3 Key Elements of Leadership

Leadership: Keyboard key with the word leadership on itThere are many ideas floating around about leadership. Sometimes focusing on the key elements of an idea helps bring clarity and understanding. Here are 3 key elements of leadership.


John Maxwell defines leadership as influence. We agree that influence is a big part of leadership.

Sometimes we confuse leadership with authority. When someone is in a position of authority, they can certainly tell us what to do. Often there are consequences for not following this person’s direction, such as losing our job. But a person who relies solely on her position for leadership isn’t really a leader. The position leads rather than the person.

Without influence, we aren’t a leader. To be a leader, people must want to follow.


Leading also requires initiative. If we sit back and watch, letting others initiate, we aren’t leading. We need to initiate, to go first, and to speak up.

For many of us this is where fear sets in. This may be especially true when we are first stepping into leadership. What if we’re wrong? What if we lead down a bad path, or things don’t work out the way we want? Does this make us a bad leader?

Good leadership isn’t about always being right. No one can do that. But if we don’t initiate or speak up, we will never even get the chance to make the mistake. We won’t be leading.


Missing this last element may not keep us from becoming a leader, but it may prevent us from remaining one.

Responsibility is loaded with meaning. Often people associate responsibility with blame. That’s how we use the word. But when I say responsibility, what I mean is: accepting ownership over the results.

Often times we just take care of ourself and leave others to fend for themselves. We do this in many situations such as our workplace, our marriage, or even in traffic.

When we are taking care of only ourself, we aren’t leading. Maybe we aren’t following, but we certainly aren’t leading either. We aren’t taking responsibility for the results that take place.

Examples of Responsibility

Since we often get the meaning of responsibility tangled up with blame, let me share a few examples:

  1. In traffic, responsibility is called defensive driving. With defensive driving we are taking responsibility for safe travel even when other drivers aren’t paying attention.
  2. In marriage, taking responsibility is about taking ownership for the context of the relationship. Are we creating a cultural context of jockeying for position, one-up-manship, and complaining? Are we creating a context of mutual support and love? Whatever we experience in our marriage today, together with our spouse, we created this. If we don’t like it, are we willing to take ownership for a different result?
  3. In our workplace, sometimes we can see something. We can see that the project is missing a key piece, or a solution will face certain challenges. If we just keep focused on our own work and say nothing, we are not owning the end result of the project. We aren’t acting like a leader. Or if we do say something, maybe we still aren’t leading if we say it in a way that it will not be received so we can get the satisfaction of saying, “I told you so.” We still are not owning the end result of the project. We’re just one-up-ing our coworker or boss.

To be a good leader, we need to have these three key elements of leadership: influence, initiative, and responsibility.

So, what do you think? Are there others key elements you would have included in this list?


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