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What Is Leadership? A Definition for the Workplace

16 October 2023
A kid shouting with a megaphone to two kids covering their ears.

It would not be the most controversial of statements to claim that most, if not all successful businesses attribute some of their success to strong leadership, albeit many of the best leaders are quick to highlight the contributions of the teams that they lead.

Yet some sobering statistics, recently highlight why this topic remains so important and is worthy of the 3 minutes you have kindly invested in to read this. Here are just a few that caught our attention:

  • 79% of people surveyed claimed that they would quit due to a lack of appreciation.
  • Only 48% of people surveyed claimed that they had experienced or perceived their Organisation’s leadership to be of high quality.
  • While 83% of the Organisations surveyed said that they believed it was important to develop leaders at all levels, only 5% of them had implemented leadership development at all levels of the Organisation.

We could go on but we are assuming by now that you have the gist. Talking about and recognising the importance of leadership is the easy part…implementing strategies to improve leadership and inspire people, evidently not so much.

Before we go on, let’s get the semantics out of the way and briefly clarify the distinction between leadership and management.

What Is Leadership?

Leadership, at its core, is about setting a vision and inspiring people to work towards it. A leader is someone who guides and motivates individuals, teams, or an entire organisation toward a common goal. They will emphasise the 'why' behind the vision, instilling a sense of purpose and direction that aligns with the values and ethics of the workplace.

A manager is responsible for planning, coordinating, and executing specific strategies to ensure that the daily operations of the business run smoothly. Managers are concerned with the 'how' of achieving objectives, focusing on the tactical aspects of the organisation.

What Is the Difference Between Leadership and Management?

For a business or an organisation to thrive, a harmonious integration of leadership and management is indispensable. Think of planning a road trip to somewhere you have never been before as an example.

Leadership provides the vision and inspiration, setting the stage for the journey. Management, in turn, lays out the roadmap and navigates the practical path to achieve the desired destination. The route you take may change according to circumstances but ultimately the end destination will not.

What Are the Different Types of Leadership and Which Is the Best Style to Adopt?

Different leadership styles will vary in terms of decision-making, empowerment and the level of responsibility given to employees, before even taking into account the culture of the organisation. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, meaning that leaders must adapt not only to the people that they are leading but also to the context behind this.

At a high level, leadership can be broken down into four styles:

  • Autocratic – Decisions are made from the top down with little room for autonomy.
  • Participative – People at all levels are encouraged to engage in decision-making and problem-solving. There is a high level of autonomy but guidance or support will be offered when required.
  • Laissez–faire – With an even higher level of autonomy than the participative style, people are given even greater levels of freedom and are trusted to do the job that they are paid to do with little or no interference.
  • Transformational – People are inspired to actively innovate and design new ways for the organisation to grow and develop.

As you can see, there is an overlap between the different styles and it is rare that successful leaders will only adopt one style.

Can You Be a Leader to Remote Workers?

In a workplace, people need both effective leadership and efficient management to succeed. They need to be inspired by a compelling vision and guided by well-structured plans and strategies. This is even more pertinent when you consider hybrid working, where so-called ‘virtual leadership’ is required.

As well as leveraging technology, communication lies at the heart of impactful leadership, none more so than when leading virtually. Tools such as video conferencing and instant messaging can facilitate seamless and real-time communication, ensuring that every team member is connected and informed.

Trust is another cornerstone of remote leadership. As we described earlier, certain leadership styles require leaders to trust their team members to manage their responsibilities independently and make informed decisions.

Likewise, team members must trust their leaders to provide support, guidance, and clarity, even if they're physically distant. Building this trust requires transparent communication, setting clear expectations, and demonstrating competence and reliability.

Adaptability, empathy and flexibility are also vital traits for any leader. The ability to adjust to different time zones, diverse work styles and varying cultural norms is key to leading a global or remote team effectively.

Ultimately, physical or remote leadership is about creating a collaborative and motivated team, regardless of geographical location. By prioritising communication, trust, adaptability and empathy, leaders can harness the power of technology to lead their teams to success in an increasingly digital and dispersed work landscape.

Are All Managers Capable of Becoming a Leader?

All of this begs an important question, namely are leaders simply naturally born leaders or is it possible to learn and develop leadership skills? While it is reasonable to say that some of the skills and traits described in this piece do come naturally to some, it would be equally fair to say that these skills can be learned and developed.

How to Become an Effective Manager and Leader

When thinking about some of the most talented managers and leaders we have had the privilege of working with, what the vast majority of these have in common is that at some stage in their careers, they have been trusted by somebody who has taken them out of their comfort zone and encouraged them to run with something new. In other words, they have learned on the job, making mistakes but also succeeding in a live environment.

The other trait that they have in common is that they continue to invest in their learning and are always seeking improvement. That may be through tools such as coaching, attending a training course, reading a book, listening to a podcast or watching a TED talk, often a combination of all of these. Just as workplaces evolve, so do the challenges around leadership which means that there is always something new to learn or remind yourself about.

We love working with existing people leaders or future leaders who are embarking on the first part of their management or leadership careers. Whether they opt for our online management training programme which enables them to work at their own pace, attend a bespoke workshop or engage with some one-to-one business coaching, we have solutions to fit all requirements. This can cover a wide toolkit of essential leadership topics or focus specifically on areas such as delegation skills, objective setting or leadership styles.

If you would like to learn more about how we can support your leadership career, get in touch or give us a call at 01295 675506 for more information and a no-obligation consultation.

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