What is Leadership? (With Key Elements of Leadership)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 26 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Leadership is typically present in any project where there is a hierarchical arrangement of authority. Leaders in an organisation can typically make large-scale decisions so they can positively affect the project's output and organise the project's employees. If you're interested in pursuing a leadership position, learning more about the subject may help you hone your leadership skills. In this article, we share the definition of leadership, along with the aspects of leadership that are typically present in the workplace.

What is leadership?

Leadership is essentially the act of guiding or directing a group by establishing a supervisory structure, where the leaders determine what the employees of the organisation do and how they can do their tasks most effectively. Many aspects of society offer leadership roles, whether they're elected officials making decisions on behalf of a country, individuals in charge of a private company or volunteers leading a non-profit organisation.

Generally, leadership involves offering a centralised vision to a project to ensure all aspects of the project are working together effectively. Individuals in leadership positions typically perform tasks that offer essential structure to the project they're leading, such as making large-scale decisions to achieve the project's preferred conclusion and setting expectations for the team members they manage.

Related: 10 Leadership Role Examples (With Functions of Leadership)

Typical leadership hierarchy in a business

The following is the typical structure of authority in a business, arranged from the highest amount of authority to the lowest:

  • CEO, manager or director: Individuals in these positions may be founding members of the organisation with a strong understanding of its mission statement. The founders of the organisation may also hire a capable CEO to help form their organisation's goals and ethics.

  • Assistant manager: This position typically offers support to the highest-ranking position in the company. This could include helping them make decisions and speaking on their behalf if they are unavailable.

  • Supervisor: This position typically oversees groups of lower-ranking leaders and reports on the project's overall progress to the CEO. Their role may involve analysing the project's success, such as auditing their employee's progress.

  • Executive: This position may be in charge of a specific region of the organisation, offering guidance and structure to their employees on a more individualised scale. Their work typically informs the supervisor's understanding of the project's progress.

  • Director: This position is typically in charge of one of the organisation's locations. This could involve managing a store or leading one aspect of the project.

  • Assistant director: This position supports the director and helps them to accomplish their tasks. This could involve managing the store when the director is absent.

  • Team leader: This position typically manages a team of employees within the store or within an aspect of the project. Their work would involve training new employees and supervising employee behaviour daily.

Related: 7 Team Leader Interview Questions (With Sample Answers)

Key elements of effective leadership

The quality of an organisation's leader can greatly influence the overall success and growth of the organisation. An effective leader typically cultivates a productive workplace so their employees can be proud to work for the organisation. A leader can also leave a positive impression on potential clients or customers, which can help improve both the company's performance and the company's customer relations. The following are aspects of an effective leader that you can cultivate to achieve a successful leadership position:

Related: Why Is Leadership Training Important? (With Benefits)

Realistic goal-setting

The leader of an organisation is typically responsible for establishing goals towards which the employees can work. For these goals to be useful and motivating, effective leaders create goals that are aspirational while still being attainable. They typically want their expectations for the project to be clear and tangible so it's evident to the employees when they've met these goals. For example, the leader of a non-profit organisation may aim to double the number of donors they have within the year. To accomplish this, they may ask employees to make at least five donor calls a day.

To establish realistic, aspirational goals, an effective leader may collaborate with employees and other team members to determine the employee's maximum output while still maintaining the quality of the work. This could involve interviewing their employees and asking these questions directly. The leader could also review their organisation's current output and offer incentives to the employees, such as bonuses or commission, to increase their productivity. The leader may also establish short-term goals, such as daily tasks or occasional progress checkpoints, as a method of determining if the organisation is consistently achieving progress.

Empathy

An effective leader that practises empathetic behaviour can acquaint themselves with other people's perspectives and struggles. This method of social interaction can help a leader understand their employees' perspectives, make them more approachable and ultimately make their employees more comfortable sharing their concerns. Empathy can also help a leader effectively adjust their communication style to match the person to which they're speaking. For example, if an empathetic leader spoke to an introverted employee, they may keep the conversation strictly about business and not offer casual conversation to make this employee more comfortable.

Empathy can also be an effective tool for when a leader sets goal expectations. By understanding their employees' typical workflow and their capabilities in relation to the job, they could create personalised goals that capitalise on the strengths of their employees. For example, if a leader learns that one employee has an aptitude for creative writing and another employee likes to draw in their spare time, that leader could offer one employee a chance to write copy for the company and offer the other employee a chance to create visual marketing content.

Related: 6 Leadership Skills for a Resume and How to Demonstrate Them

Trust

Trust typically defines a leader-follower dynamic between the participants. A leader wants to trust that their employees are performing optimally to complete their portion of the project, and employees want to trust that their leader is making decisions that are in their best interests. To establish a sense of trust, a leader can implement policies that encourage their employees to ask questions if they have concerns or if they would like to involve themselves more in the decision-making process.

An effective leader can also build trust by keeping their promises. If a leader promises to solve a problem, they can show their employees the steps they've taken to do so. If a leader sets a goal and the employees meet that goal, the leader can provide a suitable reward. This can help their employees internalise that their leader is trustworthy, which can encourage the employees to continue following their lead.

Self-improvement

An effective leader can be open to self-improvement to prioritise their personal growth and professional development. A leader who is willing to examine and improve their demeanour and work ethic can inspire their employees to do the same. This practice can benefit both the individuals involved and the organisation as it emphasises a connection between self-improvement and professional development.

To effectively implement self-improvement into the workplace, a leader could hold voluntary meetings and invite their employees to offer their perspectives on the overall health of the organisation and their personal feelings. By taking their employee's perspectives seriously, a leader could prove they are legitimately interested in receiving criticism that could improve the organisation. A leader could also implement voluntary personal challenges with reward incentives, such as exercise regimens for their employees to follow.

Related: Decision-Making Skills: Definition and Examples for Leaders

Team-building

An effective leader typically facilitates the creation of a team dynamic between themselves and their employees. By spending time with each team member and learning to empathise with them, a leader could determine how each person works most effectively and pair team members with complementary skill sets. This can help create a natural workflow that allows each team member to rely on each other's strengths and support each other's weaknesses. For example, one team member may prefer to organise and structure while another team member prefers to create and progress, so in conjunction, they perform more effectively than in isolation.

One method an effective leader may utilise to establish a team dynamic is to host team-building exercises that challenge the team members to communicate and strategise synchronously. Providing their team members with an opportunity to do something fun together can help the team get to know each other in a casual environment, which could help to improve their personal dynamics along with their professional ones. An effective leader could also encourage their team members to collaborate after a project is over so they could discuss what they thought went well and what they could improve on for the next project.

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