The following simple definition of leadership has proved quite helpful in change projects over the years: the capacity of a human community—people living and working together—to bring forth new realities.
Another way to say this is that leadership energizes. Leadership breathes life into an enterprise, without which nothing truly new can emerge. The word inspire, long associated with leadership, derives from the Latin inspirare, literally “to breathe life into.”
This simple notion of human communities creating new realities unifies the extraordinarily diverse individuals whom we see as exemplary leaders—public figures like Lincoln, Gandhi, Susan B. Anthony, and Harriet Tubman; organizational leaders Thomas Watson Jr. of IBM, Theodore Vail of AT&T, labor organizer Samuel Gompers; and also leaders from the arts and sciences, from Picasso, Martha Graham, and Shakespeare to Albert Einstein and Marie Curie. Obviously, many of these people were never “bosses” at the top of an organizational hierarchy, yet all are widely regarded as leaders.
This simple definition also points to the interplay of individual and community. Each of the individuals just mentioned was a product of his or her world and in turn inspired an outpouring of new theories, ideas, and approaches that had an extraordinary influence on a given field and on the culture.
Lastly, I believe that this simple definition points to much of what we are actually seeking through greater leadership in human affairs, in organizations, in schools, and in communities. Leadership is about tapping the energy to create—especially to create something that matters deeply. Where this energy exists, we are more engaged, fulfilled, and productive. We are more alive.
– Peter Senge