My Definition of Leadership

Erwin van der Koogh bio photo By Erwin van der Koogh Comment

There are many definitions of leadership out there, but none of these has so far resonated much with me. They are almost all along the lines of:


1. the action of leading a group of people or an organization, or the ability to do this.”

Or it includes words like direct, control or followers. Not words I would associate with leadership. So when I was asked to do a TEDx talk on leadership I figured it was time to come up with my definition.

Leadership is a) seeing a future and b) taking responsibility to make it happen.
Erwin van der Koogh

What is in it?

### Seeing a future

For me leadership is about moving towards something. What do you want to achieve? You have to be able to see what that future is like. The more vivid the picture you have in your head the easier it is to get there.

I see a future in which businesses tap into the full potential of their employees. Where they have the autonomy to respond to unforeseen circumstances in rapidly changing environments. And create wildly successful and purposeful companies in the process.

Taking responsibility to make it happen

This is about taking ownership. This is not a future you like to see happen, but one that is up to you. You have to take initiative to do your part in making it happen.

I feel very responsible to move us all closer to that future. It is why I set up this blog, why I speak at conferences & corporate events. And why I connect and work with many other leaders with a similar vision.

What is it not about?

### Followers

This is not about having lots of followers. Or any followers for that matter. If the future you see is one in which you lost 5kg and you take responsibility to make it happen, you are leading yourself.

Followers are severely underrated anyway. David Marquet in his excellent book Turn the Ship Around says it best when he says that it is pointless to have followers; people who follow orders and do what they are told. What you want is people who also see your future and take responsibility for their part in it. In other words, you want more leaders.

Management & Titles

One of those things that I always feel very uncomfortable with is when people refer to managers and executives as leaders. Apparently that sounds much better than managers. Now you would hope that some of these managers would show some leadership, but that’s certainly not a guarantee.

And the reverse also holds true. You do not need any title to lead. If you are a software developer trying to get new computers for your team so you can be more productive you are a leader. Just like the customer support representative who went our of her way to solve one of her customers problems.


The future you see does not even have to be different than the one it is today. My brilliant ex-colleague Serge Beaumont and myself spend many an evening talking about the culture at Xebia, the company we worked for. And our mission? To keep it exactly the same while we grew very quickly. Oh.. and neither of us were managers at the time.


Leadership is not just for those visionaries that come up with these grand visions of the future in 10-20 years. That future you see doesn’t even need to be your own. It is perfectly fine to adopt a future and make it your cause.

Which brings me to the best and most effective leadership tool out there. Spreading your vision of the future. The best way to do that? Through telling stories.