The Definition of a Leader (9 Characteristics That You Need to be Great)

The definition of a leader has evolved over the years. One of the dictionary definitions is someone who directs or controls people or activities in a group. But what does it take to be a true leader? In this article, we will explore 12 characteristics that all leaders should possess and how they fit into an effective leadership framework.

What is a Leader in Simple Words?

A leader is anyone who takes the initiative to make things happen in their group or organisation. They often take the ‘bull by the horns’ and are the first to get things done.

Good leaders can often see what success looks like in the future, and then make decisions to organise themselves and others to achieve this vision. Along the way, they inspire other people and lead with confidence and integrity, creating a positive team dynamic that gets results.

Leadership is a broad context. People can lead from many positions.

  • CEOs of businesses;
  • Leaders of armies;
  • Team Leaders;
  • Managers;
  • Informal leaders – where that person has no formal leadership position or power, but are looked up to by others.

This then means that any situation where someone can influence others to do something or take on a new idea is in fact a leader.

The Definition of Leadership in an Organisational Context

From a company perspective, leaders are critical to building and developing a team that thrives within the right culture. They are integral to setting the right examples in the workplace and providing training for their team to excel and achieve their goals and objectives.

Leadership is not something that you are born with; it can be learned through experience, education, coaching, and personal development.

In fact, the core traits of a leader boil down to key skills that can individually be learned over time.

Some of these leadership skills consist of the following:

  • Good Communication Skills;
  • The ability to motivate others;
  • Positive outlook to keep going and persevere;
  • Creativity and the ability to overcome problems;
  • Provide Feedback to support development and learning;
  • Coaching skills to empower their team members;
  • Organisational skills to plan and manage resource effectively;
  • The ability to learn and keep an open mind.

Definition of Leadership – From CEOs

Interestingly, Jacob Morgan interviewed 140 CEOs and asked them to define leadership. He found that their definitions were hugely varied. In fact, describing leadership was a very personal thing to each leader.

Their definitions were very much dependent on each person’s particular experience and skillset in their specific leadership roles.

Some defined leadership as being centred around compassion and being people-centric.

Others viewed it as having good business acumen and the ability to steer an organisation in the right direction.

The reality is obviously in the middle. It’s both sides of the coin.

In the organisational sense, a leader must have people skills and be able to inspire others with their words and actions, so as to steer them in the right direction.

They must also be able to manage resources, and projects and ensure things get done, in order to achieve company goals.

These leadership attributes can therefore be split into two key areas:

  • Business Acumen (or more administrative/ managerial abilities);
  • People Centric (getting the best out of your team).

What are the 5 Qualities of a Good Leader? (The Business Acumen Side)

From the management perspective, a leader helps ensure their company achieves its goals, manages resources and ensures standards are met.

The key characteristics are:

  • Communication – Being clear in what they say and how they say it, to ensure there is no missed communication;
  • Planning – Understand where they are now and where they want to be, as well as the gaps to bridge, in order to get there;
  • Execution – Agreeing a plan and resources to make it happen;
  • Root Cause Analysis – Following structured problem solving processes to overcome issues along the journey;
  • Assign Ownership To Team Members – Ensuring others have accountability to get their part of the project or action plan completed on time and when agreed.

What are the 7 Qualities of a Leader? (The Human-Side)

From this people-perspective, the leader influences their followers to achieve success. They use their position to lead by example and create an environment that allows their team members to perform at their best in an empowered and self-directed way.

Some of the key elements are:

  • Confidence – The ability to lead with conviction and purpose, so others follow your lead;
  • Integrity – Treat people with respect and lead with values and honesty;
  • Responsibility – Take ownership of results and never blame others;
  • Self-Control – This involves emotional intelligence and being calm in pressurised times;
  • Perseverance – Influence others to define the way forward and keep going through crises;
  • Passion – Lead with bundles of positive energy enthusiasm to inspire your team members into action;
  • Creativity – encourage the creation of ideas to overcome challenges.

By combining these two key concepts, you’ll get the ingredients for success, that covers both management and leadership combined.

However, in order to get this right and to ensure that you’re leading in an effective and balanced way, it’s best that you lead within a leadership framework.

The most popular model is the transformational leadership model. We’ve written a more detailed article on this, but below is a summary of how to get it right.

What Does it Take to Be an Effective Leader? The 4 Key Elements of Transformational Leaders

The best leaders are transformational leaders.

The 4 Transformational leadership elements are:

  • Influencing Leadership – Inspiring others to follow the values and right way of working;
  • Inspirational Motivation – Inspiring others to commit to action;
  • Create The Environment For Creativity and Autonomy – Allow the team to flourish and lead in their respective roles;
  • Manage Group Members – Manage each follower to motivate and engage them individually.

Within this framework, you can see both sides of the leadership coin.

Influencing Leadership

Charisma is the key to success in transformational leadership.

It consists of being a positive role model with an infectious personality that influences followers into wanting to become more like their leader.

Being able to inspire others is built around leading by example, taking calculated risks and following core values.

Additional traits are:

  • Humble and honest;
  • Approachable and committed to the team;
  • Inspire trust and a safe work environment, free from recrimination and finger pointing if things don’t go to plan.

Inspirational Motivation

Inspirational motivation is a leadership quality that inspires confidence, ambition and purpose in followers.

The most successful leaders articulate the vision for the future with precision, communicate expectations well to their team members and show commitment by demonstrating it through their actions.

In leadership, the ability to distill complex information into actionable insights is crucial. Charts and graphs are pivotal in this process, serving as essential instruments for leaders to communicate strategies clearly and effectively.

By choosing the right type of visual representation, leaders can highlight critical data points and trends, enabling their teams to grasp complex concepts quickly and mobilize around shared goals.

This strategic use of data visualization aids in driving consensus and facilitating informed decision-making at every level of an organization. A visually appealing chart not only captures attention but also enhances comprehension.

It’s a blend of art and science, where the artistic elements serve to reinforce the scientific message, ensuring that the data doesn’t just speak but sings.

Excellent communication skills allow such leaders to convey messages powerfully, so everyone is clear as to what the goals are, the tasks needed to achieve them and how to get there.

Additional traits are:

  • Optimistic;
  • perseverance to overcome challenges and keep going;
  • Lead with enthusiasm and energy;
  • Clear communication and performance management.

Create The Environment For Creativity and Autonomy

The transformational leader is invested in the success of their followers.

They value creativity and autonomy and create the environment to allow the team to take the lead, whilst implementing ideas to overcome challenges they face in the business.

The leader listens without judgement or criticism and merely challenges assumptions that may hold them back.

Through the clearly defined vision and objectives, they inspire people to see the big picture and succeed where other leaders may have failed before.

They do this by helping others view problems as ways to get better and to learn, rather than hindrances that no one ever has the time to fix.

Manage Group Members

Everyone has their own needs and desires. They are motivated differently and have their own goals in life.

Great leadership involves working with each person to understand what they want; what motivates them.

Inspiring confidence and motivation for each person to take action and work towards the agreed objectives is a key component of transformational leadership.

The other perspective of a good leader is the ability to work with each of their people to understand:

  • Their motivations;
  • Their frustrations and concerns;
  • Their goals;
  • Any skills gaps.

There’s a lot to this element of leadership. It is very much a people-centric element and involves a number of sub-skills that leaders need to master.

The ability to listen actively, to understand your team members fully, build synergy and collaboration opportunities in order to overcome problems and learn from mistakes, and to coach employees to improve in their roles, are essential attributes.

Quick-Glance Leadership Qualities

If you were to stand and watch an inspirational leader at work and inflow, you’d quickly see some of the following tangible observations:

  • A great leader cares more about what’s going right than what’s wrong. They are constantly looking to reward people for great work and focus on the positives;
  • They are always looking for opportunities rather than problems. Every cloud has a silver lining – learning means overcoming problems, even if it takes several attempts;
  • They reframe problems to find new ways of overcoming seemingly impossible problems;
  • They coach others to greatness, and know that the strength of their team is a direct correlation to the work they put into them;
  • They are 100% responsible for the culture of the company or team – they lead by example and embody this culture through their actions;
  • They challenge but rarely tell and dictate;
  • They develop others in a similar way to the intent-based leadership or situational leadership models;
  • They manage their time effectively, and serve their team in order to get transformational results.

Additional Questions

What are the 3 most important roles of a leader?

John Adair identified in his action centred leadership model that leaders primarily have 3 key roles:

  1. To ensure team and company goals are achieved;
  2. To manage the relationships within the team, creating teamwork whilst building relationships;
  3. To manage each person individually to get the best out of them.