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  1. Blog
  2. Management

What Does Leadership Mean? 7 Leaders Weigh In

Follow the leader

Woman leader smiling
Photo courtesy of Brooke Cagle

Leadership is a skill that anyone can practice. But what does leadership mean beyond the dictionary definition? Strong leadership means having a clear, compelling vision, inspiring your team members to set and reach goals that align with your vision, and creating a cohesive, respectful, inclusive work environment.

Learn from leaders in a variety of industries what leadership means to them, the seven types of leadership, qualities of a good leader, and the benefits of having strong leadership. 

Read more: 4 Leadership Roles Every Great Manager Should Improve

What does leadership mean?

In order to paint a full picture of what leadership means, we asked leaders in a variety of roles and industries to share what leadership means to them personally. 

Leadership means championing your employees’ individuality

“It isn’t about telling people how to do their job. Leadership is about recognizing the unique qualities a person has and then identifying where they can use them to make a difference. I have always been helped most by leaders who have looked at me as an individual and considered me as a whole person when helping me develop professionally, rather than trying to shoehorn me into an existing mold. Real leaders let their people shine.” —Kelsey Locotos, Senior People Operations Manager, Alley

“John Maxwell said, ‘Leadership is not about titles, positions, or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another.’ We're all called to step into the role of leader. In the context of the workplace, great leaders are those who create an environment where relationships can flourish and every individual can be at their best—all while working together to achieve great things with clarity of purpose and values.” —Polina Panich, Head of People, InfoTrust

“Leadership is dynamic. Leaders possess the expertise to assess one’s unique abilities, areas of development, motivators, and aspirations both personally and professionally. Utilizing this information to assist individuals to realize their fullest potential. Great leaders are often great communicators that can convey a complex strategy into smaller steps so that anyone can operate with. Lastly, leaders beget other leaders. True leaders coach and develop upcoming leaders by giving them opportunities to showcase their skills.” —Britt Erler, Senior Director Marketing Operations & Planning, Markforged

Leadership means taking responsibility and being vulnerable

“To me, leadership is knowing when to project stability, and when to model vulnerability. After all, how can you claim to ‘bring your whole self to work,’ if you're not also willing to share the details of a mistake, or announce that you're taking a mental health day? If your team sees you going through the same challenges they face, they will be more open with you in return.” —Aaron Sarazan, Vice President of Engineering, Volley

“For me, leadership means that you can lift up others around you and bring hope to the team. You set common goals that everyone can follow and then support others to be effective and bring out their true greatness. As a leader, you take responsibility for the results and don’t give up until goals are hit. You don’t complain or grumble, you do look after yourself and you always see the bright light on the horizon (even when it's dark).” —Kulsoom Jeffreys, Head of Projects, Inshur

Leadership means embracing teamwork to reach a common goal

“For me, leadership is less about "leading" and more about guiding, supporting, encouraging, listening, and developing. It's about caring for people and being there when they need you, rather than when you need them. As a leader, I want to be your biggest fan, your coach, and your partner. I want to help you to be your best self.” —Britta Schellenberg, VP Marketing, Robin Powered

“Showing up—in order to lead, you have to show up, do the hard work, be willing to work through the tough situations, and also enjoy the wins, big and small. Leading by example—setting a good example is key to leadership as people often follow your cue. A tenant of that is being a good person. Development—focusing on team development, whether tools, strategies, or resilience, is key for successful leadership.” —Rhea Loney, VP, Compliance, Penn Interactive

7 types of leadership

Your leadership style depends on your skills, experience level, personality, industry, and so on. Here are seven common leadership styles and what they entail. 

1. Autocratic

Autocratic leaders focus on increasing results and efficiency. These leaders usually call the shots themselves or make decisions with a small trusted circle, and expect the rest of their employees to follow suit and do exactly what they’re told. It’s a rigid style that can stifle creativity and autonomy, so it’s most useful in organizations with strict guidelines. 

2. Democratic

Democratic or participative leadership styles are common in creative, innovative industries. It’s a very collaborative style in which leaders frequently ask for input and feedback before making decisions. Because team members feel their voice is heard, this leadership style is often credited with empowering employees, but can run into issues if it becomes too time-consuming.

Read more: Participative Leadership: Democracy in Action in the Workplace

3. Bureaucratic

Under the bureaucratic leadership style, each employee has a clearly defined role in the hierarchy and there’s very little creative collaboration or collective brainstorming. Although it speeds up efficiency, it can feel restricting to some employees. This style is most effective in highly regulated industries like finance, health care, or government. 

4. Visionary

Visionary leaders are bold innovators. They’re risk-takers who thrive off sharing new ideas to inspire their organization. As influencers, they unite their teams around a big picture project, and dedicate their time to building positive relationships. The visionary style is especially helpful for small fast-growing startups, or larger organizations going through restructuring or acquisitions.

5. Coaching

Coaching leaders are incredibly self-aware, which helps them to assess their employees’ strengths, weaknesses, and motivations. This type of leader provides regular feedback, often asking challenging questions since they view learning and trial by error as the keys to growth and career advancement. Often, they’ll push their teams to set SMART goals and take on more challenging assignments outside of their comfort zone. 

6. Transactional

Transactional leaders are laser-focused on reaching goals, and in order to emphasize the importance of performance to their teams, they often set incentives and rewards for employees who are successful. It’s the perfect style for an industry like sales where there are a lot of important short-term goals to reach, but can quickly spiral into micromanagement if not kept in check. 

7. Laissez-faire

Laissez-faire leaders are more laid back than the others. They prefer to take a hands off approach, delegating tasks to their team members and trusting them to get things done. This is a good approach if a team is more experienced and doesn’t need much hand-holding. 

Read more: 12 Female Leadership Books to Pump You Up

Qualities of a good leader

No two leaders are the same, but there are certainly qualities that all good leaders share, regardless of their management style. 


Empathetic leaders are better able to help their people cope with workplace stress. Research shows that empaths are more effective at motivating and leading employees, and their followers experience less stress and physical symptoms. 


Even with a big picture in mind, leaders have to remain open-minded and flexible when it comes to crossing the finish line of a big project or goal. Good leaders listen to ideas from their subordinates and don’t assume that they always know best. 

Good communication

Leaders have to communicate with a wide variety of people across roles, geographies, identities, and sometimes languages, and have to do so confidently, clearly, and respectfully. Being a good communicator also means being a good listener and paying attention to non-verbal body language. 


Leaders are no strangers to being put on the spot and having to come up with solutions under pressure. When facing a strict project deadline or time-sensitive response to a client, good leaders are able to make swift decisions using all of the information they have at their disposal. They’re able to weigh the interests of everyone involved in a decision and make the final call. 


Good leaders stand for something. They have strong morals and beliefs and use them to guide and inspire their team to achieve a common goal. It’s about looking to the long-term, but brainstorming short-term solutions to get there. 

Read more: 14 Best Leadership Books for Making an Impact & Inspiring Your Teams

Benefits of having strong leadership

Being a strong leader is a fun job. And in order for a workplace to thrive, influential leadership has to be a top priority. Here’s what strong leadership means. 

Your team is able to work and prosper through challenges

Change—whether expected or unexpected—can be a make or break test for your organization. But when your employees are motivated by you, feel supported, and work well together as a unit, they’re more likely to face challenges and instability with a can-do attitude. If your team doesn’t have a strong leader, they’re going to be more likely to crack under pressure and succumb to giving up.

Your organization continues to grow and thrive

Even the best companies experience setbacks, but great leaders see opportunities where others don’t, and know how to respond to hurdles. Because of this, successful leaders impact the bottom line and generate growth. Strong leaders experience increases in revenue, more market and industry share, positive relationships with customers, and they attract top talent. As workers witness growth firsthand, they’ll take pride in their work and strive to continue being a productive, valuable team member. 

The next generation of leaders are trained

What does strong leadership mean? It means that your current employees have a role model to look up to and emulate, and you’re effectively training the next generation of leaders who might ultimately step into your shoes in the future. Don’t take the job lightly, and empower them to do what’s right. Not sure how to start inspiring? Follow the footsteps of these women thought leaders.

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