What is leadership? Is it the person we defer to because they are the boss? Is it the person we fear, or the one we admire? Do we share their beliefs or vision?

Whether teaching the management class at UCLA or working with clients the topic of leadership comes up. How do you define a leader? Who do you model your leadership after? Why should I follow you?

When I define the characteristics of a leader it can fit so many from Attila the Hun to Steve Jobs. Some people lead with kindness and develop others while some lead with an iron fist; threatening and coercing. Many leaders are defined as forward thinking, honest, inspiring, or confident and sadly many are not. Listening to the debates who would you follow? The first 2 characteristics can be a problem.

Is the leader performing a role? Do they lead to fulfill their vision or the vision of others? Are they simply higher on the organizational chart and thereby seen as a leader? Leaders are on all levels and great leaders have a special persona that makes us want to listen to them. Steve Jobs admitted to being a less than stellar boss yet we wanted to learn from him and hear what he had to say.

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

Every January we celebrated the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His famous speech on the mall was heard by a quarter of a million people. There was no internet or social media to tell people about the event; no cell phones, e-mail or faxes. Yet look how many were there, why, because they shared a belief. He influenced them with his words.

Who do you influence and how do you lead? What do your words and actions say about you? Are you showing your staff that you care by your actions and words? Do they share your vision and beliefs? Ask them.