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The Essence of Leadership

Paper Type: Free Assignment Study Level: University / Undergraduate
Wordcount: 3022 words Published: 22nd Dec 2020

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In this assignment I will be critically analyzing different types of leadership, leader behaviors, skills and traits in order to assess which types are more effective. I will also reflect on past leadership experiences and how this compares to the main leadership theories.

Defining Leadership

Over the years leadership has been defined in many different ways and still today does not seem to have one definitive definition. As explained by (Yukl, 2002) people tend to define leadership in the way that they have personally experienced and this leads to a huge amount of theories and meanings, some of which will be analyzed and compared in this study.

(Yukl, 2002) view of leadership combines a well-rounded collection of ideas: influencing others, understanding the objective, planning the execution of the task and helping the person or group achieve the objective.

Influencing others or the process of influencing others is something that occurs in multiple theorist definitions. Without influence leadership would not be easily possible. Without understanding the task may not be completed to expectation. Without planning the task may suffer on timescales or quality. Without facilitating the team or person then it could be argued that you are not actually leading at all.

(Zaleznik, 2004) uses a slightly more simplistic definition of leadership:

“Leadership inevitably requires using power to influence the thoughts and actions of other people.”

This suggests that power is a key part in being influential which is not something that (Yukl, 2002) defines as a “Leaders influence”. I believe that power can be used to influence people but is not necessary and leadership is possible in many different forms. A good example of influence by (Yukl, 2002) is actually emotionally related and using emotions to inspire followers stating that the follower will potentially be influenced by completing an objective that is ethical.

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Theories of Leadership

Trait Theory

The trait theory is one of the earliest approaches to leadership, in particular Thomas Carlyle’s “Great Man” theory. As researched by (Dalton, 2015) this theory suggests that leaders are primarily male and leadership is a completely innate ability whereby the man will be born with the necessary attributes to become a great leader. There has since been plenty of research that would debate that this theory is in fact not entirely accurate.

(Stogdill, 1948) as cited by (Yukl, 2002, p. 177) explored “124 trait studies conducted from 1904 to 1948” and concluded that the importance of the traits found in leaders were actually also associated to the situation. Essentially to be an effective leader one must relate to the goals and activities of the followers.

In later research by (Stogdill, 1974) as cited by (Yukl, 2002, p. 177) it was still clear that having particular traits did not guarantee leadership effectiveness but merely increased the chances of success and was still dependent on the situation. This investigation is a far more advanced take on the “Great Man” theory and shows that certain traits and skills are in fact helpful for a leader to become successful.

Some of the traits and skills that Stogdill identified as the profile of a successful leader could actually be something that is considered as a learned ability. Self-confidence is one example of a trait that could potentially be developed through practice rather than an innate ability. In my experience self-confidence is developed once you have established a sound knowledge base in your department.

Behavioural Theory

The behavioral leadership theory implies that it is possible to learn all of the skills necessary to become a good leader. As researched by (Bennis and Nanus, 1985) cited by (Dalton, 2015, p. 204) leadership can be identified with four requirements.

  1. “An adaptive capacity for being resilient, creative and aware of opportunities”
  2. “Capacity to engage followers and align them around a common goal”
  3. “The undertaking of a lifelong process of self-awareness”
  4. “A moral compass or set of principles and convictions”

Since behavioral leadership is entirely a learned competency it is essentially the opposing idea to the trait theory.

(Covey, 1989)isanother theorist that suggests that leadership can be learned by adopting 7 habits. Although there are more steps this theory can be compared to (Bennis and Nanus, 1985) four leadership requirements. Stephen Covey expresses in habit 5 of the 7 habits that you should empathically listen to a person in order to gain their followership in a similar way trust is a key part of the Bennis theory.

I do not believe Bennis or Covey have considered a situation whereby a subordinate may be particularly disengaged perhaps due to only being motivated by extrinsic factors like salary increases or monetary bonuses. In this situation it may be possible to gain followership in the short term but eventually the monetary aspects will have to be addressed in order to maintain engagement.

One key part of the Bennis and Nanus leadership requirements as deciphered by (Dalton, 2015) is being able to have moral compass. This can relate to many leadership definitions from an ethical point of view. According to Gary (Yukl, 2002) there is one viewpoint that “leadership occurs only when people are influenced to do what is ethical”

In my experience being ethical as a leader is valuable for the vast majority of followers. Another viewpoint could be that ethical leadership may not be effective if your follower does not have a moral compass as it could be hard to influence them by setting ethical and morally correct goals which wouldn’t be in their interest.

Transformational and Transactional Theory

This section will compare and describe the transformational and transactional leadership theories.

(Yukl, 2002, p. 253) states that transformational leadership uses “trust, admiration, loyalty and respect” as the main reasons for followership. He cited that Bass (1985, 1996) identified three ways in which leaders transform followers.

  1. “Increasing their awareness of task importance and value.”
  2. “Getting them to focus first on team or organizational goals, rather than their own interests.”
  3. “Activating their higher-order needs.”

This idea suggests that the process is driven and influenced by the leader using charisma or salesmanship to gain followership. Bass also considered transformational leadership to be effective in any situation. It could be argued that this theory would not be effective in an emergency due to the time it could take to build followership using intrinsic motivation. Bass’s theory took on four transformational behaviors as below in Figure 1-1.

Figure 1 -1 (Bass, 1985)

These behaviors are clearly not all linked to charisma but “Idealized Influence” and “Inspirational Motivation” could be linked to the leader having to be likeable or influential.

In comparison (Burns, 1978) defined transformational leadership as a mutual process between leaders and followers where each would raise one another’s motivation and morality. Both Burns and Bass have indicated that leadership requires transforming the follower to believe there is a common goal to work towards and without the need of extrinsic motivation such as a monetary bonus also known as transactional leadership.

Situational Theory

This theory proposes that leadership is more of an activity, task or practice rather than a skill or trait. The theory originates from (Hersey & Blanchard, 1982) as cited by (Dalton, 2015, p. 207)

“a leader adapts their style and develops their skills in order to meet the varied needs in each situation”

What this shows is that adaptability in the leadership style is necessary in order to be effective dependent on the situation or task at hand.

Authentic Leadership

Authenticity is an important aspect of effective leadership. As described by (Gardner et al, 2005: 344-345) and cited by (Boak, Authentic Leadership [Lecture], 2019) to be authentic is:

“owning one’s personal experiences (values, thoughts, emotions and beliefs) and acting in accordance with one’s true self (expressing what you really think and believe and behaving accordingly)”

Gardner also believed that authentic behaviour happens in specific situations rather than being a trait that is installed in a leader constantly.

Honesty is a key part of authenticity and this can either have both a negative and positive impact on leadership. In my experience as a leader sometimes having an honest opinion on a particular action of another peer in the workplace can actually allow you to lose followership or damage a relationship.

Leadership Behaviour Encountered

In this section I will discuss the types of leadership styles I have been motivated by and analyze managers that I have reported into whilst working for Company X. I will also analyze Company X’s leadership model and how it can be compared to some of the main leadership theories.

Company X, Leader A

The first manager I will be discussing is “Leader A”. I reported into Leader A for approximately 2 years and would describe this manager as highly charismatic. I can relate Leader A’s management style partially to the transformational theory as she would predominantly use inspirational motivation and intellectual stimulation behaviors.

There has been debate over whether transformational leadership and charismatic leadership are the same. Gary (Yukl, 2002) actually notes that not only are there distinct differences but it is questionable that it is possible to be both transformational and charismatic at the same time. Since a transformational leader will actually empower a follower this perhaps reduces the charismatic effect in the leader.

In my experience Leader A was both transformational and charismatic but in different situations. There had been times in which I had been delegated significant authority and times where information had been completely restricted from me.

Company X, Manager A

Gary (Yukl, 2002, p. 5) states

“a person can be a manager without leading.”

Currently I report into “Manager A” at Company X and have been now for the past 12 months and I would describe this person as more of a manager rather than a leader.

It is true that the word “manager” can simply be defined as an occupational title rather than a way of leadership. Some theorists like (Mintzberg, 1973) have actually distinguished key differences in process between managing and leading. Mintzberg believes there are 3 behaviors and 10 roles that can explain and describe the activities of a manager.

I can strongly attribute some of these roles to Manager A in particular the “Disturbance Handler Role”. This could quite easily be the reason I do not see many leadership practices or traits in Manager A. Mintzberg states that this role usually takes priority over the other roles and due to Company X’s organizational restructure it has been clear that Manager A has found it particularly difficult to show signs of leadership influence.

If the role of a manager is to continually attend to business disruptions like key subordinates leaving or budget reductions then it will be more challenging to display influential leadership due to diminished team morale.

One leadership behavior I can see within Manager A has been described in (Yukl, 2002) as the “power influence approach.” Analyzing the situation over the past 12 months has made me believe the pressures of the current business environment has forced Manager A into using pressure tactics and power in relation to hierarchy to punish subordinates.

Gary Yukl explains that there are softer forms of pressure tactics and these include, “persistent requests” which can also be seen in Manager A’s behavior.

Company X, The Leadership Model

Company X have installed their own leadership model which can be compared to multiple theories. The model has eight steps in three sections as illustrated in Figure 1 -2.

Figure 1 -2

Company X believe that leadership is a privilege and not a right and that it has be earned every day. Company X also state that to be a leader you must have followers and that it is a personal responsibility that cannot be delegated.

When comparing Figure 1 – 2 to other theorist’s research it is possible to see many similarities in this leadership model. The Company X leadership model has 3 steps with 8 behaviors to drive 3 outcomes:

Create a strategy, build a followership and drive differentiated results in order to create value, people excellence and gain competitive advantage. When comparing this to (Bass, 1985) four transformational behaviors; “Idealized Influence” has similarities with Company X’s behaviors 4 and 5 (Figure 1 – 2).

This is something can be associated with charismatic leadership. The issue I see with these behavioral suggestions is that charisma in some cases can be seen an innate trait rather than a learned skill.

Company X’s leadership model also suggests straight talk as a leadership behavior which can be linked to authenticity.

My Development and Learning

Firstly I have learnt that leadership is a dynamic process and is constantly evolving. Leadership is viewed by many different people in different ways and to truly define the word “leadership” is difficult unless you can define the situation, task or role first.

Leadership is also something that can exist in anyone and not necessarily a manager or someone that has formal responsibility for employees.

I have identified that my main developmental area as a leader would be utilizing transformational leadership in order to indirectly influence people that do not report into me. This is important to me as my tasks and objectives may not always involve leading change within my department, instead other key stakeholders must be influenced.

To do this I have learnt that one must stimulate people in ways outside of using power influence and adopt practices that are more effective like gaining trust by showing authenticity or engaging people by presenting an inspirational objective.

Setting common goals and identifying what actually motivates that individual subordinate or follower is also important for effective leadership.

More Leadership Content


  • Bass, B. M. (1985). Bass Transformational Leadership Theory. Retrieved from Leadership Central: https://www.leadership-central.com/bass-transformational-leadership-theory.html
  • Boak, G. (2019, July). A closer look at transformational leadership [Lecture]. York: St John University.
  • Boak, G. (2019, July). Authentic Leadership [Lecture]. York: St John University.
  • Burns, J. M. (1978). Leadership. New York: Harper and Row.
  • Covey, S. (1989). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
  • Dalton, C. (2015). The Every Day MBA. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.
  • Hersey, P., & Blanchard, K. (1982). Management of Organizational Behaviour: Utilizing Human Resources. Prentice Hall.
  • Mintzberg, H. (1973). The Nature of Managerial Work. Michigan: Harper & Row.
  • Yukl, G. (2002). Leadership in Organizations. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
  • Zaleznik, A. (2004, January). Motivating People Managers and Leaders: Are They Different? Retrieved from Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2004/01/managers-and-leaders-are-they-different


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