A leader is someone who perceives and exercises the role of inspiring other individuals by demonstrating their alignment to a cause, idea or belief.
Although leadership has never been an easy subject to define, your own definition of leadership is easily recognizable when you see it. You recognize it because it touches you, inspires you and eventually moves you.
Leadership has multiple faces. The Western cultures tend to see a leader as someone who exercises power and great influence in a group or situation, usually related to the boss, the commander-in-chief. Some indigenous groups have clear roles as leadership positions and the situation defines the most convenient role to take the first step or lead a decision-making process. More Eastern cultures have different qualities they seek in a leadership position.
Looking at the faces of leadership around the world it is clear that the external representation of this fundamental role depends on cultural and personal beliefs, and that is why different people identify leadership on different situations and people.
If leadership is perceived differently, why is that some leaders are globally recognized such as Mandela and Gandhi? Some leaders, beyond the external representation, show a great alignment to the collective needs and calls of the world and have a deeper inner understanding of themselves and their role. Those leaders are more than role models for action; rather they are most of the times a role model on how to live.
The ability of inspiring people is a virtue that can be used at different levels and for many different directions. What is the difference between a persuasive sales manager and the respected medicine man in a community? While human beings can be persuaded and also manipulated by the ability of inspire, lasting inspiration differs from sparkling passion: inspiration is stronger when you perceive on the leader the alignment s/he has with himself and with the beliefs s/he is holding. A salesman can convince you right now, but that “inspiration” will cease if it does not really mean anything to you or eventually even to him when the passion goes away.
As a virtue, inspiration can also be used to pursue different beliefs and leaders on our time express this virtue combined with their values. Collective values tend to indicate if the leader is speaking on behalf of the collective understanding and wisdom or not. If peace is a shared value on society today, for example, is more likely that virtuous leaders who carry this value will arise and be recognized. This also means that the leadership we have right now is an icon that represents the conscious and unconscious beliefs and values of our present society.
The leaders do not choose the moment things will emerge, but leadership emerges as a result of the call from the collective. This said, we could say that a leader is someone who is serving the moment that is about to emerge in society rather than being its creator. An exceptional leader is someone who has mastered the ability to serve.