A while back I interviewed the legendary Swimming coach Bill Sweetenham for a podcast, I host called The Great Coaches: Leadership and Life. The swimmers he has coached have won 27 Olympic and World Championship medals and have broken 9 world records. Bill is a great storyteller, and the episode has gone on to be one of our most popular.

When the interview was over Bill asked me a question; “after interviewing so many of the world’s great coaches how do you define leadership?” He explained that the military use a version of influencing others to accomplish the mission by providing direction, while in politics it infers the ability to impact decision making of government.

I took a moment to think.

Leadership in a corporate sense is about the allocation of resources to achieve a goal, or as the Harvard Business Review put it “a goal through the direction of human assistants.” But the perspective of the people I was interviewing was greater than just a goal.

I told Bill that I wasn’t sure, but I would get back to him.

I went back through the transcripts of the people I had interviewed and eventually arrived at: he ability to influence people so that they thrive. The word thrive comes up a lot, it infers a sense of people being the best they can be; of unlocked potential and growth. And, if that goes well, of championships, results, medals, and records as well. But in order for that to happen you must first thrive.

Since then, I have taken notice of the definitions of leadership whenever they come up around me. They are as varied and nuanced as the act of leadership itself. If you have a definition that works for you please let me know, I haven’t gone back to Bill yet as I’m still trying to refine my definition.

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