How to apply the concept of leadership to the workplace

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 26 September 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 skills are essential for those with seniority in the workplace. Whether you're a director, manager or team leader, you apply leadership skills to direct your team to work together and achieve goals. Learning about the concept of leadership and knowing how to apply it to the workplace can help you become a more effective leader and improve your career development. In this article, we discuss the concept of leadership, explain how to apply it to your work and outline three leadership styles that you may adopt.

Related: What does leadership mean? (Plus benefits and skills)

What is the concept of leadership?

The concept of leadership is the process of influencing people or directing a team or organisation to achieve goals in a cohesive way. There are four key factors that can impact this process:

The leader

The leader is the major influencer and authority figure in directing a team to accomplish goals. They can achieve this by various means, including developing and monitoring organisational policies, managing resources, facilitating interactions among team members, giving feedback on performance and mediating crises. They can also delegate some of their tasks or decision-making power to team members to ensure efficiency while taking responsibility for the members' actions. A leader's competence and personal traits, such as integrity and open-mindedness, can impact the quality of their decisions and the ability of the team to achieve goals.

The followers

The followers are typically the members of a team or an organisation. They follow the leader's directions so that the team or organisation can function cohesively to achieve goals. Followers can greatly influence leadership, as the efficacy of a leader's direction depends on how well the followers receive their authority. Followers are more likely to accept the authority of their leader if the leader meets their needs. This facilitates effective leadership. For example, if the members of a team perceive their leader as being supportive and open to feedback, they may be more motivated to share their opinions about work.

The situation

The situation includes environmental factors that can affect leadership. Examples include the structure and culture of an organisation, the urgency and complexity of a work problem and market constraints. For instance, a start-up company may have a limited budget and resources to achieve its desired goals, or an urgent work incident may require a leader to respond differently from how they would in a typical situation at work. A weak economy may affect market demand for a company's products and its ability to meet its sales goals.

Communication channels

How effectively a leader and their followers communicate with each other at work is another major factor that impacts leadership. An organisation may have policies regarding acceptable communication channels. Examples include in-person meetings, phone, email, instant messaging or remote meeting software.

How to apply leadership concepts to your work

Here are some tips for applying the leadership concept to your work as a leader:

1. Cultivate leadership traits

The following are some key personality traits for effective leadership:

Honesty and integrity

Honesty and integrity are crucial for building trust. This means being honest in communicating organisational issues that directly affect employees' welfare or interests and explaining decisions to adopt solutions to those problems. A leader with integrity commits to ethical business standards that safeguard the interests of the company and employees.

Open-mindedness

Being open to new ideas and market trends is important for helping an organisation to thrive in a rapidly changing business world. For example, business leaders who are open to adopting flexible work practices, such as hybrid work, may gain more trust from their employees, improving staff engagement. Open-mindedness also applies to a leader's attitude towards their followers' feedback about their work, as it allows them to make appropriate changes to improve areas of weakness.

Decisiveness and courage to take risks

Being decisive and having the courage to take necessary risks are important traits of an effective leader. This is because leadership entails decision-making and providing direction in times of uncertainty. Developing the habit of considering costs and benefits and comparing results to goals can help you determine whether it's worth the risk to take a particular course of action. This helps enhance your decision-making ability.

Related: Models of decision-making: descriptions and processes

Empathy

Empathy enables a leader to understand the different needs of their followers and other stakeholders from their perspectives. This facilitates communication on topics where there are mixed views or conflicting interests. You can cultivate empathy by imagining you're in the other person's position and considering their unique circumstances.

Related: What is empathy? With steps on how to be more empathetic

2. Demonstrate situation-specific leadership behaviours

Successful leaders demonstrate situation-specific behaviours. The following are some key leadership behaviours:

  • Give clear and consistent instructions or guidance: Clear guidance helps followers to understand and accurately enforce your instructions or resolve workplace issues. This helps ensure the accuracy of work outcomes.

  • Seek feedback from the team: Regularly approach your followers to gauge their opinions about their work or the company, such as what they enjoy most about their jobs and which areas the company can improve on.

  • Resolve problems promptly and direct changes for improvement: To build trust in your leadership and motivate your followers to give you feedback, acknowledge their concerns and show you're committed to resolving their issues promptly. For example, if employees report that they've been feeling stressed from work overload, clarify the areas with the overload issue, investigate the causes and direct changes to resolve them, such as streamlining work or recruiting more people.

  • Ensure fairness and transparency: Treating your team members fairly helps you to gain their respect and trust and reduce conflict. Ensuring transparency in organisational policies and practices reinforces leadership by enhancing your followers' confidence in your honesty and openness.

  • Delegate power and tasks: A competent leader demonstrates trust in their followers by delegating some power and tasks according to factors such as their abilities, experience and personal traits. Delegation empowers followers and helps to enhance their engagement and productivity.

  • Recognise colleagues' work contributions and enforce discipline: Giving recognition for your followers' work contributions is crucial for improving their morale and increasing job satisfaction and productivity. An effective leader is also decisive and consistent when enforcing discipline.

Related: How to improve leadership skills (With additional tips)

3. Adopt an appropriate leadership style

There are typically three leadership styles in most workplaces. You can adopt more than one style, depending on the context of your work and organisational structure, including:

Authoritarian

In this leadership style, a leader has absolute control over their team. Communication is typically top-down, and there's little room for followers to share their views with management. The benefits of this style include faster decision-making and better enforcement of instructions, but it may reduce work efficacy, as there's less room for feedback from followers with frontline experience of work problems or business areas requiring improvement.

The authoritarian style may be appropriate for urgent situations and emergencies. It may also be appropriate in a situation where the leader is the only one with expertise, such as a physician who gives medical instructions to nurses. You may consider adopting this style if it suits the preferences or culture of your team members.

Laissez-faire

A laissez-faire leader delegates authority and responsibilities to their followers and entrusts them to accomplish the required tasks in their own ways. The leader remains accountable for their followers' actions without direct involvement. The major advantage of this style is that it empowers team members by giving them almost full autonomy, which can enhance engagement.

Laissez-faire leadership is appropriate when followers have the required skills or expertise to make decisions or accomplish tasks efficiently with little supervision or guidance, such as when the followers are experienced senior managers or team leaders. This leadership style may not be appropriate if team members require more coaching or lack motivation.

Democratic

The democratic leadership style, or participative or facilitative leadership, emphasises equal participation among the members of a team or organisation in the decision-making process. The leader has the final authority on all decisions but bases them on the views of each team member. Each member has an influence on the direction of a project or development of the organisation. Some business leaders adopt this style when their team members have the required skills, expertise and ability to complete tasks independently.

Benefits of the democratic style include the empowerment of followers and a high degree of transparency, which enhance engagement and build trust. This approach can slow down decision-making, as it requires consensus and discussion among all members of the team or organisation. This may reduce business efficiency and create conflict, especially if there are many conflicting interests among team members. The democratic style may be more appropriate for small teams or organisations with simple structures.

Explore more articles