What Is Leadership? Principles, Qualities, Books And More

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Before we start trying to define leadership, there is a phrase that can give us an idea of how leadership works. J.K Rowling in her book Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets, states through Albus Dumbledore the following “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we are, far more than our abilities” (8).

We would define leadership as an individual’s ability to evaluate and manage his or her environment, his or her well-being, knowing his or her team, and their worth. Thus encouraging the execution of tasks, which will achieve a common goal.


  • Leadership depends in its totality on the group, but certain characteristics prevail individually being identifiable as the key piece of the group that becomes the leader.
  • The principles are there to model the behavior of individuals in every situation, and in leadership, they fulfill transcendental functions.
  • The individual members of the group are as important as the leader, and they must be treated with mutual respect, understanding, development, and learning for efficient work.

Breaking down leadership

Previously, it was suggested that leaders were born with the skills to lead. However, recent studies indicate that leadership is developed and nurtured to be executed efficiently, without necessarily being born with certain communication skills, e.g. (1).

Leadership, on the other hand, depends entirely on the group, and it would be wrong to focus all attention on the role of the leader. Therefore, it is essential to understand the term leadership holistically but to consider each of the parts that structure it.

Relevance of leadership

Over the years, leadership has enabled the creation and positioning of empires, political and religious ideologies, as well as industrial revolutions. There are also an infinite number of movements that have generated a great impact on society as a result of leadership.

Leadership is based on making available to others the knowledge and tools that the leader possesses to encourage individuals to develop. Being a leader, any individual who during a period of time possesses the best skills for the achievement of the proposed goal (3).

Principles of leadership

Every system must have an order and therefore there must be a framework that shapes that system for the benefit of everyone in it. Principles allow that functioning to be carried out efficiently, by means of universal rules or laws. In leadership, there are also principles that provide the right environment for its execution.

Levels Principles
Personal To promote self-knowledge, to understand one’s own virtues and defects in order to make the right decisions.
Interpersonal Fostering relationships with others, building trust, empathy and mutual respect.
Management Developing the ideal environment for the achievement of the objectives, having the necessary competencies to do the job, identifying the skills of the individuals, etc.
Organisational Generar un sistema que permita conformar grupos eficientes de individuos aptos, a través de sus cualidades, así como la continua formación de cada miembro, como estrategia para el logro de los objetivos.

The structure of the principles previously exposed in the table was established by Stephen R. Covey (2). It seemed to us that it encompasses in a homogeneous way what these principles are, how, where, and on whom they are fulfilled within leadership.

The characteristics of leadership

In order to perform good leadership, it is necessary to foster a healthy environment, which provides the ideal channels and allows for achieving the established objectives. It is necessary that the individual who plays the role of leader possesses certain characteristics, conferring greater effectiveness in his performance.

Certainly, there will be individuals for whom some of the required characteristics will be qualities that they already possess naturally. However, each of the characteristics must also be developed and improved over time in the field of activities.

  1. Emotional maturity: functional leadership is developed in an environment where there are mechanisms to act assertively in different situations that may arise. Reasonable decisions are made, as well as the appropriate management of emotions and responsibility for one’s own actions.
  2. Confidence: self-confidence will allow adequate reasoning and performance during the process. Trust in team members establishes a more solid and valuable relationship.
  3. Dynamism: leadership is not an invariable style, on the contrary, it is important that it is mouldable based on the different situations and people that interfere.
  4. Communication skills: leadership is developed thanks to the presence of a group of people working towards a common goal. Therefore, it is essential to have stable and efficient communication skills.
  5. Planning: the achievement of the objectives must be preceded by correct planning where each member of the team is taken into consideration. Also, as the possible circumstances that will occur, and the resources to be used to achieve the established goal.
  6. Creativity: having the ability to innovate and take risks in order to reach the goal is a relevant factor since the leadership path is not usually linear.
  7. Empathy: people have different ways of understanding situations, and each one has its own path in life, with its good and bad. Understanding that these factors interfere in the process of reaching the goal, allows understanding, support, and help to anyone who requires it.
  8. Learning: it is crucial in the leadership process to develop a constant learning process that increases the skills, abilities, and knowledge of the members. Thus creating more capable individuals who provide a collective but also a personal benefit.
  9. Model: the existence of a role model invites the people around the individual exercising leadership to be motivated and adopt certain attitudes that the leader demonstrates. Therefore, being fully aware of and responsible for the actions taken is part of being a good leader.
  10. Mistake: knowing that mistakes are natural and knowing assertive ways to handle them allows for individual and collective learning. Being kind in the face of mistakes allows for greater benefits than dealing with them in an aggressive and unreasonable manner.
Leadership depends on the group as a whole, but certain characteristics prevail individually and are identifiable as the key part of the group that becomes the leader. (Source: GitNux)

Leadership through its history

The evolution of leadership has been on track throughout history since the beginning of our existence as a species. Although in its beginnings it was more a matter of survival, nowadays we know that it encompasses a set of factors for its correct management.

Based on study (4) we can build in a visual and simplified way how leadership has been transformed through time, reflection, criticism, and continuous correction. In this way, it is demonstrated that leadership goes from being an accumulation of natural qualities or technical knowledge to a process of personal, social, cultural, etc. growth.

Context Contribution
Seniority Creation of tools and strategies for survival. Development of empires, doctrines, new sciences, laws, administration and trade.
Militia Levels of command, strategic plans, teamwork, achievement of common objectives. Resource utilisation and training, knowledge development, task distribution, decision making and risk assessment.
Religion Authority over kingdoms, execution of policies and laws, indoctrination, influence in every sector of society.
The Middle Ages Royal leadership, slavery, reinvention and strengthening of trade and production through crafts and family businesses.
Industrial revolutions Creation of industries through the mechanisation process, aligning objectives, resources and personnel to a common goal. Growing labour sector, labour contracts, consolidated companies and leaders in constant training, valorisation of individuals with emotional, professional and ethical capacities.

Types of leadership

Within the process of evolution of leadership, we observe how this is acquiring more form, until arriving at what we know today. Leadership ceases to be authoritarian and becomes a part of the group, which serves all those around it and provides the tools for continuous development.

Several psychologists have studied the great generalities in the types of leadership, classifying them in different criteria. We will be commenting on the different types as well as their precursors below.

Types of leadership according to Daniel Goleman

  • Coercive: inflexible, authoritarian, with fixed structures, usually creating an atmosphere of tension.
  • Authoritarian: this type of leadership is often interesting to apply when the objective is being lost sight of. Since tasks are structured strategically and almost always static, as well as the leadership style is very direct and linear.
  • Affiliative: seeks to generate a solid team environment, full of trust and a good attitude, values the team as a unit, and is emotionally attached to the individuals in the team. However, this type of leadership must be accompanied by assertiveness and authority, since it gives free rein to mediocrity.
  • Democratic: the opinion of the team members is taken into account, with the aim of reaching a consensus, it is especially useful when there are individuals from different disciplines.
  • Helmsman: shows by example, allowing to direct the path to take, the attitudes to take, and guide team members to the goal set.
  • Coaching: promotes the development of its members, personal and professional growth, as well as their capabilities and thus generates a collective impact, strengthening the performance and commitment of individuals (5).

You can learn more about these types in our leadership style quiz.

Types of leadership according to Kurt Lewin

  • Authoritarian: it dictates in a concrete manner what should and should not be done, the deadlines, the people involved, and the corresponding places. It also has little flexibility when it comes to decision making and it is usually the leader who defines the processes.
  • Democratic: this type of leadership guides its individuals during the process, allowing active listening, participation, and involvement in the plans to be carried out. It is usually quite flexible, although the final decision will be made by the leader.
  • Laissez-Faire: responsibility is placed on the members of the group, without a clear leadership to guide the process, relying on the criteria and decision-making of the members, the leader is not critical or very involved in the process (6).

Types of leadership according to Burns

  • Transformational: it is observed that a transformational leader exercises very competent and complete leadership, coming from individuals with clear goals, self-knowledge, and high knowledge of the tasks to be performed. In addition, this leadership promotes the development of team members, freedom of creation, and teamwork.
  • Transactional: it is defined as a negotiation between the leader and the team members, where the established tasks are fulfilled, these will be rewarded in a pleasant way. However, the members who have failed in their tasks will be penalized, in order to maintain the motivation of the team members (7).

Nurture your leadership

Last but not least, learning is a constant in the leadership process and for this reason, we have decided to bring you a list of the most outstanding books on this subject. We know that wisdom does not fall from the sky, and it is never too late to improve, so take a look at these titles to start motivating yourself and develop those skills.

  • The Art Of War

Author: Sun Tzu

Synopsis: A repertoire of strategic tactics to be employed, created during the 5th century BC by the military general Sun Tzu.

Learning: Enables leaders to anticipate, plan, and execute strategies to achieve objectives in an organized manner.

  • The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People

Author: Stephen R. Covey

Synopsis: The author explains how by acquiring new habits we can be more efficient in the use of our abilities through 7 stages.

Learning: Invites self-reflection, in order to uproot habits that prevent the individual from growing and developing.

  • Start With Why

Author: Simon Sinek

Synopsis: The author tries to explain the why of business processes, their objectives, and the engine of their work in order to get to the root. People buy, follow or watch something because there is a genuine liking for that product, brand, etc.

Learning: Invites us to step back a little, to want to reach the goal, if or if, and pushes us to stop for a moment, to reflect on the reason why we are motivated to execute a certain plan or achieve the proposed end.

  • Good To Great

Author: Jim Collins

Synopsis: Through a study, the author observed the growth of some companies as case studies, and understood the reason for their defined, structured, and organized growth.

Learning: When leaders sometimes find themselves stuck in the growth of their companies, businesses, etc., this is a book that allows understanding that it is a normal process in the evolution of a business, project, etc., and how to face this situation is key to achieve the objective.

  • On Becoming A Leader

Author: Warren Bennis

Synopsis: Through this book, the author explains that leadership is developed, nurtured, lived, and learned, more than simply having certain qualities that can certainly be useful for the leadership process.

Learning: Having a purpose is stronger than having gifts to do certain things because it is the main driver for an individual to always want to go for more, grow and develop.


In conclusion, we know that leadership is the ability of an individual to efficiently execute a task and support each other and their work team. Reciprocity is a key element in leadership development.

The group becomes an elementary piece, leaving the secondary role, and this is because it is thanks to the work of each member that the objectives can be achieved. However, the leader must always keep himself in constant development, managing his emotions and generating a position of respect for the group.



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