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Leadership is one of those skills that’s hard to prove on a resume. While it’s true you can list leadership experience, it’s difficult to demonstrate specific leadership skills in one or two bullet points.

To make things even more difficult, everyone seems to have their own definition of leadership. So, we’re throwing our hat into the ring and will attempt to define leadership, with some help from some friends across the web.

What is Leadership?

“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”

– Dwight D. Eisenhower

Leadership often brings to mind powerful CEOs, military personnel, or a person of authority; however, leadership has nothing to do with seniority. Often people will reference “the leadership of a company” or simply “the leaders,” to refer to senior management. Just because someone is a senior manager does not mean that they are automatically a leader. Leadership doesn’t just happen because you get promoted to the C-suite.

People do not need a title to lead.

In addition, people don’t need to have a take-charge personality to be a leader. There is more than one way to lead.

So, what is leadership?

According to Kevin Kruse, a contributor to Forbes and the author of several leadership books, leadership is “a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal.”

Steven Smith, another expert in the field, notes that leadership is “the ability to adapt the setting so everyone feels empowered to contribute creatively to solving the problems.”

Both of these definitions highlight an important characteristic. The first indicates that a leader has social influence while the second definition focuses on empowering others.


Can Leadership be Taught?

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”

– John F. Kennedy

Good leaders are constantly learning. They’re trying to improve themselves so that they can influence and empower those they lead. Do you need a set of innate characteristics as a jumping off point, or can leadership actually be taught?

Leadership can absolutely be taught.

But, leadership is better when it’s learned. Students can learn leadership through experience, training and formal education.

Students and professionals can learn leadership like any other skill, which is by mastering competencies. According to Professor James PS, leadership can be taught by focusing on three core competencies: direction setting, creating alignment, and creating engagement with people.

Another way students and professionals can learn leadership is through leadership coaching. This is typically in a small-group setting and focuses more on the individuals’ strengths.

At the College of Charleston, we offer a leadership roundtable in partnership with Blackbaud. This program offers the opportunity for local professionals to discuss challenging management situations and difficult conversations with coaches and receive one-on-one feedback from Blackbaud executives.

Want to learn more about leadership? Here are 100 Answers to the Question “What is Leadership.”