That Leadership Journey – 18. What The Shit Is Leadership?

When I was writing about leadership some blog posts ago, a friend of mine (he writes a delightful blog called DarkOfficeHumour – and,  i hope that I have inserted the proper link), asked the question – What is leadership?

And so, I thought that I would pop into some of the literature on leadership. I did not go far, because Wikipedia gave me enough for this post, though not for a whole series of writings.

Some definitions.

“Leadership is a process of social influence in which one person an enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task.”

“Leadership is organising a group of people to achieve a common goal.”

So far so good! I read these definitions, and I re-read the article. It seems that articles and tomes on leadership have been in the works since Plutarch. The articles normally gloss over the writings of Asian authors. No mention of Sun Tzu or Kautilya.

In recent times, there has been a fair deluge of articles. There are articles on leadership styles, leadership values, and all sorts of stuff on how a leader should behave. I have experienced our headquarters rolling out a Global Leadership Model. All leaders in the company across the world were expected to adhere to the model and behaviour enunciated by a bunch of people in a small town in the Netherlands. The model completely ignored the different cultural context in which leaders across the world work, or the business context. Churchill, after all, was considered to be a great war time leader, and a lousy peace time one.

So, back to the question – what is leadership? The definitions above don’t really answer the question.

Could I offer a simpler definition: “Leadership is the ability of a person to make people want to follow him/her from point A to Point B, or even on a journey” Does this work?

Bear in mind, that I do not make any judgement call on whether the leader is leading the people on a worthwhile journey, or that point B may be somewhere deep in the bowels of hell.

But, the idea, as I see it, is that people want to follow the leader.

However, what else does a leader do? Does he/she add value to the people who follow? Is he/she authentic?

So, we can expand the proposal” “Leadership is the ability of an authentic person to make people want to follow him/her from point A to Point B, or even on a journey, and adds value to them in the process”

So, was Hitler a leader or not? He certainly was, but may not fit into the second definition…

And so, we are back to square one.

What the shit is this wonderful thing called leadership? Does it include self-leadership?


  1. Great article Rajiv. I think that “leadership” is about clarity. To thine own self be crystal in thine clarity. Seeing then being. Leadership would perhaps be an innate light that shines and draws others to that light.

      1. I think that qualities like ‘leadership’ shine from the soul. Positive leadership and not something that is mere cult. Qualities like honesty, veracity, moral courage, moral outrage, compassion, humility, generosity, and the capacity to reach out and touch. For example, Desmond Tutu maybe.

  2. I think that your definition misses one very important point. It is HOW MANY people a leader is able to make to follow him and add to their values. For example, leaders of ISIS have less than 20,000 followers but they were able to drastically change situation in the Middle East.
    Lenin had not many followers but he was able to create a powerful totalitarian state.
    It is also not clear what “authentic” means here. Does it mean that a person is good? From whose point of view?

    1. You are right there. Authenticity means, in my view, being true to yourself. Impact – Lenin etc- is a measure of the quality of leadership, right? Is it also part of the definition?

      1. Rajiv, I think that you started a very serious and very important topic.
        I would suggest to try to change it to a discussion (to involve many people in it).

  3. One thing that we can find common in all good leaders is a fearless attitude. Hitler indeed was a fearless man but had a corrupt mentality, so as you rightly pointed out we can rule him out of the list.
    It’s kind of a shame that leaders from India’s history have been forgotten totally. One such great leader was Chanakya Pandit who united the states to bring them under one nation, Bharat.

  4. Loved it Rajiv…first time I have seen an article on leadership that’s written in totally offbeat fashion…enjoyed reading it 😀

    1. Thanks. I have written a bit for one HR article. An old colleague of mine who has become a professor said my writing is not “formal” enough to reach a “distinguished” audience. I have sat through many presentations and seminars. despite my years in the corporate world, I found most of this stuff to be pedantic and boring. They say the same thing in a complex manner, while telling us simplicity is the key! Am I being arrogant in saying this?

      1. Nah…its good we corporates need to break the fashion…I am sick of reading same old definition on leadership…it was superb 🙂

  5. Enjoyable post, Rajiv–and some interesting comments. If I were to take a crack at submitting an answer to your question, I’d have to say that leadership is the response to those in search of direction. It may not fit everyone’s needs or ideals, and it may certainly go against the grain of someone else’s mindset or an entire country’s beliefs, but it is a response nonetheless. And there are those who will follow that flag.

    1. Yes. I did not look at this from this perspective. In this case, leadership is bestowed on those who can provide direction, yes?

      1. Indeed, Raj, and I’m no expert, but I think history is full of examples of those – whether to the benefit or detriment of the situation – who simply stepped up to the plate and took a crack at it.
        Again, a great and timely topic!

  6. Rajiv, this is an existentialist question. I feel that the term has been rendered meaningless on account of random usage. I think it started with corporates that wanted to make every employee a “leader” by taking them on a 2-day offsite and teaching them deep-breathing exercises and playing team-building games. Of course everyone thinks that successful corporates are always doing the right thing. It must be right if it leads to 5-star hotels and business-class travel!! Now schools are sending their students on “leadership” programmes, and not programmes on “becoming a good human being” or “standing up for your beliefs”. A generation later, I wonder if there will be any followers left, such is the race to create leaders out of people. If you have no idea what you are doing and why you are doing it, we’ll call it Leadership 🙂 BTW, thanks for linking my blog here.

    1. Well, first off, you are most welcome! It was you who inspired this existentialist question! Yes, this topic, like hunger, are those that are explored in 5-star hotels, workshops etc. One fellow blogger wrote to me about his first years in life and hunger. I thought – wow! I experienced hunger for two days, and thought that I am an expert! The same goes for leadership

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