What is leadership?

Next on the list of concepts under my name at the top of this page is leadership. See earlier posts for values, meaning, purpose, importance, and passion.
Unlike the other concepts, leadership intrinsically involves other people. At first that complexity makes it seem harder to understand, but I think it gets simpler in the end.
I start my “Leadership through emotional intelligence and self-awareness” seminars by asking what leadership is, following how my core Leadership course began at Columbia Business School. Since understanding an apparently broad concept like leadership on its own can be hard Columbia’s course talks about “six pillars” of leadership, each of which you can understand and learn more easily than leadership in general.
You can break down leadership in different ways. I find Columbia’s way as good as any other. Its pillars are

  • Decision making
  • Negotiation and conflict
  • Perceiving others
  • Influence and persuasion
  • Motivation
  • Groups and teams

I like the pedagogical technique of breaking down something complex into smaller chunks to teach people to practice it. For our purpose of understanding the concept, I don’t think it makes it easier.
Actually, the course mentioned the two concepts, shown in this actual slide from the first day of that course.
Pillars of Leadership
Continuing the architecture metaphor, the course teaches the foundation of leadership, fundamental to those pillars, are

  • Emotional intelligence
  • Self-awareness

What do you know? The concepts I write about on this page and what I’ve been basing all the concepts in this series on — leadership, values, meaning, purpose, importance, and passion.
As it happens, Columbia’s course never mentioned the concepts in the foundation again after this slide. That may have been pedagogically sound if the course wanted to teach the concepts in the six pillars, which the rest of the course did, but it didn’t help teach the foundation. Well, you can’t help but develop your emotional intelligence and self-awareness when working on those pillars, so the course did impart some of them on us, but we never focused on them.
(In case you’ve wondered how a guy with a PhD in Physics got so into leadership, self-awareness, and emotional intelligence, this course led me to focus on learning these foundations, as I continue to, and developed my seminar to teach the foundations Columbia alluded to but didn’t teach. There’s more, but the leadership courses I took at Columbia Business School influenced me in this area a lot.)
Anyway, supported by how such a prestigious institution grounds leadership in emotions, I’ll agree and say that

Leadership is the ability and practice of understanding other people’s motivations and emotions and influencing them.

By the way, a corollary of this description is that

Leadership requires you to understand and influence your emotions and motivations.

Working on Columbia’s pillars is one route to develop understanding of and skills in leadership. You can also directly focus on understanding and managing emotions, which the Model and Method do.

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