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What is Leadership? A Guide To The Core Elements of Great Leadership & Behaviors That Make an Effective Leader

by Thuy Sindell, PhD. and Milo Sindell, MS.

What is Leadership?

Leadership is the ability to unite, motivate and inspire people to move towards a shared purpose and common goal with determination and conviction.

True leaders have the power to transform vision into reality; they’re able to foster progress and success by setting direction and creating an atmosphere of enthusiasm for success, motivating others to be their best in pursuit of the team’s common goals.

True leaders possess leadership qualities like decisive decision-making, strong communication skills, the ability to delegate tasks effectively, skillful guidance, and most importantly - the ability to motivate and inspire others.

What is Leadership?

What is Effective Leadership?

What Do Effective Leaders Do on a Day to Day Basis that Qualifies Them As


Below are the fundamental elements of exemplary leadership. Use these points below to learn how to foster collaboration, garner respect, produce consistently outstanding results, and unlock your potential for greatness.

Set a Clear Vision and Direction

Great leadership starts with a great vision - one that’s clear, inspiring, and achievable.

Inspirational leaders not only have a clear idea of where they want to go but most importantly, how they want to get there and they are able to articulate their vision in a way that inspires and motivates others to follow.

Communicate Effectively

A great leader is able to articulate their thoughts, vision & expectations in a clear and meaningful way that resonates with those around them.

They are also active listeners and encourage open and honest communication within their team or organization. They understand the importance of two-way dialogue and strive to foster an environment where their team feels heard and respected.

Inspire and Motivate Others

True leaders inspire and motivate others to achieve their best. They create a positive and inclusive culture and foster a sense of belonging and purpose within their team or organization, crafting an environment that cultivates both connection and meaning, inspiring those around them to reach their highest potential.

Make Difficult Decisions

Successful leaders have the courage and resolve to make tough decisions, no matter how challenging or unpopular they may be.

They consider all options and take thoughtful action based on strategic insight, moving their team or organization forward in the face of adversity in such a way that instills confidence in their team with their decision-making and leadership abilities.

Delegate Tasks Effectively

Outstanding leaders recognize their limits and know when to delegate tasks to the right people. They trust and empower those around them, granting each individual on their team autonomy over projects as well as showing confidence that they will deliver results, fostering an environment geared towards collective success, allowing team members to take ownership of their work and contribute to the overall achievements of the team or organization.

Embrace Change and Adaptability

Leaders are agile and resilient in the face of adversity, never shying away from creative solutions or adapting their approaches. They demonstrate an openness to new ideas, remain flexible, and are able to pivot and course- correct when necessary, continuing to drive progress forward.

Foster Collaboration and Teamwork

A leader recognizes that a team is only as successful as its ability to unite and collaborate. They cultivate an environment where team members collaborate confidently & productively. They foster an environment where members feel inspired, valued, and encouraged to work together for maximum results.

Lead by example

Great leadership isn’t just about setting goals and providing vision; true leaders lead by example, embodying the values that make teams and organizations successful and cultivating a culture of excellence displayed with their own actions.

Develop and Support Others

A great leader understands that their team or organization’s accomplishments are rooted in the growth and development of its members and that investing in their team will result in a stronger, more successful organization.

They create an environment of encouragement and support, ensure access to resources and offer support so that each member can reach their full potential

  • thereby maximizing the impact individuals make for the whole.

Foster a Culture of Continuous Learning

A true leader understands that today’s success rests on tomorrow’s knowledge and that cultivating a culture of learning is essential for their team’s success. To create a culture of innovation and growth, they foster an environment where their team members have the freedom to experiment and take calculated risks without fear of failure - understanding successes often come from mistakes, and mistakes are seen as learning opportunities.

What is Leadership?

Are Great Leaders Born or Can They Be Developed?

Ah yes, the age-old question… the answer is: Both. Great leaders can be both born and developed.

While it’s no doubt some people have a natural gift for leadership and others may need to cultivate the necessary management skills and attributes, those who embrace the leadership role with the right mindset, perseverance, and dedicate themselves to learning new leadership strategies, can certainly become some of the best leaders in their organization.

Regardless of your starting point, there is always the potential to become a better leader and develop and refine character traits that inspire respect from those around you.

Being a great leader isn’t something that comes naturally to everyone - and that’s OK.

With the right tools at your disposal, self-awareness, and work, you can become an exceptional leader.

What is Leadership?

What are the Most Important Traits of Effective Leaders?

Personal attributes, key traits, and personality traits.

There is a multitude of important traits that make great team leaders. While this is not an exhaustive list there here are a handful of important traits that all great leaders share:


A great leader has great vision. They’re able to get a clear picture of where they are going and how they are going to get there and can articulate their vision in a way that makes their vision clear to their team and rallies their team behind their vision, inspiring and motivating their team to follow them in the process.


True leaders lead with integrity they are honest, ethical, and trustworthy. They lead with courage and accountability, stay true to their own and company values, take responsibility for their decisions, and move with high moral character.


A leader is confident in the face of adversity and rise to the challenge - confident in their ability and steadfast in their decisions. They understand that taking risks and moving through uncertainty is part of growth.

Communication Skills

A leader understands the power of effective communication: they articulate their thoughts, ideas, and expectations clearly and inspire honest dialogue and actively listen to feedback. By doing so, they create two-way communication and an open environment that is conducive to team success.


Great leaders are agile and able to adapt their strategies in any situation in response to shifting circumstances and needs. They have the flexibility to pivot and capitalize on new opportunities while not hesitating to make necessary adjustments and course-correct along the way.

Emotional intelligence

Great leaders are self-aware and emotionally intelligent; they have the insight to recognize and manage their own emotions as well as being able to understand and respond compassionately to the emotions of those around them.


Leaders have the courage and conviction to make difficult decisions, despite obstacles or uncertainty. They have the ability to evaluate all possibilities before selecting a course of action that will maximize success for their group or organization and can move forward confidently.


Great leaders are creative and can think outside the box to solve complex problems and issues. They come up with innovative solutions to push their company and teams forward they foster creativity by embracing calculated risks and pushing for out-of-the-box solutions that can revolutionize an organization’s potential.

Team-building Skills

Great leaders understand the value of teamwork and know how to cultivate an atmosphere of team-building, offering both encouragement and structure that invites collaboration effectively and celebrates organizational achievements together as a team.


Great leaders are empathetic and have the ability to attune themselves to the emotions, worries, and ambitions of their team or organization. They foster trust by building strong relationships while cultivating a sense of respect and understanding amongst their team members.

What is Leadership?

What Kinds of Leaders Do Employees Respond to the Best?

Employees respond best to leadership styles who foster a positive environment where everyone feels supported.

To build an engaged and productive workplace, leaders need a positive, communicative, and inclusive culture, clear expectations, and resources that enable their employees to perform their tasks with confidence.

Some other specific leadership qualities that employees respond well to include:

Those Who Lead with Fairness

Employees gravitate toward leaders who demonstrate fairness and impartiality, displaying the same level of respect for each team member. With consistent policies for all involved, such leadership cultivates an atmosphere where everyone can thrive with confidence and trust.

Those Who Lead with Respect

A good leader creates an environment of trust & collaboration by treating all co-workers with dignity and respect. They recognize everyone’s individual strengths, value input from all levels of staff, and demonstrate a commitment to diversity in each decision they make, regardless of their position or status within the organization.

Those Who Are Supportive

A true leader supports their teams with the resources necessary for growth - both professionally and personally. As a leader, providing assistance for team members to reach their goals is paramount. These committed individuals are always ready to lend assistance be it guidance or investing in their team’s development opportunities.

Those Who Are Collaborative

A leader knows that collaboration and teamwork are the key elements to long- term success. Strong, successful teams have one key component: collaboration. By fostering an atmosphere of open communication and thought-sharing, employees become engaged with their work and are empowered to reach peak performance through a sense of unity.

Those With Clear Communication

Employees need a leader that provides clear, concise communication. Clear, concise communication is essential for a productive work environment and for maintaining trust between leadership and personnel, productivity, and growth.

Those Who Are Trustworthy

Good leaders have the core values of honesty, ethics, and trustworthiness at their foundation. Integrity is essential to building a strong rapport with colleagues; effective leadership involves keeping one’s word and honoring commitments - allowing each team member to place faith in their leader.

What is Leadership?

Does Great Leadership Require Making Difficult Decisions?

Yes. Making difficult decisions in the face of uncertainty and even opposition is an important and potentially frequent part of leadership.

Decision-making is not always black and white. There may be trade-offs and unintended consequences to any course of action, but whether it’s the direction of the company, directions of campaigns, in-house processes, or making personnel decisions, great leaders understand that they can’t please everyone all the time and that sometimes they must make the tough choices in order to achieve their goals and move their team or organization forward, even if those decisions are not popular or easy. In addition, true leaders not only make difficult decisions they own it if it turns out to be the wrong call. Conversely, great leaders don’t take sole credit when a tough decision goes their way.

What is Leadership?

What Are the Hardest Aspects of Leadership & the Biggest Challenges Leaders Face?

Leaders face many challenges. The specific challenges a leader faces depend on the context in which they are leading e.g., the industry, the size and nature of the organization, the size and nature of the competition, the goals and priorities of the team or organization, their specific leadership styles, and more - it’s really endless as there is no one-size-fits-all leadership scenario.

Some of the most common challenges leaders face:

Making Difficult Decisions

As mentioned earlier, making tough choices is often an important part of leadership. Leaders understand that they can’t please everyone all the time and that sometimes they must make tough choices in order to achieve their goals and move their team or organization forward, even if those decisions are not popular or easy.

Managing Conflict

Navigating conflicts can be a daunting task for leaders. Resolving confrontations with fairness and objectivity is a cornerstone skill of effective leadership, but also one of the toughest jobs facing executives. Intense emotions can make it difficult to reach compromises in disagreements that satisfy all parties involved.

Leading Change

Good leaders are able to adapt and change in response to shifting circumstances - but leading change can be difficult. Leading change involves helping others adapt to new processes and may involve navigating personnel’s resistance to change.

Delegating Tasks Effectively

A good Leader recognizes their limitations & understand how to delegate tasks, but finding the right balance between micromanaging and allowing autonomy can be a difficult tightrope to walk.

Maintaining Work-life Balance

For exceptional leaders, maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be a challenge. Managing their career, their teams, and the success of the company, while balancing personal obligations outside work and finding the time to rest and recharge and have healthy personal relationships often places executives on an arduous journey of self-care.

Managing Stress

Leadership is a demanding responsibility with far-reaching consequences for employees and the organization. Leaders must recognize their stress levels and develop strategies to navigate them effectively. Taking good care of yourself is essential - not only for your own well-being but also that for your team members.


Leadership can not only be a burden, it can also feel at times like a lonely place to be. Having to make tough decisions and having the responsibility of ensuring positive results can weigh even the strongest leader down. When leaders take on all the responsibility and do not have peers or a coach that they can rely on to share their thoughts, ideas, and challenges can create a sense of isolation. Therefore it is critical that leaders have an individual or group that they can depend on for support and honest insight.

Honest Feedback

Providing honest feedback can be brutal. But a good leader can frame the feedback in a way that is objective and still encouraging, even when the feedback is not good and even potentially hinder career progression.

What is Leadership?

What Can People do to Develop Leadership Skills or for Existing Leaders to Grow Their Skills?

There is a multitude of things people can do to develop and improve their leadership skills. Some that may be helpful include:

Formal Education

There are numerous universities & business schools that offer degree and certificate programs in leadership that are suitable for developing leaders and improving existing leadership skills. These programs provide a foundation in academic leadership theory and practice through experiential learning via studies & simulations.

On-the-job Opportunities

No matter where you are on your leadership journey there are more than likely opportunities within your company to develop yourself as a leader. Whether this is volunteering for additional projects or simply practicing new leadership behaviors there are opportunities around you. All you need to do is see your workplace as a lab to practice and take on leadership challenges.

In addition, many organizations offer leadership development programs or training opportunities for their employees opportunities workshops, seminars, or other forms of training designed to help employees develop leadership skills specific to the leadership roles of their organizational goals. Explore these opportunities by talking with your manager or HR training and development.

What is Leadership?

Coaching or Mentorship

Working with a coach or mentor can be an effective way to develop leadership skills. A coach or mentor can provide personalized feedback, guidance & support to help individuals identify areas for growth and a plan to improve their skills.

Reading and Staying Informed

Reading books, articles, and research on leadership can be a great way to learn about different leadership theories & best practices. Following industry leaders and keeping up on industry developments and trends can also help leaders stay current and relevant.


By connecting and building relationships with well-established industry leaders, you can gain insightful leadership knowledge that would otherwise remain unobtainable. Moreover, these relationships can open the door to mentorship & collaboration and create opportunities that could take your skills to the next level.

Practicing Self-Reflection and Asking for Feedback

Self-reflection can be a powerful tool to help leaders understand their own strengths and weaknesses. Consider taking the time to assess your own leadership style, ask for feedback, and set actionable objectives and achievable targets for growth.

Seeking New Challenges

Those looking to take a leader’s role must step outside of their comfort zone and take on new challenges and responsibilities. It can be helpful to step outside of your comfort zone and try new things that stretch your abilities and help you learn and grow.

Great leadership is absolutely essential for any organization looking to succeed. Leadership can be a challenging role, but with the right qualities and strategy, those who pursue it have the potential to achieve great things.

What is Leadership?


With the right mindset, perseverance, and work ethic anyone can become an effective leader.

Leaders must motivate team members through shared purpose, and vision, have a strong sense of self-awareness, and focus on building trust and relationships.

By recognizing individuals for their strengths and weaknesses, providing strong guidance through the decision-making process, and developing meaningful relationships - effective leaders create an environment of collaboration and connection amongst the team and create real, lasting change in their organizations.

Those looking to embark on this journey should use the core elements above as pillars towards becoming a better leader – understanding what qualities make a great leader, recognizing the importance of leading by example, being persistent in honing skills, and improving leadership style over time to help elevate achievement not just for themselves but for everyone around them. Leadership is an ever-evolving process - never stop learning.

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