Leadership: Theory, Application and Development


The term leadership refers to the act of organizing a group of people to achieve a shared goal. The leader’s role is thus that of organizing this group of people with or without formal authority. The aforementioned process of influencing people socially occurs when other people affect an individual’s thoughts, actions, and feelings. Varieties of social influence include the ones listed below.

Compliance is a change in behavior but not a change in the attitude of a person. It, therefore, occurs normally as an act of one trying to be obedient to get an expected reward or to avert some foreseen punishment.

Identification refers to a change in attitude or behavior because of the influence of a person who is popular or liked. For example, advertisements that use celebrities to market their products use this phenomenon wisely to make sales. The relationship that the identifier gets with a given behavior is therefore regarded as the reward for identifying with such behavior. Interaction refers to the acceptance of certain norms that are introduced by influential people or groups. An individual accepts to be influenced due to the reward associated with a new behavior that defines the influence (Argyris, 2010, p. 72).

Culture refers to a pattern of shared basic assumptions that a group learns as it shares its problems of external adaptation and internal integration. These patterns are normally time tested to work well enough, and to be valid in a community. They, therefore, form the basis of teachings to new members as the correct way to perceive, think and feel about those problems. A leader can embed or transmit culture in a group by teaching his/her assumptions by using his/her charisma, by socialization or by simply exuding confidence (Bratton et al., 2004, p. 43).

Competitive advantage refers to the strategic advantage that one business has over its rival entities within its competitive industry. Achieving competitive advantage strengthens and positions a business better within the business environment. The theory of competitive advantage suggests that entities like businesses and states ought to come up with policies whose product is the manufacture of goods of superior quality that will be able to attract high market prices.

Leadership Theories

Psychologists and thinkers have advanced several theories on the existent types of leadership. They have also identified the types of leadership that are more suitable in certain situations and the conditions under which a given type of leadership style cannot function properly. The following are some of the key theories that explain the characteristics of leadership.

The Trait Theory

This is a theory of leadership based on individual attributes. This theory got substantial exploration during the 19th century when scholars did several commendable works. For example, the writings of Thomas Carlyle and Francis Gallon, whose works have prompted decades of research. Carlyle is specifically credited with the identification of skills, talents and even the physical characteristics of a man who rose to power. Galton, on the other hand, examined leadership qualities that were present in the families of men who grew to be successful and powerful leaders.

He showed that the number of people who rose to power decreased as one considered second-degree family members instead of first-degree relatives. The conclusion here was that leadership quality was hereditary. This means that leaders were born, and not developed hence the leadership qualities were rooted in the characteristics of the leader (Cacioppe, 1998, p. 49). This theory proposed that several qualities and characteristics that were inherent in some people made them leaders. Those who did not possess such characteristics were therefore not leaders. Such qualities included intelligence, dominance, adaptability, persistence, integrity, socioeconomic status, and self-confidence.

Improvements in the use of round-robin as a methodology for research made researchers understand the fact that leaders can emerge out of a variety of people who are involved in varying tasks and issues. This theory also found out that significant relationships exist between leaders and such individual traits e.g. intelligence, conscientiousness openness to experience and general self-efficacy. This theory advocates that the traits that a leader possesses can enable him to transform the thinking of those who follow him/her and by so doing, he can become successful in whatever it is he/she heads.

The qualities that are inherent in the leaders that other people in the same competitive business area do not have shall enable them to triumph over their competitors and thereby they shall have a competitive advantage over their competitors (Lussier et al., 2003, p. 45). There however have been substantial criticisms on this theory of leadership. It has been claimed that this theory failed to consider patterns of integration of multiple attributes that are important in a leader. The theory does not consider how the stability of a leader depends on his or her behavior.

It is common knowledge that behavioral diversity is necessary for effective leadership and thus this theory fails to differentiate between the attributes of a leader that cannot be considered as generally dynamic in a certain period and the ones that are designed by, and bound to the influences of certain situations. He also claimed that the theory only focuses on a small group of individuals. For instance, the Big Five traits of personal behavior, the ability to solve problems, social skills, values, neglect of cognitive abilities and even motives in everything that the person does (Margo, 2003, p. 76).

Behavioural and Style Leadership Theory

This theory of leadership emerged after criticisms of the trait approach. Theorists began to perceive leadership from the perspective of behaviors, they also set out to evaluate how successful leaders behaved, and they determined the taxonomy of behavior as well as the different styles that leadership can assume. They agreed that leadership takes a strong personality and a well-developed personal ego. Scholars also determined that the quality of self-confidence and high self-esteem are prerequisites to the making of a great leader (Northouse, 2005, p. 17).

Research has shown that leaders tend to use their intuition and influence to make groups succeed in attaining their goals. This is achieved by putting into use various techniques such as management of the tasks that groups are expected to perform, praising the group or individuals within the group for exemplary performance, and even organized decision making and feedback on issues related to the group. The various decision-making techniques that are employed by leaders in a group include authoritarian, democratic and laissez-faire.

A behavioral theory of leadership also involves the use of positive reinforcement. For example, when an employee in an organization comes to work on time and the leader in that organization notices this and praises the said employee, the employee is motivated and will more often than not come to work on time regularly. This increases production and output in such an organization. The praise given to the employee by his/her leader becomes the stimuli and the act of coming to work on time regularly by the employee is the behavior.

This theory can lead to the realization of competitive advantage because the leader tends to motivate the followers to participate in the organization’s activities simply by asserting a given type of stimuli that triggers a positive behavior change in the followers or employees. Empirical research carried out in the last 20years suggests that this sort of reinforcement theory has a seventeen percent increase in the performance of employees. It is also inexpensive in terms of costs and therefore it is cost-effective while increasing profits.

Functional Theory

This theory is useful in determining the behaviors that a leader should specifically have to ensure organizational success or effectiveness. The theory’s view of organizational success is that an organization must have a leader who understands the needs of the organization well, and who can mobilize resources, both human and monetary to address the needs of the said organization. The leader should also be able to effectively address the needs of groups working within the organization to make sure that they work effectively, and he/she should also ensure that groups are as cohesive as possible.

The theory is, therefore, best applied to team leadership, although it works well with organizational leadership (Spiro, 2003, p. 29). Under this theory, the leader is supposed to perform five main functions in promoting an organization’s effectiveness. These include involvement in groups’ work, monitoring of the working environment, coming up with required activities and other subordinate activities and organizing them effectively, developing the skills of his/her subordinates, rewarding or motivating subordinates, etc.

To facilitate the functions that are entrusted to a leader the leader must exhibit a variety of behaviors associated with effective leadership. For example, a leader should be able to show concern to subordinates and support the other people working under his/her watch. The leader of the group is also expected to set performance standards and to clarify roles to his/her subordinates. He/she should also maintain effective management and he/she should devise a way of making the followers accountable to the set standards (Hamm, 2011, p. 73).

The functional theory, therefore, implies that the culture of any particular organization runs through the leader for it is the leader who runs the entire setup. The group is seen to be working when the leader is effective and the more hands-on the leader is in any group, the more successful the group becomes (Goetsch & Davis, 2009, p. 34). The group with the most active leader, who assigns precise functions to his /her followers, therefore, enjoys an edge over the other competing groups.

Situational and Contingency Theories

The above-stated theory is a modification of the trait theory. It was developed as scholars tried to react to the stipulations of the trait theory. The theory states that every given task, situation or activity calls for a different set of behavioral characteristics that can be used to define the ideal person to be a leader in that setup. This theory, therefore, assumes the absence of a single psychographic profile that can fit all leaders (Naisbett, 1990, p. 20). The theory thus states that a leader’s behavior is largely defined by the circumstances in which the leader acts.

The theory, due to its dependence on environmental factors, defined leadership styles according to the environment in which the styles can work best. The authoritarian leadership style can be considered ideal in crises but it is highly inappropriate for the day-to-day running of an organization (Hitt, 1990, p. 78). The second type, the democratic style, is more appropriate in situations that need consensus building, while the third style, leissez faire, can be considered appropriate in situations where people take initiatives and responsibility because it advocates for freedom. Leissez faire is, however, inappropriate in cases where organizations need to handle a thorny issue because it will be hard to get people to take initiative.

Theorists have therefore defined this leadership style as contingent to the situation hence the name contingency theory. In recent years, four contingency leadership models have appeared. These include:

The fielder contingency model

In this model of leadership, two types of leaders are identified. The first types of leader are relationship-oriented. These leaders achieve their effectiveness by ensuring a good relationship between them and the groups they lead. The second type of leader is the one who has his/her prime concern in carrying out the task itself. This type of leader is said to be task-oriented (Sankar, 2003, p. 51).

The two types of leaders, therefore, become effective as long as their orientation of leadership is appropriate for their situations. When a good leader-member relationship exists, when the task is a structured one, and when the power of the leader is high, the situation is said to be favorable. Research has shown that the performance of relationship-oriented leaders is favored by intermediate situations while that of task-oriented leaders is best in extreme conditions of favourability.

The Vroom-Yetton decision model

This model was developed by Victor Vroom and Philip Yetton in 1973 and later with Arthur Jago in 1988. They developed a taxonomy that describes the situations of leadership that should be used in normative decision making. The styles of leadership were thus connected with the variables of a certain situation, determining which variable was best for which situation. This approach, therefore, asserts that one manager can be able to make different decisions concerning a certain group depending on the situation under which the specific group is operating (Goleman et al., 2002, p. 65). It is from this model that the situational contingency model arose.

The path-goal theory

This theory was developed by Robert Hanse in 1971. According to this theory, for a leader to be effective, he/she has to be able to complement his environment with strong behaviors, and he/she must have abilities that compensate for any deficiencies. This theory identifies four leadership behaviors i.e. directive, supportive, and participative and achievement-oriented behaviors, which are contingent on the environmental factors and follower characteristics.

This theory has a sharp contrast to the Fielder model in that it claims the aforementioned behaviors associated with leadership are fluid and thus all leaders can use the behaviors depending on the situations they are in. This theory can, therefore, be classified as either contingent because it is dependent on the situation or transactional. After all, it is a strong advocate of the dynamism of behaviors between the leader and the followers (Owens &Valesky, 2010, p. 23).

The Harsey-Blanchard situational theory

The situational leadership model whose proponents are Harsey and Blanchard has four styles of leadership and it also has four levels for the development of the followers of the leader. It suggests that the style of leadership that the leader portrays should be by the level in which the followers of the leader are developed. However, in this model, the behaviors of a leader are a function of both the characteristics associated with the leader and the characteristics associated with the followers.

The situational and contingency theories, therefore, have a lot of bearing when it comes to competitive advantage in any economic setup. Task-oriented leaders will likely accomplish the same in a period that is less than an already stipulated deadline hence production is kept constant in any economy (Levick& Slack, 2010, p. 43). This also sits well with the values that are practiced in these organizations. Most leaders who are task-oriented are well received and acclaimed because they are result-oriented. People always want to be associated with success, and therefore the culture of winning and the mentality of success will kick in.

The Neo-Emergent Theory

This theory of leadership is based on the functional leadership model. It emerged from the Oxford School of Leadership, and it asserts that the information that a person who leads disseminates is what creates leadership through other stakeholders but not through the leader. This can be explained using modern-day examples like the media, both print and televised.

The aforementioned channels may give their opinions about the competences of a given leader based on certain facts or based on their viewpoint. This could be as a result of having been paid to write a story on a person or from a political angle. Such writing could be in the interest of the leader, the author or the media house (Day, 2001, p. 589). It can, therefore, be generally assumed that the way people perceive leadership is a creation of the people themselves and that the perception does not reflect true leadership.

The Neo- Emergent Theory hence shows that a person who is viewed as a leader may or may not have the true leadership qualities inherent in people of his/her estate. Theirs could be a compromise of values by interested persons or organizations or even by the said leader to maintain his/her acclaimed status and niche (Kotter, 1996, p. 87). This, however, could prove detrimental to the group he/she leads because such a group may not be at a better place when it comes to favorable competition with her existing competitors in the same line of operation.

Transactional and Transformational Theories

Under the transactional theory, the transactional leader is given the power to perform certain tasks and has a mandate to either reward or punish accordingly depending on the outcome of the team activity. It gives the manager the mandate to guide/lead his or her group and the group subsequently follows the leader to achieve a predetermined goal that is rewarded with something else. The leader has the power to train, evaluate and correct the subordinates when the output is not up to the required standards and also reward the employees’ effectiveness when the desired objective is achieved. An example of the concept of transactional leadership is in Idiosyncrasy Credits.

The transformational leader motivates his team to be effective and efficient, and the entire group uses communication as the basis for goal achievement (Goldsmith et al., 1997, p. 58). This type of leader is highly visible and uses a chain of commands to get the job done. The transactional leader is known to focus on the things that matter, and he has a team of people working under him/her who concentrate on the details. He is the type of leader who is always looking for ideas that can move the organization to realize the company’s vision.

Because culture involves a set of norms generally accepted for the smoothly running of an organization, these norms and values have to be upheld and for the organization to achieve a competitive advantage over her competitors. The norms also help the organization to carve its niche in any given line. Sound leadership has to be infused and for any group, the leader has to be responsible for both the group’s successes and failures. It is a culture that defines leadership because one needs to understand the culture to understand the organization, and therefore, any leader has to understand any new environment before attempting any change in any given organization (Learmer, 2002, p. 84).

In summary, a leader should study the group norms, standards, and values, the leader should also understand all the rules in any organization he/she works in, and he/she must develop a habit of sharing knowledge to encourage socialization.

The Impact of Current Economic, Technological and Social Trends on Organization Leadership

The current economic, technological and social trends on an organization’s leadership are diverse and also vary according to the type of economy that is being addressed. Different economies have different modes of uplifting their livelihoods. For example, the Chinese economy runs on a different mode because of factors like population. Europe, on the other hand, has most countries that are industrialized and therefore, its economy runs on a different scale.

A country like America, on the other hand, has a lot of resources both to uplift her economy and also to fight socio-economic challenges that come with being a highly industrialized nation (Parker, 2001, p. 54). It also grapples with the diverse cultures and origins of her people, for example, some are Caucasian, others are black, there is also the Mexicans, etc.

One of the worst disadvantages of technological advancement ever to occur was the oil spill that occurred in the Timor Sea in September 2009, and which later came to be known as the Montana oil spill. An oil spill refers to the release of liquid petroleum hydrocarbon into the environment. This usually takes place in marine areas, and it is as a result of human activity. It is a form of pollution that adversely affects marine creatures. The term oil spill is, therefore, used in cases where oil enters coastal waters or in cases where accidents occur and oil is spilled into the ocean.

These spills could be due to the release of crude oil from tankers carrying such in the high seas. When such spillages occur, devastating consequences follow and usually, an ill-equipped economy takes years to take stock of the damages incurred as a result of such catastrophes. It is, therefore, the responsibility of leaders in oil companies and the government to ensure that controls are put in place to ensure that such spills do not occur (Hamilton, 1990, p. 61).

The aforementioned spill can be blamed on the leadership of the oil companies because measures should have been put in place to ensure that such incidences do not occur. The aforesaid technological advancements, therefore, also cost the countries dearly when accidents occur. Environmental sensitivity index (ESI) mapping is done to identify shoreline resources before an oil spillage event. This is done to take measures for ensuring that such incidences do not occur, and also to plan on how to clean up in case the worst happens. By planning spill responses ahead of time, the effect on the environment can be minimized or prevented (Rolland, 1990, p. 31).

The change in leadership style can also bring about economic problems towards the management of any given entity. For example, when an administration changes suddenly from laissez-faire to autocratic, then the people whom this change affects i.e. the employees will feel the impact of a system of governance that they have never dealt with. This will most likely lead to reduced output because the pressure imposed upon the people will be too much to bear and some of them will most probably rebel or even leave their work stations (Cotrell et al., 2002, p. 13).

The Chinese have made so much advancement in the information technology department, and they are one of the leading merchants of internet services. In contemporary China, E-book devices have become commonplace. This sector in the Chinese economy has brought a lot of success. The culture of authenticity in china has enabled them to buy and use their own locally produced brands of the modern devices of technology used in the world today. China has also made progress in cloud computing because its leadership has put in place policies that protect local investors from competition from foreign investors.

When the Chinese government locks out competitors from accessing her markets, she protects her industries from stiff competition from imports. At the same time, the local players in the Chinese industry continue to benefit and since the competition is scaled down, they are likely to perform poorly on the equipment. Again they can take advantage of the situation and consolidate their foothold on the market by providing the best services and devices. The impact comes from the fact that as people consume their products; services are rendered to them in their own country (Vicere, 2002, p. 30). For example, after-sales services and also equipment warranty repair that is done from within the country. This is however disadvantageous in a way because consuming own products alienates a country from the possibilities of trade with another country, and therefore the country cannot fully benefit from trade with other countries.

The advancements in the media industry also have a lot of challenges in the contemporary world. Sound leadership and in most cases, freedom in the handling of the affairs of the media have contributed to an exponential growth in the way things are run. New media is a term that emerged in the 20th century and generally refers to the possibility of having content that can be accessed anytime and anywhere on any device on-demand. In addition to this, it also refers to the possibility of having user feedback, having people participating in gin online forums creatively and the ability to form a community using the platform of this media. In addition to the aforementioned phenomenon, there is also the phenomenon of a cyber-culture that has developed due to the variety of social phenomena associated with computers and the internet.

Social media will in the future continue to be a powerful tool in communication between people and even governments. Powerful world leaders for example presidents, prime ministers, high commissioners, and even ambassadors will in the future communicate between themselves via the ever-growing social media. The United States of America is the world’s leading economy and it has made advancements in all sectors of the economy. The United States uses the vast resources available at her disposal to fully realize her objectives. The result of putting in a lot of resources comes in the volume of output that is realized.

In Europe, the economy was threatened by the world wars but stability was restored after WWII. Mass reconstruction was initiated and the Europeans took it upon themselves to rebuild Europe. With good leadership and abundant labor, the economy in Europe picked up (Mueller, 1969, p. 57). They also formed alliances and trading blocs like the European Union, which enabled the member states to trade freely among themselves. The formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) guaranteed the member states the necessary security to protect their business interests and their borders. The simmering cold war, however, slowed down the progress that was already peaking. The suspicions that arose as a result of the cold war were dealt with although some European countries that see disparities in economic matters still bare mistrust to other countries in the same trade blocs.

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