Strategies for High Performance: Leaders Perspective

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The role of an organizational leader in enhancing high performance within a team has increasingly become an interesting subject to study. Traditionally, high workplace performance was attributed to factors such as work systems and human resource management practices such as hiring recruitment, in-house training among others. Additionally, traditional theorists perceive the type of employees as having a significant influence on workplace performance.

However, recent studies reveal that achieving high-level performance goes beyond this. As a result, the role of a team or organizational leader has been brought into sharp focus. Numerous theories have been developed all attempting to link team leadership and a high level of workplace performance. However, this essay focuses on team leadership with special reference to the influence of leadership styles. Attainment of high workplace performance goes beyond a mix of human resource management practices and has been linked to a certain leadership style, particularly participative leadership.

Participative leadership is perceived to significantly influence high-level performance within an organization since it not only empowers employees but is also futuristic. It also enables employees to own the work management process as well as decision making. In doing this, employees are accountable for their actions. Effective participative leadership would not be possible if certain behaviors are absent in a leader. For instance, a participative leader ought to be empathetic as well as can build strong relationships within the team.

Additionally, excellent communication skills are necessary. However, these behaviors would largely be ineffective in the absence of assertiveness and pro-activity. An assertive team leader accrues numerous benefits, the most important of which is gaining positive perception from team members. While this builds a leader’s self-confidence, a proactive personality enables a team leader to propel the team forwards.

After more than 30 years of studies, surveys and research on high performance in the workplace, there seems to be a general conclusion among Human resource practitioners and scholars that human resource management and practices do have a direct impact on the level of workplace performance. As a result, numerous theories have been proposed on the impact of human resource practices on workplace performance. Within these theoretical frameworks, numerous concepts, such as HPWS, have been designed. HPWS is commonly referred to as High-Performance Work Systems and usually refers to a series of complex human resource management practices aimed at improving employee performance.

This is attained through the enhancement of employee skills, abilities, proficiencies, and talents. HPWS is a broad-based concept that includes numerous activities, ranging from hiring, employee appraisal to training, all intended to improve workplace performance. Within the HPWS concept, a strong emphasis has been put on employee motivation through various techniques as well as creating more opportunities for employee’s contribution in the workplace as having a significant influence on employee performance (Messersmith, Patel and Lepak, 2011).

The mention of Human resource practices implies that human resources practitioners play a significant role in improving workplace performance. Indeed, human resource practitioners are perceived to have a leading role in not only ensuring that the most effective human resource practices are implemented but also empowering employees to utilize available resources for improved workplace performance.

This further means that human resource professionals ought to not only act as managers within the workplace but also as leaders, whose primary purpose is to lead coworkers towards the attainment of the organization’s goals. As mentioned elsewhere in this essay, HPWS is a complicated concept, which has also undergone numerous tests. However, within the existing literature, there is little indication of studies done to reveal mediating factors between HPWS and improved employee performance (Messersmith, Patel and Lepak, 2011).

The presumed lack of enough scientific facts on what mediates between HPWS and improved employee performance pervasively hinders the understanding mediatory factors between HPWS and improved employee performance and seems to be a major weakness in Messersmith, Patel and Lepak’s (2011) work. However, this issue is sufficiently addressed through numerous studies. Messersmith, Patel, and Lepak (2011) indirectly implicate leadership as significantly enhancing employee’s workplace performance.

On the other hand, Sauer (2011) is more direct and implicates team leadership as significantly enhancing workplace performance, with special reference to intra-team interactions and the prevailing leadership styles. In modern-day business management, there is an overwhelming reliance on teams as the primary organizational units through which the attainment of the organization’s objectives is modeled. These teams are organized hierarchically, such that power and authority increase up the team leadership hierarchies.

As indicated by Messersmith, Patel, and Lepak (2011) there are varied perceptions on the relationship between human resource practices and employee performance, a concept that is largely supported by Sauer (2011). Additionally, Sauer (2011) asserts that while intra-team interactions bear significantly on the performance of individual team members, the perception of employees about the team leader also significantly determines the performance of the team. Within this argument, Sauer (2011) asserts that a team member’s perception of the team leader is largely determined by the preferred leadership style.

According to Goleman (2000), there are six basic leadership styles namely, coaching, participative, directive, affiliative, pacesetting and visionary, from which improved workplace performance is achieved. A successful team leader ought not only to understand each of the six leadership styles but also to understand when each of these is necessary. Each of these leadership styles does not occur automatically but requires the preexistence of certain leadership behaviors. It is therefore upon the leader to understand and model each of these behaviors. Goleman’s (2000) assertions, like Ning, Harris, Boswell, and Xie (2011) indicate that a leader ought to be proactive in determining the leadership appropriate leadership behavior. When leaders proactively model the right leadership behavior employees record high workplace performance.

Similarly, Sauer (2011) mentions numerous leadership styles but largely accredits participative leadership with high workplace performance. Participative leadership is perceived as a kind of leadership that allows for the active participation of all team members is not only seeking solutions to existing organizational problems but also in decision making. Through Participative leadership, employees are not only empowered to be proactive but also to own the work management process.

In this case, employees can determine, for themselves, how they want to work and achieve set objectives. Sauer (2011) contrasts participative and directive leadership styles and asserts that directive leadership is likely to hurt workplace performance since it involves giving in retractable directions to team members. Directive leadership is based on the position the leaders occupy and the authority that comes with it. As such team members are likely to obey leaders just due to the authority that comes with that particular position. This implies that a directive leader is likely to lose personal appeal towards the team members.

Additionally, a directive leadership style largely fails to inspire team members to perform beyond ordinary expectations. As such, team members are likely to develop negative perceptions about directive team leaders. This affects individual performance negatively leading to overall poor team performance. However, Goleman (2000) asserts that while directive leadership has the potential to create discord and disharmony within a team, it is useful during crises or when there arises the need to make firm and seemingly controversial management decisions. Therefore, regardless of the leadership style, the role of the leaders in enhancing performance is very crucial.

So far, it is quite clear that the leadership style does not matter as much as the leader’s ability to know when and how to use a particular leadership style. In light of this, it is imperative to state that both Goleman (2000) and Sauer (2011) agree that directive leadership is trickier and riskier to use and is potentially damaging to team morale and overall perceptions about the team leader.

As such, a directive style has a higher likelihood of negatively affecting teams’ performance. In addition to this, both Goleman (2000) and Sauer (2011) agree that participative leadership is preferable to directive leadership in enhancing the team’s performance. Sauer (2011) adds that a participative leader not only gives the team members the necessary cues to take personal initiatives but also empowers individuals to be accountable for their actions as well as those of the team.

Additionally, a participative leader is most effective when acting as a moderator rather than an initiator. While Messersmith, Patel, and Lepak, (2011) see the combination of workplace systems and leadership as having a bearing on performance, Goleman (2000) and Sauer (2011) purports that leadership solely determines the level of individual and the overall team performance. As such, team leaders ought to understand that they are solely responsible for team performance, and thus employ the most appropriate leadership style.

Sauer (2011) further asserts that the status of a leader determines the effectiveness of the preferred leadership style. It is imperative to state that the effectiveness of either directive or participative is inversely proportional to the leader’s status. Regardless of this, and as explained by Goleman (2000), there are several leadership behaviors through which effective leadership becomes possible. Reilly and Karounos (2009) explain that one of the most significant behaviors of a participative leader is self-awareness.

An effective leader ought to understand that his behaviors influence followers and as such, leaders ought to be aware of their behavior towards subordinates and the organization, and the message projected by such behavior. While self-awareness helps to eliminate projecting the wrong message, Goleman (2000) adds that empathy, the ability to build profitable interpersonal relationships and good communication skills as vital behaviors that model participative leadership skills.

A leader ought to have a genuine ability to identify with the feelings of each team member. This sets that pace for building effective interpersonal relationships from which cooperation within the team is possible. Additionally, an affiliative leader ought to demonstrate effective communication skills. By effective communication, Goleman (2000) implies the ability not only to pass the appropriate messages across as but also to avoid misinterpretation. Moreover, effective communication skills imply the ability to listen effectively to receive the right messages from subordinates.

While these behaviors model the right traits of a participative leader, Sauer (2011) and Goleman (2000) assert that assertiveness supersedes them since it not only determines how the effectiveness of a leader but also determines team members’ perception about the leader. Through assertiveness, team members develop a positive perception of the leader’s leadership ability. As such, team members are likely to respect and react positively to an assertive participative leader. In addition to this, Sauer (2011) makes a faint attempt to connect assertiveness and the development of self-confidence in a leader.

Participative leadership is built on emotional elements of intragroup interactions. Even though participative leaderships are largely perceived to have an overall positive effect on team performance, it is potentially destructive when the leader loses authority. To maintain authority within the team, a participative leader ought to be assertive in a way that projects self-confidence. Through self-confidence and other behaviors mentioned herein, a leader not only projects high-performance abilities but also infects team leaders with similar qualities. This significantly improves actual team performance since the team can work as a technical and emotional unit.

Sauer (2011), Reilly and Karounos (2009), Goleman (2000) as well as Messersmith, Patel, and Lepak (2011) assert that improvement in workplace performance is solely dependent on the leader’s ability to be proactive. Sauer (2011) further adds that interactions within a team play a significant role in determining the level of performance.

Ning, Harris, Boswell, and Xie (2011) adopt the interactionist approach and suggest that interpersonal interactions are very crucial towards the attainment of high performance within teams and organizations. In this study, Ning, Harris, Boswell, and Xie (2011) purport that interpersonal interactions amongst team or organization members allow employees to acquire the appropriate attitudes, learn new behaviors and knowledge. This empowers employees to the extent that they cannot only adjust to the workplace environment but also fulfill the organization’s goals.

The acquisition of new attitudes, behaviors, and knowledge does not occur automatically. For this to happen, employees ought to be proactively involved. Consequently, the employee’s proactive involvement does not occur automatically but is preceded by certain personality traits, such as personal stability, decisiveness, and personal drive. These enable a person to take a personal initiative in various activities without external influence. A person who exhibits such traits is said to have a proactive personality and can maintain a high-level performance regardless of situational constraints.

Within this argument, questions might arise in how proactive personality bears on leadership and high-level performance. Ning, Harris, Boswell, and Xie (2011) assert that organizational insiders, that is managers, supervisors and ordinary employees are valuable sources of crucial information that can enable employees, especially newcomers to improve workplace performance. The ability to tap into this invaluable information reservoir depends on two factors namely the nature of interactions within the organization and a proactive personality.

Earlier on it is stated that one of the most desirable leadership traits is the ability to communicate effectively (Goleman, 2000). In light of Goleman’s (2000) assertions, Ning, Harris, Boswell, and Xie (2011) assert that effective communication within a team, which largely depends on the type and source of feedback, determine the level of performance. Feedback from supervisors is likely to be taken more seriously than feedback from coworkers. Such a phenomenon can be explained by the fact that effective leaders have a bigger influence on employees than fellow workers.

Ning, Harris, Boswell, and Xie (2011) assert that employees have to proactively seek valuable information which enables them to fulfill their workplace duties. However, it is possible that not all employees are proactive. Some of them are likely to be passive and await directions from their bosses. This is where proactive leadership behavior comes in. A proactive leader can identify opportunities for enhancing workplace performance and act on those impulses. Since participative leaders act as team moderators (Goleman, 2000), then their biggest task is to give as much feedback as possible and facilitate action on the. But as earlier explained, high-level performance depends on the type of feedback given.

There are numerous types of supervisor-to-employee feedbacks, such as performance feedback, appraisal feedback, developmental feedback, among others. However, Ning, Harris, Boswell, and Xie (2011) suggest developmental feedback as the most effective type of supervisor-to-employee feedback in improving workplace performance. This is because developmental feedback focuses on providing crucial information that enhances the acquisition of new work-related skills.

As such, developmental feedback is learning and development focused. Since developmental feedback is learning and development focused, team leaders, ought to proactively select the information that enhances learning, rather than give back large and meaningless pieces of information. This portrays a leader’s proactive personality as mediating between the type of feedback given and high workplace performance. Therefore, proactive leadership does not only imply identifying opportunities and acting on them but also implies being selective with the type of feedback given to employees.

The failure of traditional theories of enhancing team performance, scholars and other professionals have acknowledged the need to look beyond these and evaluate new approaches. Traditionally, the role of a team or organizational leader has been largely overlooked and its apparent influence on team performance lost to scholars. Recent studies, however, reveal that for a long time, the wrong emphasis has been put on workplace systems and the nature of employees as the major determinants of workplace performance.

This implies that situational constraints, namely harsh and unfavorable work conditions, negatively affect workplace performance, since traditional theories do not propose practical steps to overcome such challenges. Modern approaches have, however, identified the role of a team leader as having a significant influence in ensuring high-level performance. Scholars such as Goleman (2000) Ning, Harris, Boswell, and Xie (2011) and others propose that leadership does not necessarily lead to high-level performance but the type of leadership style and the nature of the leader.

This theory purports that regardless of prevailing situational constraints, an effective leader can ensure that a team attains high-level performance. This, however, cannot occur, unless it is mediated by certain factors. These include personality and a certain kind of leadership style. Participative leadership is largely ineffective unless the leader becomes assertive. Additionally, participative leadership sustains high-level performance if the leader has a proactive personality. From these assertions, it is, therefore, possible to conclude that organizations that aim at sustaining high-level performance can only do so through participative leadership, where the leader is both proactive and assertive.

Reference List

Goleman, D. (2000). Leadership that gets results. Harvard Business Review. Web.

Messersmith, J., Patel, P., and Lepak, D. (2011). Unlocking the black box: exploring the link between high-performance work systems and performance. Journal of Applied Psychology 96(6) 1317–1327.

Ning L., Harris, B and Boswell, W. (2011). The role of organizational insiders’ developmental feedback and proactive personality on newcomers’ performance: an interactionist perspective. Journal of Applied Psychology. 96(6) 1317–1327.

Reilly, A. and Karounos, J. (2009). Exploring the link between emotional intelligence and cross-cultural leadership effectiveness. Journal of International Business and Cultural Studies. Web.

Sauer, S. (2011). Taking the reins: the effects of new leader status and leadership style on team performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 96(3) 574–587.

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