It’s one of the most talked-up, sought-out qualities in the world today: Leadership. Yet surprisingly few really understand the L-word.

Many people wrongly assume it’s something you are born with.  Some confuse it with administrative excellence. Still others sense the importance of leadership, but dismiss it as a fuzzy, academic notion in today’s to-the-point, bottom-line world.  After all, why are there are so many ineffective leaders in all those leadership positions?

Let me put it boldly.  In any organization–from global blue-chips to home-based start-ups–nothing is more important than leadership.      So what is leadership, anyway?  Among the quick definitions: motivating others to accomplish goals, taking charge, directing activities, and creating compelling visions.

More specifically, it’s about creating energy in others by instilling purpose to what they do.  It is also the ability to regard the inevitable–change–as an opportunity for progress and growth, not as something to fear.  Leadership is about taking any situation and making it better.

Leadership is not something in the genes.  While some people may be more predisposed to it than others, leadership is largely a developed behavior that gets better with opportunity, discipline and practice.  Those who are in leadership positions, but fail to properly lead, usually suffer from the fear of confrontation, apathy or ignorance.

To the surprise of many, leadership means developing others–fully empowering those who follow you.  You must show them they are included, promote their participation, and provide them access to important information and other members of your organization.  Those you lead–teammates really–are key players in the success of your leadership.  They have a self-interested stake in helping you reach your goals.

Recognize that people like to be led and their effort will be a direct result of how they are treated.  Leaders do not treat everyone equally–but must treat everyone fairly.  Your responsibility as a leader is to get people to respond to you by helping them achieve their goals. Tell people what you expect of them–and they will rise to the occasion.

Leaders not only think outside the box, they have exceptionally high standards. What I call a “MAPP”–or Minimum Acceptable Performance Point–should be set to  nothing short of absolute victory, whether it relates to tomorrow’s business deal or your personal five-year plan.

This standard that obviously won’t be reached every time (we’re not robots), but with victory as the threshold, results will most often be in the winning column.

Early in my career, I held the view that leadership meant showing and promoting an image of strength and infallibility.  I went out of my way to be visible, aggressive, outspoken, and tough in everything I did.  It didn’t take long for it  to become clear that that wasn’t leadership.

Neither is leadership achieved nor validated through another common approach–instilling fear in those who follow you.  It is a depleter of precious, productive energy.  Fear is one of the most poisonous, destructive forces in any organization.

The key to leadership are the people who are being led.  And it’s directly related to their view of the leader’s integrity.  Integrity breeds loyalty, the superglue of any relationship, business and personal.  Loyalty creates positive energy and grows out of openness, fairness and fostering the development of those you lead.

Leadership means creating energy in others.  Your actions as their leader will either start their engine–or turn it off.  What destroys it?  What I call “incapacitators”–things like abuse, betrayal, deceit, control, humiliation and oppression.  Among the qualities that create positive energy are what I call “energizers”:  freedom, authority, confidence, trust, courage, generosity, passion, praise and decisiveness.

Good leaders hold themselves to high standards of accountability.  Such expectations should apply to those being led.  When you give your all to your leadership position and those who report to you, you have the right to expect much in return.

When it isn’t provided, you’ve been shortchanged.  Failure to set and live up to high standards is far too prevalent in today’s business world where excuses are more common than results.  The less-than actions or efforts on the part of one or two take a big bite out of results of the entire team.

If those being led will not radically boost their MAPP–the Minimum Acceptable Performance Point–then the leader must act decisively.   A mediocre or poor performer who receives immunity from his or her leader generates a betrayal of trust for others on the team.  A leader never allows the majority to be held captive by the few.