What Defines Leadership?

Ben Roulston

By Ben Roulston, Thinka Co-founder,
23 February 2024

When someone is described as a good leader, what comes to mind?

Answering this question in a sentence or two is no easy feat, and undoubtedly, you’ll find different opinions depending on who you ask.

Googling the question “what is the best definition of leadership?” will throw up answers such as:

  • Leading a group of people or an organisation
  • The state or position of being a leader, and;
  • The ability to influence and guide followers.

While these definitions might be correct to some extent, those who have been in leadership positions know that there’s so much more to it than this. In essence, an effective leader adopts a ‘growth mindset’ and continually works on developing leadership skills like communication, promoting diversity and inclusion, providing feedback, coaching and more.

Why leadership can be learned

A true leader is never someone who dominates, micro-manages or controls those in their charge. This is the exact opposite of what leadership is – with its emphasis on developing people, team engagement, and achieving shared goals. While there might be certain leadership qualities good leaders share, all people have the ability to learn leadership skills and put them into practice.


Explore more on leadership

Leadership styles capture the ways in which we can influence others to action and achieve goals – each with a slightly different philosophy. These styles are made up of skills and qualities that are unique to each person. This demonstrates that there isn’t one right way to lead but different ways that can work for a range of people and personalities.

Leadership styles

Not sure about the key characteristics that belong to different leadership styles? Read on as we explain each leadership style and what their benefits are.

So, what is a leadership style exactly? If we’re getting down to it, a leadership style describes the particular way you carry out your leadership role and interact with others. This has a lot to do with your strengths, personality, and the way you communicate.

The key to improving your own leadership style comes from knowing how you lead, what areas you’re strongest in, and what areas need to be managed or worked on.

While leadership styles aren’t black and white (they’re often influenced by personality, behavioural traits, depth of experience and more), here are five examples of well-known leadership styles.


Leadership Styles


1. Authentic Leadership

Those who lead authentically generally have a positive impact on those around them. According to research done by the Harvard Business Review, a large proportion of employees believe that authentic leadership contributes to:

  • Closer connections with colleagues
  • Openness and transparency
  • A sense of meaning in their work
  • Higher levels of trust.

So, what are the main characteristics of an authentic leadership style?

They Practise What They Preach

Authentic leaders say what they mean and follow through on what they’ve promised. They know that a leader who talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk isn’t going to gain trust, and an authentic leader’s currency is trust.

They’re Always Looking to Better Themselves

Learning from mistakes and understanding how to do better is a key attribute of authentic leaders. They don’t pretend to have all the answers, but they’ll seek them out. This approach helps to facilitate honest communication in teams – as these leaders role model the idea that there’s always room to improve, no matter who you are in the business.

They’re Driven by The Big Picture

While a lot of busy work happens in the day to day, authentic leaders don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. They can course correct and steer their team members towards a goal, facilitating open conversations when things don’t go to plan.

They’re on a Mission to Inspire Others

An authentic leader understands what motivates and drives each of their team members. They take the time to get to know each individual – who they are and how they work – to maximise their strengths and get the best out of them.


2. Servant Leadership

Those who opt for a servant leadership style turn the idea of ‘managing those beneath you’ on its head. Instead, the goal of a servant leader is to serve those in their charge. It breaks the traditional power model and means leaders are more likely to ask questions and offer support instead of ‘commanding and controlling’ team members.

Adopting a servant leadership style generally leads to:

  • Empowered teams who don’t feel micro-managed
  • Team members who feel supported
  • Communication that flows easily
  • Shared responsibility.

Leaders who choose this leadership style are:

Focussed on Employee Development

They continually check in, asking those in their charge for their thoughts, ideas and perspectives. They put in extra effort to leverage the strengths of team members, to help them reach their career goals.

Comfortable with Delegating

A servant leader will step back and allow others in their team to take full ownership of their work and results. They signal trust by offering autonomy but are well known for always being there to support, when they are needed.

Known for Their Sense of Humility

Servant leaders don’t think they’re better than anyone else just because they hold a leadership position. They are slow to judge and prefer an open and honest communication style – speaking to team members on their level – to help them learn and take constructive action.


3. Transformational Leadership

Transformational leadership refers to leaders who inspire those in their charge to reach the highest levels of performance. They empower teams to contribute to building a positive workplace culture and find purpose in their work. Basically, these leaders have quit micro-managing and, instead, offer team members the autonomy to manage their own projects, workloads and results.

This is achieved through role modelling and trust and leads to:

  • Greater productivity
  • Original, creative solutions
  • Ownership over results
  • Positive workplace culture.

The main characteristics of those who take on a transformational leadership style are:

They Encourage Personal Motivation

Transformational leaders foster an environment that helps team members tap into their intrinsic motivations – to find meaning in the work they’re doing. In connecting people to their motivations, leaders elicit higher levels of performance and work quality.

They Value Authenticity and Open Communication

Transformational leaders believe that team members have the right to self-manage their work, as long as the work is of high quality and completed on time. Being authentic and maintaining open communication are key for transformational leaders.

They ‘Get Out of the Way’

While transformational leaders are on hand to provide mentorship and coaching, they allow (and strongly encourage) team members to make their own decisions and take ownership of their work and results.


4. Charismatic Leadership

If you’ve had a charismatic leader, you’ll know that these visionaries have the ability to inspire, influence and captivate others. They have mastered the art of storytelling and are compelling communicators. Charismatic leaders will spend a lot of time and energy getting the best work out of their team members, making the impossible seem possible.

This highly effective approach often results in:

  • Inspired people across all levels
  • A shared belief in the vision
  • Energy and motivation
  • A sense of belonging.

These characteristics are typical of someone with a charismatic leadership style:

They’re Emotive and Empathetic

To get the most out of their team members, charismatic leaders ‘read the room’ and tap into people’s emotions to understand what drives them. They are also likely empathetic, navigating sensitive issues as they arise.

They’re Strong Communicators

With a charismatic leader, you know what you’re going to get. They’re well spoken and have a way with words that can engage all levels of business. When they speak, people listen.

They’re Usually Risk Takers

Out of the box thinkers, charismatic leaders will test ideas until something sticks. They aren’t afraid of taking the team on a road-trip to inspire new thinking or trial an intern’s suggestion – they like pioneering new ideas and ways of doing things.


5. Situational Leadership

Those who adopt a situational leadership approach manage in a way that’s appropriate for each situation they’re in. The style can look different, depending on the task or project, team member issue, or broader business circumstance. Situational leaders tap into coaching, delegating, supporting and directing styles – turning them on and off when needed.

Situational leadership is said to:

  • Offer increased empowerment to employees
  • Foster a democratic environment
  • Promote flexibility
  • Improve productivity.

Those who adopt a situational leadership style usually have the following characteristics:

They Work with Flexibility

Situational leaders lean into flexibility, using a style that’s going to best serve their team and the task at hand. For example, they know that when the team is struggling to move into action, a ‘directing or delegating’ style would be best but if they’re supporting a high performer to stretch, a ‘coaching or supporting’ style would be more appropriate.

They’re Active Listeners

As situations throw different challenges their way, this type of leader is patient, actively listens, and takes time to understand their team’s pain points.

They have a Sense of Direction

Situational leaders have a good gauge of what the ‘bigger picture’ looks like at all times. Their clear sense of direction helps to keep everyone on track – as they can guide the team to the end goal, no matter the situation.

Leadership skills

When looking to become a strong leader, what skills are required to achieve success?

Leadership skills are in high demand, but not everyone has mastered this set of human (soft) skills. While some leaders might grasp these skills pretty quickly, most leaders need to put effort into learning them.

In training leaders in organisations right around Australia, Thinka has found five leadership skills that made a big different to a leader’s success.


1. Inclusion

Progressive leaders know that diversity and inclusion is vital to the sustainability of an organisation, and they embrace it. Inclusive leaders welcome a range of unique perspectives, check their biases and challenge outdated systems and processes. This inclusive leadership style creates a sense of belonging and promotes a healthy, thriving workplace culture.

Continue learning. What to learn more on inclusive leadership? Why not watch our informative video?


2. Coaching

Coaching is a leadership skill that helps leaders build constructive relationships with team members – so they can keep ‘steering the ship in the right direction’.  Without a leader that’s skilled in the art of effective coaching, team members often find it harder to tackle difficult challenges and develop their own professional skills.

Interested in learning about the six different coaching styles? Watch the short clip below to find out more.


3. Feedback

Without mastering the art of providing balanced feedback, leaders aren’t getting the most out of their teams. Team members can become lost, complacent and disengaged, if they’re not given feedback on what they’re doing both right and wrong. Providing timely and specific feedback helps team members course-correct and make constructive changes.

Want to learn how to provide helpful feedback? Check out the video below.


4. Assertiveness

Having an assertive leader provides team members with the assurance that ‘their word is their word’. Teams have good guiderails when they know what’s tolerated and what’s expected. Assertiveness is a balancing act and great leaders should master this skill by always looking for the win-win in every situation, without being too rigid or too soft.

Watch this short video on the ‘Four Communication Styles’, so you can see how to grow skills in assertiveness.


5. Influence

Influential leaders are skilled in moving others towards action to achieve goals. Influencing involves the use of both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ tactics to encourage team members to move forward. This skill needs to be underpinned by trust, as this is what drives high performance and success in teams.

Want to build your influencing skills? Why not watch the video below?

Leadership qualities

Effective leaders often share qualities or characteristics and can adapt well in a variety of situations.

Pinpointing the exact qualities of an effective leader isn’t always easy. At Thinka, we’ve trained a lot of leaders, and while we focus more on capability and skill development, we’ve found that effective leaders often share these qualities.

6 Qualities of an Effective Leader

1. Integrity

While it’s sometimes hard to ‘measure’ integrity, this leadership quality is the ultimate trust-builder between leaders and teams. By ‘practising what you preach’ and role modelling what you expect, you earn the respect of team members and peers. Leaders who showcase this quality always give credit where credit is due, learn from their mistakes, and show considerable self-awareness.

2. Honesty

Honesty really is the best policy when it comes to leadership. Leaders who provide balanced feedback to encourage and develop (not bully or belittle) team members build healthier relationships. Honesty breeds honesty and if this quality is demonstrated in a leader, then it helps team members feel safe to share their opinions, ideas and reflections – opening up deeper and richer conversations.

3. Transparency

Transparency should be high on any leader’s list. Leaders who share information, don’t conceal facts, and continually check their biases, earn respect from team members. Even when it’s not always pleasant, a leader who can open up discussions about critical issues, will elicit higher performance from team members and achieve better business outcomes.

4. Vision

Everybody wants to learn from a leader who has a compelling vision, sees the bigger picture, and can inspire and push a team to achieve goals. Visionary leaders provide clear direction, set the pace and believe anything is possible – even when others don’t think so. A visionary leader continually lifts people up and offers sound advice to help team members move forward – always with a focus on the goal.

5. Self-awareness

A leader who doesn’t understand their own strengths and weaknesses can compromise team success. While leaders still make mistakes, have strong feelings and aren’t always going to get it right – the mark of a good leader is the ability to be self-aware enough in these moments to regulate. Leaders need to hold themselves accountable, learn the ‘hard lessons’ and find solutions, while continuing to support the team. Self-aware leaders are always on a mission to evolve.

6. Empathy

Empathy is the ability to offer support based on what the other person is feeling and experiencing, even if you don’t 100% understand their situation. An empathetic leader is curious and seeks to understand others and provides a safe team culture for people to feel like they can be themselves. Leaders who possess this quality welcome different perspectives, listen deeply and ask questions to elicit understanding.

Get in Touch

Got some questions about leadership or simply want to know how Thinka can help your organisation? Reach out to our friendly team today.