What is Leadership? Definition, Skills, Importance, Difference Between Leader and Manager

What is Leadership?

Leadership is the ability of an individual to persuade other individuals to behave in a particular way, willingly. It is the process of influencing individuals to work to achieve a desired result. Leadership involves developing and communicating a vision for the unforeseen future, encouraging other individuals, and assuring their involvement in the achievement of an objective.

“Leaders are individuals who establish direction for a working group of individuals who gain commitment from these group of members to this direction and who then motivate these members to achieve the direction’s outcomes.” -Conger, J.A. ‘Learning to Lead’ San Francisco: Jossey-Bass (1992, p18)

Leaders are able to define and achieve challenging targets by motivating others for their accomplishments. He/she is able to take immediate yet effective decisions in difficult situations. Leaders attempt to outperform their competitors, take calculated risks, and persist during times of failure. Also, leaders are futuristic and have strong communication skills, confidence, the ability to manage others, and a willingness to embrace changes.

In organizations, leadership entails motivating employees to do their jobs using the skills and commitment that are required for the attainment of desired results. This requires leaders to have efficient people skills, so that they can cope with other individuals.

People skills refer to the various attributes and competencies that enable an individual to work with other individuals. Leaders should possess certain people skills for efficient leadership.

Leadership Skills

Let us discuss the people skills leaders should possess:

Assertive Skills

Effective leadership requires the ability to assert how individuals behave in certain situations as objectively as possible. Leaders should be able to use their assertive skills to identify the reasons for individual behavior in a particular situation to interact with them, empathetically.

A leader’s assertive skill not only helps in emphasizing his/her rights but also helps in maintaining a positive professional relationship with other individuals.

For example, an employee who habitually arrives late to the office needs to be communicated with the same. An assertive manager would tend to empathize by saying, “We are supposed to be at work by 9:00 A.M. and it is already 10:50 A.M. Was there some problem?” instead of being rude and using words such as, “You’re always late!”

Communication Skills

Leaders should develop strategies to communicate their ideas and views effectively. Communication skills help in the exchange of ideas that lead to problem-solving and decision-making, both of which are required for efficient leadership.

For example, while introducing a new idea to followers, leaders should communicate the benefits that favor the followers to persuade them.

Motivation Skills

Communication alone may not encourage people to follow a leader. Individuals are interested in knowing the benefits that a certain decision or strategy offers to them. That is when the motivational skills of a leader are required to highlight the incentives of accomplishing a task.

For example, a captain of a cricket team motivates his/her teammates to introspect about their performance in case of failure, so that they can play and perform better in the future.

Adaptive Skills

An efficient leader is aware that no two individuals are the same, and they do not have the same needs. Therefore, leadership requires having adaptive skills to adjust communication and motivation techniques while meeting an individual’s needs.

For example, two team members in a manager’s team are completely different in nature. While one is an aggressive career person, the other is a sensitive family-oriented person. Here, the manager has to use different approaches to motivate or communicate with both team members.

Importance of Leadership

Effective leaders constantly motivate employees to work towards the accomplishment of immediate goals as well as innovation through new ideas. A good leader should be able to set an example for others to follow.

He/she must be able to inspire, motivate, and provide clear directions to other individuals. Leadership provides many advantages to an organization, leading to the achievement of success and stability. The absence of effective leadership often slows down the growth of an organization, because employees tend to lose direction and competitiveness.

Some reasons why leadership is important to organizational development are as follows:

Leadership Provides Clear Vision

Leaders communicate a clear vision to employees of an organization by presenting the bigger picture. They are the connection between the organization and the employee. Thus, employees remain focused on the organizational direction and do not stray from their roles and responsibilities.

For example, before starting a new project, a manager presents the goals and organizational benefits of the project to his/ her team members.

Leadership Leads to Effective Planning

Leaders provide a structured approach to generate a plan of action to achieve organizational goals. Planning helps employees identify, contribute to, and understand their roles in achieving defined objectives. For example, when a new project starts, a manager defines the role of each team member.

Leaders Inspire and Motivate

If a leader shows commitment and enthusiasm towards organizational goals, he/she provides inspiration and motivation for employees to perform at a high level. For example, a manager always reaches work on time to set an example of punctuality.

Leaders Build Employee Morale

High-employee morale signifies the wilful dedication of employees toward their work. Leaders build employee morale to maintain that dedication. This helps in encouraging employees to perform with perseverance as they work to achieve their goals.

For example, a manager constantly participates in the team’s activities and is involved in every problem, which sends the message that he/she is always there for his/her team members.

Leaders Encourage New Ideas

Leaders encourage employees to contribute and discuss new ideas and innovative techniques by creating a positive environment. This helps in using employees’ diverse experiences and ideas to improve business.

For example, a manager holds brainstorming sessions with his/her team members before launching a new project.

Leaders Improve Employee-organisation Relationship

An effective relationship between a leader and the employees in an organization validates that employees are considered valuable and integral to the organization. This creates a sense of ownership among employees and builds a favorable relationship between employees and the organization.

For example, a manager gives due credit to team members who have put in extra effort in a project.

Leaders Help in the Management of Crisis

Leadership helps in motivating employees to remain focused during a crisis. During difficult times, leaders can remind employees of their achievements and encourage them to define achievable goals.

For example, during unforeseen project delays, a manager discusses a new delivery plan with his/her team members.

Difference Between Leader and Manager

Following are the key difference between leader and manager:

Managers Influence While Leaders Inspire

Management comprises controlling individuals to accomplish a goal, whereas leadership involves influencing, motivating, and enabling other individuals to contribute to the attainment of an objective.

For example, a leader inspires millions of individuals to participate in a revolution, but the person who arranges the tasks involved in the revolution handles the media, etc. is the manager.

Managers Create Circles of Power While Leaders Create Circles of Influence

Managers have subordinates who help in carrying out the instructions laid down by the manager. On the other hand, leaders usually have followers, who are motivated by the leader to perform.

For example, Nelson Mandela created a powerful position through his relentless pursuit of racial equality and economic prosperity. He influenced millions of people with the help of this power.

Managers Work to Achieve a Given Objective, While Leaders Create Targets for the Future

Managers influence subordinates to accomplish an identified target. However, leaders are futuristic in their approach and inspire individuals to accomplish revolutionary ideas. For example, Tata Nano, the cheapest car in the world is an example of Ratan Tata’s revolutionary and futuristic thinking.

It is his managers, however, who would have carried out this vision by planning tasks, defining roles, and communicating with the employees involved is his managers, however, who would have carried out this vision by planning tasks, defining roles, and communicating with the employees involved.

Therefore, leaders direct, encourage, motivate, and inspire individuals to achieve organizational success. On the other hand, managers coordinate individuals’ efforts and allocate resources to maximize efficiency in achieving identified goals.

The table shows the main points of differences in the characteristics of leadership and management

Leadership CharacteristicsManagement Characteristics
Strategic and people-oriented focusTactical and organizational focus
Setting of organizational direction and goalsPlanning coordinated activities
Motivating and inspiring peopleAdministering systems
Establishing principlesFormulating policies
Building a team and developing talentAllocating and supporting human resources
Developing new opportunitiesSolving logistical problems
Promoting innovation and inventionEnsuring conformance to standards
and procedures
Empowering and mentoring peopleInstructing and directing people
Risk engagement and instigation of changeManagement and containment of risks
Long-term, high-level perspectiveShort-term, detailed perspective
Difference Between Leader and Manager

Pitfalls in Leadership

Leadership is similar to navigating a boat rather than steering it. It requires determining the direction and speed of the boat, asserting the weather, monitoring the depth of the sea, planning the halts, and the final destination.

Even with the most planned courses of action, the captain of a boat requires to make midcourse adjustments because of unforeseen circumstances. Leadership requires similar actions. An effective leader is aware that pitfalls appear mid-course and needs to be prepared to overcome them.

Let us discuss the pitfalls in leadership:

Personal Pitfalls

Several obstacles may appear in the way of initiatives taken by a leader. For example, individuals in disagreement may cause obstructions for a leader. A leader should be prepared to face difficult times and continue to persuade and motivate others.

A leader can face or be involved in the following personal pitfalls:


This is one of the major personal pitfalls faced by a leader. For example, a leader works to direct an organization by taking several initiatives. However, in the midst of new initiatives, prior initiatives are left behind. In such a situation, people associated with the prior initiatives experience a sense of loss and attempt to make it a personal issue for the leader.

Leaders need to be prepared to face such situations. Criticism should be handled by the leader keeping in view the role he/she has without being personal.


A personal pitfall in leadership may also arise if leaders become dictatorial in their approach rather than collaborative. Such leaders may tend to keep their personal objectives above those of their followers and lay unrealistic targets for them. A leader should collaborate with one and all to yield the outcomes of an initiative.

Role Confusion

A leader’s role is to serve others and work for their welfare. However, in their passion to accomplish a task, leaders often ignore the other individuals associated with him/her. For example, a manager who neglects his employees’ work capacities in his passion to be the top performer is a leader who confuses passion with purpose.

Organizational Pitfalls

Sometimes, leaders do not understand the culture of the organization he/she is associated with, thereby not realizing the goals and objectives of the organization. The rules and principles driving an organization should be well-versed by a leader to understand the ramifications of not abiding by them.

A leader who misses comprehending the cultural clues may face obstructions in leading the organization toward a new direction. For example, an organization that focuses on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) hires a new manager who tends to ignore CSR in his decisions. Such a manager may not be able to lead employees in the long run.

Another common organizational pitfall is experiencing changes in leadership. It can be challenging when an organization’s founding leader changes. People in the organization are committed to the previous leader and may resist the new leader.

The new leader should view this as a developmental process and attempt to win the trust of the people. Consider an organization whose CEO has been replaced with a new one. Employees may not be inclined towards the new CEO owing to their faith and liking for the former CEO.

Environmental Pitfalls

Organizations and their external environment change constantly. These changes can be legislative, social and political, economic, etc. Organizations need to respond to these changes by adopting new policies and plans. New services or products may need to be developed to overcome competition. Budget restructuring, the merging of departments, etc. are a few examples of organizational responses to external influences.

Depending on the external influence, a leader needs to bring about changes in his/her strategies and work procedures. It can be challenging to keep employees motivated during times of crisis or change. A leader should set an example by leading the team through the change and inspiring others to follow suit.


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