a link exchange.

  5. John Avatar

    Excellent discussion Eric. I've long felt that leadership and being the 'manager' of the group are two very different beings. I believe leadership is exhibited at all levels of the organization, and many times, as you pointed out in your post, the supposed formal leaders are really not that at all. Rather, they are managers looking to get to the next level, irregardless of what the folks below them are doing – this behavior is opposite of true leadership. I look at leaders as my "go-to" people. They're the ones we can go to in a critical situation to lead through the obstacles, understand what needs to get done, lay out the strategy and then contribute/oversee the execution of the plan. In my opinion, this characteristic can be developed to some degree, but I do believe that some folks have an innate drive (whatever their level) to rise to this kind of calling naturally. Managers have formal power, but leaders possess an attractive pull on folks who believe in their demonstrated abilities.

    1. John Williams Avatar
      John Williams

      Ummmm It Seem Good!

  6. @consultski – RE: What is a Leader http://tr.im/mEWr. You missed the point…I never said results weren’t important. How you get them is.

  7. Mike Avatar

    Does a leader drive the situation or does the situation drive the leader?