How can we define a leader? All across the Internet, in specialized and generalist journals and magazines, on TV, on the radio… in sum, everywhere, people are hard at work trying to define the attributes of a leader. As a leadership coach, I do so as well, which has brought me to define a leader as follows:
An individual who is able to see a less uncertain world, communicate it to their community, and inspire everyone to cooperate and collaborate to make it a reality.
This definition works well because it encompasses the three elements most often attributed to leaders as well a fourth, my own contribution, which gets the leadership process rolling. These are:
- Less uncertainty
I have been very fond of this definition and plaster it all over the place in my writings and talks. That is, until yesterday when someone asked me, “What is the ONE attribute that defines a leader?” As you can imagine I was stumped because I always discuss the four attributes mentioned above. So I gave this question some thought by examining the underlying premises of those attributes before explaining how a personal view of the world is the one attribute that sets a leader apart from everyone else or to be more economical with words than I am known to be: A worldview.
Before a leader can develop their vision and communicate to their community, and inspire everyone to work together to make it a reality, the individual in question must develop an understanding of how their world works as well as their place in it.
Not necessarily a view and understanding of the whole world, but the part that is relevant to them. A worldview can be as small or as large as the person desires as long as it is meaningful for them and their community.
A worldview is the precursor of the vision. Without understanding their “world”, it is not possible to develop a vision that brings less uncertainty to them and to their community.
In fact, one of the most-asked business questions is to explain the difference between a leader and manager. It is exactly this: the first has a worldview while the latter does not. Okay, maybe I’m being a little hyperbolic here. Undoubtedly, it is not so black and white. However, I seek to make a point and ask your indulgence in doing so. Through their worldview, a leader can see how the different facets of an issue interact and influence one another thereby giving them the insights necessary to guide the community past each obstacle and hindrance to a successful execution.
As a leadership coach, I understand that it is the absence of a worldview, which limits many of my clients in their ability to reach full maturity as leaders. Although I try my best to share my own worldview with them it is not theirs. Successful leaders differentiate themselves by having and using their own worldview.
So if you don’t mind I will amend my definition of a leader to include a view of the world as the precursor to everything else.
Leaders are those individuals who are able to develop their own view of their world, see how to make a specific aspect of it less uncertain, communicate that vision, and inspire people to cooperate and collaborate to make that vision a reality.
What is your worldview?