Stemming from social influence and not authority or relations of power, leadership is actually the accomplishment of social influence that maximizes the efforts of others and reaches the great potential of individuals, businesses or any organisation, party, or body.

By Alexandros Theodoropoulos

What Leadership actually means?

It was once said by Warren Bennis, a pioneer in leadership research, that “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality". Leadership expert James McGregor Burns has said that leadership is a process in which "leaders and their followers raise one another to higher levels of morality and motivation".  

Just in one sentence, we would say that leadership is the art of motivating a group of people to act towards achieving a common goal. But the term is so vague that a great number of interpretations are needed to analyse it and comprehend its deepest meaning.

According to the author of “Great Leaders Have No Rules”, Kevin Kruse, “Leadership is the process of social influence which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal”.  The New York Times bestselling author and highly successful entrepreneur has stated that leadership has nothing to do with seniority or a certain position in the hierarchy of a company or organisation. Many people think of leadership as the top executives or managers in an organisation but being a leader isn’t necessarily judged by one’s salary.  

Thus, it should be taken into consideration that leadership has nothing to do with titles or personal attributes. Someone that maintains a high position in the hierarchy doesn’t mean that he/she is a leader or has got leadership skills.

For example we usually think of political figures that shaped history like Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill, as great leaders. They were leaders and charismatic personalities, but charisma alone doesn’t make someone a leader. Leadership is not an adjective and those with natural charisma are not leaders just by that. 

Something else that leadership is not: management. Being able to manage a team, a business or organisation is not automatically synonymous with being a leader. These two terms are usually intertwined but they are not the same. Bill Gates has given a simpler and straightforward statement about what leadership actually means: "As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others."

So you don’t need a title to lead. In fact, you can be a leader in your place of work, in your neighbourhood, your family, all without having a title to show. 

Consequently we can argue that leadership doesn’t have just one specific definition. It captures the essentials of being able and prepared to inspire others. Perhaps the closest term to leadership is inspiration. Effective leadership is based upon ideas that can be either original or borrowed, but these ideas need to be effectively communicated to others in a way that engages them enough to act as the leader wants them to act. 

The Importance of Leadership

Leadership is vital because many people won’t be in a position to acquire it, so there should be those that will actually achieve that. 

History has proven that leaders are vital in showing the way forward, in predicting the future. Charisma, if combined with education and general knowledge, can create a human mind that will envision the future and think of ways in which the vision will one day become reality. This is how humanity has evolved throughout the centuries and in this way we can achieve the best possible development with the means we have. 

Being more specific, leaders are important as they have a great impact on a team's performance. Good leaders can maximize the team's productivity, shape positive cultures and promote harmony and open communication within the team. The inspiration and influence that they produce is really crucial for the advancement of every team or organisation, in every context. 

This doesn’t only include the business environment where leadership solves everyday problems and fulfills the great potential of everyone involved, but also the arts, where we need leaders to understand art better and eventually, to comprehend life better.

Therefore, leadership is vital to motivate fellow colleagues, to collaborate, communicate the priorities and achieve common professional goals. If all these work well together, then the maximum potential for any team, organisation, family or individual, will be reached.

The Characteristics of a Great Leader
It is a fact that leadership doesn’t have a one size fits all solution, and there is no magic formula that will instantly make you a great leader. You need time, dedication, high work ethic and above all the ability to inspire and be inspired. 

In general, successful leaders are often credited with having high social intelligence, the ability to embrace change, inner resources such as self-awareness and self-mastery, and above all, the capacity to focus on the things that truly merit their attention. 

It can be said that it’s a leader’s responsibility to develop a vision for the people and institutions they direct. For example directing a business with many employees requires great skills of communication and human resource management in order to achieve a competitive advantage. It is vital, in every sector, to be ready to face the difficulties and deal with the consequences and the standards of contemporary industry.

Taking business as an example, the consultant Susan Ward has stated that “to be an effective leader in business, you must possess traits that extend beyond management duties”. The leadership – management dichotomy is emphasised almost everywhere. Despite these two terms having similar characteristics, the main difference between leaders and managers is that leaders emphasise innovation above all else.

In analysing the profile of a great and influential leader we concluded in the following characteristics: 

1. Resilience: Building a resilient mindset is often the missing link for leaders who want to continue being effective, but want to be exceptional too. Resilience is the key to dealing with professional challenges effectively and boosting leadership performance to thrive in your position and your sector. 

2. Courage: A leader needs to be able to stand alone and stand up for what they believe in. No matter the expected outcome, a leader must be mentally and psychologically strong to stay determined and focused, not succumb to negativity and pressure and have patience to keep going along difficult roads. 

3. Communication: Being able to communicate doesn’t just mean that you are able to produce the right words on the right occasions. It means that you can empathise with your team, your colleagues, or your supporters. A true leader uses communication to implement promises and push inspirational speeches into action in order to boost confidence and effective collaboration. 

4. Flexibility: Because in many cases not everything goes with the plan, it’s vital for a leader to be able to change tactics and quickly adapt to new circumstances and situations.

5. Responsibility:  The ability to admit something wrong you’ve done never comes easily. When there is blame to be accepted, a true leader feels responsible. But responsibility also means that the leader congratulates and sings the praises of those who really deserve it.

6. Humility and Presence: The level of presence is a quality that needs to be earned through the respect of your employees or colleagues, working hard and being honest at every step of the journey. Acting conceitedly usually causes dislike and disruption, resulting in a negative environment. That’s why it’s always important, as a leader, to stay humble but gain trust.

Apart from the characteristics that define a true leader there are some other behaviours that should be definitely avoided. When leaders put their personal vision ahead of ethics or practical realities, they put their positions and their organisations in jeopardy. The remedy, experts suggest, is creating cultures of openness and good communication skills are crucial at this part. 

All in all, to meet their goals leaders must lead by example, by motivating, inspiring and encouraging others. 

How Leadership skills are developed?

If you want to give your team, business or organisation a good start toward success, it has to start with leadership, and leadership has to start with you. Leadership is less about a strong or charismatic individual and more about a group of people working together to achieve results. That’s why the Center for Creative Leadership says that leadership is a journey — different teams, projects, situations, and organisations will require you to apply leadership skills in different ways. 

Besides being versatile and comfortable to implement leadership skills everywhere in your daily routine, there is also the great timeless question about leadership; is it inherited or acquired? Research has indicated that up to 30% of leader emergence has a genetic basis
(Aamodt, M. G., 2010). However, according to Forsyth (2009) there is evidence to show that leadership also develops through hard work and careful observation. 

Studies indicate that we are not sure about the level of leadership we can reach. Genetics appear to influence leadership ability, due to inherited personality traits, but environmental factors such as education and opportunity play a significant role as well.

If there is a great family and educational background for someone, combined with hard work, patience and attention to detail, then it’s almost certain that leadership skills will be quickly developed and a great leader can be born inside that person. 

Of course this doesn’t mean that someone more unlucky and without family, genetic or education privileges cannot be a leader. With high work ethic and alacrity, the leadership skills mentioned above can be acquired by anyone. 

Nowadays, researchers estimate that leadership is about a third born and two-thirds made. Some inborn traits such as extroversion, assertiveness, empathy, and social intelligence are important elements of leadership, but training, education, self-development, and experience are at least as important. Keep in mind that leadership skills can be learned, developed through hard work and patience, and leaders may evolve. 

Remember: leadership isn’t a destination — it’s something that you’ll have to work at regularly throughout your career, regardless of what level you reach in your profession, organisation or environment. Leadership is a journey! Are you ready to embark?