Five people reviewing notes at table

The best way to define leadership is difficult. Look up “Leadership Definition” in a Google search and in .44 sec you get 269,000,000 results. Despite this massive number, I don’t actually think that the definition is the issue…it is the action of leadership that is the hardest part. Inherently, defining leadership means understanding yourself from an inward perspective as well as translating your own tendencies, strengths and approaches into the way you interact, communicate and influence others.

So how can you more clearly define the foundations of what it will take you to become a leader? Well, it helps to start with the things that make the biggest difference and define leadership from that perspective.

Here are five ways that you as a leader can bring greater focus and clarity to your leadership approach. When you can define what leadership means to you, then you’ll be able to more effectively communicate and influence those people who you lead. Your team and your organization will respect you, look to you for direction and be inspired to work within your vision.

  1. Trust: Trust means understanding how your employees think and what actually matters to them. Columbia professor Heidi Grant Halvorson in 99U, states, “When your team trusts you as a leader, it increases commitment to team goals. Communication improves and ideas flow more freely, increasing creativity and productivity.” Define yourself by what your intentions are for others. Are you as a leader being trustworthy? Are you acting on your promises? Are you finding ways to build trust in ways that your employees can see and experience?
  2. Action: Leadership means actually acting on what you say you’re going to do. However, that doesn’t mean actually doing it yourself. The biggest impediment to action is often ourselves. This article from Forbes highlights the practice employed by leading Innovation Consultant Innosight—create a “Chief Bottleneck Buster.” This concept couldn’t be more true, since as a leader, you often have the most on your plate of anyone in your organization. And, because these initiatives are coming from a high-level, they’re no doubt priorities. Define leadership by your ability to bust through bottlenecks (it will also help reinforce that you trust your team – see point 1!)
  3. Perspective: A defining characteristic of leadership is the ability to ensure that perspective is being realized in different ways. You have your own perspective, which helps you set a vision and develop a plan to get there. However, more challenging is the ability to incorporate other perspectives into the mix. Define leadership by ensuring you know what each person on your team is thinking and what motivates them, ensures that you’ll get diverse kinds of thinking that will build influence around different ideas and realize cognitive diversity.
  4. Focus: The tendency for a leader is to inspire and engage around everything that is happening. But truly great leaders dig down and get focused. Part of the definition of leadership is actually leading the implementation of ideas and initiatives. My fellow Inc. Magazine writer Peter Economy stated it simply and elegantly—leaders “establish strategies, processes, and routines so that high performance is tangible, easily defined, and monitored.”
  5. Vision: The last characteristic of great leadership is probably the hardest to actually define. What is vision? It is a bit like the old adage of “you know it when you see it” and as difficult as that is to internalize and act upon, the important of vision can’t be overstated. When you need people to do incredibly hard things, they need to be bought into the vision. How to define leadership is built upon defining what the vision is and how it impacts your workforce, your customers, the market as a whole and your potential audiences.

Oh…and the most important thing not on this list…communication. Even the most defined leadership will not work unless you are a strong communicator and an excellent listener.

Define your leadership style and make it your own, but make sure you think about the 5 key aspects of what makes you one.

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