Leadership in the workplace

Leadership in the workplace How to be a good leader

In this article, we discuss what is leadership in the workplace, why you might want to become a leader, the difference between a leader and a manager, types of leadership styles, the characteristics of a leader and how to improve your leadership abilities.

What is leadership?

Management consultant Peter Druker suggested that a leader is ‘someone who has followers’ but is leadership as simple as that?

Leadership in the workplace is the ability of an individual to manage and supervise an organisation and to positively influence others to perform their jobs to the best of their ability, resulting in business success.

Essentially, leaders create a vision and, through a combination of influence, communication and support, motivate a team to help them realise their goals. When leaders effectively lead their company, they impact the decisions, actions and overall attitude of others in a positive manner.

Leaders must embody the organisation’s values and culture. They will use their skills to steer organisations through the good times and in times of change when good morale and a positive working environment can make the difference between success and failure.

While great leadership has a huge effect on an organisation’s success, poor leadership can be expensive in terms of high levels of employee turnover, low morale, toxic workplace culture, and lower productivity and performance.

Why might you want to become a leader?

Effective leaders inspire people, motivate them to perform to a higher level, and embody company values and culture. They make a tangible difference to business success and have a wider impact than they ever could individually.

Directly impacting decisions, actions and the positive mindset of others, an effective director builds a team around them which benefits from its collective skills and experiences and is inspired and motivated to achieve success.

Effective leadership improves morale through a clear vision, increasing employee engagement, improving employee retention, creating a culture of openness and building trust. Influential leaders inspire improved morale and confidence which in turn improves productivity.

An effective leader is confident and has a strong sense of who they are. Leaders set the tone for an organisation and live its values. They will enjoy learning opportunities and creating a positive organisational culture to empower their team through learning and growing and see it achieve its goals.

What’s the difference between a leader and a manager?

The roles of leaders and managers are interlinked. Both are essential but distinct.

Leaders can operate at all levels of an organisation. However, whereas a leader’s authority is based on their qualities, a manager’s authority is established by their job role.

While both managers and leaders work towards organisational goals, leaders create the vision, motivation and inspiration to achieve them, while managers focus on the process of achieving goals through the organisation’s activities and behaviours in the work environment.

There is more than one style of leadership but ultimately leadership is judged on the organisation’s performance in terms of employee engagement, productivity and profit.

Types of leadership

Different types of organisation flourish under different styles of leadership. Focussing on your personal leadership style will enable you to understand how to improve your leadership abilities.

  • Transformational leaders work best within businesses looking to increase their competitive edge and grow. Such leaders will have a relentless focus on efficiency through the review of procedures and processes. This leadership style can lead to employees feeling overworked or that their contribution is unrecognised.
  • Collaborative leaders share knowledge and break down silos within organisations. This style of leadership is useful in complex businesses or those seeking to break into new markets.  However, it can be a time-consuming process and may result in delayed decisions.
  • Servant leaders are nurturing and focus on the needs of their team before their own. A longer-term approach, servant leaders believe that making employees fulfilled will result in organisational success. It is an approach that works well for non-profit organisations and charities and can be used in conjunction with other leadership styles such as transformational leadership. However, servant leaders may struggle to make tough decisions.
  • Democratic or participative leadership is a management style in which decision-making is shared among team members. This approach encourages engagement and motivation but can be a lengthy process where it is difficult to make unpopular but necessary decisions.
  • Charismatic leaders create a shared sense of purpose through their enthusiasm and social skills They use their empathy, charm and persuasiveness to motivate others. This style of leadership is useful for organisations bouncing back from reputational damage, although charismatic leaders can struggle to make difficult but necessary decisions.
  • Situational leaders adapt their leadership style as appropriate to meet the needs of the team and achieve the best results, making them the ultimate leader for businesses at all stages of development.

Characteristics of a good leader

An effective leader demonstrates a range of abilities, traits, and behaviours. Capable leaders leverage these hard and soft skills to overcome obstacles, negotiate change and attain their objectives.

They achieve this by inspiring and motivating their team, empowering individuals, fostering trust, encouraging collaboration and cultivating a positive and productive workplace.

While some leaders inherently possess leadership characteristics such as integrity and emotional intelligence, other leadership qualities, such as communication, can be cultivated through education, training, coaching and experience.

The qualities of a good leader include:

  • Integrity – leaders are moral touchstones for organisations, especially in bad times, so it is essential that they consistently demonstrate moral and ethical leadership and embody the values of the organisation they lead.
  • Empathy and Influence – a good leader uses their innate emotional intelligence to empathise with others, understand their concerns, overcome challenges and defuse conflict. They use these qualities to influence, motivate and inspire their teams to perform to the best of their ability.
  • Communication – effective leaders are good communicators who can convey their messages to inspire and motivate. They are open, honest and transparent about the organisation which in turn engenders trust.
  • Vision – an effective leader thinks strategically beyond the everyday purpose of the organisation in order to plan for its future. They understand both their organisation and the landscape within which it operates.
  • Decisive – capable leaders are focussed and assertive and are responsible for making informed confident decisions.
  • Delegation – good leaders delegate and manage their team to build trust.
  • Confidence and positivity – successful leaders believe in their abilities and are optimistic – helping to boost morale, inspire others and promote a healthy workplace.

Tips to improve your leadership abilities

Leadership doesn’t always come naturally. Even the most capable leaders need to review performance and improve their skills. To become a better leader, work on modelling the qualities that you would like to see in your team members.

  • SWOT – assess your skills, your strengths and weaknesses. Once you recognise your weak points, you can start to look at how to do better. Regular feedback from your team can help create a transparent culture and maintain good habits.
  • Set goals and regularly review them – think both long-term and short-term to keep focussed on your goals.
  • Communication skills – being able to clearly communicate with your team is vital to organisational success. Listen to colleagues’ views and communicate effectively to inspire, motivate and recognise the achievements of your team. Be approachable and build trust by delivering on promises.
  • Learn from your failures – build confidence in decision making by recognising why something went wrong and learn from it through feedback and by reviewing decisions to see how things could have been done differently.
  • Collaborate – place trust in your colleagues to create an engaged workforce.
  • Be a role model – live the organisation’s values and culture.
  • Positivity – be optimistic and resilient in the face of challenges.
  • Innovate – encourage creative problem-solving, seek new ways to inspire, motivate, and reward group members.
  • Motivate your followers – by being passionate and recognising contributions.

Related resources and courses

The IoD’s professional development courses and qualifications are the gold standard for board-level competency. Designed by directors for directors, they will equip you with the practical know-how you need to succeed.

Call our training team on +44 (0)20 3855 4309 for more information or view our courses here.

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