Mark Wallace asks: How do you define leadership?

January 31, 2014

Amid all the theories of what makes a successful leader, one thing I’ve learned over the course of my career is that leadership always influences and determines outcomes – not some of the time, but all of the time.

This is one of the lessons I’ve devised to help grow myself as a leader and develop future leaders as well. I began exploring the idea in earnest in my mid-20s when a colleague asked what I believed defined a great leader. I drew a blank.

That moment compelled me to develop a formal definition of leadership for myself. It took more than a year of reading, writing and contemplation before I crafted a satisfactory definition.

Leadership, to me, is Vision + Structure + People.


First, a successful leader must be a true innovator. Having vision and being motivated by an instinctual drive is not a learned skill but is honed over time.


The second component – structure – keeps a leader grounded while also providing the space and time needed to remain a creative visionary.


Last, people are unequivocally the most important ingredient in the definition of a successful leader. The team you’ve built to achieve your common vision will define your tenure as a leader. The colleagues you have committed to leading will ultimately be the most important factor in the entire equation.

While these three components have laid the foundation for my work at Texas Children’s Hospital, there is not a universal definition of leadership. In fact, to become successful, you must create your own definition based on who you aspire to be, how you want to lead, your personality and your core values.

At Texas Children’s, I ask every leader, from managers to executives, to submit their own definition of leadership, and we keep these on file. This helps new leaders hone in on what is important by providing a guide that ensures everything they do comes back to that definition. What’s more, in a large organization like Texas Children’s, it also helps me and my executive team learn more about each leader on our team.

Ultimately, harnessing your own definition of what makes a leader is the way to become a great leader yourself. When I meet someone who aspires to be a great leader, my first question to them is, “What is your definition of leadership?” It is a question I encourage everyone to thoughtfully consider.

Create your own definition, then start living it.

This editorial was authored by Texas Children’s President and CEO Mark A. Wallace and was originally published in the Houston Business Journal on January 17, 2014.