Leadership in Public Organizations

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Leadership refers to the social influence with which an individual captures the support of another person or a group of people for the attainment of a given goal. This paper seeks to discuss leadership approaches. Based on an interview with a specific leader, the paper will identify and look into some of the leadership approaches exhibited by the person.

Biography and leadership style of Alex

My chosen candidate is a male born in the year 1962. His academic background is coupled with studies in literature and degrees in French and journalism. He studied in York University and the currently renamed Ryerson University. He is a married man with two children and is social with involvements in social networks such as Twitter and blog. Alex has been in leadership positions for a long period of time that amounts to about twenty years.

Before entering into leadership levels, he worked in a number of literature based capacities that included being a reporter, an editor as well as a freelance consultant. He has also been working as a teacher at Humber for the past nine years. His leadership roles at different levels have been gradually rising with his duration of service. One of his initial leadership roles involved coordination of events that he performed in two government ministries.

He worked in this capacity in the ministry of tourism and recreation and the ministry of culture in which he was a tour coordinator. He also worked as a client coordinator dealing with finance. Top leadership roles however faced him when he was appointed to the position of overseeing the management and corporate affaires at service Ontario. He currently serves two ministries in Ontario, ministry of finance and the ministry of revenue as communications and corporate affairs as a specialist. His professional qualification is in the field of communications.

Leadership approach

There are a number of leadership approaches: “traits theory, behaviouristic theory, contingency theory and charismatic theory”.1 With consideration to leadership approaches and analysis of the styles of leadership that are identified from the subject leader, his leadership approaches can be best explained by the traits theory. The traits theory explains that the success of a leader comes through his traits or character. The principle of the traits theory is thus based on an individual character that can qualify someone as either a successful or unsuccessful leader. Personality is one of the characteristic features that define a leader.

According to Aquinas, an individual’s personality is defined by “physical characteristics and the level of maturity” that the individual exhibits.2 The presence of good personality traits in a person is thus a revelation of a good leader.

Features such as being able to pay attention to others with respect to their views and at the same time treating their opinions with respect is, for instance, good character that can lift a person to the level of being considered an outstanding leadership. Having the ability to control people into making decisions through personality also illustrates the trait theory. Under the traits theory, a good leader is expected to be more intelligent as compared to the average intelligence level of the people under him. This is particularly important in initiating the level of influence that is the core element of a leader.

Being less intelligent than followers may cost the leader’s capacity to have influence over the led group. Traits theory also entails the capacity to comprehend approaches that can yield solution to the group through high level of imagination. A good leader is also supposed to make and command initiatives into solutions of the group’s problems. Other features of traits theory include “maturity, desire to accept responsibility, self confidence, flexibility, fairness and objectivity and being considerate”.3

Exemplification of the Approach

Active listening

One of the elements that are evident in the leader’s approach in his course of work is his ability to listen. One of the credits that the leader made to his experience is being open to diverse views of the people that he leads. In response to the qualities that are important to him as a leader, he clarified that the most critical quality is listening skills which he further qualified to be productive listening skills. His approach to decision making is also purely based on listening through which he gets advice and opinion from his team members. Listening is identified to be a critical element of any given leadership. It has actually been noted that most leaders lack the ability to listen to their juniors.

Reports such as leaders “don’t listen well, are impatient, judgmental, arrogant, or unaware” of what their juniors are going through are common complaints that are registered in organizations.4 Listening skills with respect to leadership have been identified with a diverse aspect of relations among people. It is, for example, through listening that a leader will be able to handle emotional problems of his team members. Emotions can similarly arise in a forum in which a team is holding discussions into finding a solution to its problem.

The ability of the leader to offer opportunities and at the same time control emotions from spilling to other team members thus plays a critical role. A leader’s listening skills should also give room for criticism which should not specifically amount to the critic being punished. For listening to be effective, the listener is supposed to develop a deep understanding of the point that is being put across.

Before the leader comes to a conclusion over any given opinion, it is necessary that the raised points or opinions be considered with respect to the conditions under which they are raised as well as the person who raises them. Such an understanding will help the leader to associate with the reasoning behind the ideas as well as get insights into preventing or controlling unnecessary emotions. Other elements such as promoting direct interaction with team members, taking into consideration opinions that are offered by other people, accepting the diversity of people’s opinion as well as imagining being the position of the individuals who offer the opinions are also key ingredients to listening in leadership.5

Though the leader understands that the ultimate responsibility to make decisions lies with him, he recognizes the fact that leadership is not about imposing decision on group members but adoption of a direction that the group will be willing to follow. He regards respect and considerations or raised opinions as key ingredients to effective listening. He also identifies asking of question and remaining open to the views that are offered.

He believes that adopting these approaches helps to develop listening in the leader as well as promoting communication within the group. Hoppe agrees to this opinion with respect to enhancing listening and leadership abilities of an individual. He illustrates aspects such as “showing respect, showing appreciation, gathering information, questioning assumptions and ideas and building relationships” among others as key to developing leadership and listening.

Hoppe expresses the fact that a leader is supposed to accurately capture what is being expressed by a speaker at any given time. The accurate capture of the information is supposed to be followed by a clear understanding of the presented ideas. “Drawing out ideas and information and weighing options” makes key components of effective listening.6

For a listening process to be effective and active, it must consist of six basics, “paying attention, holding judgment, reflecting, clarifying, summarizing, and sharing”.7 Paying attention starts with provision of a favorable environment for expression of opinion. The listening leader must poses a friendly tone and at the same time offer sufficient opportunity for the other party to establish and express their arguments.

The leader’s attention and body language must be aligned to the speaker in order to express a level of respect. Holding judgment on the other hand refers to suspension of any criticism or expression of thought when the other party is expressing his or her views. The leader is at this moment expected to maintain openness with respect to ideas and give room to people with respect to identification of new possibility for the team.

A leader ought not to think that he or she is always right and that the right to generate and give directions lies with him or her. The diversity of team members may be rich in different levels of specialization that can provide helpful insights into the final decision. Immediate judgments that can discourage the members should be refrained from and a clear and neutral understanding be offered to the speaker. Another important element in effective and active listening is the reflection of the idea or suggestion that has been presented before the leader. There should never be an assumed understanding or prejudgment of individuals in a discussion.

The leader must approach every suggestive move by his team members independently of the steps taken by other people or even from other instances in which the speaker has been on record. These will limit prejudgment that might blur the leader’s understanding of and listening to opinions. For each and every presented view, the leader should undertake a reflection of what is being aired out with respect to the actual opinions and the emotions with which the ideas are presented.

Response is not actually necessary at this point and the leader must ensure restraint from expressions that could discourage or intimidate the speaker at any given moment. On the contrary, the leader should give an indication that he is glued to the speaker and that his interest is to gain an understanding of the speaker’s ideas. Ensured attention, refrained judgment or even thorough reflection might not guarantee an understanding by the leader.

Besides, the understanding is not just beneficial to the speaker in terms of encouragement but critical to the leader with respect to helping the leader in arriving at a decision that will not only built cohesion among his team in to pursuing the objectives of the team but also to helping the leader in making decisions that will determine his level of success.

Clarity of the raised suggestions is therefore critical to a leader who is committed to developing leadership through communication. The raised ideas need not just be heard or understood with a possibility of being discarded as the leader adopts a decision. The leader can at the same time learn from the views presented by the team or allow his team members to learn from one another in such forums. Clarification of every contribution is therefore essential to both the leader and his team members. The leader needs to call for clarifications on any point that is not well put across. Views can at times be expressed that are ambiguous and confusing.

They might either lack the sharpness of meaning or be characterized with numerous possible meanings that will bring confusion to the leader or the group. Ability to identify such ambiguity should be a quality of the leader who is then supposed to probe the speaker into clarity. Encouragements for elaborations of intentions for such statements or offering a questioning approach to help in extracting the exact meaning as intended by the speaker. Expressions of asking the speaker to repeat his or her statements should be structured in a polite way that will not impose any negative feeling on the part of the speaker.

The leader can use approaches such as admitting that he or she failed to capture the exact meaning of what was said or the fact that the point was not clearly received. Asking questions also helps team members to think over the subject topic and refine views before they are presented for consideration.8

The listening process is then facilitated by the process of summarizing the content that is presented by the speaker. The leader may make a summary of presumed important elements that have been presented by the speaker or even request the speaker to make such summary. Expressions such as, I believe that your major point is about…, among other frames of summary will help in counter checking if the points as presented by the speaker were well captured.

The leader will as well be able to confirm if important views were captured by calling upon the speaker to make a summary of his main points. Once the leader has offered time to his members and ensured an understanding of their views, he establishes his opinions over the same to also make sure that the team members understand his position. Such steps as sharing opinions by the leader can be made between contributions by members or accumulated for presentation after all members have expressed their views.

Presentations of previous encounters by the leader in almost similar circumstances can, for example, aid understandings in the discussion. With an effective listening on both sides of the team, the leader and the members, a clear decision can then be made by the leader that will cohesively carry the team towards implementation of its objectives.

According to my chosen leader, the listening and understanding of the people that a leader works with are fundamental to the success of the leadership. He believes that there should be a level of openness in discussions to help bring an understanding as the team moves forward. He argued that the leader must not always think that he has the solution to the team’s problems, but on the contrary let the solutions have some level of originality from the team. He also believes that the best way to make decisions that involves a group is to let them make suggestions in a discussion forum and then make the final decision as a leader based on the contributions made by the members.9

Cognitive ability

Cognitive ability refers to the intellectual level that an individual possess. This intellect can be biological in terms of intelligence quotient or can be acquired through experience. In the interview over leadership, one of the important things that were highlighted by my chosen leader was knowledge and skills possessed by team members. He, for example, identified his keys to success to include aspects like teamwork skills, talents among people, ability to learn among others. Though he has a vast level of academic knowledge and experience, he is still open to learning. His leadership is based on sharing of knowledge before an important leadership decision is made.

Cognitive ability has been recognized as a fundamental tool to effective leadership. Cognitive ability is on its own so diverse and include a number of aspects such as a leader being intelligent, being wise as well as possessing high creativity abilities. The intelligence aspect of cognitive leadership ability, for instance, entails the ability to make use of acquired skills in the leadership process. The leader must first have sufficient knowledge over his leadership and have the capacity to retrieve and apply the right intellect at the right time with respect to generating and implementing solutions in leadership. Though a wealth of knowledge is required of a leader, he or she is at the same time not expected to always have personal reliance in decision making.

Significant help with initiatives and ideas are occasionally expected from the people who surround the leader. It is therefore important to note that as much as the leader ought to have knowledge and the capacity to identify and use that knowledge, there is also the required ability that the leader identify and be able to extract and use such knowledge that could be possessed by people who surround the leader.

The process therefore calls for the intelligence capacity to verify and analyze the retrieved ideas so as to make decisions on the step to be taken by the leader. There must be the ability to identify the option that will best solve the issue or the problem that will be facing the leader together with his team.

Research has over time demonstrated a significant level of correlation between cognitive ability and the level of success of a given leadership. Ambrose and Cross presented the claim that cognitive ability is the most reliable in association with leadership among the personal characteristic features that are identified with the trait theory. Cognitive ability has also been significant in development of leadership in individuals. This means that there is a generally proved perception that individuals with high intelligence quotients are more likely to develop leadership qualities faster than the other category. Just as it helps in establishing success in an established leader, cognitive ability is directly associated with the development of leadership in an individual.

According to the authors, the level of academic qualifications of an individual determines the corresponding level of success of that individual in leadership and in any other professional engagement that is encountered. One of the importance of cognitive ability as recognized by Ambrose and Cross is the need for individual professionals to make adjustments to changing working conditions that are realized to be changing into more complex operations with time.

Factors such as development of new technology is, for example, continuously changing the job functions in work places and calling for adjustments of workers or acquisition of new skills at every level in an organization. Leaders are therefore simultaneously expected to have their knowledge developed as their team members acquire new skills so as to be averagely above the intellectual capacity of the people that he is leading.

A leader must therefore have the intelligence capacity to learn fast enough to be in line with changing technology that imposes changes in the operations of organization and leadership. Another drive to change is the increasing level competition that calls for critical approaches to decision making. Whether working in a profit oriented organization or a non profit motivated one, there is always the need to meet the satisfaction of the target group. Increased level of competition in markets therefore calls for the cognitive ability to identify the techniques and approaches that can help the leader and his team to be on top of competitors. The ability to identify and create avenues for solutions and the capacity to identify the best of available solutions are thus critical elements for the success of the goals of any given leadership.10

The nature and basis of leadership or even the management of organizations in general that is characterized with problems and challenges to be solved also draws the essence of cognitive ability leadership. The level of complexity that is involved in processes requires critical intellectual approaches for the establishment of appropriate solutions. High levels of risks that are involved in decisions made also calls for cautionary measures in the implementation processes that in turn require the capacity to carry out a prior analysis and projection of the expected processes and their corresponding challenges for control measures.

All these development requires a level of intellectual competent to help in coordinating all processes for an eventual success of a team and its leader. Some of the basic elements of cognitive ability that are directly associated with leadership are identified to include “strong ability and desire to learn, ability to efficiently solve novel and ill defined problems together with divergent or creative thinking”.11

The cognitive ability can also be extended to the capacity of a leader to identify ways into self evaluation that can help the leader to identify his or her leadership progress for improvement. My chosen leader actually identifies with cognitive ability both at personal level and at team level. This is evident in his recognition of talent and skills as being the key to his success as leader. He also values learning and growing as a leader for development of leadership capacity. His cognitive ability is also evident in his illustrated decision making process in which he starts by identifying the ability in his team by involving them in generating ideas. His personal ability is exhibited in his final decision making that is not dictated by opinions presented by his team members.12

Emotional maturity

Emotional maturity covers the ability to balance features that relates to psychology and behavior of individuals in a surrounding. There are always exhibited characteristics among people in a group that tends to negatively affect relationships among members of such groups. Study and research over leadership have similarly identified emotional maturity as a critical factor to leadership success. One of the elements of emotional maturity is self awareness.

Under self awareness, individual personalities are recognized to help in identifying people’s strengths and weaknesses. Identification of these features in an individual and appreciating them at the same time generates confidence and empowerment to the individual who will then understand that weaknesses can at times lead to failures that should be overcome every time they occur.

While an individual that is not emotionally mature will tend to have pride over his or her strengths while hiding weaknesses, a mature individual will express both in a balanced way to avoid being overwhelmed by either. This maturity thus helps in controlling negative effects due to failure to make achievements. Self awareness is thus critical right from the leader all the way down to the team members. A leader who is emotionally mature will for example be able to cushion both him and the group from psychological torture that can negatively affect future performance. Self awareness and subsequent exposure of strengths and weaknesses also helps in allocation of roles in order of individuals’ specialized capacity.

Self control is another element of emotional maturity that contributes to leadership success. The level of performance of a team highly depends on the ability of the leader as well as those of team members to control their emotions. This is because unchecked emotional spill over, especially if they are from the leader will have a direct impact on attitudes of the group. The leader’s emotions, with respect to whether controlled or not, will either motivate the team to put in more effort or will discourage the team. Leaders who have experienced a level of emotional maturity therefore control their negative emotions in cases of setbacks and ensure that motivational attitudes are expressed as soon as possible.

Another aspect of emotional maturity is in regard to taking responsibility over decisions and the impacts of such decisions. This is because of the nature of operations that are first coupled with numerous risks and a subsequent need for efficiency in results. Immaturity in this area may lead to a person failing to make a decision or leaving such decisions to the entire group, a process that may be slow and yield a wrong decision. This group of leaders will also tend to shift blames for their actions to other people, a move that might discourage team members. Mature leaders however take responsibility for the groups actions and decisions.

The ability to control emotional reactions of the led group is also a feature of emotional maturity. The ability of my chosen leader to include emotional aspects such as being open with elements of humor, accepting mistakes, being compassionate with empathy and being able to control his team in even hostile conditions exhibits his sense of emotional maturity.13


The leader that I chose and interviewed thus experienced a high level of leadership ability that can be best explained using the trait theory. Some of the traits that are clearly evident in him include listening skills, cognitive ability and emotional maturity.


Ambler, George. “The six skills for successful active listening”. The practice of leadership, 2008. Web.

Ambrose, Don & Cross Tracy, Morality, ethics and gifted minds. New York, NY: Springer, 2009

Aquinas, Patric. Principles of management. New Delhi, India: Anmol Publications PVT, 2005.

Hoppe, Michael. Active listening: Improving your ability to listen and lead. North Carolina: Centre for Creative Leadership, 2007.

Wart, Montgomery. Leadership in public organizations: an introduction. New York, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2007.


  1. Aquinas P., Principles of management. (New Delhi, India: Anmol Publications PVT, 2005). pp 220, 221.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Hoppe, Michael, Active listening: Improving your ability to listen and lead. (North Carolina: Centre for Creative Leadership, 2007). P. 8.
  5. Ibid p 9.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ambler, George. The six skills for successful active listening. (The practice of leadership, 2008). Web.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ambrose, Don & Cross Tracy, Morality, ethics and gifted minds. (New York, NY: Springer, 2009). P. 33.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Wart, Montgomery, Leadership in public organizations: an introduction. (New York, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2007). P. 141.

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