Recently, I had a revelation. It came by happenstance. I was doing research for a piece I’m working on about the Language of Leadership (more on that in a later post). At some point, I realized I hadn’t defined leadership. It means so many things to so many people, clearly defining was important.
Since the origins of a word give so much darn insight into its true–and/or most useful–meaning, I did some serious online foraging on the etymology of the word “leadership”.
What I learned stunned me.
Etymologically speaking, leadership means: to see one’s own way.
Whhhhhaaaaaat? The origin of the meaning of the word leadership has nothing to do with other people. Leading them, inspiring them, managing them. Nothing. Aside from the leader themself, there’s nary another person to be found in the definition.
Mind blown, right? Least mine was. I’ve been ruminating on this ever since.
The idea of leadership being about other people is, in fact, quite modern. Yet that modern definition has taken root with great force. Leadership has become synonymous with leading others. It implies that one has followers.
This modern definition begs a question: if you can’t see your own way clearly, how can you lead others effectively?