As I coach leadership teams, I study how they wrestle with their biggest challenges, how they decide on the future direction of their organisation and how they create an environment where their people can come and do their best work. I’ve been doing this for nearly twenty-five years. Prior to that I was in a leadership position in the construction industry.

For all this time as practitioner and coach I’ve been an avid reader of leadership books – I’m a student of leadership both in terms of what I read and my work with project and organisational leaders.

Over time, I have come across many definitions of leadership – a Google search for ‘definition of leadership’ shows over three billion results!

Of the definitions I have come across, my favourite and most useful is this: Leadership is having a vision of where you want to get to and a clear understanding of where you are now then inspiring the people to get from here to there. I think I came across this in a ‘Management Today’ magazine article by Charles Handy, the British management guru, in the early nineties but I can’t find it to verify it. I also think he called it The Trinity of Leadership: Vision, Location and Inspiration – let’s unpack each in turn.

Vision – where we want to get to

There is so much in the literature about the importance of having a vision of the future that I’m not going to try and summarise it here. Suffice to say, if you and your people don’t know where you are headed, there will be much muddling through and uncoordinated effort.

Think about when you were climbing up through the ranks or now in your institution or organisation or in politics. How often do you hear yourself or others say, “I don’t know where we are going, there is no leadership round here, s/he has no vision.”

People need to know where they are going, where ‘we’ are going – that’s what we are talking about here, vision.

When I start working with a leadership team, it’s usually one of my first challenges: “Where do you want to be in five years’ time, as an organisation, as a leadership team?” I enable them to get to a picture of that in about half an hour, which is usually ‘good enough for today’ and often good enough to provide direction for their people. Five years is a long way into the future, so it doesn’t need to be accurate, rather just good enough to give a sense of where we are headed. And then we start in that direction from where we are now, location.

Location – where we are now

Often when I ask “Where are you now, as a team, as an organisation?” I’m met with stunned silence, and then “Well, we all know where we are, it’s obvious.”

There are a dizzying array of team and business diagnostics, along with psychometrics and profiling tools to help people determine where they are at. It seems a whole industry has evolved in recent decades to satisfy the hunger for nailing, exactly, where we are at. And yet the leaders in front of me say, “It’s obvious and we all know.”

Instead of producing reams of pages of ‘interesting but so what’ analysis using the latest ‘scientific’ team or organisation diagnostic, I simply ask them for twenty incontrovertible facts that describe the team or organisation as it is today. Usually, they work in pairs and generate lots of Post-it notes and then present back to each other, scrapping the duplicates and opinions so we end up with just the facts – which no one could argue with.

They then stand back and look at these twenty facts, often amazed, sometimes gobsmacked. And then “Really?” or “I never realised that” or “That’s brutal” or “We should have done this a year ago”. It’s often surprising given their ‘obvious, we all know’ starting point.

So now we know where we are and have a sense of where we want to be, what about inspiring the troupes to get from here to there?

Inspiring the people to move from location towards vision

For me, this is the really interesting bit, the hard bit, the bit that gets little attention and that needs continuous work from start to finish. How do you inspire all the people involved and necessary for your venture to get from where you are to where you want to be? Because if you don’t, it is going to be hard; hard for you, the leader.

People who are inspired get stuff done under their own steam. People who are not inspired need pushing, cajoling and incentivising to get stuff done – you have to drag them screaming and kicking, sometimes literally. So how do you inspire them en mass? This is [the] leadership challenge.

‘Inspired people embrace the challenge to get from here to there without a precise map. (1)

When coaching a leadership team, I ask those in front of me “Where do you get your inspiration?” Again, this is often met with stunned silence. They haven’t thought about it before. I then ask “Why am I even asking you that question?” Occasionally someone gets it – “’Cos if we are not inspired, we can’t inspire other people.” Spot on – you cannot give what you haven’t got. So where do you get your inspiration, what raises your spirits?

First step to inspiring your people, you have to be inspired yourself so notice where you get your inspiration and get more of it. It’s not a one-time event, a conference or a roadshow, this is how you show up day after day as a leader, and this is who you are as a leader. This is who you want to be as a leadership team – from start to finish, from location to vision delivered.

So, this is the most useful definition of leadership I have come across; useful because I use it in my work as a coach to leadership teams who want to deliver remarkable results.

If you are a leader looking to deliver something remarkable, then our DeliverStart2Finish™ programme will be useful for you.

(1) ‘The Song of Significance – A new manifesto for teams’ by Seth Godin (pp x).


Leadership Team Coach Dave Stitt works with construction industry executives and project teams enabling them to deliver remarkable results in a remarkable way.

Dave is the creator of  Coach for Results, an accessible online course teaching the basics of a coaching management style so managers can grow confidence, capability and enthusiasm in the people around them.

Read more blogs from Dave – ‘Coaching management style relieves pressure on younger managers’. HR Director