How much leadership can a person have?

Swimming in a sea of leadership books, blogs, and programs, I’m frankly quite conflicted about what exactly is leadership. Sure there are a ton of aspects to developing and being a leader: skills, competency, character, knowledge, attitude, chemistry, discipline, passion, vision, relating, motivating, persuading, deciding, planning, ad nauseum.

In the pithy words of John Maxwell, “Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.

the-incredibles-1-sizedVery good. Everyone has influence. Everyone can impact and influence another person or even a group of people, for good or for bad. But does that mean everyone can be a leader? Can anyone be the leader of a company or organization? Who should be the leader of a group if everyone can be a leader? (cf. “Everyone can be super! And when everyone’s super, no one will be.” from The Incredibles)

So what the majority of the books and blogs and programs are not talking about leadership as merely influence. The leadership gurus are implicitly talking about another layer of leadership. Leadership is much more than being faithful, available, and teachable; much more than knowing your weaknesses, pain, or strengths.

The term that’s been suggested to me is: leadership capacity.

So while everyone has influence, each person has a different amount of leadership capacity. That capacity can grow, thus be developed. And some are naturally (and/or supernaturally) gifted with more leadership capacity right out of the womb. A leadership gift is a higher capacity. This means that a person who isn’t a gifted leader will probably not develop more leadership capacity than someone who is gifted.

The better question is: How much leadership capacity does a person have? How do you measure it?

Thank you Sabastian for a conversation that really cleared the air for me.

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15 Responses

  1. sabastian says:

    Wow DJ, you are an articulate writer! I love how you processed our conversation and posted it in a matter of minutes, especially with the cool Incredibles picture!

    quoting another great movie to expand on this idea of capacity. if everyone has “influence” or is a leader then could the level of responsibility we chose to accept measure the capacity of our influence?

    Spider-Man (2002). Uncle Ben: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

  2. DJ, I think you hit on the right words: leadership capacity. I tend to think of leadership as a muscle. Some are born with better muscle tone than others. Anyone can exercise to tone up but some begin with more capacity and will continue to grow in leadership abilities by learning and training. Then there are those who have leadership capacity but this weakens or even atrophies when it is not used.
    Theresa Ip Froehlich, Certified Life Coach

  3. djchuang says:

    @Theresa, thanks for your comments. Your muscle analogy is a good one. And, some have more ambition to work at weight training with free weights, while others stick to weight machines.

    @Sabastian, you’re too kind, and thanks for commenting so soon. I think accepting more responsibility can increase one’s leadership capacity. I also think that most of us under-estimate how much power we have, though there are a few that over-estimate the power they have. 🙂