What is Leadership? Elements and Examples

An office leader engages his colleagues in conversation.

What is leadership, and how do you determine your tasks between leadership and management? We’re often advised about the differences between management and leadership, but those can be hard to put into practice.

We’ll explore some of the main elements of leadership, with a few examples, and then discuss the differences between leaders and managers.

Seven Common Attributes of Great Leaders

1. They Promote a Compelling Vision

What is leadership, you’re asking, beyond just standing at the front of the crew? By definition, leaders have a comprehensive, flexible plan for the future that includes forming well-rounded teams, building internal buzz, and setting reasonable targets and measures for progress.

Knowing that no one employee can excel at everything, leaders surround themselves with teams of complementary strengths, qualities, and skill sets. These well-rounded, high-performing teams are encouraged in strategic thinking, innovation, and action.

Leaders consider product roadmaps and staffing needs, synthesizing them with external factors like government regulation and developments in technology.

Maintain a flexible mindset and be willing to try new ideas, especially in situations where the goals may be changing quickly or frequently (such as in startups). Consider SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound) and always make sure even your riskiest decisions are based on verifiable information.

2. They Treat Others the Way They Want to Be Treated

The leader must demonstrate not just compassion but empathy for workers’ complete lives and situations—their charges must feel appreciated and understood. Think of it this way: what is leadership (and can it even exist) without mutual respect?

Workers should know their leader trusts them within their duties, empowering them to make decisions without hand-holding—that they were chosen for their unique skills and remain accountable to them.

The most effective leaders consistently focus on employees’ work environment, helping them to do their best work and granting them higher engagement and well-being, and thus gains on the bottom line.

It’s important for workers to have a sense of hope that the future of the team and project are bright. Leaders who are dependable, genuinely caring, provide a reliable foundation or “home base” and inspire that hope for the future are better able to motivate their staff.

3. They Admit Their Mistakes

Leaders aren’t defensive, obstinate, or repetitive—they are a part of things, and know that, ultimately, they’re responsible for the final product. This requires being aware of your strengths and weaknesses, values and behaviors, and the impact you have.

What is leadership without the trust of others? A leader is an effective listener and open to change, and knows humility is the antidote to overconfidence. We don’t know what we don’t know, after all, and remembering this fact, especially about oneself, is key to strong leadership.

4. They Make Themselves Part of the Action

Leaders dig in and get their hands dirty. They show integrity by always using values as their guide and honesty as their strictest policy. Effective leaders think outside the box to innovate solutions and creative approaches. They take the time to understand exactly what the team does, what blockers they experience, and how to ease their way.

5. They Prioritize Healthy Communication

Leaders are first and foremost able to triage, define and communicate the project’s needs, and keep it on track. The classic rule of thumb is simple: Listen, learn, and then lead.

An effective leader can clearly communicate their vision, provide feedback, and negotiate with other stakeholders and leaders for the things their team needs to finish the project. If anyone on the team is unaware of your expectations and falls short of meeting them, it’s because you haven’t expressed them meaningfully. Communicate goals and targets frequently so everyone remembers what you are working toward.

6. They Know How to Delegate

What is leadership but the ability to adapt when the group or worker is ready, willing, and able to take a specific action? It’s not just a saying: You need workers to be prepared, engaged, and to have all the resources and encouragement they need. Delegating, coaching, and mentoring help you demonstrate leadership.

Train people well enough so they can leave, goes the old saying—but treat them well enough so they won’t. This requires both humility about yourself and the ability to trust your workers with confidence.

7. They Make Employees Feel Valuable

A well-led team feels valuable, talented, capable, and supported. Invest time in coaching and developing your workers—take an active interest in the goals and aspirations of your team and play an active role in their growth and development. Offering stability and hope to your team, especially during challenging times, requires emotional intelligence.

Understand Leadership vs. Management

Put simply, “management” is a responsibility while “leadership” is a calling. You are a manager based on your job title and direct reports, but you become a leader through effort and wisdom. Managers have people who work for them—leaders have people who trust and follow their lead. However, the best managers are also strong leaders.

  • Managers follow processes, and prioritize stability and control, while leaders can challenge the status quo and show patience with chaos or a lack of structure.
  • Leaders are responsible for setting, and managers for executing, a company’s mission and vision. Leaders have a clear vision of where they want their organizations to go, while managers are key to keeping employees aligned with the core company values and goals
  • Leaders define and shape an organization’s culture, while managers protect that culture and ensure workers live up to it.
  • The leader is a change agent who innovates and develops the environment for success, while the manager maintains and administrates the status quo using coordinated actions and tactical processes.

Management vs. Leadership: Where They Overlap

Though the roles and duties of leadership and management may vary, there are many areas of overlap:

  • Communication. Both leadership and management communication are crucial for an organization’s success. Employees expect leaders to inform and educate them about where the company stands and where it’s heading—to inspire. Clear management communication empowers people to do their best work and build stronger relationships within teams.
  • Problem-solving. Effective decision-making and problem-solving are responsibilities of both leader and manager. Leaders may be responsible for top-level decision-making or planning, while managers are accountable for those decisions on a team or department level.
  • Change/crisis management. Leaders and managers work collaboratively, especially during times of change or crisis. While leaders may have a better understanding of the changes that need to be implemented, managers can enable their employees to accept the change and align with it.

Electrify Your Leadership Skills

Now that you know how to answer the question, “What is leadership?” and understand just how powerful leadership can be, it’s time to put those ideas into practice. With Monster’s help, you can build the skills for world-class leadership, support management in realizing leaders’ vision, and inspire leaders throughout your organization.