A New Definition of Leadership

A New Definition of Leadership

During a visit to San Francisco many years ago I noticed several banners advertising a university’s entrepreneurship program hanging from downtown lampposts. The tagline on the banners said: “The world needs a new definition of entrepreneurship.” As I read those banners, this thought occurred to me:

“I think the world also needs a new definition of leadership.”

A common definition of leadership that I often hear is that leadership is influence. While I don’t think that definition is wrong, I do believe it is an incomplete picture of true leadership, the type of leadership I call Legacy Leadership.

Legacy Leadership is a process of intentional influence that takes place in the context of a relationship. My use of the word “legacy” is deliberate. When I say legacy I am not just talking about something that we leave behind when we leave this life. Instead, I believe a legacy is something we live out now. We should live in such a way that we will bless others now and for generations to come. In the context of leadership, a Legacy Leader is one whose leadership has an impact now and for generations to come.

Here’s an image that will help unpack this idea: when we throw a rock into a lake there is a big, initial splash – this represents the immediate impact that a leader has. But that initial splash continues to ripple out from that initial point. This represents the ongoing impact that a leader has – for generations to come.

Legacy leaders are those who lead in such a way that they are a blessing to others now, and whose leadership provides a blessing for generations to come.

We are all going to leave a legacy. We can do it by default or on purpose. I want to challenge each of you to be intentional about leaving a legacy – in our families, in our churches, in our organizations, and in our communities. In future posts, I look forward to sharing my thoughts, and hearing yours, on Legacy Leadership.

What legacy will you live, lead, and leave?


J. Lee Whittington is a Professor of Management in the Satish & Yasmin Gupta College of Business at the University of Dallas. He focuses his teaching, research, and consulting in the areas of Leadership, Organizational Behavior and Spiritual Leadership.

His research has been published in The Leadership Quarterly, Journal of Management, Academy of Management Review, Journal of Organizational Behavior, Journal of Applied Social Psychology, Journal of Managerial Issues, Journal of Business Research, Journal of Business Strategy, and the Journal of Behavioral and Applied Management.

His book, Biblical Perspectives on Leadership and Organizations was published by Palgrave-Macmillan in August 2015. He is also a co-author with Tim Galpin and Greg Bell of the book, Leading the Sustainable Organization. His newest book, Enhancing Employee Engagement: An Evidence-Based Approach was co-authored with DBA students Simone Meskelis and Enoch Asare, Gupta professor Sri Beldona.

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