A Simple Definition of Leadership

by Michael Kelley April 24, 2018

Leadership is a buzz word. A simple Google search will return thousands of books, podcasts, and blog posts. You’ll get leadership as it applies to vision, to strategy, to principle, and everything else.

But what does it mean?

See, when a word becomes a buzz word, its meaning can begin to be lost. The more we say a word, the less we actually think about what that word means. It becomes part of our vernacular and when it does, its meaning becomes diluted. When I say leadership, I might mean something completely different than what you mean when you say the same word. That’s because neither of us realize that our definition of that word has become entangled with our personal experience, personal opinion, and personal interpretation.

But, because we both use it freely now in our conversation, we just keep talking, never realizing that we are talking about two different things while using the same word.

In such times, it’s often helpful for us to step back and ask ourselves what we mean when we use the word. I was challenged to do this very thing recently with the word leadership, and I stumbled.

What does it mean?

Here’s a simple definition that might be helpful: Leadership is the joyful acceptance of responsibility at a given moment.

First of all, leadership is joyful. Joyful doesn’t mean flippant, nor does it mean easy. Instead, joy is rooted in God’s providence. When we believe that God is ultimately responsible for setting up leaders and deposing them, whether that’s in a government, corporation, or in a church, and when we find ourselves on the end of receiving some measure of responsibility, we can accept it with weighty joy. We have an opportunity here to influence others, be they many or few, for the kingdom of God.

Armed with that knowledge of God’s providence, we accept it. We don’t run from responsibility; we don’t feel it is too great a burden to bear. We humbly accept that, for such a time as this, God has seen fit to entrust us with this particular arena.

Regardless of how big or small that arena is, there is responsibility that goes along with it. The word “responsibility” indicates stewardship, and this, too, is an important component of leadership. If we are to lead well, then we should understand that we are responsible for what has been entrusted to us, whether that’s in our own family or a company, a Bible study class or whatever. God is the one who ultimately assigns leaders, and we are only stewards of these responsibilities for a given period of time.

Finally, leaders must recognize the “given moment” of this leadership. We will not be the leader in this particular arena forever. As we grow and age, our scope of influence will ebb and flow and change. We would do well not to pine away, wishing for another arena of leadership, be it bigger or smaller than what we currently have. Instead, we should once again return to faith in God’s providence and believe that this moment, and this circumstance, is what He’s given us. Our job is not to wish for another, but is instead to make the most of what we have been given.

Leadership is about joyful acceptance. It’s about embracing responsibility. It’s about understanding our role as stewards and being content with where He has placed us. And if that’s true, leadership is about making the most of what we’ve been given and where we are as His vessels.