How to Define Leadership in Recruiting (And Why It Matters)

Twenty-three percent of the job descriptions on Simply Hired in 2015 seek to fill roles that focus on leadership and strategic thinking. This significant demand encourages HR managers and recruiters to consider how we define these leadership roles and how we recognize leadership in the workplace.

As we consider the importance of leadership, it becomes obvious that there are several different kinds of leaders in the workplace. CEOs and VPs are leaders. But leaders can also be managers, employees and talent acquisition professionals. How we respond to the demand for leadership varies greatly according to the job we have been assigned to do.

Let’s examine a breakdown of what leadership means to each of these positions and how an HR leader can craft a unique definition of leadership for his or her company culture.

Defining Leadership in Job Descriptions

Let’s start this process by looking at how employers define leadership. According to our data, recruiters use the following common words in job descriptions for leadership roles:

  • Leader
  • Leadership
  • Strategic thinker
  • Goal-oriented
  • Assertive
  • Self-starter

These words don’t paint a comprehensive picture of a leader, but they do indicate what we expect from leaders in the workplace. We expect that they will be active and confident and that they will set and achieve goals. We also expect that they won’t wait for externally motivating factors (instructions, orders or incentives) to do the job they need to do.

The basic definitions of the terms “Leader,” and “Leadership,” impart meaning, too. These words convey an expectation that employees can receive guidance, direction and influence from this person, even if the person is a peer. In this light, a leader is someone who is comfortable assuming control of a situation and making a decision.

The term “strategic thinker” adds another layer to what organizations look for in a leader. Instead of being purely task-oriented, leaders consider their work within the context of the whole picture. Instead of moving through a to-do list, leaders are more likely to consider the long-term strategy and implications of each action.

Learning From Different Kinds of Leadership

The rising trend in entrepreneurship is a great example of motivated, self-starting, strategy-focused leadership. Now-famous entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Walt Disney turned town lucrative job opportunities to follow through with unique ideas that had potential.

Instead of following a traditional, laid out path as a VP or CEO of another company, these entrepreneurs set goals and put their careers on the line to pursue ideas that they believed in. Over time, the confidence and assertiveness these entrepreneurs attracted employees and customers who shared their vision and lead to overwhelming success.

Piecing Together Leadership for Human Resources

Of course, the definition of leadership plays out differently in the trenches of talent acquisition than it does for the C-Suite. Where entrepreneurs and CEOs display leadership for the benefit of the company’s bottom line, HR and talent acquisition managers display leadership for the benefit of the employee’s productivity and performance. And that’s where it becomes important to understand how leadership, strategic thinking, goal making and assertiveness fit into the staffing team’s leadership role.

Considering the words defined in the job description for a leader, we can start to identify talent acquisition leadership by the following traits:


Talent leaders will display the confidence and command of leaders in the workplace. They will provide support and guidance to employees. They will assume control of the situation to fairly represent all parties.

Strategic Thinking

Talent leaders make decisions based on the big picture. They consider all possible long-term implications of decisions both for the health of the company and the health of the employee.


Talent leaders set and achieve goals to track overall progress. They consider every decision in light of how it will bring the company closer to its long-term goals.


Talent leaders make decisions with confidence and assertiveness. Once the right decision is made, they calmly and fearlessly enforce it.


Talent leaders are motivated to do the best job they possibly can in all circumstances. They do not wait for the situation to get out of hand before taking action. They are internally motivated to achieve their goals and the goals of their organization.

As you read this list, you probably see characteristics that you already embody as a staffing leader, as well as opportunities where you could improve your leadership. Of course, there’s no single definition of leadership that will work for every company in the world. That is why it is so important to define leadership for you and your company culture so that you can become a better leader, recruit other leaders and develop leaders from within your workplace.

In the next post in this series, we’ll look at the process of defining leadership within your company and how you can set and achieve specific goals to identify, nurture and grow leaders in your company.

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