If you influence people, are you a leader?

  Just finished day 1 (of 3) of the UW Foster MBA leadership curriculum.  Section B had some pretty remarkable conversations in Building Effective Teams and in Leadership.  At one point, the question was asked:  is Kim Kardashian a leader?  

  I’ve gone through a lot of leadership courses in my day, but there was one definition of leadership that really stuck with me:

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

— Dwight D. Eisenhower

  So if Kim Kardashian tweets about a purse and a hundred thousand screaming fans rush out to buy it, is Kim Kardashian a leader because she influenced their behavior, and the purchasers probably did it thinking that they actually like the product?  

  Based on this rather simplistic definition of leadership…yes.

  But when you think about people who you consider to be leaders — who you would want to follow — you don’t think of Kardashian or any of the other celebrities with a rabid fan base.  Is Eisenhower’s quote flawed?

  I had always thought of leadership from a military/work context – for example, you could paraphrase the quote to: “a good leader can inspire others to perform the mission and understand why it needs to happen.”  But if you take the Eisenhower quote at face value and apply it in a for-profit, marketing, or sales context, it doesn’t make as much sense.  Furthermore, what if someone evil, like Darth Vader, said it?  Is Darth Vader a leader?  This simplistic definition doesn’t mention anything about being an ethical or moral leader, which some leadership models include in their definition of a ‘good leader.’  

  I think I’m starting to see the advantage of leadership models, at least for discussion purposes. I hated them as an Air Force Officer because we would always have to learn new ones in our various career training courses.  As a pretty successful officer, I always thought that I knew what leadership is…but then putting it down into words was damn near impossible!  Leadership models make the concepts more tangible (and usually takes a lot of really popular terms and leadership characteristics) and then you can debate it endlessly in an academic setting.  I totally agree that talking about leadership makes us better leaders, because it helps us put our experiences into context and helps us evaluate and further develop our own ideas and concepts.  It allows us to better verbalize what leadership is, and in doing so, we can further develop our leadership style and make us more capable.

  Time for a new definition of leadership.

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