The Purpose of Leadership

The purpose of leadership is to get people to move forward to a place where they would not have gone alone. Leaders define a vision of the future, rally followers to their cause, and inspire them to take action to move in that direction.   The best leaders inspire their followers to join them on their journey using influence rather than coercion.

Perhaps the best way to understand the purpose of leadership is to look at what famous leaders and commentators have said to describe it themselves. They offer insights on the purpose of leadership based on their own deep experience as leaders.  Here is how some famous leaders have sought to capture it in their own words:


  • Dwight D. Eisenhower, the famous World War II General and President of the United States, defined leadership in the following way: “Leadership: The art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”
  • Former First Lady Roselynn Carter described leadership in a similar way:  “A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.”
  • Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte concisely articulated the purpose of leadership by asserting, “A leader is a dealer in hope.”
  • Reverend Theodore Hesburgh, former president of Notre Dame University said, “The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision.”
  • Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said this about the purpose of leadership:  “The task of the leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been.”


Although each of these leaders has expressed the purpose of leadership in a slightly different way, there is a common theme: leadership is about direction and transferring energy from the leader to their followers to take action.  Now look at what some famous leadership commentators have said about leadership, and how they correctly distinguish leadership from management.  They have dedicated their lives studying leadership and contributed these insights as thought leaders on the subject:


  • Peter Drucker, esteemed business consultant and university professor said: “Management is doing things right; Leadership is doing the right things.”
  • Stephen Covey, author of the best selling book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective people had a similar view:  “Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.”
  • Warren Bennis, widely recognized leadership expert and university professor stated: The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.


In the end, leaders are measured by their results.  How they get their results is the purpose of leadership: by defining a vision of the future, by inspiring followers, and by taking action to get where they want to go.  Various leaders will use different styles of leadership and exhibit a variety or personal attributes like courage and integrity.  Every leader is unique.   Nevertheless, if they can bring their followers along with them on their journey to a better place, then they will have succeeded, and when they get there, people will say: “There is a great leader.”

Leonard Kloeber is an author and leadership consultant. He has extensive leadership experience as business executive and as a military officer. He has been a hands-on leader in a variety of organizations large and small. Most recently he was a human resources executive for a Fortune 100 company. His book – Victory Principles, Leadership Lessons from D-Day – illustrates seven bedrock leadership principles that all successful leaders use. Download a free summary of the Victory Principles at: and find other bonus materials for leaders. Contact him at

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