As companies embrace digitalisation and hybrid work leadership is becoming even more important. Due to the changing world of work leaders must adapt to the evolving needs of their employees, motivate different generations – some of them working from home – and continuously optimise their leadership behaviour and performance. But what exactly is the meaning of leadership? What is a useful leadership definition? And what skills do good leaders need to have?
What is leadership?
Leadership is a multifaceted concept with a variety of definitions. It is often seen as simply the process of managing employees, but this is much too narrow. Leadership and management are different and leadership skills are much broader. The role of a leader is essentially much more comprehensive than that of a manager. Leaders are the people in the company who convey values, build culture, inspire and motivate their employees. They are role models and through their management styles they lead by example.
What is the difference between management and leadership?
Managers are responsible for organising and controlling resources, processes, and people. In other words, they carry out business management tasks. The role of a leader goes much further. They are visionaries and role models who build a close, trust-based relationship with their team and team members. The role therefore encompasses much more involved tasks and thus requires much more complex leadership qualities and competencies.
You can find out more about the differences between leadership and management in our blog.
What competencies do leaders require?
In order to act as a role model for the team and to convey a clear vision to employees, leaders need a diverse range of skills and leadership traits. For example, they have to excel at interpersonal skills while having the ability to drive transformational change in companies. They are focused on the needs of their employees – according to a 2021 survey by the Boston Consulting Group, good leaders put people first.
Five leadership principles are particularly important:
- Consideration: A good relationship with the team is vital. It is crucial to be considerate and show respect for all team members and their views.
- Empathy: Good leaders need to understand the feelings and needs of their employees and take care of the emotional well-being of the entire team.
- Listening: This is about taking on board different opinions from the team and being inspired by their ideas. Leaders need to be open to external ideas too – what can be learnt from other organisations?
- Team development: Leaders need to create opportunities to help develop the skills of their team members.
- Self-reflection: Finally, good leaders need the ability to question and analyse their own thoughts, feelings and actions.
The focus on people is central to all of these characteristics. A good leader is listened to and trusted by their team. At the same time the leader themself has the ability to listen effectively to what members of their team are saying.
What leadership styles are there?
There are a diverse range of types of leadership, and which a leader chooses to deploy will depend on their individual personality and the team they are leading. The most effective leadership style will also depend on the corporate environment, culture, people involved and the task to be completed (situational leadership). What is key is to adopt an authentic leadership style, based on understanding of the skills and capabilities required.
Transactional leadership is characterised by a clear definition of what is expected by leaders from their team and individual employees. Delivering on these expectations, such as completing a set amount of work, results in staff being rewarded, while unfulfilled expectations have negative consequences.
This leadership style can quickly lead to an authoritarian atmosphere, (also know as autocratic leadership), with little scope for creativity, which is why a purely transactional leadership style does not work in today’s team-based work environment.
In transformational leadership, the leader acts as a role model for their entire team. They show charismatic leadership and inspire and motivate their team, leading with a strong, shared vision. As part of this, transformational leaders focus on supporting each team member in developing their skills and delivering results. This leads to intrinsically motivated employees who are more loyal and perform better. Servant leadership is a variant of transformational leadership, where the leader is focused solely on providing the right environment for each of their team members to thrive, putting them and their needs first.
Agile leadership is about enabling employees to adapt quickly to change. To do this, the leader creates a framework that allows teams to work in a self-organised way, but where they can react quickly to changes, adapting their working practices to meet new needs. The leader only rarely becomes involved, trusting their team to work effectively within the framework. It should not be confused with laissez faire leadership, where the leader delegates all responsibility to the team without providing any support or guidance.
Empathic leadership applies the principle of empathy to the work environment. Empathic leaders understand the emotions of their team members, both in the workplace and beyond. This participative leadership creates a working environment in which inclusion and diversity play a central role.
Increasing digitalisation presents leaders with new and evolving challenges. While it is unclear how far digital transformation and technologies such as AI will impact the world of work, it is clear that good leaders must actively embrace and meet the challenges of digitisation. Adopting digital leadership, which combines digital skills with leadership capabilities, is at the heart of this.
Remote leadership is about motivating teams and employees that are physically scattered, across multiple locations and even time zones. The focus of remote leadership is achieving strong communication within the team, but also between the leader and individual team members.
Future Leadership: What will good leadership look like tomorrow?
Our Future of Work Report focused on the ongoing transformation of the world of work, driven by factors such as the effects of the pandemic, geopolitical and economic instability, and the changes caused by the rapid rise of new technologies such as AI. Our report finds that the role of the leader has changed and will continue to transform across organisations.
Above all, good leaders need one characteristic, both now and in the future: empathy. They need to become more empathetic and thus create an inclusive workplace that gets the best out of every member of their team. In addition, they must serve as role models, motivators and demonstrate thought leadership, be prepared to leave their comfort zone, listen to their teams and respond quickly to feedback. In other words, in the future good leaders need to adopt a transformational leadership style.
With the increasing impact of AI on leadership and business, leaders need to focus more on their interpersonal skills. This is because routine and administrative tasks are increasingly being automated and carried out by AI.
Leadership Development: how Leaders Become Good Leaders
The changing world of work demands new skills from leaders. The positive news is that the qualities of a good leader can be learned. Anyone has the potential to become a successful transformational leader.
HR teams must therefore actively take charge of leadership development, providing their company’s leaders with the right tools to help them constantly develop and become better leaders. They need to focus on effective leadership training to get the best from their people, now and in the future.
Read our free checklist on how to develop your leaders into transformational leaders.
Getting more out of democratised leadership feedback
Feedback plays a crucial role in the personal development of leaders and enables them to adapt to the demands of the modern working world. It highlights the strengths and weaknesses of each leader and helps to create their own action plan for improvement, making it an important addition to personal leadership coaching. It is particularly effective when it is made available in a democratised way, with leaders at all levels supported equally.
That’s where Tivian comes in. Our Leadership 360 solution gives all leaders instant access to valuable feedback and information to help them improve their skills. It enables them to develop as leaders, but also to promote wider team development, and to use leadership feedback to strengthen and promote organisational growth.