What Is “Leadership”?

By Laureen Golden

What does leadership mean to you?” More and more, I feel a hunger to engage with others in a collective inquiry around this question, as if we’re not clear what it is, how can we be doing it well?

I’ve been collecting and curating gems of wisdoms on this topic. Some of my favorite include:

  • Leadership is the art of giving people a platform for spreading ideas that work.” ~Seth Godin
  • Leadership is about living our purpose while engaging deeply with others.” ~Richard Strozzi-Heckler
  • Management is doing things right; Leadership is doing the right things.” ~Peter Drucker
  • While leadership depends on depth of conviction and the power coming therefrom, there must also be the ability to share that conviction with others.” ~Mary Parker Follet
  • Leadership emanates from the co-creative dialogue or communion of a community, and not from any misguided opinion of any individual, however ‘intelligent’.” ~Francois Knuchel

I’m wondering, “What does leadership mean to you?” (if you have any bubbles, I’m truly interested in hearing them!)

As I continue to contemplate this question, what has been emerging for me is that leadership is a quality of presence that enables us to be responsible and response-able; it’s a capacity to connect with and be guided by the animating force of Life.

There’s a lot to unpack in this but the top three elements I’ll highlight today are:

1. RESPONSIBLE: Stephanie Nestlerode of 7th Generation Labs helped me appreciate responsibility as key to leadership, explaining, “A leader is the ‘one most responsible’ ~ not all powerful ~ but most RESPONSIBLE for the health of the community.” 

2. RESPONSE-ABLE (Capable of responding, rather than reacting): Edwin Friedman in his seminal book on leadership, A FAILURE OF NERVE, helped me realize that today’s turbulence requires “differentiated leadership,” a capacity to self-regulate oneself (this capacity inoculates us from the contagion of emotional volatility and group think and enables us to remain deeply relational, beckoning forth the highest aspects in ourselves and others). I believe “differentiated leadership” is necessary in order for individuals and organizations to recognize and more effectively navigate the level of uncertainty we’re facing today. 

3. “THE ANIMATING FORCE OF LIFE”: For humanity to work at the depth of healing and transformation that is necessary for our survival, we need to shift from hubris to humility, surrendering what we think we know in order so we may receive the wisdom of something greater than ourselves. The concept of divinity has been largely taboo in a secular society, yet more and more, I’m noticing people who are stepping forward and speaking to the necessity of re-centering spirit in our personal and collective lives. (ie, Gabrielle Bernstein illuminates, “We are living in times where it is required of us to have a spiritual foundation, an anchor, a sense of alignment. If we don’t have that foundation, we will be flailing. We need that connection now and it is through the steps of spiritual surrender that you realign with that connection to the universe, to a Higher Power of your own understanding. We need it to survive and to thrive.”)

After reading this, I’m curious what’s bubbling for you around the inquiry, “What does leadership mean to you?”. Where are you feeling the pull of attachment and aversion to the ideas mentioned?