What is leadership?

My definition of leadership is actually quite simple. An individual’s leadership ability is the difference between what they alone can accomplish and what they can accomplish through others.

Leadership is about leverage. Sometimes that leverage is for the good, sometimes not. But, if you are leveraging yourself you are a leader. The more you are able to leverage, the greater a leader you are.

This definition allows for both Martin Luther King Jr., and Bill Gates to fall within the same category. We can debate the merits of the ends to which both leveraged, but what made both of them leaders is that they are able to accomplish more through others than the rest of us.

So, how do you create leverage?

There are three drivers of leverage: capacity, focus, and motivation. And, these three drivers are multiplicative not additive. A well focused and motivated group of 10 can outperform a poorly focused group of 30. Pizarro, with an army of 169 defeated the Incas who had about 80,000 warriors*.

All three drivers are important yet many people miss the power of the last two. When performance is down, a lot of people try to add capacity: they train people, add more staff, buy more equipment, etc. This generally is the most expensive and most time consuming of the three options. Yet, that is the one that I’ve seen people go to most often. The great leaders actually know how to build capacity, but they are experts at focus and motivation.


* For a more complete explanation of how Pizarro used capability, information, and motivation in defeating the Incas, check out Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jarred Diamond)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email