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Definition Leadership - for the 21st Century

If you have typed into your chosen search engine "definition leadership" you probably already realise that no two leadership gurus seem to share a view on what defines leadership. The internet is full of definitions of leadership.

A large part of this site explores Winston Churchill's leadership style and principles - my interpretation of what defines Churchill's leadership can be found on the Churchill's leadership page and its 10 links. Of course, this is only one example of a definition of leadership - and May 1940 is a long time ago. On this page I have selected 6 leading leadership thinkers from the 21st century - gurus that as a management and leadership training consultant I frequently refer to. Each one provides a different example of "definition leadership"! Follow the links below to discover how the modern day gurus compare to a Churchillian leadership definition.

Definition Leadership: Tom Peters

One of the most influential business thinkers of the 21st century, Tom Peters is the management-guru's management-guru! His first book with (the relatively low-profile Robert Waterman) "In Search of Excellence" was a huge best seller and Peters has followed this book up with a series of outstatnding business and leadership books. From Peters' earlier work here are his 8 Attributes of Business Success. He goes on to explore what happens when things go wrong: here is his Reasons for Failure. Peters loves to startle and shock: his presentational style is infused with evangelical passion, he uses "cool" slang-like prose and his work is peppered with thought provoking paradoxes and lengthy lists of "crazy stuff". Peters defines today as "crazy times" that demand crazy thinking to not only win but to survive. His thoughts on leadership are typically passionate, controversial, inspiring and great fun. Leadership for Peters is "crucial to the revolution now under way - so crucial that we believe that the words "managing" and "management" should be discarded." Leadership for Peters is about discovering the passion, persistence and imagination to get results, to be able to find the Wow factor and to be able to think the weird thoughts necessary to learn and thrive in a disruptive age. Here then is my take on Definition Leadership: Tom Peters. For those of you considering becoming a business leader here are some Peters-style questions you may choose to ask yourself.

Definition Leadership: Peter Drucker

Regarded as the father of modern management, Peter Drucker only just makes it into my list of 21st century gurus as he died age 95 in 2005. Nevertheless his influence on management thinking is profound and his excellent management and leadership books textbooks will continue to be read and studied as true landmarks in managerial thinking for years to come. Drucker's style couldn't be more different from Tom Peters'. Leadership for Drucker is "mundane, unromantic and boring. Its essence is performance.". While this quote is unlikely to get your juices going with unbridled enthusiasm, you need to stick with Drucker and read more. Drucker goes on to define leadership as a means to an end and he details the foundations and requirements of effective leadership. Here is a short guide to Drucker: Definition Leadership: Peter Drucker. In contrast to Peters, Drucker surmises that to become an effective leader one has the same requirements as those of the effective manager.

Definition Leadership: Jack Welch

Jack Welch was the CEO and Chairman of General Electric for over 20 years. During that time he pioneered many critical business initiatives (such as downsizing and six sigma) that have become standard practice for big business in the 21st century. The results Welch achieved during his leadership at GE were spectacular: market value rose from $12 billion to a peak of $598 billion (stabilizing around the $400 billion mark) and earnings went from $1.5 billion to over $14 billion. Welch's leadership style was forthright and clear with tight guidelines for a leaner more productive organization. Since leaving GE in 2001, Welch has become a business guru - if you are interested in business leadership, Welch's ideas (he calls them "secrets"!) demand study. Take a look at these superb Jack Welch books describing the man and his leadership. No other business leadership guru has personally lead as successful a company (if you define success by standard financial measures) as Welch. This fact alone makes him a must read in my opinion. Here's my summary of Jack Welch's definition of leadership.

Definition Leadership: John Adair

The Worlds first professor in Leadership Studies (University of Surrey), British born John Adair is regarded as a leading authority on leadership and leadership development. All of my other 21st century leadership gurus are experts in a wider field (management, politics, business etc), Adair in contrast concentrates on the pure art and science of leadership. He has written over 30 books on the subject. These are in my opinion the ones that demand closest study. . Adair believes that leadership matters deeply, that good leadership is good leadership irrespective of whether its within a business, charity, sports team, political party or army regiment and he also believes that good leadership can be learnt and that everyone can improve their leadership ability. Adair's writing for me evokes feelings of military style leadership, and it was no surprise for me to learn that Adair was a Senior Lecturer and Leadership Training Advisor at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (where Churchill went in 1893). I feel Adair's military / academic look at leadership is a valuable addition to our gurus list. Have a read of my look at John Adair's definition of leadership.

Definition Leadership: Rudolph Giuliani

I wanted to include a political-leadership guru in my list. More so than any other type of guru, political-gurus are bound to be controversial. Giuliani positioned himself as a leadership guru with the publication of his book "Leadership" (get a great online deal here on Leadership by Rudy Giuliani!)and the founding of his consultancy firm "Guiliani Partners" in 2002. Born in New York Guiliani was elected mayor of that great city in 1993 (he had been a lawyer prior to that). As mayor of the city he presided over significant changes: dramatically reduced crime figures, greater economic development, increased investement in education and a huge programme of generally cleaning up the city. If this had been his legacy he would be well remembered by many. However the events of September 11th 2001 brought Guiliani's name to a Worldwide audience like never before. We all watched as he lead New York through the aftermath of the terrible Trade Center attacks. His conduct during this period cemented his reputation for great leadership. For this reason I have included Rudolph Guiliani in my list: his leadership advice is a mix of home-spun common sense coupled with simple practical tasks and advice. Leadership doesn't have to be complicated and Guiliani's definition of leadership is all the better for its simplicity. Have a read of my look at Rudolph Giuliani's definition of leadership.

Leadership Definition: Peter Scholtes

Probably the least well known of my 21st century leadership gurus, Peter Scholtes, who won't thank me for even referring to him as a guru was always going to be on my shortlist. In my opinion Scholtes two books "The Leaders Handbook" and "The Team Handbook" are must reads for leaders in business Click here to see more about these outstanding Scholtes leadership books. Between 1987 and 1993 Scholtes shared the platform with W. Edwards Deming educating corporations about the "new" philosophy of the Quality movement. Scholtes take on leadership concentrates on "systems thinking" - his opinions on management by objectives, merit pay, performance appraisals, motivation and management buzzwords are still (sadly) controversial and "new". You must include Scholtes' "new" thinking in your study of leadership and your seeking of a leadership definition for the 21st century. Here is my page looking at Peter Scholtes' definition of leadership. And here is a page on Scholtes' leadership competencies for the new century.