100 Answers to the Question: What Is Leadership?

If you Google the word leadership you can get about 479,000,000 results, each definition as unique as an individual leader.

It’s a difficult concept to define, perhaps because it means so many things to different people.

Here are 100 of the best ways to define leadership–choose the ones that fits best for you.

1. “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” –Lao Tzu

2. “A good leader takes a little more than his share of the blame, a little less than his share of the credit.” –Arnold Glasow

3. “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” –Martin Luther King Jr

4. “You don’t need a title to be a leader.” –Mark Sanborn

5. “It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.” –Nelson Mandela

6. “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” –John F. Kennedy

7. “The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.” –Ronald Reagan

8. “Successful leadership is leading with the heart, not just the head. They possess qualities like empathy, compassion and courage.” –Bill George

9. “The task of leadership is not to put greatness into people, but to elicit it, for the greatness is there already.” –John Buchan

10. “A great person attracts great people and knows how to hold them together.”–Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

11. “When the leadership is right and the time is right, the people can always be counted upon to follow–to the end at all costs.” –Harold J. Seymour

12. “Leaders must be self-reliant individuals with great tenacity and stamina.”–Thomas E. Cronin

13. “Leadership: The capacity and will to rally people to a common purpose together with the character that inspires confidence and trust.” –Bernard Montgomery

14. “All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership.” –John Kenneth Galbraith

15. “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” –Warren Bennis

16. “Leadership defines what the future should look like, aligns people with that vision, and inspires them to make it happen, despite the obstacles.” –John Kotter

17. ” I start with the premise that the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.” –Ralph Nader

18. “I think leadership comes from integrity–that you do whatever you ask others to do. I think there are non-obvious ways to lead. Just by providing a good example as a parent, a friend, a neighbor makes it possible for other people to see better ways to do things. Leadership does not need to be a dramatic, fist in the air and trumpets blaring, activity.” –Scott Berkun

19. “Leadership is the capacity to influence others through inspiration motivated by passion, generated by vision, produced by a conviction, ignited by a purpose.” –Myles Munroe

20. “Leadership is unlocking people’s potential to become better.” –Bill Bradley

21. “The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes. It is very easy to say yes.” —-Tony Blair

22. “Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes.” –Peter F. Drucker

23. “One measure of leadership is the caliber of people who choose to follow you.” –Dennis Peer

24. “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” –Steve Jobs

25. “Leadership is simply causing other people to do what the leaders want. Good leadership, whether formal or informal, is helping other people rise to their full potential while accomplishing the mission and goals of the organization. All members of an organization, who are responsible for the work of others, have the potential to be good leaders if properly developed.” –Bob Mason

26. “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it. “–Dwight Eisenhower

27. “The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.” –Theodore Hesburgh

28. “Leadership is the art of mobilizing others to want to struggle for shared aspirations.” –James Kouzes and Barry Posner

29. “A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.” –Rosalynn Carter

30. “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” — John Quincy Adams

31. “Leadership is not a person or a position. It is a complex moral relationship between people, based on trust, obligation, commitment, emotion, and a shared vision of the good.” –Joanne Ciulla

32. “The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly.” –Jim Rohn

33. “Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to high sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.” –Peter Drucker

34. “Leadership is an opportunity to serve. It is not a trumpet call to self-importance.” –J. Donald Walters

35. “Leadership is a matter of having people look at you and gain confidence, seeing how you react. If you’re in control, they’re in control.” –Tom Landry

36. “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” –John Maxwell

37. “Leadership is the process of persuasion or example by which an individual (or leadership team) induces a group to pursue objectives held by the leader or shared by the leader and his or her followers.”–John W. Gardner

38. “My definition of a leader… is a man who can persuade people to do what they don’t want to do, or do what they’re too lazy to do, and like it.” –Harry S. Truman

39. “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” –Warren Bennis

40. “A leader is a dealer in hope.” –Napoleon Bonaparte

41. Leadership is the collective action of everyone you influence. Your behavior–your actions and your words–determines how you influence. Our job as leaders is to energize whatever marshals action within others. –David Caullo

42. “A leader has to be somebody who’s getting people to do things which don’t seem to make sense to them or are not in their best interest–like convincing people that they should work 14 hours a day so that someone else can make more money.” –Scott Adams

43. “Leadership is the ability to guide others without force into a direction or decision that leaves them still feeling empowered and accomplished.” –Lisa Cash Hanson

44. “The task of the leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been.” –Henry Kissinger

45. “Leadership is about service to others and a commitment to developing more servants as leaders. It involves co-creation of a commitment to a mission.” –Robert Greenleaf

46. “Leadership is working with and through others to achieve objectives.” –Paul Hersey

47. “Management is about arranging and telling. Leadership is about nurturing and enhancing.” –Tom Peters

48. “Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without the strategy.” –Norman Schwarzkopf

49. “A leader’s role is to raise people’s aspirations for what they can become and to release their energies so they will try to get there.” –David R. Gergen

50. “Leadership is unlocking people’s potential to become better.” –Bill Bradley

51. “Effective leadership is putting first things first. Effective management is discipline, carrying it out.” –Stephen Covey

52. “Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.” –Colin Powell

53. “Leadership is the key to 99 percent of all successful efforts.” –Erskine Bowles

54. “Leadership is a matter of how to be, not how to do it.” –Frances Hesselbein

55. “Leadership is the ability to establish standards and manage a creative climate where people are self-motivated toward the mastery of long-term constructive goals, in a participatory environment of mutual respect, compatible with personal values.” –Mike Vance

56. “Leadership is getting people to work for you when they are not obligated.” — Fred Smith

57. “One of the tests of leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency.” –Arnold Glasow

58. “Leadership is the art of influencing others to their maximum performance to accomplish any task, objective or project.” –W.A. Cohen

59. “A good leader is a caring leader — he not only cares about his people, he actively takes care of them.” –Harald Anderson

60. “There are almost as many definitions of leadership as there are persons who have attempted to define the concept.” –Ralph Stogdill

61. “The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.” –Harvey S. Firestone

62. “Keep your fears to yourself, but share your inspiration with others.” –Robert Louis Stevenson

63. “Without passion, a person will have very little influence as a leader.” –Michele Payn-Knoper

64. “Leadership is an intangible quality with no clear definition. That’s probably a good thing, because if the people who were being led knew the definition, they would hunt down their leaders and kill them.” –Scott Adams.

65. “Leadership is doing what is right when no one is watching.” –George Van Valkenburg

66. “Leadership is someone who demonstrates what’s possible.” –Mark Yarnell

67. “Leadership is practiced not so much in words as in attitude and in actions.”–Harold Geneen

68. “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” –George Smith Patton

69. “Leadership by example is the only kind of real leadership. Everything else is dictatorship.” –Albert Emerson

70. “The leader is one who mobilizes others toward a goal shared by leaders and followers. … Leaders, followers and goals make up the three equally necessary supports for leadership.” –Gary Wills

71. “The leader must know, must know that he knows, and must be able to make it abundantly clear to those around him that he knows.” –Clarence Randall

72. “Leadership is about taking responsibility and not making excuses.” –Mitt Romney

73. “Leadership is difficult but it is not complex.” –Michael McKinney

74. “Great leadership is about human experiences, not processes. Leadership is not a formula or a program, it is a human activity that comes from the heart and considers the hearts of others.” –Lance Secretan

75. “Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal.” –P.G. Northouse

76. “Followers are the gem cutters of leadership coaxing out its full brilliance.” –Ira Chaleff

77. “A leader cannot lead until he knows where he is going.” –Anonymous

78. “Leaders aren’t born, they are made.” ―Vince Lombardi

79. “The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men, the conviction and the will to carry on.” –Walter Lippmann

80. “The function of a leader within any institution: to provide that regulation through his or her non-anxious, self-defined presence.” –Edwin H. Friedman

81. “The greatness of a leader is measured by the achievements of the led. This is the ultimate test of his effectiveness.” –Omar Bradley

82. “The leadership instinct you are born with is the backbone. You develop the funny bone and the wishbone that go with it.” –Elaine Agather

83. “The best way to lead people into the future is to connect with them deeply in the present.” –James Kouzes and Barry Posner

84. “Leadership consists of picking good men and helping them do their best.” — Chester W. Nimitz

85. “To get others to come into our ways of thinking, we must go over to theirs; and it is necessary to follow, in order to lead.” –William Hazlitt

86. “Leadership requires using power to influence the thoughts and actions of other people.” –A. Zalenik

87. “The mark of a great man is one who knows when to set aside the important things in order to accomplish the vital ones.” –Brandon Sanderson

88. “Our work is our most important resource to develop our people.” –Jim Trinka and Les Wallace

89. “Successful leaders see the opportunities in every difficulty rather than the difficulty in every opportunity.” –Reed Markham

90. “The most important thing about a commander is his effect on morale.” –Viscount Slim

91. “While a good leader sustains momentum, a great leader increases it.” –John C. Maxwell

92. “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” –William Arthur Ward

93. “He who cannot be a good follower cannot be a good leader.” ―Aristotle

94. “For me, leadership is making a difference. It’s using your agency to bring about change.” –Melanne Verveer

95. “That is what leadership is all about: staking your ground ahead of where opinion is and convincing people, not simply following the popular opinion of the moment.”–Doris Kearns Goodwin

96. “The way I would measure leadership is this: of the people that are working with me, how many wake up in the morning thinking that the company is theirs?” –David M. Kelley

97. “You don’t lead by pointing and telling people some place to go. You lead by going to that place and making a case.” –Ken Kesey

98. “Not the cry, but the flight of a wild duck, leads the flock to fly and follow.” –Chinese Proverb

99. “To command is to serve, nothing more and nothing less.” –Andre Malraux

100. “Leadership is leading people with your whole heart.” – Lolly Daskal


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What Gets Between You and Your Greatness

After decades of coaching powerful executives around the world, Lolly Daskal has observed that leaders rise to their positions relying on a specific set of values and traits. But in time, every executive reaches a point when their performance suffers and failure persists. Very few understand why or how to prevent it.

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Lolly Daskal is one of the most sought-after executive leadership coaches in the world. Her extensive cross-cultural expertise spans 14 countries, six languages and hundreds of companies. As founder and CEO of Lead From Within, her proprietary leadership program is engineered to be a catalyst for leaders who want to enhance performance and make a meaningful difference in their companies, their lives, and the world.

Of Lolly’s many awards and accolades, Lolly was designated a Top-50 Leadership and Management Expert by Inc. magazine. Huffington Post honored Lolly with the title of The Most Inspiring Woman in the World. Her writing has appeared in HBR, Inc.com, Fast Company (Ask The Expert), Huffington Post, and Psychology Today, and others. Her newest book, The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness has become a national bestseller.

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