In this chapter, the key academic concepts and theories surrounding leadership are outlined in order to present the core arguments. Some consider leadership an inherent personal skill, others a learned art whilst still others view it through the prism of social science. The impact of context (e.g. the nature of the business, the operating environment, the needs and wants of those being led etc.) is also a significant factor to consider.
This chapter provides an essential foundation for the examination of leadership. However, it is stressed that this will need to be supported by personal insight given the importance of context.
It is challenging to define leadership, given the relationship aspects that exist between the leader, individuals and groups. Perhaps one of the most interesting definitions (as it captures these aspects) is:
Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal
(Northouse, 2010: 5)
This definition recognises the importance of context- what leadership needs to achieve. A leader must possess the ability to motivate and engage those being led. Therefore, how the leader interacts with people is also critical.
Core debates surround:
- Leadership vested in the person. How character or personality shapes leadership.
- Leadership embodied within processes. How leaders get things done, reflecting culture and context.
- Positional leadership. Becoming a leader because of organisational position. This shapes many discussions around perceived differences between management and leadership.
Ultimately, leadership is about exercising power.
Leadership power can be rooted in:
- Information. The leader holds information and through their behaviours and actions shares it in a way that ensures it is accepted.
- Reward (e.g. pay and promotion) or coercion (e.g. demotion and dismissal).
- Legitimacy. The right to lead is recognised by others.
- Expertise. The leader possesses superior or essential knowledge.
- Reverence. The leader is respected and admired - others wish to emulate them.
(Iszatt-White & Saunders, 2014)
The importance of leadership recognising and reflecting the operating environment is seen as a critical success factor. A leader’s impact is shaped by how they are perceived by others, the culture of the organisation and the way in which power is exercised. Organisational culture is shaped by power, role, task and the person whilst the levers of power can include reward, coercion, information and connections (Kakabadse, Ludlow & Vinnicombe, 1988).
Leadership power and authority need to be linked to an ability to generate confidence and respect. Trust is critical and to create such an environment a leader requires:
- Self-awareness. Understanding how moods and emotions drive behaviours and attitudes.
- Self-regulation. Thinking before acting.
- Motivation. Displaying passion and optimism.
- Empathy. Building networks, creating meaningful relationships by understanding the feelings and emotions of others.
- Social skills. Finding common ground, building and leading teams.
Trait theories focus on who (or what) the leader is i.e. their personal, social and emotional characteristics. This supports the concept of the ‘born leader’, considering perceived inherent attributes such as:
- Emotional stability. Being calm, confident and predictable, especially under pressure.
- Honest and self-aware. Prepared to admit and accept mistakes.
- Excellent interpersonal skills. Exerting influence without being coercive.
- Intellectual ability. Understanding the ‘bigger picture’ and explaining it to others.
Leadership emerges from a combination of multiple traits and how these work together in context. Consequently, leadership can be considered as the ability to integrate:
- Cognitive capacities i.e. intelligence, creativity and mastering complexity.
- Personality e.g. being open to new experiences, engaging and extrovert.
- Motivation and values.
- Social capabilities. Applying social and emotional intelligence to influence others.
This argues that leaders can be trained and developed to behave in certain ways.
McGregor (1960), suggested that people were either ‘work shy’ (Theory X) or motivated by work (Theory Y). For Theory X situations authoritarian leadership is required, whilst an engaging more participative approach can be applied with Theory Y. Subsequent behavioural studies suggest two main leadership approaches:
- Consideration - the leader supports and involves followers. Open communications, team-working and trust are essential and subordinates are satisfied with the leader.
- Initiating structure -goal focussed with high levels of control. Whilst such leaders are regarded as more effective, followers can be more discontent.
(Iszatt-White & Saunders, 2014)
Contingency theorist argues that there is no one best style or approach to leadership and that effective leadership is about finding the best fit between behaviour, context and need (Hodgson & White, 2001). However, any adaption is limited by the preferred leadership orientation of individuals. Therefore, it is believed easier to change the leader to suit the situation, rather than expect changes in leadership approaches.
Leaders adapt their style to address team and individual competences, being either directive or supportive. Four distinct leadership approaches are suggested:
- Directive. The leader provides specific instructions and monitors work closely.
- Coaching. The leader is focussed on enabling people to participate in determining how tasks are completed.
- Supporting. The leader outlines the outcomes required, supporting others in the development and implementation of appropriate actions.
- Delegating. Responsibility for task completion rests with the team/individuals concerned.
(Hersey, Blanchard & Johnson, 2015)
Adair’s (2002) Action Centred Leadership Approach highlights the requirement to adapt leadership styles to balance the demands of the task, the team and individuals and that leadership becomes more effective as the overlap and balance between these three components increases.
Transformational leadership theory is essentially a blend of both behavioural and trait approaches. A transformational leader uses their attributes to influence others, articulating a vision that is used to transform an organisation. A transformational leader inspires, sharing core values with subordinates. They are often passionate and this combined with their knowledge of people and the business gives them credibility.
In contrast, transactional leadership is built around maintaining links with rewards for performance. A transformational leader creates significant change in the life of people and organisations, redesigns perceptions and values and changes staff expectations. As the transactional approach is rewards-based (and as a transformational leader considers the interests of people and the organisation first), it has been argued that the two styles are mutually exclusive. Whilst such views have been challenged, it has been noted that people appear willing to work harder for transformational leaders (Bass, 1990).
The leader displays a pattern of behaviour that draws on their own experiences and beliefs to promote a positive (ethical) climate. They are transparent in their relationships and dealings with followers. Trust is a critical enabler for authentic leadership, supported by strong values. Leaders are recognised for their strong moral character.
Distinctions have also been drawn with approaches such as ethical leadership (being both morally good and doing the right things), servant leadership (empowering and developing others) and spiritual leadership (generating meaning and engagement). However, these can be seen as dimensions of authentic leadership as they are all rooted in values, behaviours and relationships.
A dictatorial approach is taken by the leader and followers are motivated through a fear of punishment. The leader relies on exerting power through the rights assigned to them to control work and set rules. Consequently, they are unlikely to see any need to persuade or influence their subordinates.
A charismatic leader willingly acts in unconventional ways to achieve their vision. This requires high levels of confidence to engage their followers and their self-belief allows them to take personal risks and make sacrifices. They can engage their followers through personal persuasive appeals built around a vision.
A charismatic leader can often adapt their communication and engagement approaches to suit the needs of the audience without losing their visionary focus. They can take an inclusive approach, linking people to the vision they have created.
Democratic leadership has also been described as facets of collective or distributed leadership. Leadership is a more dynamic process, whereby the leader emerges in response to the need for specific knowledge or competences to address the issue or situation. Examples include cross-functional working groups where each individual can be a leader depending on when their particular functional specialism becomes the main focus of action for the team.
Democratic leadership requires:
- Respect and trust for and between team members.
- Collective support and protection.
- Open communication - engaged discussion not debate.
- A strong, shared common goal.
- Strongly held shared values and beliefs.
- Team objectives to be seen as more important than personal objectives.
- A broad acceptance of the leadership approach, with everyone empowered to take decisions.
(Iszatt-White & Saunders, 2014)
Whilst transformational theory has already been discussed, five particular leadership practices can be identified:
- Modelling the way.
- Inspiring a shared vision.
- Challenging the process.
- Enabling others to act.
- Encouraging the heart.
(Iszatt-White & Saunders, 2014: 84)
Whilst numerous interdependencies and similarities exist, clear distinctions can be made between both the roles and the qualities required of leaders and managers. Leadership requires people to be able to understand the importance of the more emotional and human aspects of an organisation and a leader must be able to inspire and motivate. A leader sets the example and displays empathy.
Management is focussed on more tangible aspects, particularly achieving goals and targets. Management is about dealing with complexity to produce orderly and consistent results whilst leadership is about dealing with change. Whilst both seek to achieve the goals set, reflecting the mission, vision and values of the organisation, management is a relationship founded in authority whereas leadership requires the ability to influence and shape behaviours, beliefs and feelings. (Schedlitzki & Edwards, 2014).
Attempts to capture the difference between leadership and management often focus on the ‘art’ of leadership which is seen as being:
- Able to help people find meaning in complex events.
- Able to create consensus.
- Able to build commitment and confidence.
- Able to build mutual trust and cooperation.
- Able to create shared group identities.
- Able to develop others.
- Able to set an example of moral behaviour.
(Yukl, 2010: 506-507)
Whilst knowledge is a key attribute for both management and leadership, the art of leadership also requires:
- Cognitive Intelligence - using intuition and imagination.
- Spiritual Intelligence - understanding that people need to be valued and have a sense of worth;
- Emotional Intelligence - responding to the feelings/needs of others;
- Moral Intelligence -differentiating between right and wrong;
- Behavioural Ability - Adapting leadership to match the situation.
Strategic leadership focuses on the top management teams within organisations and the key components have been described as:
- The ability to determine strategic direction.
- The development of human capital.
- The exploitation and maintenance of core competencies.
- Sustaining an effective corporate culture.
- Operating ethically.
- Establishing strategic control.
(Gill, 2009: 59)
Strategic leaders must possess a sound knowledge of market trends, issues and opportunities and how the company is situated in that market. They must be able to know enough about how their organisation operates - its strengths and weaknesses - without getting captured by the detail. Strategic leadership is often focussed on the delivery of change, so much of the debate around the qualities required of those involved focusses on transformational theory and transformational leadership.
This chapter has sought to present the core leadership theories and approaches that exist to provide a solid grounding for the further study of this complex area. Whilst most people are able to recognise a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ leader, identifying the processes used to reach that decision are far more challenging. Often, a more detailed appreciation of what constitutes leadership can be obtained from a review of what went wrong in an organisation. Consequently, any changes in the senior leadership of any large organisation should be studied carefully - what new attributes or qualities of leadership are gained or lost in the change? This can then be related to more personal views and experiences of leadership.
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