Definition of Leadership

There is much discussion on the definition of leadership and there are many different definitions and descriptions one can refer to. In fact the debate around defining leadership and leadership traits seems endless.

Leadership concept on screen, businessman and employees with writing"What is the definition of leadership?"

However most people agree that leadership involves an influence process, so here we use a broad definition that encompasses many of the current approaches to the concept of leadership.

The general definition of leadership is:

"Leadership is the ability to influence a group towards the achievement of goals"

The Definition of Leadership Styles

Leadership is not a "one size fits all" approach but a matter of adapting your approach to best fit a specific situation, follower or group.

Although an individual will have a basic leadership style a good understanding of the common styles of leadership allows the development of the style of leadership that effectively fits the circumstances.

The major types of leadership style include:

Authoritarian or Authoritative Leadership Style

  • tells followers what to do and how to do it without input from others
  • keeps close control over followers

This can be appropriate if the followers are inexperienced and lack confidence (new employees) and when explicit instructions and quick decisions are required such as in times of crisis or where time is critical.

Participative or Democratic Leadership Style

  • includes followers in the decision-making process but makes the final call
  • encourages discussion and debate

It is effective when followers are skilled and confident, willing to share knowledge and there is sufficient time for a democratic process to take place.

Delegative Leadership Style

  • allows the follower to make the decision but maintains responsibility for the decisions made
  • delegates tasks to followers and provides direction or support only when asked

This style is appropriate when followers are highly skilled, experienced, secure and motivated and have proven to be reliable and trustworthy.

What is the Best Leadership Style?

The most effective leadership style is the one that is most appropriate for the situation and followers. For example:

  • Authoritative leadership style is effective in urgent situations where results need to be quickly accomplished, speed and efficiency is critical and the team lacks experience and knowledge.
  • Participative or democratic leadership style is effective when the team is more confident and experienced and the objective is to develop loyalty and commitment and boost productivity, creativity and innovation.
  • Delegative leadership style works well when the team is highly skilled and motivated and is often appropriate for small teams who are confident that they can achieve results independently.

What is Transactional Leadership?

Transactional leaders guide their followers towards established goals by clarifying role and task requirements and providing structure. Motivation is provided through a system of reward and punishment.

What is Transformational Leadership?

These leaders pay close attention to the concerns and needs of individual followers. They motivate and encourage followers to make the extra effort to achieve group goals by inspiring passion and commitment.

Leadership Definition - What makes a Good Leader? 

The answer to this question lies in the identification of the most important leadership skills, characteristics and traits.

Effective leadership traits

Research has attempted to identify traits that are consistently associated with leadership. Eight traits that appear to differentiate leaders from non leaders are:

  • ambition
  • energy
  • the desire to lead
  • self-confidence
  • intelligence
  • honesty
  • integrity
  • job-relevant knowledge

However it has proved difficult to conclusively establish the traits that characterize leaders. Instead leadership research has sought to identify the behavioral styles that leaders exhibit.

Leadership behaviors

The primary behaviors identified are:

  • initiating structure through organizing work tasks, work relationships, work standards and work goals
  • demonstrating consideration by showing concern for followers' well-being and satisfaction, developing mutual trust and respecting subordinates

What are your Strengths and Weaknesses as a leader?

Leadership versus management

Not all leaders are managers and not all managers are leaders. The definition of leadership differs from the definition of management.

Just because managers are given formal authority by an organization does not mean that a manager is able to lead effectively. These are some of the main differences that researchers have found between managers and leaders:

  • managers take an impersonal attitude towards goal achievement, leaders take a personal attitude towards goals
  • managers interact with people according to the role the person plays in an activity or process, leaders interact with people on a more intuitive level
  • management is about establishing direction through order and formal processes, leadership establishes direction through the development of a vision and inspiring the group towards the vision

"Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things" - Peter Drucker

What Makes a Good Manager?

Examples of Leadership Skills

List of the top 10 leadership skills in graphic format

What is the concept of leadership?

Leadership is a much debated concept but the definition of leadership generally includes the keywords:

  • influence
  • vision
  • inspire
  • achieve

Quotes about Leadership

List of leadership quotes, white writing on black background

Leadership in 2023

These 3 skills will be required of all leaders in 2023.

Self awareness and insight - the leaders of today need to know their own strengths and weaknesses and have clear insight into how they are perceived by their followers. The move to a more open, empathetic and honest workplace in 2023 starts with a leader displaying self awareness.

Able to adapt quickly and effectively to change - adaptability has never been more important for leadership. Work is constantly evolving and becoming more complex. The pandemic and global upheaval have clearly shown that a leader has to be able to develop a culture of agility and flexibility in the workplace.

Be a servant leader - leaders should display a service-based approach clearly displaying an understanding of and a focus on the needs of their followers. The emphasis will be on developing their followers and facilitating the optimization of their potential. Empowerment, engagement and growth are key needs of the workforce of 2023.

Infographic titled "What Does Leadership Mean Today?" 5 ways to lead in 2023

Leadership Interview Questions and Answers


Manager Interview Questions


What Makes a Good Manager?

A basic understanding of the definition of leadership will help you to answer these typical leadership interview questions

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