Over the past few years I was able to interview over 140 CEOs around the world from companies like Oracle, Unilever, Kaiser, MasterCard, Best Buy, Verizon, Audi, KPMG, and many others.

From all of the questions I asked them there was one that they had trouble answering, and that was…

“How do you define leader and leadership?”

Sounds weird right? After all, these are some of the most successful CEOs in the world and they responsible for billion dollar companies and thousands of people!

But think about it for a minute, how would you define and explain leader and leadership to someone who has never heard of the concepts or ideas?

Here are a few of the definitions that CEOs gave me, which one most resonates with you?

“I define leadership as a critical role that focuses on both the vision of the future and the possibility and the hard realities of the present and the lessons learned of the past. A leader is the person who inspires others and is the the walking symbol of humbleness.”

Bernard Tyson, Former CEO of Kaiser Permanente with over 200k employees (he passed away a few months after we spoke).

“Leadership is not about holding a specific title or achieving a certain level in an organization. I believe leadership is about helping others realize their potential and inspiring them to work with you to achieve a shared vision for the future.”

Kathy Mazzarella, CEO of Graybar with over 8k employees.

“Leadership means LISTENING and ACTING – I probably sound like a broken record on this topic – but it’s the truth ! I always say that the all you have to do is LISTEN to your customers and employees and do what they TELL you ! It’s a simple formula!”

John Legere, CEO of T-Mobile with over 44k employees.

At the risk of making this a super long article, I’ll stop here (I have another 140 or so definitions!)

The truth is leaders don’t spend enough time defining leader and leadership and as a result neither do the organizations they are a part of.

But how you define these things is essential because they will define the type of leader you become and the types of leaders you create. This actually one of the most crucial things that you as a leader need to do.

I recently gave a talk to hundreds of top executives and here’s a clip where I talked about this in more detail.

After you watch it let me know what you think, send me your definition of leader and leadership!

If you enjoyed the article and want more content like this here’s what you can do:

  1. Subscribe to The Future of Work Podcast where I interview business leaders around the world each week.
  2. Grab a copy of The Future Leader which has been endorsed by the CEOs of MasterCard, Best Buy, Oracle, Audi, Unilever, Domino’s Pizza, Ritz Carlton, Kaiser, and Marshall Goldsmith. It explores the most essential skills and mindsets for future leaders.
  3. If you are or want to be an entrepreneur then my wife and I just launched a brand new podcast on how to Be Your Own Boss, called the BYOB Podcast where we share what we did and how we did it. You can subscribe to that here.