Defining leadership is incredibly important, but also incredibly difficult. Frequently people operate under different definitions of leadership. Googling and searching for definitions can only confuse you more. You may even resort to looking up famous people leadership quotes to try to piece a definition together yourself. We’re going to provide you with some easy quotes to help you define leadership that you can practically incorporate into your everyday life.
Our way of helping you define leadership can be summed up in these three quotes:
- “Bring people together”
- “Facilitate don’t dictate”
- “Manage the Chaos”
As always, our team of psychologists have combed dozens of research papers in Psychology, Neuroscience, Cognitive Science, Management, Organizational Behavior, Behavioral Economics, and Applied Ethics to inform our researched backed tips and to help you develop a motivational leadership style.
The science of defining leadership
These three leadership quotes matchup with key leadership skills critical to defining leadership and to help explain to others what leadership means to you and how you act on it. Defining leadership in this way takes root in the agile leadership style that is becoming popular all over the world. Major companies and organizations like Google and Barclays Bank are implementing some of these strategies and are helping their leaders develop an agile leadership style. The agile framework relies on Complexity theory in science.
Complexity theory is research done in several different sciences, such as biology, physics, psychology, cognitive science, and artificial intelligence. The major focus is investigating chaotic environments that create self-organizing systems. Self-organization means that, within a group or system, there emerges an overall order in time and space of a given system that results from the collective interactions of its individual components.
Self-organizing systems aren’t necessarily without hierarchy, but simply that the overall function of the group is created in such a way that the hierarchy is not a major component of the group. That’s the model you should strive for in your organizations and teams.
Can self-organizing really work?
Self-organization is when, within a group, an overall order emerges overtime as a result of collective interactions of the individual members/components of the group. Self-organization and self-organizing systems spontaneously occur in nature. For example: cells, ocean waves, ecological diversity, weather patterns, and even jazz music all tend to develop ordered patterns over time. This order in turn often leads to more optimal, interconnected functioning.
For example, one study focused on coordination among improvisational jazz musicians. Pairs or groups of musicians were asked to improvise to create musical harmony. In different trials, experimenters took away a key piece of information from the participants. In one trial, participants weren’t able to see each other and had to rely on the sounds alone. In another trial, participants were unable to hear each other and had to coordinate based on visual stimuli alone. Regardless of what constraints were put on the musicians, they were able to coordinate and synchronize their music. This shows that systems that are set-up to self-organize can overcome obstacles and external constraints to remain autonomous.
Translating quotes into action for effective leadership
Defining leadership with leadership quotes is a really easy way to remember and explain how you lead and what it means for you to be a leader. Yet, these leadership quotes aren’t defining leadership in actionable ways yet. We’ll explain how these quotes translate into actions you can take everyday so that you’re defining leadership with both actions and words.
- “Bring people together”
- means you should create diverse teams
- “Facilitate don’t dictate”
- means you should be coaching and not exercising power
- “Manage the Chaos”
- means promoting group autonomy and channeling productive chaos
“Bring people together” by selecting team members with diverse skill-sets
Bringing people together is a key factor for any one defining leadership. Including team members with diverse skill-sets helps create an environment that is interconnected, and focuses on learning from one another. Ensuring that each sub-group has a diverse set of backgrounds and skill-sets permits idea exchange from different perspectives.
In economic theory, this is called creating a learning economy. Every project requires an integrated learned approach where everyone is constantly learning from one another. The basic concept is that work and learning are integrated, so that there is a constant process of motivation and activity for each sub-goal.
If you have the opportunity to choose your group, this is perhaps the most important part. You want to be sure that everyone has a role that is required for the system to work. In terms of your overall project, it’s ideal to have a group of 12 or more for brainstorming sessions and problem-solving discussions as research has shown that larger groups develop more creative and innovative solutions.
This type of group size allows you to give tasks to sub-groups that exercises specific expertise on the project. Be sure to create diverse sub-project groups! Groups of three to five have the best overall fit for small sub-projects as larger groups risk social loafing, or when some group members become “free-loaders” and don’t put in their share of the work.
Separating the larger goal into smaller projects that can be tackled by different sub-groups is the most effective way to create an interconnected network. You want to be sure that all of the sub-groups and sub-projects rely on each other to get to the group goal.
For example, if you are trying to figure out a new marketing campaign for a product, it would be good to have at least one person who excels in the following areas: digital marketing, economic forecasting, social media, product development, graphic design, user-interface design, and customer service. You may have a sub-group goal of coming up with a new campaign slogan. You might think that the social media and digital marketing people might be the only relevant people to help here. That’s a mistake!!
A customer service person provides insight as to what your consumers are saying, what their complaints are or what their favorite features are, so that way you capitalize on what makes your brand or product special. Or, the user-interface designer can help the group understand what it feels like to use the product, or what makes the design unique.
You want a diverse group that has multiple different people together. For the project to succeed everyone needs to bring their part of the project together. It’s your job to create opportunities and help bring them together. Any good leader is able to facilitate collaboration and embody the leadership quote “bring people together”.
“Facilitate don’t dictate” by developing a coaching leadership style
This leadership quote requires you change your focus to being a facilitator rather than a dictator, and enhance your ability to coach your team. Your role as the leader changes from being a top-down authority to being an advocate and source of collaboration. You empower and set the team up for success rather than being seen as an obstacle to group goals. It shows trust between you and group-members, which is essential for you to maintain your position as a leader.
For example, in sports, when a coach or manager loses their ability to connect with their players or loses their trust, the team suffers both morale wise and with their performance. On the other hand, when players are “willing to run through a brick wall” for their coach, there is a stronger source of dedication. Not only will this enhance your ability to control and nudge the group, but also it allows the group to be united in their trust of your abilities as a leader.
In order to facilitate self-organization,
- Provide suggestions and give examples of how groups can coordinate. Be sure that groups know they can alter and adapt your suggestions to make what works best for them.
- Allow your organization to problem solve and work collaboratively. This means that sub-groups should feel empowered to call meetings with each other, see outside resources, employ strategies without fear of overly-harsh criticism, and be able to direct themselves towards a general goal.
- At the beginning of each project and during regular meetings, emphasize that team members should feel empowered to call meetings with you and with each other. Remind them that meetings don’t have to be about finished projects, but could be brainstorming sessions, problem solving, or searching for pushback and critiques so they can catch any glaring errors.
Defining leadership in this way helps you better understand your role as a leader. Most of the time you think that you should exercise power or dictate how something should be done. This is a top-down approach, and a quite traditional one, for defining leadership. You want to break that mold and be a leader who can facilitate change, inspire your team, and coax the best from everyone.
“Manage the Chaos” by promoting group autonomy using productive chaos
It’s very common to hear that you should “promote the autonomy” of your workers; in fact it’s one of the most common leadership quotes to hear, but what does that really mean??
Here are two misconceptions about this mantra:
- WRONG: Provide autonomy to individuals.
RIGHT: Focus on promoting the autonomy of the group.
- WRONG: Relinquish control and direction.
RIGHT: Relinquishing control can lead to problems with too many leaders and too many voices in the room. Instead focus on guiding a group rather than dictating the group.
Promoting autonomy properly is the trick, and we’ll explain what it really means to make your group “self-organizing” and promote the autonomy of the team, not just individual members. A lot of leaders might be concerned that groups may become unorganized, unfocused, and unproductive. That’s perfectly fine! Chaos is critical to self-organization.
In complexity theory, this is called stochasticity. Stochastic just means a level of chaotic randomness in the approaches or actions by groups. Initially, when a group attempts to self-organize they struggle to properly coordinate their actions towards a group goal. But what this does is allow them to figure out what doesn’t work.
In learning theory this is a stage called prototyping, where groups use trial-and-error methods to figure out how to work together towards a main goal. Research has shown that this is one of the most effective ways to create group cohesion and creativity. It allows them to learn what does and doesn’t work.
Here are some specific guidelines for how to identify productive chaos and how to manage it:
- When you see something isn’t working, say something! Make suggestions for how to fix the issue or make something work better, but be sure to give multiple examples. Providing multiple examples shows you’re not dictating to the group what to do, but engaging in a collaborative process. It gives the group the ability to choose the course of action by combining, adapting, or rejecting multiple suggestions.
- Keep up to date on what everyone is doing. This seems really intuitive, but you need to do this in the right way. Think of yourself as an art teacher. You’ve given them a general goal (e.g. paint a landscape), but they get to determine what the landscape looks like, where it comes from and how they create the finished product. Much like an art teacher, on a daily basis, check in with each project subgroup and just take notice of what they’re doing. You don’t need to comment each time, but just be sure you know.
This can help you coach each sub-group. You might be able to reference another sub-group that has a similar idea, or is trying to solve a similar problem and you can suggest inter-group collaboration. Be sure that you are not demanding constant updates or reports, or are expected finished products.
- Talk about progress AND process. Be sure to check-in with the whole team every other week (semi-weekly) to talk about process and progress. Don’t just focus on how things are progressing, but talk about challenges and problems, and discuss how the team has overcome them. This is also a place for you, as the leader, to seek information and resources from your group.
- Balance bonding and working. Be sure to encourage the team to bond outside of work, maybe have a night where you get a drink or have a group lunch out. This helps ensure that the team has some dedicated time to bond.
- Coach through interpersonal issues. When a group is getting bogged down in interpersonal issues or communication problems, offer to come in and see how they’re working together. Be part of the sub-group and help refocus them by asking concrete questions, and refer back to project goals or team values.
- Be proactive and not reactive. Look at your team and think about when a speed-bump or major hurdle might derail them. Try and cut it off, or have a whole team strategy session about how to handle this. If you see a team member struggling or not pulling their weight, ask to talk to them over coffee or lunch and check in. Often their behavior is symptomatic of something else. This is a good time to show your emotional intelligence and strength as a leader.
- When people get distracted, unite them with a problem. If you’re noticing that people are getting distracted in their sub-groups, then it might be a good time for you to come to them with a problem you, as a leader, are having with the project. Get them to brainstorm and think about the project as a whole. Or take some time to run them though one of your ideas. This creates an open forum of sorts for idea exchange, and helps you get them re-focused on the project as a whole.
The interconnectedness of the sub-groups forces groups to constantly coordinate and learn about one another. The constant learning and innovative atmosphere allows team-members to work together and innovate together across projects. The framework creates an environment of trust among leaders and their subordinates, which is critical for defining leadership abilities and skills. Often, teams are frustrated by leaders that micro-manage and are over-bearing. When groups are allowed to self-organize, they become mutually energizing and reinforcing. Since everything is interconnected, there becomes a perceived pressure to finish a task and work together. The self-regulation effect allows you to focus on other aspects of the project and not on getting people to meet deadlines and interpersonal conflicts.
This leadership quote helps you understand how a leader is more of a catch-all worker than a dictator. You don’t want to be the one who stifles creativity or is the major hurdle for a new and innovative output. You want to be sure that you’re defining leadership in a way that not only helps you lead a group, but also one that facilitates the best work from your team.
Recap of three leadership quotes for easily defining leadership
Defining leadership can be really difficult. Everyone seems to know how to use the word “leadership” but no one ever seems to be good at defining leadership. We’ve helped you do that by defining leadership using easy to remember quotes, and how to turn those leadership quotes into actions you can do on a daily basis as a leader.
Defining leadership can be understood as
- “Bring people together” by creating diverse teams and cultivating diverse skill sets.
- “Facilitate don’t dictate” by developing a coaching mentality with your team
- “Manage the Chaos” by promoting group autonomy and channeling productive chaos
Creating a group that has a diverse skill set and self-organizing can help you develop a strong team. By creating an environment for your team to self-organize, you give them autonomy. This allows you to coach your team rather than micro-manage them. It allows the team to develop an ownership of the work, and create a self-regulating system of working.
Remember that defining leadership is a tough task, and that you might be asked to provide a leadership quote that you base your leadership style off of. You can now easily do that by remembering our three leadership quotes that are defining leadership both with the nice sound-bite and embodied traits and qualities.