Leadership Behavior, Traits and Skills

Leadership is a broad and complicated term, by which different people understand different concepts. Even in the literature, very controversial viewpoints can be found. So, how leadership should be defined? How does it differ from management? Is it possible to become a leader, or do you have to be a born one? What skills and kind of behavior can define leadership? The answers to all of these questions can be found in this paper.

Leadership Behavior

The first thing that helps to identify a leader is his or her behavior. That is why this part of the paper focuses on leadership behavior: its major types, ways to describe, and methods to estimate it.

Ways to Describe Leadership Behavior

People usually have very different visions of what leadership and leadership behavior means. Some of them think that it is a process of guiding people in order to complete a particular task. Some equate this term to management and managers’ skills. Others assume that leadership is a lifestyle. Although there is a grain of truth in all of those opinions, it is hard to determine which one of them is right. That is because there is no general definition, and this term can not be actually defined. All we can do is describe it.

For a better understanding of the concept, Brittney Helmrich asked thirty experts in this field, including business owners, in what way they see leadership (par. 1). Firstly, many of them agree that leaders should have a unique and valuable vision. As Brigitta Hoeferle states, “a leader is a mix of a visionary and a left-brainer” (Helmrich par. 23). Secondly, they also should be able to inspire people, make them believe in the vision, and “guide others without force” (Helmrich par. 5). The majority of people tend to think that leadership skills are limited to these qualities. However, many of the interviewees have admitted that it is also important to let the members of the team create their own vision and develop leadership skills. So, leaders do not suppress people. Just the opposite, they know “when to step back and let others take the lead” (Helmrich par. 12). Jonas Falk describes leadership as “the ability to take an average team of individuals and transform them into superstars” (Helmrich par. 27). And that is impossible without letting people innovate and contribute to the common cause.

Major Types of Leadership Behavior

As it has been already mentioned before, leadership is a broad collective term, and by this word, people usually mean very different concepts. What is even more surprising is that all of them are actually right, considering the fact that there are many types of leadership and leadership behavior, which widely vary. As Wart states, there are “true styles… as well as a nonstyle and a combined style” (47). In this part of the paper, let us examine the primary ones.

Laissez-Faire Style

Laissez-faire style is a nonstyle mentioned above. It can also be called “a hands-off style” (Wart, 36). It is characterized by leaders’ indifference. According to it, leaders do not care about any strategies and let their subordinates make the decisions.

Directive Style

This approach implies giving particular tasks to the members of the team for them to understand what they are expected to do. In such a case, leaders let their subordinates know that following a schedule and rules has to be of the highest importance.

Supportive Style

Supportive style is one of people-oriented. It considers the needs of subordinates and adapts to those. One of the main aims is to build a well-knit team and provide its members with a friendly-working atmosphere.

Participative Style

Leaders who choose this strategy tend to consult with their subordinates and consider their opinions while making the decisions. They prefer giving advice instead of instructions and let the team know that every member is valued.

Delegative Style

According to this approach, leaders do not only consider the team members’ opinions in regard to business but also give them relative freedom in decision making and reduce control over day-to-day tasks.

Achievement-oriented Style

Leaders give their teams challenging tasks encouraging them to achieve better results. The central goal is progress and improvement.

This list can be expanded. However, the major types are described above. To tell the truth, leaders rarely use only one of those. Most commonly, leadership behavior is a blend of several styles, and that is exactly what Wart calls a “combined” one (47).

Methods for Studying the Effects of Leadership Behavior

Many different models, methods, and approaches can be used to study the leadership behavior and its effects on the team and the common cause. Firstly, among those are various types of surveys, such as questionnaires, interviews, and others. Secondly, case studies (which can be defined as detailed investigations of particular cases) are also often used. Besides, participant observations are very efficient. Those can be either evident or undercover. However, the undercover ones usually give more accurate results since when people know that they are observed, they can act differently on purpose. Finally, secondary analysis is imperative. Any information that has been gathered should be revised and rethought several times.

For instance, Fernandez conducted a survey with 100,571 respondents who were asked to rate the quality of work done by their groups using a scale from one to five (182). Then they had to do the same relatively their satisfaction with the results. Considering the responses, researchers could measure the dependent variables (the quality of work and job satisfaction). To do this, they counted the number of votes for every possible answer and calculated the mean, which was 4.18 for the quality of work and 3.77 for job satisfaction (Fernandez 182). That is a prime example of a survey.

First, studies concerning leadership were conducted to identify particular leaders’ traits (Fernandez 175). A few decades later, researchers focused on leadership behavior, dividing it into several types, and studying them separately. Finally, people started evaluating the effects of leadership. As proof of it, a study described above was aimed to estimate the efficiency of different types of leadership behavior.

Leadership Traits

So, the first researchers wanted to find out what unique traits leaders had, and due to various tests and studies, those were finally determined. However, before discussing them in this paper, it would be useful to explain the concept of personality traits as such.

Personality Traits

The term trait refers to an individual’s ability that is given from birth. In other words, a person either has a particular trait or does not have it; it can hardly be acquired or lost at some stage of life. Surely, traits can be both positive and negative.

There is a specific set of traits that helps to identify a leader. All of them can be divided into several categories, including emotional, social, intelligent, and even physical ones (“Leadership Traits” par. 1). Among leadership traits, there are self-assurance and self-confidence, ambitiousness, emotional stability, enthusiasm, tough-mindedness, sociability, and others. Leaders also need physical stamina and high levels of stress resistance.

Traits Approach Leadership

Traits approach was one of the first leadership theories. Although many people assume that it is wrong and based on nothing, it has been the backbone of many leadership theories, especially the earliest ones. According to it, what makes an individual a leader is a particular set of traits, which are given to him or her since birth and remain stable throughout life. This leaves people with the concept of born leaders and denies the possibility to become a leader at some stage of life.

Traits approach is still useful since it provides us with the list of essential leadership traits, some of which have already been mentioned above. Many present-day researchers and experts agree with it on the point that “if an individual possesses such traits, she or he will be a successful leader in any situation” (Fleenor 831).

The main drawback of this approach is that it does not take into consideration any situational variables. Besides, early researchers did not find any significant differences between leaders and people who followed them (Fleenor 831).

Leadership Skills

Unlike traits, which are given to an individual from birth and are the natural abilities, skills can be trained, developed, gained, and lost at every stage of life. In this part of the paper, the most important for leader skills are discussed.

Managerial Competencies

Some people consider leadership and management as synonyms. Some of them think that an individual can be a leader without being a manager, while a manager is a leader by default. However, none of these opinions is fully correct. Managers have the power – leaders have influence. Managers control – leaders inspire. Managers have subordinates – leaders have followers. The list of differences can be expanded. However, despite the fact that leadership and management are not the same, those concepts usually overlap, and leaders often have many managerial skills and competencies. Moreover, those are essential.

While a leader can define a goal and explain why it is the best possible option, a manager is able to implement it. Managers have the power to control people, tell them what to do, set priorities, and schedule. These competencies are imperative since the inspiration, which leaders can give, is often not enough to complete the project. When the euphoria passes, a leader needs something more than just an inspiration.

Besides, leaders also need such managerial competencies as strategic planning and business and financial literacy. As managers, they have to be a connecting link between their subordinates and their superiors, considering the needs and meeting the demands of both of them. Moreover, they have to be willing to make the right decisions and make their choices, even if those are tough.

Intellectual Skills

Another essential for leader abilities are intellectual ones. Those are critical, analytical and creative thinking, problem-solving skills, and so on. Critical thinking enables leaders to examine every situation from different perspectives, always ask for additional details, and question any findings or conclusions, even their own. Critical thinking brings clarity, precision, accuracy, logic, problem-solving skills, etc. On the other hand, creative thinking is necessary since the critical one is not a panacea. Creative thinkers, besides using all of the skills mentioned above, also apply different approaches, finding several possible solutions instead of only one. Creativity implies improvisation, spontaneity, even risk-taking, and making mistakes. Mistakes are not the disasters – it is just another reason to overdo yourself. Einstein made twenty-three crucial mistakes, and in spite of them (or because of them), he still succeeded (Schoemaker 147).

Human Skills

True leaders usually have well-developed human skills, which are needed to improve relations with others, including both the followers and the superiors. Leaders are lenient; they have compassion and empathy. They do not put their personal interests above their followers’ needs and do not treat them disrespectfully. Leaders also “realize that individuals are unique and have God-given talents and potentials to make them productive and useful contributors to the organization” (Kasule par. 1). So, they believe in people and help followers to develop extraordinary abilities and skills. Besides, leaders also need interpersonal and communication skills, which lie at the very core of a human-based working environment.

Technical Skills

Technical skills are probably the easiest part. That is because those can be learned while the ability of an individual to think creatively or be lenient is much more complicated. By technical skills, we can understand computer literacy, the ability to work with data, knowledge of algorithms, etc. Sometimes the even deeper experience is needed, such as coding, knowledge of several programming languages, etc. Technical skills are imperative for leaders since the majority of present-day professions require those.

Situational Leadership Model

Founded by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard, situational leadership is one of the most useful and widely accepted theories that can help different kinds of leaders to influence their teams more effectively (Northouse 99). According to this theory, there is not any general leading behavior to use in every possible case. Therefore, a leader’s choice should always depend on the situation. Besides identifying the goals and tasks, leaders have to consider their followers’ readiness, and depending on it, decide what style of leadership behavior should be chosen: directing, supporting, delegating, or coaching (Northouse 100). The situational leadership model is simple and easy to implement. Besides, while the majority of other leadership models are descriptive, this one is prescriptive. The main strength is that it is flexible and considers the followers’ needs and interests.

To conclude, leadership is a much wider and complicated term that people tend to think. It encompasses many styles and types of behavior, various traits that are given to people with birth and skills, which are never too late in training and developing. As for me, this topic is very interesting to study and even more interesting to implement. I do not agree with the concept of born leaders and believe that if you want to become a good one, you can gain the majority of necessary skills. As for the leadership theories and models, I support the situational one since it considers the followers’ reactions. Hence, it is able to provide better productivity and satisfaction of work, as well as give better results.

Works Cited

Fernandez, Sergio. “Examining the Effects of Leadership Behavior on Employee Perceptions of Performance and Job Satisfaction.” Public Performance & Management Review 32.2 (2008): 175-205. Print.

Fleenor, John W. Trait Approach to Leadership. 2006. Web.

Helmrich, Brittney. 30 Ways to Define Leadership. 2015. Web.

Kasule, Omar Hasan. Human Skills of Leaders. 2007. Web.

Leadership Traits. n.d. Web.

Northouse, Peter G. Leadership: Theory and Practice. 6th ed. 2012. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications. Print.

Schoemaker, Paul J. H. Brilliant Mistakes: Finding Success on the Far Side of Failure, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Wharton Digital Press, 2011. Print.

Wart, Montgomery. Leadership in Public Organizations: An Introduction. 2nd ed. 2014. New York, New York: Routledge. Print.