The meaning of words - creating boxes to make abstract concepts real

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Understanding an abstract concept requires defining what it is and what it is not. We can’t understand the abstract concept of leadership if there is no clarity in definition of leadership or the components that comprise it. Consider how many definitions there are of the concept of leadership and you will understand why we do not have good leadership. Leaders do not know what service they are supposed to provide.

How bad is this problem of lack of clarity in definitions? Look at the confusing definitions of the concepts of responsibility and accountability. Which can be delegated and which can't?

Useless definitions

Leadership is the action of leading a group of people or an organization.
Leading is to provide guidance or leadership,
- Oxford Dictionaries

Leadership is the power or ability to lead other people.
Leading is exercising leadership,
- Merriam Webster


A word is the name (identifier) of a thing (but not the thing).

There are many things in life
  • Tangible objects – a rock, a dog, a computer
  • Tangible actions – run, walk, sleep
  • Words that describe tangible objects – big, slow, hard,
  • Intangible concepts – justice, responsibility, accountability

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose,
By any other word would smell as sweet.
- Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

A rose is a rose no matter what we call it. We know what a rose is because we have seen it and we know the word R-O-S-E and we connect the two. While there are many types of roses, usually the rose we have in our mind is a long stemmed red rose but we can still communicate effectively about the concept of a rose. I am, who I am, no matter what name you call me. A new name does not change me.

Words, units of meaning, are codes for boundaries that encapsulate what a concept is and what it is not. A definition in a dictionary is actually an explanation of a concept that the word represents and not the word itself. Communication problems happen when we have multiple words for the rose, such as we have in different languages, and when we have a word for an intangible concept that is poorly defined.

Intangible abstract concepts exist but we can’t see them. We might have an innate sense of a concept but there might not be a word for it – such as the pleasure derived from another person's misfortune. While there is no single word in English to encapsulate the concept in German there is the word schadenfreude which derives from Schaden (damage, harm) and Freude (joy). Often my innate sense for a concept is different than yours.


To use an abstract concept you first need to define it clearly.
We have known this for a long time.

When words lose their meaning, people lose their freedom.
- Confucius (551 - 479 BCE)

The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms.
- Socrates (470 – 339 B.C.)

Learning depends on communication. Communication depends on clarity. Lack of clarity translates into lack of learning. To build the complex structure of a higher abstract concept called wisdom we need to ensure that our definitions are clear.

We need a clear definition of what a leader is. You can’t expect a person to do a job well if there is not clear job description. If you understand the objective, the WHY, then you can perform the HOW well. What does it mean to be a leader, to lead, to provide leadership?

To be creative and innovative we are told to “think outside the box”. But, to think critically, to understand, to communicate we need to “think inside the box”. Our words need to clearly define the boundaries of an abstract concept. We need to create boxes – containers for concepts.

I don't know what leadership is. You can't touch it. You can't feel it. It's not tangible. But I do know this: you recognize it when you see it.
~ Bob Ehrlich


Like the blind men touching an elephant, each of these quotes is the touch of one person on the concept of leadership. Find the common concepts that define the boundaries of leadership.

Read the quotes and tomorrow write down your gut-feel essence of leadership.
Start the distillation process by writing down 12 concepts that you think are found multiple times in these quotes.

Then do a second distillation to find the four fundamentals of leadership.
Create a box that defines the concept.

Be careful to not confuse leader with leadership.
A leader is a person.
Leadership is the service.

A leader leads through leadership.

Yes - it will take more than 4 minutes to do this exercise.

Politics and Military

Whenever you can, act as a liberator. Freedom, dignity, wealth–these three together constitute the greatest happiness of humanity. If you bequeath all three to your people, their love for you will never die.
~ Cyrus the Great

There is a deep–and usually frustrated–desire in the heart of everyone to act with benevolence rather than selfishness, and one fine instance of generosity can inspire dozens more. Thus I established a stately court where all my friends showed respect to each other and cultivated courtesy until it bloomed into perfect harmony.
~ Cyrus the Great

Leadership is the art to of influencing and directing people in such a way that will win their obedience, confidence, respect and loyal cooperation in achieving common objectives.
~ U. S. Air Force

Army leadership is the process of influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation while operating to accomplish the mission and improve the organization.
~ US Army Field Manual (FM) 6-22

Leadership is the art of influencing human behavior so as to accomplish a mission in the manner desired by the leader.
~ Canadian Forces

A leader is a dealer in hope.
~ Napoleon Bonaparte

You manage things; you lead people.
~ Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper

Leadership is a two-way street, loyalty up and loyalty down. Respect for one’s superiors; care for one’s crew.
~ Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper

Leadership is the art of influencing others to their maximum performance to accomplish any task, objective or project.
~ William Cohen

Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way.
~ General George Patton

Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.
~ General George Patton

My definition of a leader . . . is a man who can persuade people to do what they don’t want to do, or do what they’re too lazy to do, and like it.
~Harry S. Truman

To be able to lead others, a man must be willing to go forward alone.
~Harry Truman

Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.
~Dwight D. Eisenhower

The supreme quality of leadership is integrity.
~ Dwight Eisenhower

You don’t lead by hitting people over the head~ that’s assault, not leadership.
~ Dwight Eisenhower

A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.
~Douglas MacArthur

Leadership is understanding people and involving them to help you do a job. That takes all of the good characteristics, like integrity, dedication of purpose, selflessness, knowledge, skill, implacability, as well as determination not to accept failure.
~ Admiral Arleigh Burke

Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.
~ General Colin Powell

Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand.
~ General Colin Powell

The very essence of leadership is its purpose. And the purpose of leadership is to accomplish a task. That is what leadership does – and what it does is more important than what it is or how it works.
~ Colonel Dandridge Malone

Leadership is a combination of strategy and character. If you must be without one, be without the strategy.
~General Norman Schwarzkopf

To lead in the 21st century-to take soldiers, sailors, and airmen into battle, you will be required to have both character and competence.
~General Norman Schwarzkopf

Leadership: The capacity and will to rally people to a common purpose together with the character that inspires confidence and trust
~ Field Marshal Montgomery

A competent leader can get efficient service from poor troops, while on the contrary an incapable leader can demoralize the best of troops.
~ John Pershing

The best leader is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and the self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.
~ Theodore Roosevelt

The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.
~ Ronald Reagan

Surround yourself with great people; delegate authority; get out of the way.
~ Ronald Reagan

I am certainly not one of those who need to be prodded. In fact, if anything, I am the prod.
~ Winston Churchill

Leadership has a harder job to do than just choose sides. It must bring sides together.
~ Jesse Jackson

Consensus is the negation of leadership.
~ Margaret Thatcher

Academics and Authors

Leadership is the reciprocal process of mobilizing, by persons with certain motives and values, various economic, political, and other resources, in a context of competition and conflict, in order to realize goals independently or mutually held by both leaders and followers.
~James MacGregor Burns

The ultimate test of practical leadership is the realization of intended, real change that meets people’s enduring needs.
~James MacGregor Burns

Leadership is the process of influencing the activities of an individual or a group in efforts toward goal achievement in a given situation.
~ Paul Hersey & Kenneth Blanchard

The greatest leaders mobilize others by coalescing people around a shared vision.
~ Kenneth Blanchard

The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.
~ Kenneth Blanchard

The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men, the conviction and the will to carry on.
~ Walter Lippman

Leadership is the initiation and maintenance of structure in inter*action and expectation.
~ Ralph Stogdill

Leadership is the centralization of effort in one person as an expression of the power of all.
~ Frank Blackmar

Any person who is more than ordinarily efficient in carrying psycho*social stimuli to others and is thus effective in conditioning collective responses may be called a leader.
~ Luther Bernard

Leadership is the ability to impress the will of the leader on those led and induce obedience, respect, loyalty, and cooperation.
~ Rosemary Stewart

Leadership is a role within the scheme of relations and is defined by reciprocal expectations between the leader and other members. The leadership role is defined, as are other roles, by stabilized expectations (norms) which, in most matters and situations of consequence to the group, are more exacting and require greater obligations and responsibility than those for other positions.
~ Muzafer Sherif and Carolyn Sherif:

Leadership is the incremental influence that a person has beyond his or her formal authority
~ Robert Vecchio

The task of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there.
~ John Buchan

Leadership is at the service of collective effectiveness.
~ Stephen Zaccaro & Richard Klimoski

Leadership is interpersonal influence, exercised in a situation, and directed, through the communication process, toward the attainment of a specified goal or goals.
~ Tannenbaum, Weschler & Massarik

Leadership is a process of influence between a leader and those who are followers.
~ Edwin Hollander

Leadership is unlocking people’s potential to become better.
~ Bill Bradley

Leadership is a development of a clear and complete system of expectations in order to identify evoke and use the strengths of all resources in the organization the most important of which is people.
~ Joe Batten

Leadership is a process of giving purpose (meaningful direction) to collective effort, and causing willing effort to be expended to achieve purpose.
~ Owen Jacobs & Elliot Jaques

Leadership is the capacity to influence others through inspiration motivated by passion, generated by vision, produced by a conviction, ignited by a purpose.
~Myles Munroe

Leadership is the art of influencing others to their maximum performance to accomplish any task, objective or project.
~William Alan Cohen

Leadership is an influence relationship among leaders and followers who intend real changes that reflect their mutual purposes.
~ Joseph Rost

Leadership is not a person or a position. It is a complex moral relationship between people, based on trust, obligation, commitment, emotion, and a shared vision of the good.
~ Joanne Ciulla


The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers.
~ Peter Drucker

Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to high sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.
~ Peter Drucker

Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes.
~ Peter Drucker

A leader is a symbolic soul of a collective consciousness/aspiration/dream.
~ Deepak Chopra

A great leader is the symbolic soul of a collective consciousness and represents the potential greatness that lies in that consciousness. That group consciousness can be a family, a team, a business, a community, a political party, a nation.
~ Deepak Chopra

The led must not be compelled; they must be able to choose their own leader.
~ Albert Einstein

A leader is one who sees more than others see, who sees farther than others see and who sees before others see.
– Leroy Eimes

Leadership is the art of mobilizing others to want to struggle for the shared aspirations.
~ Jim Kouzes & Barry Posner

Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to high sights, the raising of a person’s performance
to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.
~ John Maxwell

People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.
People don’t care what you know until they know what you care.
A great leader’s courage to fulfill his vision comes from passion, not position.
A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.
Leadership is influence -- nothing more, nothing less.
~ John Maxwell

If you can't influence people, then they will not follow you.
And if people won't follow, you are not a leader. That's the Law of Influence.
~ John Maxwell

Being in power is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren't.
~ John Maxwell

Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it is the only thing.
~ Albert Schweitzer

There are three essentials to leadership: humility, clarity and courage.
~ Fuchan Yuan

Leadership is action, not position.
~ Donald McGannon

A cowardly leader is the most dangerous of men.
~ Stephen King

A leader’s role is to raise people’s aspirations for what they can become and to release their energies so they will try to get there.
~David Gergen

The first job of a leader is to define a vision for the organization. Leadership of the capacity to translate vision into reality.
~ Warren Bennis

Leaders are people who do the right thing; managers are people who do things right.
~Warren Bennis

Leadership is the capacity of individuals to spark the capacity of a human community – people living and working together – to bring forth new realities.
~Peter Senge

The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant and a debtor. That sums up the progress of an artful leader.
~ Max DePree

Leadership defines what the future should look like, aligns people with that vision, and inspires them to make it happen despite the obstacles.
~ John Kotter

It's absolutely true that unless you can instill discipline upon yourself, you will never be able to lead others.
~ Zig Ziglar

There is no such thing as a lazy person; he is either sick or uninspired.
- Zig Ziglar

Become the kind of leader that people would follow voluntarily; even if you had no title or position.
~ Brian Tracy

Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal.
~ Peter Northouse

Leadership is the ability of a superior to influence the behavior of a subordinate or group and persuade them to follow a particular course of action.
~ Chester Bernard

A group of idiots led by a wise man can defeat a group of wise people led by an idiot.
~ Senora Roy

Confidence is contagious. So is lack of confidence.
~ Michael O'Brien

Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal.
~ Vince Lombardi

Leaders think and talk about the solutions. Followers think and talk about the problems.
~ Brian Tracy

The leader has to be practical and a realist, yet must talk the language of the visionary and the idealist.
~ Eric Hoffer

Effective leadership is putting first things first. Effective management is discipline, carrying it out.
~ Stephen Covey

What you do has far greater impact than what you say.
~ Stephen Covey, -

The best example of leadership is leadership by example.
~Jerry McClain

The real leader has no need to lead – he is content to point the way.
~Henry Miller

Respect a man, he will do the more.
~ James Howell

Big jobs usually go to the men who prove their ability to outgrow small ones.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Trust men and they will be true to you; treat them greatly, and they will show themselves great.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Character is higher than intellect. A great soul will be strong to live as well as think.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

The leaders who offer blood, toil, tears and sweat always get more out of their followers than those who offer safety and a good time. When it comes to the pinch, human beings are heroic.
~ George Orwell, author


Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.
~ Henry Ford

You don't have to have a position in order to be a leader.
~ Henry Ford

Whether you think you can, or you think you can't - you're right.
~ Henry Ford

Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.
~ Steve Jobs

Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren't used to an environment where excellence is expected.
~ Steve Jobs

The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.
~ Harvey Firestone

Leadership comes in small acts as well as bold strokes.
~ Carly Fiorina

Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.
~ Sam Walton

The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.
~ Ralph Nadar

Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself.
When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.
~ Jack Welch

Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision,
passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.
~ Jack Welch

No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself,
or to get all the credit for doing it.
~ Andrew Carnegie

Good leadership consists of showing average people
how to do the work of superior people.
~ John D. Rockefeller

Nothing so conclusively proves a man's ability to lead others
as what he does from day to day to lead himself.
~ Thomas J. Watson

The quality of a leader is reflected in the standards they set for themselves.
~Ray Kroc

Lead and inspire people. Don’t try to manage and manipulate people.
Inventories can be managed but people must be lead.
~ Ross Perot

Leaders are visionaries with a poorly developed sense of fear
and no concept of the odds against them.
~ Robert Jarvik

Dear optimist, pessimist, and realist -- while you guys were
busy arguing about the glass of wine, I drank it! Sincerely, the opportunist!
~ Lori Greiner

Aerodynamically the bumblebee shouldn’t be able to fly, but
the bumblebee doesn’t know that so it goes on flying anyway.
~ Mary Kay Ash

Start with good people, lay out the rules, communicate with your employees,
motivate them and reward them. If you do all those things effectively, you can't miss.
~ Lee Iacocca

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak;
courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.
~ Richard Branson

A vision without the ability to execute is probably a hallucination.
~ Steve Case

In the end, you're measured not by how much you undertake
but by what you finally accomplish.
~ Donald Trump

There is a difference between being a leader and being a boss.
Both are based on authority. A boss demands blind obedience;
a leader earns his authority through understanding and trust.
~ Klaus Balkenhol

Earn your leadership every day.
~ Michael Jordan

Leaders instill in their people a hope for success and a belief in themselves.
Positive leaders empower people to accomplish their goals.
~ Unknown


Where there is no vision, the people perish.
~ Proverbs 29:18

The secret of change is to focus all of your energy,
not on fighting the old, but on building the new.
~ Socrates

If a man would move the world, he must first move himself.
~ Socrates

The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear.
The greatest way to live with honor in this world is to be what we pretend to be.
~ Socrates

He who has never learned to obey cannot be a good commander.
~ Aristotle

He who has great power should use it lightly.
~ Lucius Seneca

If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.
~ Lucius Seneca

It is absurd that a man should rule others, who cannot rule himself.
~ Latin Proverb

Sometimes you put walls up not to keep people out,
but to see who cares enough to break them down.
~ Socrates

A man who will be the public leader, must know how to be the public follower.
~ Buddha

However many holy words you read, however many you speak,
what good will they do you if you do not act on upon them?
~ Buddha

Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.
~ Buddha

If you lead the people with correctness, who will dare not be correct?
~ Confucius

Success depends upon previous preparation, and without
such preparation there is sure to be failure.
~ Confucius

When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached,
don't adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.
~ Confucius

A superior man is modest in his speech, but exceeds in his actions.
A superior man thinks always of virtue; the common man thinks of comfort.
A superior man is modest in his speech, but exceeds in his actions.
A superior man would be ashamed should his deeds not match his words.
~ Confucius

It is the obligation of the ruler to continually renew himself
in order to renew the people by his example.
~ Confucius

Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.
~ Confucius

Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire.
~ Confucius

He who acts with a constant view to his own advantage will be much murmured against.
~ Confucius

A leader is best when people barely know he exists,
when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.
~ Lao Tzu

Rule a kingdom as though you were cooking a small fish, don't overdo it.
~ Lao Tzu

The superior leader gets things done with very little motion. He imparts instruction not through many words but through a few deeds. He keeps informed about everything but interferes hardly at all. He is a catalyst, and though things would not get done well if he weren’t there, when they succeed he takes no credit. And because he takes no credit, credit never leaves him.
~ Lao Tzu

No man is fit to command another that cannot command himself.
~ William Penn

The people when rightly and fully trusted will return the trust.
~ Abraham Lincoln

No man is good enough to govern another man without that other’s consent.
~ Abraham Lincoln

Whatever you are, be a good one.
~ Abraham Lincoln

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.
~Abraham Lincoln

In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.
~ Thomas Jefferson

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.
~John Quincy Adams

He that cannot obey cannot command.
~ Benjamin Franklin

To do great things is difficult; but to command great things is more difficult.
~ Friedrich Nietzsche

A great person attracts great people and knows how to hold them together.
~ Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

An army of deer would be more formidable commanded by a lion, than an army of lions commanded by a stag.
~ Viking Proverb

Not the cry, but the flight of the wild duck, leads the flock to fly and follow.
~ Chinese Proverb

Success for leadership is knowing the great art of directing others
without their noticing it.
~ Anonymous

Updated 29th-November-2015 at 12:37 AM by Željko Zidarić

Željko Zidarić