Leadership- What makes a leader?

What is leadership, exactly? Why are we talking about leadership on the happiness blog? I carefully review every subject I talk about on this blog, and whether the idea is connected to theme of the blog (happiness). The idea of leadership is connected to the idea of happiness.

Why are we talking about leadership?

Leaders do make the world a better place in big ways that followers quite don’t. This is going to be a comprehensive piece on leadership. So, I request you to make some time to read this. I am not just answering this for you. I am answering this for myself, so whenever I have to look up leadership from any perspective, I can just come to this web page.

Therefore, so in order to understand what leadership is, and what it entails, let us start with the example of a few people who I and the larger society would consider to be leaders.

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela was one of the greatest leaders the world has had.
Nelson Mandela in prison (Source: Google)

Mandela was a leader. He was a political leader and led the African political movement against Apartheid in South Africa. His life will always be a great example of personal and political leadership.

Had it not been for him, Apartheid would never be abolished in the country and black South Africans would never get equal rights. People like Nelson Mandela fought for equality all their lives. The personal sacrifice he made was unparalleled, for he was fighting a just fight.

Elon Musk

Elon Musk is a great example of leadership.
Elon Musk (Source: Google)

Does Elon Musk qualify as a leader? Yes, he does. He has started multiple companies including PayPal, SpaceX, and Tesla. There are others where he is an investor or had role in the beginnings. Through his work, he has inspired thousands of people around the world besides having a positive impact on the world.

Richard Branson

Richard Branson is a leader, the man who built the Virgin Group.
Richard Branson (Source: Google)

Is Richard Branson a leader? Nobody would say no. He is not only a manager, although he is a great manager too. Importantly, Branson is a leader because he founded the Virgin group, starting with the Student magazine to music, airlines and other businesses. He is one of the greatest voices on entrepreneurship in the world and has created several businesses under the Virgin brand.

Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon (an example of leadership)
Jeff Bezos (Source: Google)

Bezos is a leader, as the founder of Amazon. He started Amazon and literally gave birth to what has come to be known as e-commerce. Without Amazon, we would still be going to buy everything we need to physical stores.

Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi is a great example of leadership.
Mahatma Gandhi (Source: Google)

Gandhiji was one of the greatest leaders of the world who fought British imperialism to bring independence to India. India rightly calls him the father of the nation.

Similarly, there are other leaders like Jeff Bezos, Mukesh Ambani, Larry Page, and Mark Zuckerberg in the business world. There are also several other leaders in the political and social society.

So, what is leadership?

Leadership is the process of setting direction and following through till the mission is achieved. Leaders define what needs to be done. Leaders take up problems when nobody is willing or eager to solve, and take the initiative to solve those problems, often at a great personal cost.

Therefore, by that definition all entrepreneurs are leaders. All founders of political parties are leaders. People who start something to bring about a change in the world are leaders.

People who start a new company do it to solve a problem that they care about. That makes entrepreneurship a form of pursuit of leadership. You can’t be an entrepreneur without leadership qualities.

People who start political parties do it on the basis of a certain ideology or a set of principles, whatever they are. They believe in something. That makes them leaders, and if people subscribe to their ideas, they find followers and their organizations grow.

Who is a leader?

Anybody who starts something with a view to make a dent in the world, in a small way even, is a leader. A leader starts something. He/she solves a problem that would otherwise be unsolved if he or she didn’t take the initiative to solve it. Leader sets direction and leads towards it. He is also a manager who has to manage the resources including people, finance and what have you. However, a manager may or may not be a leader.

Let us try and understand the characteristics of leaders in a little more detail.

1. Leaders are internally driven

Leaders are internally driven. If they were externally driven, they would do what most people think was right. Instead, they follow their own inclinations and inner voice, and do what they feel inside is the right thing to do. They are not dependent on other people to decide what they want to do with their lives. They think big, and ambitiously.

It is their vision for the future they want that attracts other people towards them.

2. Courage

Of all the characteristics that reflect what human life could amount to, boldness or courage would be the highest leverage. Most people are literate and smart, but it is courage that makes the difference between leaders and followers. Leaders are not afraid of failure. Even if they are, they don’t show it. Everybody hangs on to their courage and their dream because they believe in it with courage and tenacity.

3. Persistence

Leaders do not give up on their vision. Mahatma Gandhi fought for India’s independence for a few decades of his life. It is a long time, where he had to go through countless obstacles. Nelson Mandela spent decades in jail for his convictions. Leaders do not give up till they achieve their vision, even if their lives extend the cause and they perish in the pursuit of it.

4. Leaders start things

As we mentioned in the beginning of the piece, leaders solve problems that otherwise would not be solved if they did not take the initiative to solve them. If Elon Musk did not start SpaceX, it would not exist. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak started Apple, it’s likely it would not exist wihtout them. If Bill Gates did not start Microsoft, it would not exist, and I wouldn’t be writing this, and you wouldn’t be reading this. All the advances in computing in the last 40 years would be credited to the two Steve- Jobs and Wozniak, and Bill Gates.

I want to push on this idea that leaders start things. They step into the unknown when everyone tells them to take the easy, safe path. They take bold risks to do things that others would not do.

Martin Luther King started a movement that led to ending the legal segregation in the United States. He started it. He led the movement.

Before Roger Bannister ran a mile (1.6 km) in 3:59:4, nobody believed it could be done. He forwarded human thinking about what was possible to be done with the human body. After he did it, several followed. Nobody talks about the mental struggle he would have gone through before he won the physical struggle but he did it mentally first.

Roger Bannister broke the 4 min mile record. He is an example of leadership for doing something the world had not imagined was possible.
Roger Bannister, breaking the 4 minute mile record (Source: Google)

Henry Ford started the Ford Motor company and brought about the industrial revolution and the assembly line as we know it now.

Leaders solve big problems and start things. They push the human race forward.

5. Leaders have Integrity

Let’s break down integrity. What exactly does it mean? To some people it means, walking the talk. To some people, it means doing the right thing.

As per the dictionary, integrity means adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty. As per another definition, Integrity is the act of behaving honourably, even when no one is watching.

Boiled down to basics, integrity is doing the right thing, even when you are the only person watching.

It means soundness in character. Leaders display integrity. They set examples for others. If they ask others to work hard, they work harder. If they ask others to be transparent, they exhibit transparency in their own behaviour. They are not opaque and are open to questioning.

6. Leaders inspire others

Leaders inspire others to take action. They set the mission and the vision for what they have set out to achieve and that inspires others to take action. Nelson Mandela’s life story itself has been an inspiration to people all over the world as a great and timeless example of leadership.

The goals that they set are so big that they cannot be achieved by themselves alone. Those goals need an army, a group of people who believe in them (employees) or foot soldiers. They inspire others by setting goals that are important for the world that we live in.

7. Leaders are purpose driven

Since leaders find their inspiration inside, they are driven by a deep purpose. They define why they do what they do and put it out for the world for see. For example, all world leading companies have a mission statement and that’s what drives the entire company, including the employees and the investors. Elon Musk’s companies are examples, besides Google. Check out the mission statements below.

“Tesla’s mission is to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.”

“SpaceX was founded in 2002 to revolutionize space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets.”

I have no doubt that these mission statements have been written/finalized by Elon Musk. That’s purpose driven leadership.

8. Leaders hold Accountability

The buck stops here” is a phrase that was popularized by U.S. President Harry S. Truman, who kept a sign with that phrase on his desk in the Oval Office. The phrase refers to the notion that the President has to make the decisions and accept the ultimate responsibility for those decisions.

Truman coined the phrase- the buck stops here
Truman (Source: Google)

Great leaders how accountability. They hold themselves accountable when things go wrong. On the other side, they are happy to share the credit when things go right. Great leaders build teams to build their ambitious goals, and the buck stops with them.

Leadership and management are not the same

There may be other attributes that could be described as attributes of great leadership, but many of them tend to mix management with leadership. In this piece, my attempt is focus on understanding what leadership is, and so these are the key attributes of leadership that make sense.

Now, since we are trying to understand the meaning of leadership through different perspectives, let us look at some of the most inspiring quotes on leadership.

Leadership quotes are another way to understand how other people have viewed the idea of leadership. Leaders make the world a better, and a happier place, and hence it finds a place on the happiness blog.

Below are some of the most powerful quotes on leadership.

1. “If you want to walk fast, walk alone. But if you want to walk far, walk together.

-Ratan Tata

2. “The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets people to do the greatest things.” -Ronald Reagan

3. “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right thing.” -Peter F. Drucker

4.  “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” -Warren G. Bennis

5. “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” -John Maxwell

6. “The price of greatness is responsibility.” –Winston Churchill

7. “Become the kind of leader that people would follow voluntarily, even if you had no title or position.” -Brian Tracy

8. “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” -Harold R. McAlindon

9. “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” – Warren Buffett

10. “Of all the things I’ve done, the most vital is coordinating those who work with me and aiming their efforts at a certain goal.” – Walt Disney

11. “Winning has a price. Leadership has a price.”- The last dance, Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan is a great example of leadership.
Michael Jordan (Basketball Greats) Source: Google

12. “I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion.” – Alexander the Great

13.  “A leader . . . is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.”- Nelson Mandela

14. “If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then, you are an excellent leader.”- Dolly Parton

15. “A great person attracts great people and knows how to hold them together.” —Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

16. “No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself, or to get all the credit for doing it.” —Andrew Carnegie

17. “Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.” — Colin Powell

18. “The most powerful leadership tool you have is your own personal example.” – John Wooden

19. “When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favour.”- Elon Musk

20. “Do, or do not. There is no “try”. – Yoda

21. “Every man dies, but not every man really lives.”–William Wallace

These are some of the finest quotes on leadership, said by some of the finest men who have lived or are currently living.

So, we are back to the question, what is leadership?

We have looked at the characteristics of leaders, and also covered some of the greatest things said by leaders about leadership. Our analysis of leadership h

So, what is leadership? How do we define leadership?

Leadership is art of leading men and women to achieve goals so big that they cannot be achieved alone. The leader’s job is to start the movement, lead the movement, till the goals for the movement have been achieved. Leaders are movement starters, and the leaders of the movement they started.

Yes, this sounds like a good enough definition of leadership.  

Leaders are movement builders

That’s what Mahatma Gandhi did. India’s independence was an ambitious goal that looked too good to be true. He set out to achieve that goal, and got the entire country rooting for him, in his courage to achieve that goal. He started the ‘Quit India Movement’ that eventually led to independent India. Mahatma Gandhi was a movement starter and leader of the movement, without which we wouldn’t know India, as we know it today.

That’s what great entrepreneurs do. They are movement starters. Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Jamsetji Tata started movements that have changed the world for good. Great companies are movements.

Jamsetji Tata, the leader of Indian industrial revolution
Jamsetji Tata (Source: Google)

That’s what Nelson Mandela did. He started a movement to rid South Africa of Apartheid and he succeeded through years of pain and toil. He was a movement starter and the leader of that iconic movement in the history of the world.

You want to pursue leadership and be a leader?

Start a movement to change the world for the better.

Thank you for reading.

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I appreciate the time you spent in reading the blog and wish you happiness.



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