What is Leadership? Definition, Meaning & Importance

What is Leadership? Definition, Meaning & Importance | Leadership | Emeritus

The term “leadership” is often tossed around in workplaces, politics, and even self-help circles. The essential question, though, is what is leadership exactly? Is it about giving orders or building consensus? In fact, the desirable qualities of a good leader have experienced a tectonic shift over the last decade. For instance, 94% leaders said that disruptive envisioning will emerge as the most critical leadership capability to succeed in the Indian workplace in the future, as per a PWC report. It is, thus, important to know the right kind of leader fit to lead your organization because there are several types of leadership styles. Moreover, a good manager is not always a good leader. So, let’s find out the answer to what is leadership, learn about leadership theories, and understand the importance of leadership.

What is Leadership?

“The action of leading a group of people or an organisation.”

That’s how the Oxford Dictionary defines leadership. In simple words, leadership is about taking risks and challenging the status quo. Leaders motivate others to achieve something new and better. Interestingly, leaders do what they do to pursue innovation, not as an obligation. They measure success by looking at the team’s achievements and learning.

In contrast, management is about delegating responsibilities and getting people to follow the rules to reduce risk and deliver predictable outcomes. A manager is responsible for completing four critical functions: planning, organising, leading, and controlling.

Unlike leaders, managers do not challenge the status quo. Instead, they strive to maintain it. They evaluate success by seeing if the team has achieved what was expected.

The question of what is leadership can be tricky; it has different answers because there are so many leadership theories. For example, the most basic definition is what the Oxford Dictionary refers to as “the action of leading a group of people or an organization”. Leadership is about taking risks and challenging the status quo. Leaders motivate others to achieve something new and better. Leaders do what they do to pursue innovation. They measure success by looking at the team’s achievements and learnings.

Definition of a Leader

Now that we have answered what is leadership at a very basic level, let’s understand the definition of a leader. They are individuals who guide, inspire, and influence others toward a shared vision. They embody traits like integrity, empathy, resilience, and decisiveness. Leaders not only set direction but also foster collaboration and empower team members. Effective leadership entails communication, problem-solving, adaptability, and the capacity to make difficult decisions. Leaders emerge in diverse settings, such as business, politics, and community organizations, driving constructive change and advancement.

Leadership vs. Management: What’s the Difference?

Leadership vs. Management: What’s the Difference?

If you have understood what is leadership, then you know it cannot be confused with management. A cursory glance at leaders vs managers reveals that they are distinct yet complementary concepts. On the one hand, leadership focuses on inspiring and guiding others toward a shared vision or goal, emphasizing innovation and fostering a positive organizational culture. On the other hand, management involves organizing, planning, and controlling resources to achieve specific objectives efficiently. An effective organization often requires a balance of both leadership and management qualities to thrive consistently.


Here’s how the leaders vs managers difference stacks up:


Leadership Management
Vision Leaders are visionaries who set goals for their teams. Managers are implementers. They ensure that the goal set by their superiors is achieved.
Organizing/ Aligning Leaders motivate people by concentrating on the personal development of their team members. They also envision their team’s future growth and work toward achieving it. Managers achieve their goals by delegating responsibilities among  team members. They tactically distribute work among subordinates and organize available resources required to reach the goal.
Analyzing/ Assessing A leader analyzes and assesses every situation to achieve new and better results. A manager deals with questions such as how and when that assists them in achieving their goals. They accept and strive to achieve the status quo.

ALSO READ: Leading vs. Managing: Top Differences

What Do Leaders Do?

Leaders are not always people who hold higher ranks in an organization. But they are people who are known for their beliefs and work ethics. A leader is passionate about their work, and they pass on their enthusiasm to their fellow workers, enabling them to achieve their goals. If you feel you do not possess the relevant skills currently, you can consider taking up one of the leadership courses or a leadership training programme.

What are the Different Types of Leadership?

It is not enough to learn what is leadership only. One also needs to be familiar with different types of leadership styles to further understand the concept of how one can lead. Let’s find out:

1. Autocratic

A very typical, traditional understanding of what is leadership is often the idea of leader who has complete control over his team. These are known as autocratic leaders. They never bend their beliefs and rules for anyone. Furthermore, their team has no say in the business decisions.

2. Laissez-Faire

In the laissez-faire type of leadership, leaders give their team members the freedom to perform their job according to their will. In essence, they can rely on their perspective and perform business functions subsequently.

3. Democratic

In the democratic or participative type of leadership, team members and leaders equally contribute to actualizing business goals. Moreover, they work together and motivate each other to achieve their personal goals too. 

4. Bureaucratic

Team members adhere to organizational rules and policies in view of leaders doing the same. Bureaucratic leaders are often organized and self-motivated.

5. Servant

A servant leader is focused chiefly on the well-being of the communities. They share authority, prioritize others, and help people realize their full potential.

5. Agile

Agile leaders are flexible and responsive to change, fostering a collaborative, iterative environment, and adapting to evolving goals and circumstances.

6. Empathetic

A more modern alternative to understanding what is leadership is the emergence of empathetic leaders. They prioritize understanding their team’s feelings and perspectives, thus creating a supportive, inclusive atmosphere that boosts morale and productivity.

7. Situational

Situational leaders adjust their style based on the needs of the team and the context, using a range of approaches from directive to supportive as needed.

8. Visionary

Visionary leaders inspire and guide their teams with a clear, compelling vision, motivating individuals to work toward a common goal with passion and creativity.

9. Free Rein

Free-rein leaders offer minimal supervision, trusting their team to work independently and take ownership of their tasks, thereby fostering innovation and autonomy.

10. Adaptive

Adaptive leaders navigate dynamic environments, balancing immediate demands with long-term goals, and adjusting strategies to meet changing needs.

11. Ethical

Ethical leaders prioritize integrity and transparency, ensuring that their decisions and actions align with moral values and societal norms.

12. Transformational

Transformational leaders inspire and empower their teams to exceed expectations, fostering innovation and change through shared vision and motivation.

13. Transactional

Transactional leaders focus on structured goals, rewarding performance, and enforcing standards, thus creating a clear framework for achieving objectives.

You can read about the Types of Leadership in detail here.

What are the Qualities of a Good Leader?

Any professional who becomes a leader must know what is leadership in terms of the traits they must possess. Here are some of the necessary qualities of a good leader:

1. Integrity

Leaders value virtuousness and honesty. Furthermore, they also surround themselves with like-minded people who believe in them and their vision.

2. Inspiration

Leaders are self-motivating, and this makes them great influencers. They are a good inspiration to their team members and help others to understand their roles in a bigger context.

3. Communication Skills

Leaders must possess great communication skills to enable their team members to understand their vision. They are also transparent with their team and share failures and successes with them.

4. Vision

What is leadership without the vision for company growth? Leaders, therefore, need to be visionaries. They must have a clear idea of what they want and how to achieve it. This is essential to steer their organization to the path of success.

5. Resilience

Leaders challenge the status quo. Hence, they never give up easily. They also have unique ways to solve a problem.

6. Intuition

Leadership coach Hortense le Gentil believes that leaders should rely on intuition for making hard decisions. Intuition heavily relies on a person’s existing knowledge and life learning, especially useful in complex situations.

7. Empathy

A leader should be an emotional and empathetic fellow because it will help them develop a strong bond with their team. Empathy, in fact, will help a leader address the problems, complaints, and aspirations of their team members.

8. Fairness

Although empathy is an important quality a leader must imbibe, getting clouded by emotions while making an important business decision can be potentially problematic. Hence, a good leader should balance empathy with fairness.

9. Intelligence

A good leader must be intelligent enough to arrive at business solutions to difficult problems. Furthermore, a leader should be analytical and should weigh the pros and cons before making a decision. This quality can be polished with an all-inclusive leadership training program.

10. Creativity

An effective leader is also someone open to new ideas, possibilities, and perspectives. They are always ready to listen, observe, and willing to change. They are also out-of-the-box thinkers and encourage their teams to do so.

11. Patience

Successful leaders understand that a business strategy takes time to develop and bear results. Additionally, they believe that continuous improvement and patience are the key to growth.

12. Flexible

Leaders understand the concept of continuous improvement but they also know that adaptability will lead them to success. Nothing goes as planned. Hence, being flexible and intuitive helps a manager to hold his ground during complex situations.

ALSO READ: Top 10 Entrepreneurial Skills That You Need for Success in India

Why is Leadership Important?

The importance of leadership lies in its ability to ensure success, especially in a business. Here’s why:

1. Offers Direction

Leaders provide a roadmap for a future, a compelling vision that unites employees. The lack of it can result in groups struggling consequently because they are unsure of their goals.

2. Instills Motivation

Leaders know how to ignite a spark to cultivate enthusiasm. They can take a team from simply doing their jobs to believing in the purpose of the organization.

3. Simplifies Decision-Making

It is crucial to make clear and strategic decisions to solve pressing problems. They help teams navigate through obstacles and devise innovative solutions.

4. Manages Change

Another reason why leadership is important is to navigate change effectively, especially when the world is evolving constantly. It becomes critical to transition smoothly and embrace new opportunities.

Importance of Leadership in Remote/Hybrid Environments

Leadership is even more critical for success in a remote environment. Here’s why:

  • Builds Autonomy: Leaders make sure that there is trust and enable employees to work independently. It is possible due to clear communication and a results-oriented mindset
  • Ensures Collaboration: There is isolation in physical distance. Hence, leadership bridges the gap between employees to smoothen interaction in a virtual space
  • Maintains Company Culture: It is difficult to implement company culture in a remote setting. So an important aspect of leadership in today’s work environment is finding ways to do so. They can, for instance, leverage technology to hold team-building activities, encourage informal interactions, and recognize achievements
  • Boosts Employee Well-Being: Remote work can cause an imbalance between work and personal life. It is, therefore, imperative for leaders to promote healthy boundaries and well-being practices for their teams

ALSO READ: The Ultimate A–Z Guide to Leadership in Organizational Behavior

Types of Leadership Theories

What is leadership if not the ability to pivot in crunch situations? It is in these situations that leadership theories come to the aid of leaders. Let’s look at some important theories:

1. Trait Theories

These theories identify the inherent characteristics that make someone a great leader. For example, traits such as intelligence, confidence, charisma, and determination are particularly dissected in this approach.

2. Behavioral Theories

These theories concern the actions and behaviors of leaders rather than their innate traits. They examine the behaviors exhibited by effective leaders and how they impact group dynamics and performance eventually.

3. Contingency Theories

Contingency theories argue that effective leadership depends upon various situational factors. A single leadership style is not suitable for every situation. In short, it is important to adapt one’s leadership approach based on the context and the needs of the employees.

ALSO READ: Discover the 7 Key Roles of a Team Leader and How to Master Them

How to be a C-Suite Leader?

The zenith of corporate leadership, ‘C-suite’, demands a blend of skills and experience. How can you qualify to be one? Here are some significant pointers:

1. Develop Strategic Insights

C-suite leaders anticipate industry trends, identify opportunities, and craft a long-term roadmap for success. Moreover, they need to know how to translate a vision into action via strategic planning, resource allocation, and decision-making.

2. Possess Business Acumen

An aspiring C-suite executive needs to have a thorough understanding of the industry landscape. For example, factors such as competitor analysis, customer trends, and emerging technologies are key. They also need to have a firm grasp of financial concepts.

3. Hone Communication

Leaders need to articulate their plans clearly. They need to know how to use effective communication from internal team briefings to investor presentations. They also need to be excellent listeners and seek feedback.

4. Embrace Leadership Qualities

C-suite executives need to be decisive, analyze situations objectively, and make choices that benefit the company in the long run. These decisions also need to be backed by high ethical standards and a culture of integrity within the organization.

5. Build Networks

It is prudent to reach out to experienced leaders. They not only provide invaluable advice but also open doors to new opportunities. Additionally, it is crucial to create strong relationships with other C-suite executives as they can lead to collaborations.

Explore Leadership Training Programs

A good organization needs both effective managers and leaders. The key is to match the skill set with a high-quality education degree. Emeritus believes in providing high-quality and affordable online courses across various domains, including leadership and management. Their collaboration with top-tier universities across the globe enables these courses to offer quality education at the convenience of professionals’ schedules. Therefore, if you wish to pursue a degree that gives you insight into becoming a good leader, enroll in the all-inclusive Emeritus’ leadership courses.

Write to us at content@emeritus.org

About the Author

Content Writer, Emeritus Blog
Nikhil is a passionate and free-spirited writer with 4+ years of experience. He has a keen eye for the ever-evolving content landscape, which helps him craft captivating content across various genres. He writes about marketing, data science, and finance for the Emeritus Blog. Beyond work, Nikhil is a dedicated pet parent who loves leisurely walks with his beloved puppers.
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