There are few words misused or overused as the word leader. So let's first look at the definition of the word leader. The Oxford dictionary defines leader as “the person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country.”
So when someone asks me what is a leader I simple say that a leader is someone that leads because that is all that a leader does. We as humans like to romanticized about how leaders are these charismatic figures that completely change the course of time and space by their shear force of will.
As a business consultant and a member of leadership of numerous groups over the years I can tell you that this subject comes up all the time simply because people just don't understand the role of a leader and therefore they spend a lot of time choosing or following the wrong people and ideas to their cause.
Take a moment to look at all the leaders you admire. Now think about what you know about their life and their history. Now examine if they were successful in their goals. Now think about how wide their influence was and how many people like them. Now think about the people that dislike them. Now think about what those people would say about the leaders you admire.
I can tell you after years of interacting with people there is not a single leader that every single person likes. Not even an overwhelming majority. The closest person I can think of is Jesus and there are at least a couple of billion of people that still do not believe he was that great.
Probably one of the most effective leaders ever is the person that most people love to hate. He has become the symbol of evil probably in the same breath as the Devil for many. No I am not talking about President Obama, but Adolf Hitler.
See I am trying to make a very simple point. A leader is a person that leads people. Sometimes it is their action and work that attracts their followers. Most of the time however that person was placed in charged and a large group of people dislike them.
A leader can only lead people that wish to be led. They can not force anyone to follow. No matter how loving, kind, gentle, understanding, happy, wise, wealthy, powerful they can not force anyone to willing follow. Now they can force people to unwilling follow usually by threat of force of death but that still does not mean these people believes in the leader's cause. Most of the time leaders are commanding people that do not want them as a leader.
So the next time a person asks you what makes a person a leader, asked them to specify what they mean. It will probably save you a headache. Trust me on this.