The simple textbook definition of leadership is the ability to achieve a goal through others.  Another defines a leader as someone whom others choose to follow. These definitions can be supported by either a leader-centric or a follower-centric viewpoint.  The leader-centric viewpoint holds that the knowledge, skills, traits, or capabilities of a great leader are such that others will work to achieve the desired goal.  The follower-centric viewpoint supports the idea that followers willingly and faithfully will carry out anything necessary to further the goal through their devotion or belief in the end result to be achieved.  In either case leaders and followers find themselves at the finish-line through a mutual understanding of the goal, what it will take to achieve that goal, support for the end result, and hard work to completion.

In the above scenario there is no manipulation involved.   If a person has an agenda or goal to advance and is not transparent in establishing a vision and direction for accomplishing the goal, instead hides the true end result, then any manipulative actions or deceptions that lead others to take steps toward the hidden goal cannot be considered to have occurred through leadership.    If others unwillingly or unknowingly advance another person’s cause, they cannot be thought of as “followers” of the cause or of the person who knows the hidden agenda.   A person who happens to take an action without thought, or a person who is forced into taking an action without willingly choosing to do so, is not a supporter or follower.  Because a leader by definition is someone whom others choose to follow, if a person is manipulated into furthering a goal and has not willingly chosen to follow someone, then no leading is occurring.

Consider this the next time you ask coworkers or employees to help you achieve a goal.  Challenge yourself to cast a transparent vision of exactly what the goal is, and why it is important.  Allow your staff to willingly choose to support the goal and work toward the end result understanding exactly what is needed.  When they make such choices, and you support and resource them to achieve the end result, you will have shown yourself to be a leader.