Becoming a Leader Today – What is Leadership?

Genentech at San Francisco Pride Parade

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

“Leaders sell the tickets for the journey” Anon

I believe leadership is influencing a group of people to achieve a common goal.

But if you ask a group to define leadership, you will probably get as many different answers as there are people in the group. And most of those answers will probably be about what a leader does, not about what leadership, itself, is.

Conventionally leaders take charge of groups, be that group a large corporation, a country or a small team charged with delivering a project. Until quite recently, there has usually been little or no distinction between leadership and management.

But leadership is not about managing people.

Leaders promote new directions! Leaders sell tickets, but managers drive the bus!

Traditionally, leadership has been based on power; military, economic, religious etc. Occasionally leadership has been based on the power of personality to dominate a group. But there has usually been some loss of free will.

In this modern knowledge-based world, this traditional approach seems less and less appropriate. Richard Florida‘s book, “The Rise of the Creative Class” argues that in the modern world, more and more work requires creative thinking. So the leader becomes the one who generates a creative idea that can be delivered in a convincing vision for the organization.

In this knowledge based economy, the idea that leadership comes from someone who just happens to sit at the top of the organization chart becomes redundant. A new direction can emerge from any point in the organization where critical knowledge can be combined with creativity to generate an influential vision for the future.

So, the leader becomes a facilitator who can create conditions in which new visions can be generated and developed.

  • “Just whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you?” The characteristics of leadership (

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