Skip to main content

How to Be a Leader at Work: 5 Essentials for Making a Difference

People discussing leadership

Fill out the form below and we’ll email you more information about UCF’s online Leadership and Management programs.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
At the core of every successful business and organization is a unified team. Whether they work toward furthering a cause or generating revenue, effective team members come together in order to reach a common goal. Bringing a team together is a leader’s key responsibility. Strong leadership can have a positive impact across a wide spectrum of industries.

In order to inspire employees to accomplish organizational goals and achieve growth, leaders should exhibit five fundamental qualities: effective communication, passion and belief, decisiveness, connection with employees individually, and a commitment to team building. Leaders and managers also need to earn the trust and respect of their employees and coworkers as they work together within an organization to achieve success. To make a difference in the workplace, professionals can incorporate current and projected leadership trends into their leadership strategies.

An individual interested in pursuing a professional leadership position or wondering how to be a leader at work should consider pursuing a specialized education, such as an online leadership and management degree or certificate.

Why Leadership Matters

Business skills and knowledge contribute to a company’s success, but an effective leader can determine whether the company runs smoothly and meets its goals. Company leaders often hold management positions, but not always. Individuals do not have to be supervisors in order to be leaders.

Often, effective leaders exhibit collaborative or coaching styles, helping workers develop critical-thinking and decision-making skills by allowing them to express their own ideas or coaching them through the process of establishing goals. Good leaders prepare their employees to take on tasks alone and contribute their ideas to the group. They understand the value of their employees’ perspectives and empower them to be successful in the workplace.

The merits of effective leadership exist across industries, including:

  • Technology
  • Hospitality
  • Engineering
  • Healthcare
  • Education
  • Nonprofit organizations
  • Public organizations

Leadership can inspire a workforce to achieve a wide range of goals, from reaching targeted growth benchmarks to navigating an unexpected crisis. Effective leaders care about not only their own personal goals but their employees’ goals as well.

What Happens Without Leadership?

An organization may face a myriad of struggles without effective leadership in place. One of the most important qualities a leader brings to his or her company is vision. Without a long-term plan, a leader may invest in the wrong infrastructure or fail to anticipate industry shifts. The lack of effective leadership in a company can trickle down to poor customer relations and lead to lost customers. Organizations can also lose good employees if their managers and leaders do not foster employee morale. The lack of effective leadership might cause erosion of trust among shareholders and stakeholders of the business. If leaders do not exhibit administrative qualities and invest in the development of their team members, they can end up with a barely functioning team.

How to Be a Leader at Work

Whether they work in healthcare, technology, public and nonprofit sectors, education or hospitality, leaders should be concerned with how their decisions impact their employees, customers, clients, patients, students and communities. Even though leadership takes different forms in different organizations, professionals should work toward gaining the following five essential qualities of effective leadership:

Effective Communication

Managers and leaders communicate in a variety of ways with their employees. Leaders should make sure that their verbal communication is clear, concise and professional at all times. They should also take advantage of written communication, through memos and emails, to relay important messages in an efficient manner. Nonverbal communication can be just as important as verbal and written communication when leaders convey their thoughts, ideas and directions. Good leaders also understand that communication flows both ways: Listening to employees is essential. In-person as well as virtual communication is critical for effective organizational leadership.

Passion and Belief

Exhibiting passion and belief in a project or goal is another key leadership quality. If leaders model passion for their work, employees are likely to emulate that, and employees who believe in what they do are happier and work better than those who don’t. For example, leaders working in education and nonprofits should have a passion for their schools or organizations, as well as for their students or the communities they serve. Many pursue these careers to enjoy the rewards of helping others, and leaders should share the foundation of beliefs of their organizations.


Successful leadership relies on decisiveness and strong problem-solving and decision-making skills. For instance, a leader working in healthcare administration needs to address issues in a prompt and appropriate manner, as the well-being of patients can be at stake. When leaders act decisively and support their decision-making with facts and logic, they demonstrate credibility. Employees respect leaders who are able to resolve situations quickly and effectively.

Connecting with Employees

A commitment to connecting with employees individually can determine whether leaders are effective at their jobs. Employees don’t want to feel like faceless cogs in their companies, and they perform better when they have a personal connection with their coworkers and employers. Relationship and trust building can inspire and motivate employees to work toward, and ultimately achieve, specific goals.

Commitment to Team Building

An extension of relationship building is team building. Leaders can invest in the development of their teams by hosting trainings as well as organizing fun team-building events, from catered lunches to weekend barbecues. While working toward further enhancing team members’ work ethics, skill sets, and knowledge, leaders can cultivate an environment in which employees get to know each other and create bonds that will enable them to work cohesively as a team to accomplish organizational goals.

Leadership and Management within an Organization

As businesses and organizations evolve, employees rely on leaders to provide them with direction and guidance. Multiple leadership and management tactics should be used concurrently to provide optimal support and to effectively execute organizational strategies. For instance, leaders should demonstrate transparency and honesty while communicating with their employees. Strong leaders should also consider different perspectives and plan for problems before they occur.

Successful leaders not only motivate their employees to work toward accomplishing goals, they also inspire them to work together as a unified team. Those interested in enhancing their leadership skills should consider pursuing a leadership and management degree or certificate from the University of Central Florida (UCF). The programs prepare future leaders across a variety of fields, including:

  • Online Hospitality Management, BS: This online bachelor’s degree prepares professionals for leadership positions in event planning, tourism, theme park management, travel, hotel management and catering.
  • Online Health Services Administration, BS: Professionals who earn this online bachelor’s degree can pursue careers as health informatics managers, health services administrators, human resources managers, nursing home administrators, training and development managers or health insurance specialists.
  • Online Educational Leadership, MA: Educators can pursue this advanced degree to further their careers as assistant principals or principals, college provosts, deans of students, district administrators, human resource administrators or instructional coordinators.
  • Online Nonprofit Management, MNM: This online master’s degree can help professionals begin their own nonprofit organizations or take on leadership and management roles in existing ones.
  • Online Public Administration, MPA: “UCF School of Public Administration MPA students are prepared to make the world a better place for all,” explains Dr. Naim Kapucu, Pegasus Professor and director of the School of Public Administration at UCF. “MPA students receive high-quality, accredited education in the classroom and online and are connected with close to 5,000 school alumni and professional public administrators in the community.”

Students in these programs take courses that give them a foundation in leadership, along with field-specific instruction. As they work toward becoming leaders in their fields, students learn how to empower others and enact positive change in the workplace.

A Look at Leadership Trends

While some characteristics of successful leadership are constant, effective leaders keep track of emerging leadership trends and useful innovations. As technology evolves, leaders need to help employees adapt to changes, for example, understanding how artificial intelligence can impact marketing strategies and help companies communicate better with customers

Current challenges have demonstrated that strategies for managing mobile work are increasingly important, and in the future, remote jobs may be particularly appealing to millennial and Geneation Z employees. While supervising remote work has unique difficulties, strong managers can communicate their standards and expectations to employees, training them to use technology for the mutual benefit of themselves and the company.

The emerging trend of group coaching develops a sense of community in the workplace and advocates for more democratic leadership by training multiple employees at the same time to be leaders. Another relatively recent development is upskilling, which helps employees develop new competencies and minimize gaps in their skill sets.

Pursue a Leadership and Management Degree

Pursuing a career as a leader takes dedication and commitment. Organizations look to effective leaders for direction and guidance, from establishing a vision to reaching long-term goals. Leaders not only bring their knowledge and expertise to their jobs, they also unite their employees and equip them to work together as a team.

Students looking for a foundation in management and professionals interested in becoming leaders in their field should explore the many online leadership and management degrees and certificates offered by the University of Central Florida. Professional certificates, bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees are available in fields from policing to emergency crisis management. Embark on a new career in leadership today.