What is “leadership” anyway?

fishThe MPS in Dairy Products Technology program makes a big deal out of leadership. This is no accident. Our industry partners tell us leaders are needed in their workplaces, and they encourage us to recruit leaders into the program. They direct us to seek out applicants who have demonstrated leadership through involvement in student government, athletics, clubs and organizations, charity work, employment, lab positions, and other endeavors.

We ask that our applicants show evidence of leadership experience in their applications. Once in the program, our students take a leadership class all three quarters they are on campus. They also particpate in regular group activities intended to foster leadership development. So with all of this focus on leadership, it’s surprising that there is little consensus on what leadership actually is.

A while back, I came across a piece that New York Times best-selling author Kevin Kruse wrote for Forbes, in which he deconstructed some of the prevailing definitions of leadership. Afterward, he offered his own definition, which hits as close to the mark as any I’ve seen. In the article, Kruse posits that:

  • Leadership has nothing to do with seniority or one’s position in the hierarchy of a company
  • Leadership has nothing to do with titles
  • Leadership has nothing to do with personal attributes
  • Leadership isn’t management

So what is Kruse’s definition of leadership?

“Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal.”

Notice key elements of this definition:

  • Leadership stems from social influence, not authority or power
  • Leadership requires others, and that implies they don’t need to be “direct reports”
  • Thereis no mention of personality traits, attributes, or even a title; there are many styles, many paths, to effective leadership
  • Leadership includes a goal, not merely “influence” with no intended outcome

If I could offer one piece of advice to prospective applicants to the MPS program, it would be to seek out opporunties to develop your own natural leadership potential — opportunities that allow you to accept responsibility for guiding and motivating others toward achievement of a goal. Learn how to empower and influence those around you. Read about leadership and write down your own leadership goals.

While rereading the Kruse’s Forbes piece, I encountered a few famous quotes about leadership that I found inspiring. This led me to assemble a list of my favorite leadership quotes. You’ll find them below. You might be able to picture yourself embracing some of these axioms. Perhaps they will help you better understand the type of leadership that would come naturally to you. I hope you find these quotes as inspiring as I do. Enjoy! (You can find Kruse’s complete Forbes article here)

“The most powerful leadership tool you have is your own personal example.” – John Wooden, 10-time national champion basketball

“Leaders become great not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower others.” – John Maxwell, best-selling author

“Leadership is the art of giving people a platform for spreading ideas that work.” – Seth Godin, best-selling author

“Every time you have to speak, you are auditioning for leadership.” – James Humes, presidential speech writer 

“A good leader leads the people from above them. A great leader leads the people from within them.”– M. D. Arnold, American author

“The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.” – Ronald Reagan, former president

“A good leader takes a little more than his share of the blame, a little less than his share of the credit.” – Arnold Glasow, American businessman

“The quality of a leader is reflected in the standards they set for themselves.” – Ray Kroc, built McDonalds into most successful fast food chain

“Leadership is not about titles, positions, or flowcharts.
It is about one life influencing another.” –John C. Maxwell


“When people talk, listen completely.” – Ernest Hemingway, American author

“One of the tests of leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency.” – Arnold Glasow, American businessman

“Control is not leadership; management is not leadership; leadership is leadership. If you seek to lead, invest at least 50 percent of your time in leading yourself–your own purpose, ethics, principles, motivation, conduct. Invest at least 20 percent leading those with authority over you and 15 percent leading your peers.” – Dee Hock, founder and former CEO of the Visa credit card

“Leaders don’t inflict pain, they share pain.” – Max Depree, American businessman

leadership-woman“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” – Warren G. Bennis, organizational consultant

“Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results, not attributes.” – Peter F. Drucker, management consultant

“A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.” – Rosalynn Carter, former First Lady

“The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes. It is very easy to say yes.” – Tony Blair, former prime minister of the U.K.

“You manage things; you lead people.” – Grace Murray Hopper, American computer pioneer

“Leadership is not about titles, positions, or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another.” – John C. Maxwell, best-selling author

“People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.” – John C. Maxwell

“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” – Jack Welch, fomer CEO of General Electric

“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” – Edith Wharton, author

“Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal.”– Vince Lombardi, football coach

“Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand.” – Colin Powell, former Secretary of State

“A leader is not an administrator who loves to run others, but someone who carries water for his people so that they can get on with their jobs.” – Robert Townsend

“Leadership cannot really be taught. It can only be learned.” – Harold Geneen, American businessman

“Leadership is unlocking people’s potential to become better.” – Bill Bradley, former NBA player and U.S. Senator

“Earn your leadership every day.” – Michael Jordan, former NBA player

“As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.” – Bill Gates, founder and former CEO of Microsoft

If you have questions about your qualifications or would like to discuss applying to the MPS program, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I look forward to seing your application!

For more information about the MPS program, visit mpsdairy.calpoly.edu or contact:Tom Photo 2015
Tom Johnson, Program Manager
MPS in Dairy Products Technology
(970) 215-3459 cell