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Leadership is a Practice, Not a Position of Authority

OPINION PIECE: David Gurteen discusses the multiple definitions of Leadership and proposes that it's a practice not a position.


There are a multitude of definitions for leadership. For example, some people argue that leaders are born, while others that leadership can be taught, but everyone can choose to practice leadership.


Management is about persuading people to do things they do not want, while leadership is about inspiring people to do things they never thought they could.

Credit: Steve Jobs

The job of managers is “to manage things.” They manage resources, facilities, and people.

They are good at managing projects and meeting deadlines. They follow the plan – the strategy – they get the job done.

Managers are appointed – by the Board or by more senior executives. You cannot make yourself a manager.

On the other hand, leaders look widely to the world for trends, opportunities, and risks and establish the plan – the strategy – the organization’s future direction.

There are two types of leaders: appointed leaders and natural leaders.


First, there are designated leaders – senior managers appointed as leaders whose job is to lead the organization.

In most contexts, such as business books or articles, the word leader is synonymous with top management.

These managers may or may not be good leaders, but leading is their appointed job.


Second, there are the natural leaders of the world – inside and outside of organizations.

Anyone can lead; anyone can practice leadership. If you have influence and followers, then you are a leader.

No one gives you this form of leadership – it does not come through appointment; it comes from your influence.

Everyone has influence. For some people, their circle of influence is small; for others, it is substantial.

Anyone who has a sphere of influence can be considered a leader.

Credit: Daniel Goleman

A blogger with a broad readership has a large circle of influence and is thus a thought leader.

And in an organization, experts in their field are leaders within their domain.

Leadership is a choice. You can choose to influence people positively, or you can opt to keep quiet and choose to minimize your influence, but you can never not influence.

Influencing people is a form of doing things to them. A good leader is both an influencer and is ready to be influenced.

Most people think of leadership as a position and therefore don’t see themselves as leaders.

Credit:  Stephen Covey

Anyone can become a more influential leader by speaking up, engaging in conversation, forging healthy relationships, and listening more. This is the essence of Conversational leadership.

So when I talk about leadership and management, when I refer to the appointed leaders in an organization, I call them senior management, sometimes top management, or occasionally appointed leaders. Never, just leaders.

This distinction leaves me free to use the word leader for anyone who practices leadership regardless of their position or authority.

Leadership is a practice, not a position of authority. Leadership is the ability to influence people. You are a leader if you have influence and choose to use it.

Opinion Piece: Leadership Conversations: David Gurteen