Scrabble tiles on yellow background spelling 'leadership'

What is leadership? What does leadership mean?

What is leadership and what does leadership mean? Leadership is a role that’s hard to define yet impossible to discount in any team.

Even when working in a group that shares the workload and responsibility, at least one of its members will naturally move to the front. Whether they’re leading discussions or just making sure every person gets their turn, leadership can emerge in lots of different ways.

But what does leadership mean? Can it be taught, or is it something you have to be born with? Team Academy can shed light on the complex role of leadership.

Why leadership is important

We all have the ability to know our own minds and make our own decisions, but there are times when we need a leader to help us. It’s easy to think of a leader as somebody who tells you what to do and where to go. This doesn’t need to be your approach to leadership, and we don’t believe it’s necessarily the best approach.

Leaders – good leaders – can exercise ‘soft’ influence just as effectively as they can give orders. Knowing how to manage a team in the workplace isn’t simply about delegating tasks. It’s about understanding the strengths of each individual and being able to balance these with their needs and their preferred work styles.

There are plenty of ways that we each need to assume leadership outside of the office – helping our kids function day to day, moderating as part of a friendship group who just can’t decide where to go for lunch – but in the workplace is where leadership arguably has the best place to shine. The difference in achievement between a business full of discord and a business staffed by people who have clearly defined leadership is night and day.

What skills does a leader have?

The skills necessary for a good leader aren’t going to be the exact same between any two examples. Context matters, and the patience needed for somebody leading in a customer service role might be more a hindrance for somebody running a hectic kitchen than it is a help.

That having been said, there are some common qualities and skills that a leader (should) have. These include:


Leaders need to understand where their team is emotionally, both as a collective group and in terms of the individuals. This helps a leader to share in the joy of victories, understand and diffuse points of friction, and anticipate how a change or challenge might make people feel before it happens.


There are plenty of times that work demands courage. Dealing with angry customers, for instance, can easily shake up anybody, especially when an attempt at peace and calm is met with rudeness and impatience. Leaders often need to meet challenges like these both to guide their colleagues through them and to model the appropriate behaviour so that they become learning experiences.


Humans don’t always work together perfectly, and both personal and professional gripes can cause problems in the workplace. Leaders need to be able to mediate these conflicts impartially, giving everybody their chance to be heard and understood. These arguments can rarely, if ever, be left to resolve themselves, and early intervention with a sensitive ear can make all the difference.


We think leaders are performing at their best when they carry a genuine love and care for what they do. It’s impossible to lead a team effectively if you’re indifferent to the outcome of anything they do and the quality of your collective work. Good leaders not only nurture the passion of their colleagues, but they also add it to their own and feed it back to their team.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Every leader has their own personal philosophy to their role just as you have yours. We believe that these are just some of the good qualities that every leader can benefit from.

How do you show leadership?

Leadership is shown by being willing to stand forward and take responsibility – for your team, for yourself, and for the work you all achieve together. Leadership is rarely taken on reluctantly, and you’ll find that the people who assume leadership roles do so willingly.

Showing leadership is the best proof that you deserve the job of being a leader. By proving you have what it takes, people will follow you far more willingly than if you try to force them to do as you say (especially if you’re not following your own rules).

Leaders should show as much as tell, and the best way to do this is by tackling your own work the way you expect everyone else to tackle theirs.

How to demonstrate leadership in the workplace

One thing’s for sure: don’t just start telling people how to do their job! It’s rarely appreciated, especially if somebody knows their role far better than you do.

Demonstrating leadership in the workplace might be as subtle as arranging a meeting to realign with other members of your team and discussing a new project. It doesn’t always need to be shown through big or grand gestures, and can be shown stronger through just being willing to share in your teammates’ problems and help them find solutions.

We believe that leaders should be able to demonstrate a great sense of self-awareness, and part of that is knowing when to push and when to take a step back. Being able to ‘read the room’ for the right response is an invaluable skill for leaders, and luckily, it’s something that can be taught.

How do leaders motivate staff?

Motivation can come in many forms, and some are more short-term than others.

Leaders might reach for simple motivations to help their team through the longer and tougher days. Bringing doughnuts into the office is sure to perk spirits up, but it’s ultimately a short-term gain. The temporary joy of a sugar boost won’t do much to combat deeper stresses in the workplace.

Long-term motivation takes harder work, and can’t be bought as easily as coffee and sweets! Leaders who want to see the farther-reaching effects of motivation need to listen to their team and understand what it is that drives them.

When you understand what your people aim to get from work (besides their payslips, of course) and support their goals and aspirations, that’s when you start to see organic motivation. Rewards are great, and they definitely have their place, but true motivation flourishes when leaders find ways to nurture it.

Motivation is important to keep up in a team as it dictates, essentially, just how much a person feels aligned with their work. This shouldn’t be mistaken for how much an individual wants and cares about their job; somebody can be in love with their role but still feel a fatal lack of motivation holding them back from being their best.

In this sense, leaders have the power – and the responsibility – to help keep their team on the right path and find ways to keep them energised. This is especially true through times of stress and the short, dark winter days that sap so much of our serotonin!

How do leaders influence others?

Influence is an interesting and important concept for leaders. It isn’t the same as control or power. Influence is generally softer, and is more like a domino effect. The choices you make as a leader might not seem to have an immediate effect, but they can influence the choices of others down the line.

This influence can be a slow-burn remedy for underlying problems within a workplace. Leaders who influence others through modelling positive behaviours and selfless traits will find these choices being mirrored over time, shifting the mood and trust for the better.

But in order to successfully influence others, leaders need to establish credibility. If a person in a position of authority says one thing and does another, others watching them will follow the actions and not the words. This is something we see on a huge scale with politicians in government when their choices cause trust to erode within the public.

Empowering leadership with Team Academy

What does leadership mean?

It means many things under a single word that some find daunting, but it can be learned. Not only can leadership be taught, but even long-experienced leaders can learn new skills and hone old ones.

At Team Academy, we used personalised leadership training to engage with our learners and understand their businesses. Once we have a firm grasp of your style and your goals, we can have some fun and make sure you leave feeling refreshed, confident, and ready to lead!

To find out more about our unique approach to training the leaders of today and tomorrow, contact us here.

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