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. In my search for a better way to define leadership, I stumbled on the work of international leadership strategist Nikos Mourkogiannis. In his book, titled  “Purpose: The Starting Point of Great Companies“, he talks about the TIME framework that gives four essential actions that every leader must master.

• Think: Devise a direction or outline plan.
• Inspire: Generate collective support for this direction and the kind of action that will be required.
• Mobilize: Make sure that all the relevant individuals agree to cooperate and to accept specific roles.
• Empower: Set up the systems needed to maintain momentum.

Many leadership experts have proposed different frameworks for leadership but this one was one of the best I’ve seen. Another framework I love, which also gives the same roles but in a different way is the Roger L. Martin’s Five Questions Of Strategy. The “winning aspiration” covers both the “think” and “inspire” points above. The “capabilities” and “management systems” questions correspond to the “mobilize” and “Empower” actions above.

I think leadership is doing, not being. Leadership is a verb, not a noun. 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.

Related: What is leadership

The Job Description of a Leader

The 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 stand point of what a leader does. Building on the work already done by many other leading experts, 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 personally believe my definition paints a picture of a leader that is specific, clear, tangible, and measurable, something many of the other definitions–though great– don’t do as effectively.

“A leader is a servant who S.E.R.V.E.S a team in a way that helps the team to accomplish a shared vision that is bigger than the team. “

S.E.R.V.E.S stands for:

  • Strategy creation and communication to the team.
  • Employing, Equipping, mobilizing talented team members.
  • Rewarding team members [Good & Bad according to how they perform behaviors that move the mission ahead]
  • Validating & Inspiring team members. Validation affirms people and inspires them.
  • Empowering and supporting team members to do their job. To empower means to give power and authority to serve.
  • Standard-stetting & Standard-bearing. The leader is the standard-setter and standard-bearer. Shows the way. Models good behavior for the team.

I break my definition down further as follows:

A leader:
– is a servant (who)
– is motivated by a higher purpose (why)
-S.E.R.V.E.S (what he does)
– accomplishes a shared vision (i.e. where he is going)
-In a way that helps the team to accomplish a shared vision (how).

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.