What Is Leadership? (20 definitions by noteworthy leaders) 

Do you believe “leadership matters”? As someone who started out my career working for John Maxwell, I do! In fact I believe that “everything rises and falls on leadership”, as John always says.  

So what, exactly, is leadership?  

That’s an age old question, and one which each of us, in the end, really must define for ourselves as we seek to lead in our own particular environments. But to help us understand what leadership is, there are some pretty great definitions offered by some pretty great leaders. 

Here are 20 to get us started: 

John Maxwell:  

“Leadership is influence…nothing more, nothing less.” 

Warren Bennis: 

“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision in to reality.” 

"Leadership is influence…nothing more, nothing less." John C. Maxwell Click To Tweet

Bill Gates:  

“Leaders are those who empower others.” 

Peter Drucker: 

“The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers.” 

U. S. Army:  

“Leadership is influencing people – by providing purpose, direction, and motivation – while operating to accomplish the mission and improving the organization.”  

Napoleon Bonaparte:  

“A leader is a dealer in hope.” 

"A leader is a dealer in hope." Napoleon Bonaparte Click To Tweet

General Norman Schwarzkopf: 

“Leadership is a combination of strategy and character. If you must be without one, be without the strategy.” 

Jim Kouzes & Barry Posner:  

“Leadership is the art of mobilizing others to want to struggle for shared aspirations.” 

Stephen Covey: 

“Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.”  

Ralph Nader: 

“The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.”  

"The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers."  Ralph Nader Click To Tweet

Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery: 

“Leadership is the capacity and will to rally people to a common purpose together with the character that inspires confidence and trust.” 

Dwight Eisenhower: 

“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” 

U.S. Air Force:  

“Leadership is the art to of influencing and directing people in such a way that will win their obedience, confidence, respect and loyal cooperation in achieving common objectives.” 

John Quincy Adams: 

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then you are a leader.”  

"If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then you are a leader."  John Quincy Adams Click To Tweet

Unknown (possibly Martin Luther King): 

“Leadership is the art of leading others to deliberately create a result that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.”  

John Kotter:  

“Leadership defines what the future should look like, aligns people with that vision, and inspires them to make it happen despite the obstacles.” 

Robert Greenleaf: 

“Leadership is about service to others and a commitment to developing more servants as leaders. It involves co-creation of a commitment to a mission.” 

Max Depree:  

“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant and a debtor. That sums up the progress of an artful leader.” 

Jack Welch:  

“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” 

Douglas MacArthur:  

“A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the quality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.”  

What is your definition, or another favorite definition of leadership?


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