In fact, there is some truth in each of the above statements. Most definitions of leadership boil down to the fact that a leader is a person who leads others by virtue of the fact that they have authority in their group. The idea of leadership, however, is different. Below, we discuss individuals in leadership roles ( institutional (organizational) refers to when a specific organization acts as a leader).

Nina Svitaylo and Daria Danilova, the authors of the manual “Youth leadership as a resource of the process of peaceful settlement and understanding,” explain that a leader not only participates in and directs in their specific field of expertise (e.g. politics, science, business), but they are also recognized by the general public as capable of making independent decisions on significant matters that may change social processes for the better or, at least, interrupt the negative dynamics. The recognition of authority by others is key in the perception of a certain person as a leader.

The Traits of a Leader

When we talk about leadership, we can talk about any sphere of life – study, work, leisure, personal and professional communication, etc. Across these different spheres, are there certain traits that define a leader? Of course. Let’s consider what such traits might be.

A leader has:

• confidence in oneself and in one’s decisions (only a person who believes in her/himself and in what she/he does can inspire others);

• ability to make complex decisions;

• willingness to take responsibility for their decisions and actions;

• ability to communicate effectively (not just by talking and explaining, but by reaching a mutual understanding with others, conducting a dialogue that leads to a result);

• ability to organize teamwork, assign roles in it;

• ability to lead people;

• purposefulness;

• ambition;

• personal charisma;

• ability to motivate others (by one’s own example, through an individual approach to team members that takes into consideration that, for example, one person may be motivated by approval, but another by financial incentives).

Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatsis and Annie McKee, authors of the book Emotional Leadership, talk in their work about the important role of emotional intelligence for a leader. They emphasize that the ability to understand and empathize helps, not hinders, in the process of managing a team. The main task of a leader is to “ignite” people, to make them ready for action. Thanks to emotional intelligence, a leader can direct collective emotions productively, create an atmosphere of friendliness, and mitigate against negative influences (especially in order to increase productivity). Additionally, the team is “charged” by the positive emotions of a leader, so staying optimistic and productive helps to pick up individuals within the team.

Formal and Informal Leadership

In most general terms, leadership can be divided into a formal and an informal style.

Formal leadership is the process of influencing people from a position of authority that results from the leader’s formal position in the organization/institution hierarchy.

Informal leadership means that the leader can influence the environment thanks to personal abilities, charisma or other resources.

In this context, we may ask whether a leader and a manager are the same? Our answer would be that these roles are somewhat similar, but there are significant differences between them as well.

The first difference is that a manager is officially appointed to a position, while a leader often emerges seemingly naturally by virtue of their authority, charisma and/or resources.

The second significant difference is that a leader is always a part of the team; she or he belongs to the group that she or he leads. By contrast, a manager may come from outside the team and thus may not be fully aware of the interests and motivations of the team members.

The third difference is that a manager is often limited to formal relationships with their subordinates, while a leader might more easily build strong interpersonal relationships with the team.

Of course, an official manager can also become a leader in his team, but in order for this change to take place, it is necessary for the manager to make an effort to establish such relationships.

Leadership Styles

A leadership style is a pattern of behavior used by a leader to communicate with her or his team. There are a number of different leadership styles. The character traits discussed above will be significant in determining which style a leader might use most often.

The book Emotional Leadership describes six approaches to leadership. Four are resonant (i.e. they increase work efficiency) – idealistic, educational, sociable, democratic - and two are dissonant (i.e. they reduce productivity) - ambitious and authoritarian. Let us consider each leadership style in greater detail.

  1. Ambitious style: This style often involves working overtime and can lead to professional burnout of employees. An ambitious leader sets a fast pace for the work, is demanding, expects that goals will be achievement at any cost, easily dismisses those who do not work efficiently enough.

  2. Authoritarian style: his is a fairly common leadership style, but such a leader rules through fear, which often leads to tensions and the formation of an unhealthy interpersonal and working environment in the team.

  3. Idealistic style: Such leaders lead the team toward a common goal. This is not a style of specific instructions, but rather of trends: the team understands where it is going. Members of such teams are autonomous in their actions; innovations and experiments are encouraged and well received.

  4. Learning style: The leader teaches, takes care of the constant training of the team, communicates a lot with team members, there is constant analysis of what has been done. This is not constant control by the leader, but rather an ongoing learning process.

  5. Democratic style: When making decisions, the leader listens to everyone. In such a team, people feel that their opinions matter; however, this style is not suitable for all decisions. In particular, this approach is not effective when a team needs to act quickly.

  6. Sociable style: The essence of this style is that, thanks to the influence of leadership, a friendly atmosphere is created in the team, where everyone knows each other and cooperates. Such a team is united and team members trust each other.

To summarize - leadership is not a position, but a set of qualities and skills. Not everyone has strong leadership potential, but a leader can be nurtured, and his or her capabilities expanded. It is crucial for the leader to have the desire for and an understanding of why they want to increase his or her leadership potential.

Illustration: Jason Goodman, Unsplash open source