What is leadership

A leader is an inspired individual with a vision for change whose action and endeavor is so strong as to involve others to participate.

Inspired individual

     A leader is human, intensely human. It is an individual who encompasses the whole range of emotions, feelings, desires, weaknesses and strengths, kindness and aggressiveness and so forth. The reason why I define the leader ‘human’ is because this individual dared to look inside and the story is not that this individual understood something that others don’t understand, the story is not that this individual saw something that others don’t see. This individual simply dared to look inside. This individual probably found the chaos and the desire for order, the urge to move forward, the call for action that is part of human beings. This looking inside, this seeing ourselves for what we are, which could be defined as an enlightened or awakened status, thrusts us toward action. This is inspiration and this is why, at the core, I call a leader an inspired individual. The word ‘individual’ is necessary because the core of a leader is precisely a personal and subjective balance of so many things that there is not a single leader identical or comparable to any other leader. The word inspired pulls together the strings of all the process here described and finds its output in being inspired. Inspiration comes after you have looked inside yourself and you have a clear view of yourself and the surrounding world. We could say that a leader is the least dreamer or idealist you will ever meet and is the most practical individual you will actually see in action. A leader’s inspiration is perfectly balanced with the practical characteristics and requirements of the world he or she lives in but this inspiration is so strong as to offer a solution that establishes a long leap forward into the future. Often a leader is so forward bound that he or she is the only one to see the solution and the project is so long termed that others will have plain difficulties to understand the journey. 

Vision for change

     Inspiration is directly and inevitably connected to action. Because we are living beings moving in a constantly changing world, we always transform our inspiration into action. Furthermore, our inspiration already contains the seeds of action, it is always projected towards the future. When a leader blows the wind of inspiration a vision is born, inspiration has become real and tangible. Vision, for a leader, is the awareness of a direction, a purpose. Vision means taking the road towards making inspiration real. I call that moment ‘crystallization’: inspiration begins inside but the moment a leader begins to see an output for his or her idea, the moment the leader has a vision for how that idea could become real and sees the direction to take, that idea has crystallized into action and is set to become real. 

     There is no vision without change. Vision always brings forward new ways to do things. A visionary individual is someone who is changing things for the better, who is bringing forward a new point of view.

     Leadership is human, deeply human. It involves the ability to look inside, get involved and participate in the events of our time. Ensuing this awareness, leaders have the potential to think different. Why? They wonder (this single word is essential to leadership). Imagine being pervaded by a strong awareness of the natural environment, reality, from the ground below your feet to the stars above your head. Imagine a clear, bright, consciousness of yourself, your inner self, as part of this. Imagine your talent to wonder all this and actively participate to the evolution of all this. This is a leader and this has nothing to do with a superior deity, it is the result of a hard work, it is the result of the courage to chisel away all the superfluous to clearly see our inner self, and to break free from all the conformism the tells us what is right and what is wrong. It is the result of the hard work of a free individual standing up and looking at life straight in the eyes, ready to

move forward.

Action and endeavor

     I think of the American poet William Carlos Williams: ‘No ideas but in action’. Is there something else we need to say about this? What would life be without people daring to live, having the courage to transform ideas into actions? Action is inbred in human beings. Everything is determined by action.

What makes a leader is endeavor, the persistence of action. A leader is not aiming for success (success is always a consequence of something else), I would go a little further and say a leader is not even aiming at the perfect result.  A leader endeavors. It’s in that determination and insistence that you see the enlightened individual that went through the whole process of daring to look inside, of finding inspiration, of developing a vision and taking a direction. Endeavor is what makes a leader interesting to others. Because someone endeavoring is someone living, genuinely facing the battle of life, which ultimately means bringing something of us, of our inspiration, to the world.


     People sense the effort, the endeavor. Just like animals in the daily effort for survival, everybody recognizes the winning animal, the one with a strong idea and a clear direction, endeavoring to obtain what he or she wants.  Instinct tells that the individual who moves to action is the strong one and the individual who endeavors is probably the winning one. A leader draws participation and collaboration when he or she enacts a strong project. this is the essence of followership, which however I prefer to call teamwork. This inner force, certitude, typical of the leader is the definition of charisma. An irresistible attraction that the winning leader, endeavoring for change, exerts on others. And let me be very clear: this leader I am describing is not at all sure to succeed, this leader has even doubts as to what is the right road to take in order to succeed. This leader is pioneering and like all pioneers he or she is heading forward in uncharted territory without any certainty as to what he or she is doing. Still, the leader is heading forward. This makes the difference. This makes the leader. Despite having no certainty as to the destination, people are striving to build a team with this leader and head forward together.

     As leadership is not a solitary affair but a very real social process, others are always involved in the leader’s journey. What makes a leader interesting is that he or she wakes our most savage and uncultivated instincts. When someone approaches an inspired leader, they are immediately attracted to the leader’s project and want to get involved. It is usually an instinctual process that subsequently sparks rationalization then understanding and, finally, participation. A leader drives other’s instinct and always brings you to a very natural ground. That typical feeling called charisma and that typical attraction that people have when facing a true leader comes exactly from the fact the people recognize inspiration in a leader and not in a philosophical sense but what I call an involved inspiration, fully aware of reality. It is exactly this that makes a leader irresistible and develops the leaders’ followership: people sense this individual understood life and has a vision to change things, to move forward for the better. You actually get in love with a leader, your instinct immediately tells you this individual is bringing you something positive, is carrying you somewhere with him and happiness is part of the journey. Working with a leader means riding the positive side of life for a follower. The leader is empowering people of his or her inspiration.

     Participating to the leader’s project is considered a privilege by the team because they rightly know their participation empowers their lives, actually lifting them up and taking them away from the role of mere follower.

     A leader positively attempts to change or modulate differently the existing status of things, is fully aware of the context and is capable to inspire others to the point that they feel empowered to stand up and walk with the leader throughout the journey. 

The primeval battle

     Give me a leader and I will show you a uneasy and restless man or woman. A leader is someone who sustained a violent battle. I’m not writing here about the challenges as a leader, I am writing here about the primeval, original battle that took place in the first years of his or her life. It may be a story of poverty, solitude, violence, indifference. Darkness may come for many reasons and take many shapes. It’s that original decision to stand up and fight for survival that crystallizes the core of a leader. There is always a human story of suffering behind a leader, whether it is faced brazenly or an entire life of success and power is dedicated to hiding and healing what’s inside. Don’t expect a leader to be a demigod that crosses your sky like a brilliant meteor burning out intensity with the lifestyle of a minor deity. A leader springs from suffering and is human, so ordinarily human. A leader is someone who had to fight for survival.

     It’s when you stand up and fight for yourself that you find that guiding light which we call talent. You don’t need to search for this, it will come by itself and all you’ll have to do is to recognize it at first and hold on to it for the rest of your life. Talent comes in many ways, the most unexpected, it may be in business in military in sports, in art, it doesn’t really matter. It’s Michelangelo’s vision of beauty and talent to define it, once you have removed the superfluous. People immediately recognize talent and have respect for it, because they instinctively know that it is the result of a far-away confrontation for survival that brought that talent. You have learned to become a leader. 

     You will always carry with yourself the scars of that original battle. Leadership, once you understand its origin, always brings along vulnerability. But those scars will make you stronger when you accept them. We will dedicate further on a separate chapter to vulnerability in leaders.

     Leadership is a precisely intimate phenomenon that has to do with an individual’s longing, or yearning if you prefer, and 

a personal journey to fulfill a vision. This phenomenon is not theoretical, it is an active process that always involves self-awareness, awareness of the context and involvement of others. There is no leadership but in action. 

     Leadership is a social process with a learnable set of practices that has always been part of human activities and traces back to the origins of human beings. It governs the relations between humans in almost all aspects of our lives: military, business, politics, religion, sports.