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In today's world, being executive employee should have particular characteristics. The main characteristic is the leadership. Having leadership skills mean that the person has management, communication skills which are the most important factors for a company in order to be successful and profitable.
Furthermore, there are probably many people who still think that being a leader is all about exerting power over others. Well, this is definitely not the case. The concept of leadership, as we have learned, is multidimensional and thus, has to be seen and studied from many different perspectives. Being a leader is not easy at all whereas being an effective leader in a world that is constantly changing, sounds almost impossible.
Up to now, many different types of leaders have been identified such as charismatic leaders, transformational leaders, team leaders, authentic leaders, democratic leaders and even autocratic leaders. A leader may evolve through many of these categories but irrespective where he/she belongs he/she still has to be able to influence and inspire people, be determined for achieving certain goals, be confident, intelligent, sociable and most importantly sincere. Over the years, some leaders have been able to fulfill their roles and succeed. Some others, though, being drunk with power, selfishness and greed have been tragically led to failure.
Leadership is a virtue intriguing to people. This is why when thinking about leaders, the images
of Moses parting the Red Sea, or that of Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin at the Yalta conference
come to mind. Even though opinions as to whether a leader is born or made vary, the stories of
men and women who overturned the fortunes of their nations and people never seize to
fascinate. This fascination is not diminished when the overturning of fortunes concerns not
nations, but companies, and correspondingly great corporate leaders receive no less admiration
in the corporate world than Moses and other mythical figures in the general public.
What the values that make a leader are and whether one can be trained to become a leader,
are two questions that have concerned the business world, which has been impeccable in
training managers, but has been less accomplished in creating leaders.
An effort to answer these questions is the main theme of this essay, where an attempt will be
made to define leadership and the characteristics of a leader, before covering the different
types of leadership observed in our time.
Undoubtedly many things have been said and written about the meaning of leadership. Everyone tries to define the basis of studies, publications and experiments. Leadership is a complex concept with many definitions and as Dwight D. Eisenhower stated "Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it". By trying to give a simple definition for leadership we become subjective, because most of us want to be leaders. That's why if you ask five people to define leadership, then it is certain that you will take five different answers.
That leads to the conclusion that leadership is challenging. Generally we can say that leadership is about influencing others to act in a certain way, within a team, group, have followers that want and are willing to act in order to achieve certain goals.
The today's business environment is demanding and sometimes hard to survive. Leaders with strengths, capabilities, effectiveness, charisma and confidence for their actions are needed. Sociable and intelligent with integrity and determination in order to respond to the forces of change.
Leaders are not born as such, however they do share many common personal characteristics.
Defining leadership, one needs to examine these characteristics shared by the greatest leaders
of our times. Some of them are the following:
ô€‚ƒ Need to improve: This need to achieve has been associated with entrepreneurs and leaders
who constantly seek to optimal performance levels. These individuals are open to feed
back, are goalâ€oriented, seek to be unique and strive for accomplishments based on their
own efforts. They follow what Oliver Cromwell once remarked, that "He who stops being
better, stops being good".
ô€‚ƒ Screening for opportunity: Leaders screen incoming information and separate the useful
from the useless, managing to distinguish and pursue new growth opportunities
ô€‚ƒ Locus of control: Successful leaders show a high internal locus of control (Lee, 2001).
Goal orientation: Leaders have the unique ability to accomplish goals, by setting priorities
and working towards that goal, day in day out.
ô€‚ƒ Optimism: Underlying successful business leadership is a boundless front of optimism
ô€‚ƒ Courage: Leadership deals with a lot of risks, so leaders are courageous and bear their
ô€‚ƒ Tolerance to ambiguity: Leaders function in an uncertain environment. Leadership faces this
ambiguity with tolerance and resolve, and takes risks knowing that not moving means
ô€‚ƒ Strong internal motivation: Leadership is a strongly driven motivation from an intrinsic
prospective; this includes needs, desires, motives and a strong willpower.
What is Leadership?
We can define leadership as being the ability to influence a group of people toward the achievement of a set of goals or vision. Many people often confuse both terms of leadership and management. John Kotter of the Harvard Business School argues that management is about coping with complexity while leadership in contrast is about coping with change. Managers bring a certain degree of order and consistency by planning, designing organizational structures, and monitoring results. Leaders provide direction by developing a vision and aligning people toward the achievement of that vision.
In this brief study, I will discuss the basic leadership theories and present some critiques related to their weaknesses with examples of real leaders and organizations.
During the early stages of research in the field of leadership, differentiating between leaders and non-leaders has focused on finding personal, social, physical, or intellectual qualities. Many historical leaders have been described based on their traits. For example the former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has been known to be decisive, have self confidence, determination and a very solid will. Others would have been described to be courageous, very enthusiastic and charismatic such as Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, South Africa's Nelson Mandela, and many others. This approach claims to find universal traits of personality, social, physical or intellectual attributes that the leaders would have in common. Research allowed finding six common traits:
1. Ambition and energy
2. The desire to lead
3. Honesty and integrity
4. Self confidence
6. Relevant knowledge
Nevertheless, some of the critiques about this theory are listed below:
â€¢ The correlation between the specific traits and leadership is rare.
â€¢ It does not take into account the needs of the supporters/followers.
â€¢ It does not distinguish the relative importance of the different traits.
â€¢ It does not take into consideration the situational factors.
In an article published in the Harvard Business Review, Jim Collins introduces the term "Levelâ€5"
Leadership, according to which company personnel can be categorized in five different levels,
with the fifth one representing the leader who manages to ensure lasting success for an
Elaborating on Collins' findings, on the first level, one would find highly capable individuals that
make productive contributions through their personal knowledge and skills. On the second level
we find the contributing team members, who are able to produce good collaborative results.
Moving on Collins' ladder, the third level describes the competent manager who is able to
organize the company effectively and efficiently and achieve predetermined goals. The
effective leader is found on the fourth level, and is distinguished from the fifth level's executive
by the fact that the executive manages to turn a good company to great, and ensures enduring
success, even long after having left the company.
Collins claims that the ultimate leader, or executive as he names it, possesses a quality of
character impossible to acquire, thus suggesting some innate characteristics. Even though this claim is heavily disputed, many authors support the idea that a good leader inspires followers
because of his or her quality of character and trustworthiness.
The concept of the trustworthy and principled leader is also the main idea behind Steven
Covey's "Principle Centered leadership" (1992). According to Covey, being trustworthy on a
personal level, a leader is able to successfully lead people based on the principle of trust on an
interpersonal level. On the managerial level, a leader, according to Covey, follows the principle
of empowerment, acting as a source of help rather than supervision, so that the alignment
behind the correct values and strategy can be achieved on the organizational level.
A study by the Hay Group has explicitly shown the importance of trustâ€inspiring leadership; out
75 key components of employee satisfaction, trust and confidence in top leadership were found
to be the most reliable predictors of employee satisfaction (Lamb, McKee, 2004).
Differences between leadership and management
As both Leadership and Management within corporations deal with the tasks performed by the
companies and the people working to fulfill these tasks, there is a common misconception that
the two functions are similar. However the two have unique and distinctive role, and should not
be confused. According to Peter Farey (1993), taskâ€leadership deals with pursuing a vision
setting the goals to achieve success, while peopleâ€leadership deals with inspiring people to
work and engage them in a way they own their work's success. On the contrary taskmanagement
deals with organizing and the allocation of resources, while peopleâ€management
considers the staff needs and potential in assigning the work. Diagram 1, adapted from Farey's
"Mapping the Leader/Manager"(1993) shows the relationship.
Diagram 1: Adapted from Farey, Mapping the Leader/Manager (1993)
John P. Kotter considers leadership and management as complementary systems of action. He
distinguishes management as being about coping with complexity and leadership about coping
with change (1998). Kotter proposes a comprehensive comparison between leadership and
management, with the main points presented in Table 1.
According to Kotter, leaders are able despite the changing corporate environment to set the
company's direction, and manage to inspire and align all employees behind the common cause.
Leaders have the capability of motivating people and persuading them that they are
incremental parts of the company's future and success.
Table 1: Adapted from "What Leaders really do", J.P Kotter, 1998
The duties of planning and budgeting lie in the hand of managers, who are additionally
responsible for organizing the staff and assigning work and projects to the employees, ensuring
that they are taking full advantage of their potential and capabilities. Managers are also
responsible for solving dayâ€toâ€day problems that occur, and controlling that the goals set are
Although Kotter draws a clear line between managing and leading, he rejects the idea
suggested by other authors that a sole person is impossible to perform both duties. However,
he stresses the importance of the person taking on both responsibilities being thoroughly
selected and properly trained.
Leadership of Chief Executive Officers
The importance of the role of CEOs is definitely indisputable. However it is seen in an
ambiguous way. Amernic and Craig observe that CEOs play a major role in both society and
business life. Their decisions have a considerable impact on shareholders, customers,
employees and the corporate governance. On the other hand, they are also public figures, and
are often invited to take part in public debates. CEOs can write history, either for a short time of
period, like Jeffrey Skilling from Enron, or they can even become cultural icons, like Walt Disney.
Their major responsibility is decision making. They can be held responsible for actions of every
member of the enterprise, even if they are not aware or informed about them. They have to
add value to the enterprise, ensure its future, and most importantly secure high dividends for
the shareholders. CEOs have to work under the weary looks of the shareholders. Their actions
are scrutinized and very few mistakes are allowed, except in cases when dividends remain high.
The uncertainty of the CEO profession is clear in figures showing that one third to one half of
the executive leaders are replaced within 5 years.
In their book "CEO speak", Amernic and Craig present the selfâ€perception of leaders. The
authors report that leaders consider themselves as "warrior chiefs", and suggest that: "perhaps,
in a society flirting with agnosticism, atheism, and hedonism, the CEO warrior chief has become
a surrogate religious icon."
A lot of research is done on what a recipe for successful leadership is, and correspondingly
many theories have been developed.
In the book "Leadership Theory and Research Perspectives and Directions" the successful
models of Transformational and Transactional Leadership are discussed. According to Chembers
and Ayman, CEOs are most successful when they perform a transformational or active
transactional behaviour (1993). Whereas transformational leadership comprises of charisma
(idealized influence), inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation and individual
consideration, transactional leadership is characterized by contingent reward, managementâ€byexception
and Laissezâ€faire. Active transactional leadership consists of contingent reward and a
positive relationship between leaders and followers (Chembers, Ayman, 1993). The authors
state that research has proven that the optimal profile is mainly related to the four I's of the
transformational behaviour, which include the following approaches and attitudes:
i) Individual Consideration: e.g. recognising strengths and weaknesses, assigning projects based on individual ability and needs
ii) Inspirational motivation: e.g. setting an example for others to strive, providing meaning for
iii) Intellectual stimulation: e.g. encouraging followers to revisit problems, creating a "readiness"
for changes in thinking
iv) Idealized influence: e.g. expressing dedication to followers, sacrificing self -gain for the gain
of others (Chembers, Ayman)
Leadership is about influence. There cannot be a leader if no one would follow him/her. Leaders
need to be visionary in setting goals and new directions for their companies. They need to be
persuasive and able to gain their employees' trusts. Otherwise the organizational alignment
behind a common cause is nearly impossible and the prospects for success for the enterprise
A leader's responsibilities must not be confused with those of a manager, who is dealing more
with the company organization, the allocation of resources and the controlling of operations
performed by the company.
There are different approaches on what consists the ideal leadership style. Although some
overlapping may be observed in these approaches, it is clear that the most successful CEOs
focus on one approach. However changes in the market may create new needs, and leaders
need to be able to adapt to different styles.
True leaders are the ones who manage to turn a company from good to great and ensure longlasting
success. Therefore creating a culture of leadership, where new leaders are chosen and
trained, is essential for a company's future. For all potential leaders on the other side, there is
nothing more appropriate than Jack Welch's words for them to bear in mind: "Before you are a
leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about
It is possible to obtain competences of a leader. We have all of the capacities to become leaders just as all of us have certain disposals to sing or to run. Some are better than others, but every person possesses a basic aptitude that can lead to perfection by learning or practicing. One can be an effective leader of a group without necessarily having been designated as such. The art of leading is a process that helps a group to attain its objectives. Let us not forget that a specific leadership style suiting all situations does not exist. To be an effective leader, it is necessary to know the group (to know its capacity, knowledge, motives, and its willingness to act). In addition, one must know which leadership style he/she prefers and how is he perceived by others. The leader has to be ready to adapt his style to the situation.