Leaders don’t take charge, they take care of those in their charge.

If you start studying leadership, you will quickly discover that there is a dazzling number of definitions of leadership in the literature. Most of the definitions describe the heart or character of a leader. They focus on the kind of person who would make a good leader. While describing the profile of a leader is good, it doesn’t help with the practicalities of leading.

Leadership is a verb and a leader is a doer

I think leadership is doing, not being. Leadership is a verb, not a noun. A leader is a doer. I think being shapes and must precede doing. However, being isn’t doing. Having the character of a leader doesn’t make one a leader. Doing what a leader does is what makes one a leader. Another way to say it is that character is necessary but not sufficient to be a leader.

Several years ago, after leading a couple of organizations for a few years, I still wasn’t sure how I could succinctly define the job of a leader in a practical way. I wanted a definition of the role of a leader that I could personally use to stay on course and excel at leading. I wanted something I could use to assemble a leadership team, and also effectively assess their performance and my performance as well. So, I set out on a quest to find or come up with a definition of leadership that clearly delineates the key functions of a leader that if one focuses on it, they will become a great leader.

Related Article: What is leadership

My Definition of a Leader

Because of my desire for a comprehensive functional definition of leadership, I decided to switch the focus from defining the word “leadership” to defining the word “leader” from the standpoint of what a leader does.

I define the word “leader” in terms of who a leader is, what he does, why he does it, and how he does it. Leadership as a subject doesn’t lead people. The discipline of leadership doesn’t change the world, what leaders do changes the world.

My definition spells out the job description of a leader. I believe my definition paints a picture of a leader’s role that is specific, clear, tangible, and measurable.

“A leader is a servant who, motivated by a higher purpose, sacrificially S.E.R.V.E.S a team and helps the team to accomplish a shared vision that is bigger than the team itself. “

A leader serves. S.E.R.V.E.S. stands for:

  1. SERVES. A leader is a servant to the team members. A leader takes care of the souls who do work. This is the spirit and heart of a leader.
  2. Strategizes. He leads strategy creation. Strategy starts purpose, mission, and vision. It charts or chooses a course or direction for the team.
  3. Employs, Equips, mobilizes talented team members. This is where the leader builds the capabilities needed to win. Strategy is all about winning. Successful leaders know how to properly allocate and deploy talent.
  4. Rewards team members [Good & Bad according to how they perform behaviors that move the mission ahead]
  5. Values & Validates team members. Validation affirms people and inspires them. The leader’s role is to be validator in chief.
  6. Empowers and supporting the team. A) This involves setting up the structures and management systems necessary to support the talent employed. B) Empowering team members also means you give them power and authority to act and then get out of their way.
  7. Sets the Standard (Standard-setting & Standard-bearing. The leader is the standard-setter and standard-bearer. Shows the way. Models good behavior for the team. Leads culture creation.

I break my definition down further as follows:

A leader:
-is a servant (who)
-S.E.R.V.E.S (what he does) a team to
-accomplish a shared vision (i.e. where he is going)
-The leader is motivated by a higher purpose (why)

Related: What is leadership

The 5 W’s and 1 H of Leadership

To get a complete story on a subject, journalists, researchers, and police officers often use the 5W’s and 1H formula. Let’s see how my definition gets the complete story about a leader:

 Component  Description
Who is he? A leader is a servant (who). He has the Heart, Head (mind), Hands (deeds) of a servant.
Why does he serve? He is motivated by a higher purpose (why). A higher purpose is something greater than oneself; something that will outlive us. It is not money or self-centered.

Examples include God, unconditional love, country, a common good, etc. However, it must be outside of self and must be entirely for the good of the people.

What does he do? The leader S.E.R.V.E.S. Leadership is about serving.  It is about:
1) Guiding those who don’t know how to get somewhere
2) Accomplishing or winning the goal/prize (which is the vision).A person who doesn’t lead the team to win is not an effective leader.
Where does he do it? Where is he going? The leader’s job is people. A leader leads people. The team is where he works. A leader is a shepherd. That’s why he must understand people. He leads the team to accomplish a shared vision (i.e. where he is going)
How does he do it? In a way that helps the team to accomplish a shared vision.
When does he do it? A leader leads now and always. However, a competent a leader interprets the times to know when to act. Leaders know that timing is everything. When to Lead Is As Important As What to Do and Where to Go. To lead well, you need to do the right things, at the right place, at the right time, with the right people, and for the right reasons.

It’s important to emphasize that a good leader doesn’t do the work of leading alone. He or she forms a team around him that together does the work of leading with him. For example, even though the leader brings new talent to the team, after carefully choosing a competent HR leader, the leader can together with the HR leader bring in future talent.