Leadership definitions (Qualities and how to improve)

Updated 24 August 2023

Leadership is essential within organisations to provide guidance to employees and help them meet their objectives. Leaders can motivate their teams to complete tasks within a wider strategy, helping organisations meet their short- and long-term goals. Understanding leadership and various leadership positions may even help you advance into a managerial role. In this article, we define leadership, look at some typical leader positions and explore what makes an outstanding leader.

Related: Leadership Roles: Definition And Examples

Leadership definitions

Leadership describes the act of supervising and directing a person or group, outlining objectives and providing support and motivation to help them meet their objectives. These individuals spearhead the management of operations, delegate tasks and provide structure to groups and departments. Every organisation uses leaders as part of its management structure. Here are some common leadership roles:

  • manager

  • assistant manager

  • supervisor

  • executive

  • director

  • assistant director

  • team leader

Related: Top 9 leadership skills to develop

Key elements of effective leadership

Effective leadership can help companies maintain productivity and inspire progress. These leaders use the following seven key elements to push their teams to success:


Powerful leaders are effective goal-setters. They break down overarching objectives into smaller, more manageable goals, then assign tasks to teams and individuals. By defining clear expectations, leaders can ensure team members understand their responsibilities. Aside from setting realistic and essential objectives, leaders also evaluate the performance and output of their employees. This enables them to attend to problems, optimise efficiency and increase output, without compromising quality. They may also liaise with individuals and set personal goals for them that also contribute to the goals of the team. This may involve outlining weekly targets and holding progress reviews.

Read more: How to set and discuss long-term career goals (With examples)


Empathy is seeing and understanding things from another's point of view, such as understanding your team's perspective and obstacles. Being empathetic makes you more friendly and approachable, meaning team members can express themselves honestly. You can also use empathy to communicate effectively and convey your understanding of your employees' position. This can make them feel understood and valued. By taking the time to understand your employees, you can set more realistic goals without pushing too far, allowing you to deliver better results for stakeholders.


Trust is essential between leaders and their teams, as it enables the leader to set goals and define outcomes that the team are comfortable with. You can gain the confidence of your team by using a trust-building exercise, such as an open-door policy in which team members can approach you and offer their concerns or ask questions. Following through on promises is essential for trust building. If you promise your team a reward for meeting a particular aim, give them the reward and you can expect them to meet future goals.

Related: Leadership debate: leaders are born vs. leaders are made


Being accountable for outcomes is a fundamental part of being in charge, so if choices lead to negative outcomes, leaders take responsibility for them. The best leaders can spot mistakes before they develop and cause damage to projects, turning mistakes into learning opportunities for themselves and their team. Being accountable for your actions and leading by example can cause staff to behave in the same way. You can promote accountability and integrity at work by demonstrating strong values and ethical decision-making. Displaying integrity also improves interactions between teams and leaders and produces a more positive working environment.

Motivation and encouragement

Developing a team's potential requires appealing to what they consider most important, individually and as a group. Get to know each team member's career goals to identify where they can apply their strengths, such as by assigning additional responsibilities or encouraging them to take a skills development course. As a group, have discussions to understand what they want to achieve together. Team-building exercises such as weekend retreats or icebreakers at the beginning of meetings can challenge and improve the way they work as a team and encourage them to rely on each other to reach a common goal.

Read more: 13 leadership styles and their characteristics


Selecting the best candidates for a team involves finding employees whose skills, experiences and interests complement one another and are conducive to the project. Leaders identify what value each contributor brings to ensure the team is well-balanced and can work well together. They may use team-building exercises to challenge team members to communicate, collaborate and problem-solve together before or during a project. Fun exercises can also promote camaraderie and improve their abilities to work through conflicts.


A strong leader nurtures continuous improvement of themselves and their team. By improving yourself, you can better meet the needs of your team on both a personal and professional level and even influence others to continue challenging themselves. You may read professional development materials, taking leadership courses or asking for new, challenging responsibilities to learn new skills. You can even encourage your team to do the same. As a leader, you can also implement procedures that promote individual improvement as they complete tasks, such as holding training sessions and inviting team members to provide feedback on each other's work.

Read more: How to write a professional development plan (With example)

How to improve your leadership skills

Some people are more naturally inclined to leadership positions, such as highly confident and extroverted people. Anyone can become a leader and knowing how to strengthen your leadership skills may help you secure a leadership position or lead more effectively. Here are some ways you can improve your leadership skills:

1. Reflect on your strengths and weaknesses

The first step in any self-improvement plan is to evaluate where you are currently and determine where your strengths and weaknesses lie. It's useful to get an outside opinion where this is concerned, as it's sometimes difficult to identify your own shortcomings. Ask a colleague to tell you where they think you excel and where you are lacking, then write these opinions down and consider them deeply. You might also take an aptitude test to gain a more objective evaluation of your abilities. Once you have identified your strengths and weaknesses, you can target your weaknesses and develop them.

Related: 15 Leadership Competencies (With Tips)

2. Find support from other leaders

Having a mentor is a fantastic way to develop yourself, so try finding another lead who you respect and admire to model yourself on. You can take ideas from their leadership style and apply them to your own, paying close attention to how they deal with the things you struggle with. If you can't find a leader to be your role model at work, you can take inspiration from others outside of work. A leader in a book or someone in your personal life may inspire you and you can use this inspiration to support your own leadership.

3. Develop your confidence

Many people avoid leadership positions because they often involve the leader being the centre of attention, doing a lot of public speaking and giving people directions. These activities require some confidence. For this reason, you can improve your leadership skills by improving your confidence, which can make you a better communicator and give you more faith in your own abilities and decisions. You can develop confidence by practising assertiveness, reinforcing positive messages to yourself and spending time around very constructive people.

Read more: How to build confidence at work

4. Embrace opportunities to lead

The best way to improve skills is to practise, so try willingly embracing opportunities to lead or seek them out. You can volunteer to manage a local sports team or if you're already involved in a project outside of work, offer to take the lead. This can enable you to develop yourself as a leader and try out leadership styles without risking affecting your job. By adopting leadership positions regularly, you can develop your confidence as a leader and gain a lot of useful experience.

5. Discover or define your specific leadership style

Having a leadership style is a great way to be more effective as a leader because it gives you a methodical approach, reducing the time you spend thinking. If you have a well-defined style, you can simply revert to this when you aren't sure how to lead in a particular situation. Discovering which leadership style best suits you can help you bring out your best qualities and understanding different leadership styles can help you lead in various situations. Leadership styles include autocratic, democratic and laissez-faire, all of which are useful in different circumstances.


  • What Is Autocratic Leadership?

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