The True Measure of Leadership

The 2nd law in John C. Maxwells “21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership” is The Law of Influence. Maxwell opines that the true measure of leadership is influence. He asserts that there are no other measures. He quotes:

“True leadership cannot be awarded, appointed, or assigned. It comes only from influence, and that cannot be mandated. It must be earned.”

I am in absolute agreement with Maxwell that leaders earn the right to lead and that comes from their ability to influence the people that surround them. I am concerned, however, that all too often people confuse influence with manipulation.

The dictionary definition of the word Manipulate is:

“to manage or influence skilfully, especially in an unfair manner: to manipulate people’s feelings.”

I believe that the true measure of a leader is much more complex than simple influence. I believe that truth, honesty, compassion and transparency all form part of the equation. I understand that these factors form part of the leaders ability to influence but without them, influence tends towards manipulation.

In support of my opinion, Maxwell provides five myths about leadership and six factors that make a leader:

Five Myths About Leadership

  1. The Management Myth – that leading and managing are the same. Leadership is about influencing people to follow, while management focuses on maintaining systems and processes. Managers can maintain direction; to move people you need influence.
  2. The Entrepreneur Myth – entrepreneurs are skilled at seeing opportunities and going after them. But not all of them are good with leading people in their vision.
  3. The Knowledge Myth – neither IQ nor education necessarily equates to leadership.
  4. The Pioneer Myth – being a trendsetter is not the same as being a leader. To be a leader, a person has to not only be out in front, but also has to have people following his lead.
  5. The Position Myth – leadership is not based on rank or title. It’s not the position that makes the leader; it’s the leader that makes the position.

Six Factors That Make a Leader

  1. Character – Who They Are – true leadership always begins with the inner person. People can sense the depth of a person’s character.
  2. Relationships – Who They Know – with deep relationships with the right people you can become the real leader in an organization.
  3. Knowledge – What They Know – information is vital. You need a grasp of the facts to develop an accurate vision for the future.
  4. Intuition What They Feel – leaders seek to recognize and influence intangibles such as energy, morale, timing and momentum.
  5. Experience Where They’ve Been – the greater your past challenges, the more likely followers will be willing to let you lead.
  6. Ability – What They Can Do – the bottom line is followers want to know whether you can lead them to victory. As soon as they no longer believe you can deliver, they will stop following.

What myths can you share about leadership?

Do you agree with Maxwell’s six factors that make a leader? Can you add any additional factors?

This is the 2nd article in a series of 21. Previous article can be found here:

  1. The Law of the Lid: How effective are you as a leader?

About Peter Borner

Peter is an entrepreneur and successful business leader. Currently leading a consultancy firm specialising in technical diligence for M&A and advising global firms on IT consolidation and migration to consumption based costing through the use of Cloud Technologies.

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 @PeterBorner Peter, many great points you make, I'll zero in on this piece: neither IQ nor education necessarily equates to leadership. What stands out for me with this quote is this: in the end our ability to connect and relate to people is what makes a great leader. A degree from Harvard, Oxford or any other college doesn't prepare a person to build relationships.  Nice post, Peter.

Peterborner moderator

 @shawmu Shawn, Thank you. I am close to a couple of Harvard MBA's and they are "big brain thinkers." Great strategists but their leadership ability is sorely lacking. I have seen a number of very talented people come into their organisations and quickly leave simply because they were looking for a vision to be inspired by and a leader to take them there but failed to get either. I firmly believe that Leaders need to be smart but they also need to connect with the people around them.


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