If you have the time and resources, collecting a substantial library dedicated to “leadership” is not particularly difficult. Readily available are thousands of scholarly and popular books, articles, audio and video tutorials and such creative media as posters and buttons. If there is a clever way to present ideas and concepts, it has been used to present and promote “leadership.” I point this out only as a perspective on this post. Think of it as but a thought in a sea of knowledge about leaders and leadership.

Leadership is, at its essence, the capacity to get ten or a hundred or a thousand or a million people to do something, to act in a particular way, to move in a specific direction. The product of leadership is action. Choosing the action and effectuating the motion is leadership. There are many approaches to leading but here I am limiting our discussion to four primary strategies. Among those not being considered are approaches such as force, coercion, intimidation, threatening, bribery, pleading, and the dozens of others covered in the leadership library collected above.


Leadership by example – The leader actively does what needs done with the expectation others will follow suit.

Tucked away in a back corner of the leadership library I discovered this unattributed point. “A leader leads by example, whether he intends to or not.” The notion is those who follow will tend to go where you go, do as you do. “Example” is, thus, an element of all leadership. Using leadership by example as your primary strategy goes beyond this, though. E.M. Kelly gets at the bigger idea, “Remember the difference between a boss and a leader; a boss says “Go!” – a leader says “Let’s go!” If we add, “and I will show you how,” we capture the essential leadership concept: leading by example.

Leadership by delegation – The leader defines and assigns tasks and activities.

This strategy was captured by Theodore Roosevelt when he said, “The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self–restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” The key phrases here are “do what he wants done” and “keep from meddling.” To delegate is to assign activities and responsibilities with the expectation they will be completed. It is a mostly hands off approach used with competent followers. Dwight D. Eisenhower also championed delegation, not to suggest it is a strategy reserved only for Presidents. “Leadership: the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” Think of delegation as “define,” “assign,” and then “confine” your responsibility to oversight and encouragement. You delegate and then step away.

Leadership by empowerment – The leader defines the expected outcome.

Empowerment is a simple strategy. The leader so clearly and persuasively defines the outcome it becomes an end in itself, compelling, consuming. Lao–Tzu caught the essence when saying, “To lead the people, walk behind them.” “The people” are empowered, heading on–mass to the outcome. Ralph Nader expanded and elaborated, “A leader has the vision and conviction that a dream can be achieved. He inspires the power and energy to get it done.” The leader implores, “The outcome matters; it has to be realized; you can do it; go forth and succeed.”

Leadership by consensus – The group defines what to do and what will be accomplished.

This is a non–leadership leadership strategy of sorts. The leadership enables and facilitates; the followers define, align, and proceed. Alexandre Ledru–Rollin gets at the strategy when saying, “There go my people. I must find out where they are going so I can lead them.” To successfully lead by consensus may be the most difficult and challenging of the four strategies. It takes a special knack not to intrude into the followers decision process or introduce ones own opinions, biases, or point of view. Paraphrasing from Witter Bynner, The Way of Life According to Laotzu, “A leader is best when people barely know that he exists.” Here, the leader is an ever–present but mostly silent partner.


• With which leadership strategy are you most comfortable?

• Why?

• When would each of the four strategies be most appropriate?

• When would using any of the four strategies be inappropriate?