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What is the definition of a leader?

What does a leader look like? Ask around and many will describe a confident, powerful, corporate figure, with a booming voice and shakable authority.


Somewhere along the way, we started to confuse “authoritative” with “leadership”. Intelligence became confounded with ability, and experience translated to competence.


Sure, an experienced, directive individual may well make for a competent leader, but that’s not the only definition.


A true leader is not defined by the dictionary or by what others may think about in the corporate context. A true leader is that individual standing in front of you. A true leader is defined by their story, journey, struggles, and by what they have survived from the time they were born.


In fact, anyone can be a leader.


A leader is someone who stands up for what they believe in.


A leader is a business owner who has made the choice to strike out on their own.


A leader is a junior employee who acts on an idea.


A leader is someone who is accountable for their own actions and owns their consequences.


A leader is someone who shines for the benefit of others.


A leader is someone who is purely authentic and passionate about what they are doing.


A leader is someone who understands what accountability and vulnerability mean – and the importance of being courageous for the benefit of others.


A leader understands their emotions and how they impact not just themselves, but the people around them.


A leader understands the importance of emotional intelligence.


Keep in mind, perspective is everything. Think about that person standing in front of you. That individual may appear to be quiet yet they’re focused. They may appear to be not moving forward, yet they’re processing. That individual may not appear to have leadership qualities, however they are actually utilizing leadership competencies by listening.


Leaders can be quiet. They can be introspective and may appear inexperienced. But in the right environment and under the right circumstance, you’ll see them shine. Any individual who has passion, resolve and integrity can have core leadership competencies.


Consider these leaders


Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela is renowned as one of the most important leaders in history. But why? Because he could order people around and talk loudest at meetings? Not by a long shot. Mandela led through compassion and an unwavering commitment to ethics and honour. His self-sacrifice provided an example for others, and his dedication to life-long learning (even while in prison) proved he never thought he had all the answers. Soft spoken and humble, Mandela’s leadership qualities are steeped in emotional intelligence and humanity.


Malala Yousafzai

Malala stood up to the Taliban at age 11, and has been a tireless advocate of female education over the course of her young life. Malala is friendly, charming, and kind, and exhibits a high degree of empathy that guides her work. She is charismatic and idealistic, and serves others through the development of strong, intimate relationships.


My friend Diane

My friend Diane is a quiet, contemplative individual who spent many years in the corporate world. While there, she never considered herself a “leader” because she didn't take charge in meetings, or speak with a particular authority. But several years ago, Diane left corporate life to start her own business, which she successfully runs – balancing clients, projects, taxes, revenue, etc. Diane is a leader because she seized an opportunity to do what she is passionate about, had the courage to make a difficult decision, and delivers on promises every day. Most importantly, Diane understands that true leadership is not defined by external factors, but is defined from what’s within and the desire to be recognized, valued and contribute to society in the pursuit of living a fulfilled life.


How to recognize leadership competencies in your organization


The leaders among you aren’t necessarily the ones with the loudest voices or the most to say. True leaders possess certain characteristics.


A leader will:

  • Set an example for others

  • Demonstrate confidence in the people around them

  • Show humility

  • Listen carefully and with intention

  • Think first, talk later

  • Act in a calm, composed and confident manner

  • Do what they say they will do


A true leader also has to have the confidence to step aside. They have faith in their team and don’t impose their assertiveness onto them. Rather, they push and challenge them to be better. A true leader will step back and let one of their team members chair a meeting. A true leader should never be afraid to give up their position, because true leadership is not held in a title.


The next time you’re looking for a leader, look around you and be curious about what that person’s story is, and what lesson you can learn from them.


Developing EQ skills in your leaders


A successful leader will also have a high level of Emotional Intelligence. With high Emotional intelligence (or EQ), individuals can manage their own emotions, understand what they’re feeling – and why – and how these emotions can affect other people.


While IQ typically stops developing at age 17, EQ can be learned throughout one’s lifetime, meaning your leaders – and your potential leaders – can learn the essential skills to lead your organization. IQ is still vital – it’s a foundational element of a person’s life cycle. IQ and EQ begin from the day you’re born and are intertwined with each other as you grow. While IQ stops in young adulthood, EQ continues to develop. And through the consistent practice of EQ skills, anyone can develop the ability to use, understand and manage emotions in a positive, constructive way.


The definition of a leader is broad, and leadership qualities exist in everyone. Whether you’re forming a team, hiring a new leader, or evaluating your own competencies, consider what leadership really means. An expanded and evolved perspective of leadership may help you seize a new opportunity, discover a new superstar or create a collaborative squad that changes the game for your organization.

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