Leadership is an essential concept for any organization, either profit-oriented or non-profit. In essence, leaders arise in any social group since people have a natural tendency towards following individuals who are confident and possess expertise in a certain area. However, in organizations, there is the issue of a formal hierarchy and power, which creates the necessity for managers to master the understanding of leadership as a concept and the varied approaches to leadership.
Managers, who are not leaders, merely oversee the employees’ task completion; however, they are unable to inspire their followers, encourage innovation, and help these human resources reach their full potential. This is a problem because, in the modern business context, human resources are the most valuable source of competitive advantage. This paper will discuss the various concepts of leadership as an integral process for any organization’s success and analyze the personal approach to leadership.
Contemporary Concepts of Leadership
First, there are different definitions of leadership and leader, as well as several approaches to defining the concept of followers. Sweeney et al. (2019) state that “recent reviews of shared leadership have tended to merge findings across commercial and non-commercial settings, disregarding contextual differences in these distinctive domains” (p. 115). This approach suggests that the definitions of leadership have to vary based on the context of the organization and the specifics of the leader’s work. According to Peirce and Newstrom (2007), the leadership process is both interactive and dynamic, and it consists of five elements: “leader, follower, context, process, and outcomes” (p. 10).
The process factor is essential for understanding how to be a leader because leading requires a consistent interaction between the followers and the managers, in the form of communication, provision of feedback, assigning the tasks, and others.
As a psychological concept, leadership is an integral part of the people’s behavior in a group, which is also consistent with the Traits Theory of leadership. Under this approach, leaders are born with certain qualities that allow them to be in charge of others. Some modern approaches suggest that there is a way to develop skills and behaviors that will enable one to become an effective leader. In general, the studies of leadership have originated from the idea that leadership traits are something that is embedded in the leader (Pierce & Newstrom, 2007). Currently, the contemporary understanding of leadership views it as a process or a relationship between the leader and their group that allows them to work together.
Considering the issue of context and the development of the theory of leadership from the idea that it is something that some people possess and others do not, the definitions of leadership are very distinct. For example, Linda Smircich and Gareth Morgan argue that leaders are capable of creating meaning for different events, while Murphy argues that it is sociological, meaning that the leader-follower relationship defines the quality of the leadership (as cited in Pierce & Newstrom, 2007).
Hence, for example, in a business situation where the company is failing to achieve its targets, a leader who has built a good relationship with the employees can show the latter that this failure is their opportunity to grow and develop new and better products and services, based on these two definitions. Therefore, leadership is a dynamic process based on the development of the relationship and the exchange between a leader and their following, which allows this group of people to achieve their goals.
The leader-follower relationship is an essential building block of proper leadership. This relationship is created and maintained through trust, quality, and justice (Pierce & Newstrom, 2007). Although in the business context, managers possess the formal power to lead the employees, this does not always result in the establishment of the leader-follower relationship. For example, if an employee fails to complete a task due to circumstances they could not control, and the leader fails to recognize that, the group will perceive this leader as unjust, which will affect the overall dynamic of their interactions. The element of trust and justice will be lost from the leader-follower relationship, and the leader will have difficulty encouraging the employees to work productively. Hence, trust, quality of the relationship, and justice are the building blocks of the leadership process.
From the viewpoint of qualities, although the contemporary understanding of leadership is not based on the idea that some people are merely born leaders, there is an understanding that individuals who want to be leaders need to work on developing the appropriate qualities that will enable this. In particular, Ralph Stogdill researched the qualities that define a leader and concluded that “capacity, achievement, responsibility, participation, responsibility, and status” are the essential ones (as cited in Pierce & Newstrom, 2007, p. 34). A key factor in this research is that not all people who have these traits become leaders, and organizational and situational factors impact the emergence of a leader. Hence, although there are characteristics that most good leaders possess, merely having these does not result in one becoming a leader.
When discussing leadership traits, it is important to also examine the personal characteristics of the leader that they cannot affect, such as sex and gender. Kent and Moss suggest that women are more likely to be leaders when compared to men, although the variance is small, and females who possess masculine attributes have even higher chances of emerging as leaders (As cited in Pierce & Newstrom, 2007). Hence, although gender plays a role in defining the plausibility of leadership for a person, personal qualities and behaviors have a greater role.
Hence, when answering the question “How do people become leaders?” one must understand that this is a complex process affected by the environments, such as the business situation, the traits of the individual, both inborn and the ones they have developed, the formal or informal influence they possess, and the investment that the leaders make towards their relationship with the employees. Therefore, the first factor in becoming a leader is understanding the complexity of this matter and a grasp of its different elements. The second element is an honest self-assess of the traits associated with the leadership that one possesses and does not possess. Next, one has to view leadership as a process and a relationship, which requires a continuous effort into establishing and maintaining trust and ensuring that the decisions one makes are.
Leadership is the process of influence since the goal of the leader is to affect the following-encourage them to complete a task, work more effectively, collaborate on a project, or innovate. The influence comes from the regard for viewing leadership as a process and from building the relationship with the employees (Pierce & Newstrom, 2007). This is because influence can arise merely from the authority and power that a leader has; for example, a CEO of a company has the power to influence their employees, give them tasks, and assign rewards or punishments.
However, the influence does not guarantee that this CEO will inspire and empower the people around them. Selznick, for instance, argues that a leader has to communicate the purpose of the organization’s existence or the end goal to which the individuals in the organization strive (as cited in Pierce & Newstrom, 2007). Hence, the influence of a leader comes from setting the goals, having formal power, and a succession of leadership.
Effective leadership is a result of what these individuals do, a natural outcome of their behaviors daily. The behaviors that characterize a good leader are the ones that expert movement and enable work completion (Pierce & Newstrom, 2007). In contrast to this, one can assume that communicating the proper behavior patterns or values should be enough for effective leadership, for example, stating that productive work or ethical behavior is crucial for the company.
However, if the followers do not see the manifestation of these words in the leaders’ actions, they will not conform to follow this individual. According to Pierce and Newstrom (2007), “fairness, trust, and ethical behaviors” are the core of effective leadership, and the former element means that, similarly to the process of leadership elements, one has to be and work on establishing trust (p. 4). Therefore, effective leadership behaviors are the ones that are in line with morals and ethics.
Another theory of leadership that has emerged in recent years is charismatic leadership, which is based on the personality of the individual. The previous paragraphs focused on the different factors such as traits, characteristics, and behaviors that are a part of leadership, while this model emphasizes the value of what the leader accomplishes using their communication skills and ability to persuade to influence the followers (Pierce & Newstrom, 2007). This theory is based on the assumption that a leader’s personality is the core element that allows them to affect the efficiency and task completion of the followers. However, as will be highlighted in the subsequent chapters, charisma, and communication skills are not the only defining factors in leadership.
Personal Leadership Model and Personal Leadership Style
Before studying the theory of leadership, my leadership model was based on the inborn qualities and the reliance on the formal power that a managerial position provides. Hence, I would use my authority as a manager to influence the decisions and behaviors of the employees and use my inborn characteristics. In terms of values, my leadership approach would require me to act ethically, especially in challenging business situations and have respect for the employee’s work. The behaviors I would engage in as a leader include leading by example, which means showing a high level of respect and work ethic.
After studying the theory in-depth, I have integrated the notion of “leadership as a process” into my model of leadership; this integration includes the focus on my behaviors and the ethical aspect of my actions, such as the justice of the decisions I make. Additionally, following the leader-follower exchange theory, I have focused on working on the relationship between the employees and me, as I have developed an understanding of leadership being an ongoing and developing occurrence. Moreover, I have developed an understanding that an effective leader is flexible and adapts to the situation and followers. Based on the assessment of the personal leadership style, I would suggest that I need to develop the characteristics associated with transformational leadership, including communication skills and the ability to be a visionary and inspire others.
Current Approaches to Effective Leadership
Effective leadership implies the utilization of coaching, power, and influence and leading the change approaches. Coaching is the ability of the leader to collaborate with the employees and provide them with the support they need in challenging situations, for instance, when a new worker has little experience with a specific task. As was previously discussed, power is the formal authority of the leader, for example, a manager in a company, to make decisions, while influence is their behaviors that allow impacting the efficiency of work. Power and influence are essential for productive work; however, they are not predefining for success.
In light of the companies’ continuous struggle to innovate and develop new solutions for effective work, the importance of transformational leadership has increased. This approach is geared towards leading the change in an organization and transforming the current practices.
The need for a specific leadership approach that helps lead a change is linked to the natural resistance that is integral for humans when they need to adjust their behavior to new standards, which was described in Lewin’s three-stage model (Pierce & Newstrom, 2007). Hence, transformational leaders help prepare their followers for a smooth transition towards new practices or new challenges that their organization faces. These leaders are characterized as visionaries with the ability to use their charisma to impose this vision on their followers and inspire them to work towards a goal.
As evident from the varied definitions of leadership examined in the first section of this paper, the effectiveness of leadership depends on the situation, and more specifically, on the culture in which the leader operates. Culture affects the essential aspects of interpersonal communication and the relationships between the management and the subordinates. There is a substantial difference in the power distance seen in Western and Asian states, which a leader has to consider. Hence, some leadership strategies, such as shared decision making will be ineffective when applied in a cultural environment with high regard for the authority of the formal manager.
A Business Challenge Analysis and Applicable Leadership Style
A business challenge offered for this analysis is the need to adopt remote work after the coronavirus outbreak. The leaders had to change the way their organizations operate since there were restrictions not allowing people to work in the offices and address the fears and concerns of their employees. Notably, leadership is not always a positive force since, in some cases, one has to make challenging decisions or face issues that require one to act in a way that is not associated with the positive attributes of leadership. Some dysfunctional aspects associated with leadership can be a fixed mindset, which in the case of this challenge would mean that a transition towards a remote workplace would be impossible to complete.
On the other hand, positive leadership and the morality of leadership include elements such as “spiritual, ethical, authentic” factors, which are typically applied by servant leaders (Pierce & Newstrom, 2007, p. 122). Servant leadership views the leader as someone who addresses the needs of their followers, which is why the name of this concept is derived from the word “to serve.” In this scenario, such a leadership approach would allow focusing on the employees and their fears regarding the future of their work, instead of merely ensuring that the productivity of work is not lost when working remotely.
Employee Performance Based on Leadership Approach
The varied concepts of leadership examined before affecting the employees differently and allow them to influence their productivity. It is essential to align the leadership approach with the type of work and the employees’ character to achieve the best results. Moreover, one leadership approach can never help address all the business challenges and the different cultural and work environments that exist, which is why a leader has to use a flexible approach and analyze the context in which they work. In this regard, there are two theories addressing this challenge: Fiedler’s contingency theory and House’s path-goal theory. Fidler’s theory is based on the assumption that an ideal style of leadership does not exist and instead, the perfect approach depends on a situation (Pierce & Newstrom, 2007).
This explains why some leaders may be highly effective in specific organizational situations while failing to succeed in others, which happens if they do not adjust their leadership style to the new conditions. On the other hand, the path-goal theory suggests that the role of the leader is in facilitating the follower’s ability to complete their tasks (Pierce & Newstrom, 2007). Hence, the focus is on what the leader can do in a specific situation considering the targets that they have for the employees. Both of these theories suggest that leaders have a direct impact on the followers’ outcomes of work and that its effectiveness by adjusting their approach depending on the situation and expected outcomes.
Moreover, employees should not be viewed as passive agents of leadership. For one, these individuals are integral to the development of the leader-follower relationship, and they are the focus of the influence and behaviors that leaders exert. Hence, followers are not passive participants in this model, and their input has to be considered when developing a leadership strategy for effective work. The personal traits of the followers, such as their inclination towards autocratic leadership and their independence or dependence on the managers’ decisions, play a key role in how these employees will respond to the chosen leadership model.
The idea of participative leadership is an approach in which all of the stakeholders of the organization contribute to the decision-making process. This approach emerged based on the works by Hawthorne and Lewin and the concept of Laissez-faire leadership, where participation and consensus between the members of the group become integral for success. In a way, this granted the leadership priorities to all individuals, for instance, through discussions and shared decision-making. Issues surrounding this concept are linked to the Theory Y and X, which describe the difference in the individual’s willingness to participate in the decision-making process (Pierce & Newstrom, 2007).
Under Theory X, employees are not comfortable with participatory leadership, as opposed to the basic premise of Theory Y. Hence there is a disagreement between the proper way of participation and involvement of the employees in the decision-making and leadership roles. Arguably, the approach depends on the environment in which the leader works and the characteristics of the followers. Another study by Vroom suggests that the employee’s willingness to participate is linked to their need for independence and the perception of authoritarianism, with those who are highly independent and have low authoritarianism being more accepting of the participative leadership.
In such environments, participation will have a positive effect on productivity and satisfaction with work. Thus, participative leadership is an approach that is suitable for environments where employees have the characteristics predisposing them to participation in the decision-making, such as independence and negative perceptions of authoritarian behaviors.
Participative leadership is one example of a substitute for leadership. Within the organization, some elements act as neutralizers or substitutes for leadership (Pierce & Newstrom, 2007). Pierce, Dunham, and Cummings found that elements such as technology, design of the work, and structure of the work units are the main factors that may replace the role of the leader (as cited in Pierce & Newstrom, 2007). For example, by designing a task in a certain way, the organization can escape the need for leadership and oversight. Thus, there is a way for organizations to affect employee performance and efficiency without the use of leadership directly and instead by using substitutes.
In summary, this paper integrates the varied aspects of the contemporary understanding of leadership and discusses a personal approach to leadership. The contemporary view of leadership suggests that it is a process and that one has to consider their influence, behavior, and traits, as well as the characteristics of the followers and their expectations. Therefore, flexibility in selecting a leadership model is essential, where leaders can choose between a spectrum from shared decision-making to authoritative leadership.
Pierce, J. & Newstrom, J. (2007). Leaders and the leadership process (5th ed.). McGraw-Hill.
Sweeney, A., Clarke, N., & Higgs, M. (2019). Shared leadership in commercial organizations: A systematic review of definitions, theoretical frameworks and organizational outcomes. International Journal of Management Reviews, 21, 115-136. Web.