What Does Leadership Mean? (2023)

Table of Contents
  1. What is Leadership?
  2. Characteristics of a Good Leader
  3. Top Leaders Answer “What Does Leadership Mean to You?”
  4. 3 Tips for Strengthening Leadership Skills
  5. 3. Make Growth and Development a Top Goal
  6. Effective Leadership is Not Management

According to the Brandon Hall Group, more than 70 percent of employees feel their leaders cannot carry their companies into the future. The organization’s research shows a mere 18% of businesses render their leaders “very effective” at meeting their organization’s goals. This demonstrates a gap between being given the opportunity to lead and effectively leading. To amend this problem, those in leadership roles need to answer two questions: “What is a leader?” and “What does leadership mean?”

As referenced in Jim Collins’ best-seller, Good to Great, the benefits of understanding and practicing strong leadership is the difference between mediocrity and excellence. Leaders who dedicate their lives to growing their leadership skills inspire and motivate their team members to achieve a mission that accomplishes their vision of a better future. They create trusting teams full of individuals who feel recognized for their work and fulfilled by it. As a result, the organization and its people prosper. Employee turnover reduces, engagement levels increase, and profits experience an upswing. When this happens, executives have more time to focus on the work that matters most: providing the direction needed for achieving their vision and multiplying leaders who will implement these plans.

To learn how to do this, find out more about what leadership is, the leadership traits all great leaders need, and tips for becoming a better leader.

What is Leadership?

Leadership is an action in which one person guides those around them to move from one point to another. The word stems from the Old-English word lædan, which means to lead, bring, take, carry, guide, or conduct. Additionally, the Middle High German word leiten, meaning “to lead, guide, travel, or to cause to go,” also influenced the development of the word “leadership.” In the early 1800s, people added the “-ship” aspect, which created a new word denoting a leader’s “state or position of being.”

Characteristics of a Good Leader

While the simple leadership definition above might make leading sound easy, developing into a top-tier leader takes a lifetime. Employees need to believe in their leader’s mission, have faith in the person guiding them, and feel motivated, inspired, and supported by them. Great leadership is influencing people so much, they volunteer to get on their feet and march into battle with you. As explained by John C. Maxwell in 5 Levels of Leadership, these people spend decades developing their leadership styles, qualities, and skills in order to best serve those around them, which in turn maximizes their influence.

Needed leadership traits include, but are not limited to:

  • Emotional intelligence
  • Decisiveness
  • Creativity
  • Focus
  • Time management
  • Analytical thinking
  • Strategic planning
  • Flexibility
  • Directiveness
  • Positivity
  • Courage
  • Honesty
  • Integrity
  • Confidence
  • Humility
  • Communication skills
  • Vulnerability
  • Resilience
  • Vision-casting abilities
  • Dedication to growing and developing other leaders

Find out how to develop the top 25 leadership qualities.

Top Leaders Answer “What Does Leadership Mean to You?”

Organizations and their people are like fingerprints—no two are exactly the same. While those in leadership roles might share common beliefs about what leadership means, each individual will have a different experience that shapes their definition of the word. For this reason, it’s important to ask a wide variety of people who’ve been effective leaders “What does leadership mean?” and “What does it mean to be a leader?” This helps provide more perspective on what leadership is.

Below are some of the top quotes describing the meaning of leadership:

  1. “Leadership is an action, not a position.”—Donald McGannon
  2. “Leadership is unlocking people’s potential to become better.”—Bill Bradley
  3. “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” —Peter Drucker
  1. “The role of leadership is to transform the complex situation into small pieces and prioritize them.”—Carlos Ghosn
  2. “Leadership is not about titles, positions, or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another.”—John C. Maxwell
  3. “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” —John C. Maxwell
  4. “Effective leadership is putting first things first. Effective management is discipline, carrying it out.”—Stephen Covey
  5. “Real leadership is leaders recognizing that they serve the people that they lead.”—Pete Hoekstra
  6. A leader is one who sees more than others see, who sees farther than others see, and who sees before others see.”—Leroy Eimes
  7. “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.”—Warren G. Bennis
  8. “There is a difference between being a leader and being a boss. Both are based on authority. A boss demands blind obedience; a leader earns his authority through understanding and trust.” —Klaus Balkenhol
  9. “True leadership lies in guiding others to success—in ensuring that everyone is performing at their best, doing the work they are pledged to do and doing it well.” Bill Owens

Read more inspiring leadership quotes.

3 Tips for Strengthening Leadership Skills

Answering the question, “What does leadership mean?” is the same as asking, “What actions should I practice to become a better leader?” This is because leadership is an action. Think of becoming an effective leader in an organization as becoming a professional basketball player. You need the desire, passion, resilience, and talent to reach the highest level of the game. Still, these resources aren’t enough. You’ll need to spend day-in and day-out refining your technique and skill set, despite how naturally gifted you are. Greatness doesn’t present itself on a silver platter. Leaders who want to know what strong leadership means have to put in the work to find out for themselves. To start the journey of doing this, practice the tips below.

1. Define Your Vision and Mission

One of the first steps in learning what it means to lead is developing a clear vision. Without a vision, there is no direction, and without direction, a leader isn’t leading. To learn how to cast a vision, study transformational leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. who focus on communicating exactly what they’re striving to accomplish. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is one of the best examples of describing vision so well, the audience sees the leader’s words playing out in action. By emotionally resonating with those who follow him, he blurs the lines between his dream and their dream, compelling all those listening to turn this vision into a reality. Once covering an inspiring vision, direct people on the mission—what they need to do in order to make this common goal a reality. This is how you get people to stand up and willingly act.

Get additional tips for creating a vision statement and a mission statement.

2. Work on Gaining Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence consists of self-awareness, self-regulation, social awareness, and relationship management. All these are critical leadership skills because, without them, relationships crumble. As the late Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric wrote in a column for The Wallstreet Journal, “A leader’s intelligence has to have a strong emotional component . . . He has to have high levels of self-awareness, maturity, and self-control. She must be able to withstand the heat, handle setbacks and, when those lucky moments arise, enjoy success with equal parts of joy and humility.” He goes on to say it is one of the rarest qualities in a leader, but one of the most important.

To develop an increased level of emotional intelligence:

  • Reflect on emotional triggers—what causes you to get heated, shut down, or respond out of character?
  • Strategize on how to gain control of your emotions. For instance, this might look like doing breathwork, working out for 30 minutes, or spending an hour practicing self-care.
  • Develop a problem-solving strategy and a decision-making process to avoid dwelling on issues too long.
  • Practice active listening.
  • Meet one-on-one with employees to discuss goals and their career development.
  • Gain empathy by considering others’ emotions, feelings, and thoughts.
  • Use time management skills to prioritize and complete the work that matters most to the business’s future.

Learn more about developing emotional intelligence.

3. Make Growth and Development a Top Goal

There’s no such thing as great team leadership by coincidence. As mentioned earlier, it takes dedication, practice, and the hunger to learn how to serve to the best of your abilities. Whether it’s reading leadership books and articles, listening to business podcasts, meeting with a mentor, watching leadership videos, or becoming a part of a mastermind group for business owners and executives, reserve a portion of your day for growth. In addition to this, establish a time to practice or sharpen the skills you’re learning. Your knowledge of leadership is most useful when it’s put into implementation. In doing these actions, you’ll actively learn what it means to be a leader.

Discover the answer to, “Why is leadership important?”

Effective Leadership is Not Management

It should be noted that there’s a difference between leading and managing. Leaders communicate their vision, inspire people to do the work needed to obtain this picture of a better future, and shift the team’s direction as needed. Managers control the workflow process and make sure employees meet organizational goals. They might also directly provide employees with the resources they need to work. For example, a manager would be responsible for measuring an employees’ performance levels. However, a leader would be tasked with identifying and communicating quarterly goals. Unlike leaders, managers do not have people who follow them, they have subordinates.

With that being said, are you leading or managing? While the two aren’t mutually exclusive, it is important that people know the difference so they can focus on doing the actions that develop impactful, purpose-driven companies. Letting managers manage and leaders lead allows everyone to properly play their role without stepping on each others’ toes. Additionally, leaders who try to lead and manage will find themselves with little to no work-life balance. This causes work stress and burnout because both positions are full-time jobs.

Feel like you’re still stuck in a managerial mindset? Check out the list of articles below to learn more about developing into a leader.

The Difference Between Leadership and Management

What is Leadership, and How is Influence the Answer?

Servant Leadership: The Ultimate Key To A Healthy Business

Situational Leadership: Flexibility Produces Positive Results


What leadership means to you answers? ›

Leadership is the act of guiding a team or individual to achieve a certain goal through direction and motivation. Leaders encourage others to take the actions they need to succeed. To be a great leader, it is necessary to learn and cultivate the skills it takes to be effective.

Whats does leadership mean? ›

Leadership is the ability of an individual or a group of individuals to influence and guide followers or other members of an organization.

What does good leadership mean to you? ›

Leaders set direction and help themselves and others to do the right thing to move forward. To do this they create an inspiring vision, then motivate and inspire others to achieve it. They also manage delivery of the vision, either directly or indirectly, and build and coach their teams to make them ever stronger.

What does leadership mean to you in one word? ›

Then again, maybe we can define leadership in one word... Art. “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it” ~Dwight D. Eisenhower.

How do I explain my leadership? ›

Example Answer #1:

“I would describe my leadership style as direct, and leading by example. I enjoy delegating tasks and taking the lead on projects, but I also like to stay involved and inspire my team by showing that I'm working hands-on to help them, too.

What everyday leadership means to you? ›

Simply put, everyday leadership is when employees take intentional and daily action to foster better connection, communication and community within their organization, while working together toward one shared vision.

What does leadership mean to you essay? ›

My idea of leadership is being able to inspire others, motivate, set a vision, communicate, respect others, and of course, lead by example. A leader must have an honest understanding of who they are, what they know, and what they are capable of.

Why is leadership important to us? ›

Leadership is important because it inspires, motivates, and sets an example for people to accomplish positive changes in the world. Leaders establish a vision, provide a plan of action, and build strong relationships with their followers. As a result, they guide people to accomplish incredible feats together.

Why is good leadership so important? ›

They are important skills to have because a good leader is able to bring out the best abilities in his/her team members and motivate them to work together in achieving a shared goal. A good leader is also organized and keeps the team on track and focused to avoid delays.

What is the best leadership quote? ›

100 Best Quotes On Leadership
  • A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves. — ...
  • Where there is no vision, the people perish. — ...
  • I must follow the people. ...
  • You manage things; you lead people. —
16 Oct 2012

What is leader in simple words? ›

A leader is someone who inspires passion and motivation in followers. A leader is someone with a vision and the path to realizing it. A leader is someone who ensures their team has support and tools to achieve their goals.

What is the main role of leadership? ›

A leader is someone who is in charge of organizing, guiding, and managing others. They are visionaries who motivate and encourage their team to reach the desired outcome. Understanding what leadership entails is essential to your success if your duties call for you to lead others.

What is leadership for life? ›

Leadership for Life (LFL) is a unique leadership development opportunity where professionals can learn, practice, and integrate faith-based leadership skills into their personal and professional life.

What is successful leadership? ›

Good leaders aren't afraid to make decisions, especially hard ones. They avoid delaying decisions or letting their personal views intervene. They look at things carefully, research well, try and see every angle, and make a decision and then stick to it. This will directly influence employee behavior.

How would you describe a good leader in one word? ›

A successful leader is a virtuous leader. Their integrity, honesty and character are reflected in everything they do. Their inner moral compass guides every thought and action. A successful leader is a purposeful leader.

What is a true leader quote? ›

1. “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way” — John C Maxwell. A great leader has the ability to inspire action through proper guidance and mentorship and uses their knowledge to educate others along the way. A great leader also practises what they preach by also “going the way”.

What is a good slogan for leadership? ›

20 Best Leadership Slogans to Inspire You
  • The best successes in life came after many failures.
  • Leadership from the heart!
  • The leader starts small and ends great.
  • Leadership is an art.
  • A leader knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.
  • Leaders turn dreams into reality.
  • Serve with pride and lead with confidence.

What is leadership mean to you essay? ›

My idea of leadership is being able to inspire others, motivate, set a vision, communicate, respect others, and of course, lead by example. A leader must have an honest understanding of who they are, what they know, and what they are capable of.

How do you answer interview question about leadership? ›

Tips for answering leadership interview questions
  1. Situation: Start by establishing the situation and sharing any important details.
  2. Task: Recount your specific task or responsibility.
  3. Action: Describe, step by step, what you did to address the task or responsibility.
  4. Result: End with the impact of your actions.
16 Aug 2022

What is leadership short paragraph? ›

Leadership Essay Introduction: Leadership is defined by how well you lead a team into the goals and objectives set by you. Leadership is also defined by the clarity and quality of goals that you set for your followers. It is not easy being a leader. A leader is simply not someone who will please everyone on his way.

How would you describe your leadership skills and experience? ›

When you are asked to describe your leadership experience, you should be able to mention an example or two of when you exercised your leadership or management skills. For instance, you may want to discuss a time when you led a big project at your last job.

How do you demonstrate leadership examples? ›

How do you demonstrate leadership skills
  • Offering to help a colleague who is having problems.
  • Being supportive and encouraging.
  • Praising fellow workers for good work.
  • Giving credit to others.
  • Showing empathy for people with difficult tasks.
  • Communicating effectively.
  • Working to improve team morale in difficult times.
21 Aug 2020

How do you answer leadership skills? ›

How to explain the ways you demonstrate leadership
  1. Review the official job description. ...
  2. Understand the company culture, values, and mission. ...
  3. Identify your areas of strength. ...
  4. Determine relevant skills related to the job description. ...
  5. Explain what you value in leadership. ...
  6. Provide a structured example.
29 Jun 2021

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