Leadership has been a subject of interest for various groups for the longest time. Great leaders have been analyzed on the basis of their character and leadership styles. Many have gone to gain prominence in their respective fields and some have remained in the background while the groups they have led are celebrated for the extraordinary skill or action they have exemplified.
A good leader decides what is best for his group even if painful decisions have to be made. He is ready to sacrifice his own convenience for the good of the majority. He is not after his own personal glory but the welfare and triumph of the whole group. His mettle is tested when times get difficult and everyone looks up to him to lead them out of the dark.
A good leader has initiative. He tries to be a good example to his followers and treads a path where no one dares to go. He is effective in empowering others with encouragement. He boosts his member’s confidence and self-esteem. He is a source of hope and inspiration to others.
Leadership may be defined as a “process in which a leader attempts to influence his or her followers to establish and accomplish a goal or goals.” It may be as simple as coming up with a group decision or as complex as establishing a group culture. Leadership is a continuous process wherein a leader tries to move from accomplishing one goal to another for the good of the whole group. This process has been exhibited for many years, not only by humans but by lesser animals as well. In groups of animals, there is usually an identified leader of the pack whose behaviour commands obedience from the whole group.
Another definition is “Leadership is a process by which a person influences others to accomplish an objective and directs the organization in a way that makes it more cohesive and coherent. Leaders carry out this process by applying their leadership attributes, such as beliefs, values, ethics, character, knowledge, and skills” (Clark, 2008, para.3).
How do people become leaders? Bass (1989 & 1990) cites three theories that push a select few to assume their leadership roles. The first is the Trait Theory, which claims that there are some inborn personality traits that lead some people into leadership roles. These people feel comfortable in such a role that it does not take much effort to accomplish their tasks and achieve their goals as the leader of a group. Another theory is the Great Events Theory. This is explained by a crisis or an important event that may propel an ordinary person to rise to the occasion and bring out his or her leadership qualities. An example would be a vice president assuming the position of president when the latter suddenly dies or gets impeached from his position. The third theory is the Transformational theory which simply states that some people choose to be leaders. This initiative makes drives them to learn the necessary skills to shepherd their followers towards success.
There are different kinds of leadership styles that have been identified. An Autocratic leader expects followers to obey him without question. Consultative leadership, as the name implies, consults followers of their opinion on some decision-making concerns but ultimately determines the final decision himself. Democratic or participative leadership enjoins the group in decision-making. Laissez-faire leaders are content to just lay back and let the group take whatever action they deem fit.
Blake and Mouton (1985) have come up with a grid to analyze various kinds of leaders based on their positions on two axes: the “concern for people” axis and the “concern for task” axis. From this grid, four types of leaders were identified. The Authoritarian leader scores high on tasks but low on relationships with people. He is driven to accomplish tasks regardless of how it affects his subordinates and there is little or no allowance for cooperation and collaboration. This type of leader is strict with schedule, expect people to blindly follow his orders, with no questions asked. When things do not go as he has planned, he has the tendency to find blame in others rather than focus on what went wrong and investigate its cause and prevention in the future. Just like the autocratic leader described previously, he is intolerant of dissent to his ideas which is why it is difficult for subordinates to contribute and express their own ideas to the group. The Team Leader scores high on tasks and high on relationships and is considered ideal as a leader. He leads by positive example and works hard to foster a team environment in which all members can contribute to the success of the group while maximizing their own potentials both as team members and as people. Motivation is high in teams with such leaders and becomes very productive.
The Country Club Leader scores low on task and high on relationships. He predominantly uses rewards in maintaining discipline and in pushing the team to achieve its goals. Since he can be too concerned about pleasing people, he would find it difficult to implement punitive measures on members who deserve it when they are inefficient in some tasks. This inability is due to a fear of jeopardizing relationships with such team members. The Impoverished Leader scores low on task and low on relationships. This is considered the worst type of leader because of his inefficiency. He uses a “delegate and disappears” management style. Parallel to the Laissez-faire leader, he allows the team to do whatever it wants and do not show commitment to either task accomplishment or maintenance of harmonious relationships within the group (Blake & Mouton, 1985)
Blake and Mouton (1985) recognize that the Team Leader is the most successful type of leadership, however, they also justify the value of the other three types. There are certain situations that may call for one of the other three. By playing the impoverished leader, the team is challenged to gain self-reliance. With an authoritarian leader, a sense of discipline is instilled especially in unmotivated members. A country club leader is great for members whose self-esteem suffers because of the “feel-good” strategies this leader employs. A good leader would know how to discern which type of leadership he will use in particular situations in order to achieve the best results.
A leader is stereotypically known to possess positive qualities and capabilities. However, in the research reported by French, Simpson and Harvey (2001), a good leader is also equipped with ‘negative capability. “The underpinning image of leadership is based on knowing and is manifested through activity, work and achievement. There is, however, a quite another dimension of leadership, based on not knowing, on not doing, on being done-to, and on being no longer in control of one’s own situation.” (French, Simpson & Harvey, 2001). I interpret such a construct as being humble enough to admit when one doesn’t really know instead of putting up a façade of being all-knowing.
This peculiarly human capacity to live with and tolerate ambiguity, of being content with half knowledge is quite a refreshing concept. “It implies the capacity to engage in a non-defensive way with change, without being overwhelmed by the ever-present pressure merely to react. It also indicates empathy and even certain flexibility of character, the ability ‘to tolerate a loss of self and a loss of rationality by trusting in the capacity to recreate oneself in another character or another environment’ (Hutter, 1982, p.305).
What is ideal is the fusion of positive capabilities with negative capabilities in an effective leader. This is likened to visual illusions showing two images simultaneously, one in the positive and the other in the negative. The eye needs to focus on one image at a time to decipher what it is. Once the eye figures both images out, there is a tendency to keep shifting from one image to another.
Similarly, a good leader is like that. In the image, it seems as if he has each foot on an image of positive and negative – of “knowing” and “not knowing”. “The capacity to work at the edge, in the intermediate space, enables a leader to move back and forth between a state of knowing and one of not-knowing, to continue to think in the ‘limbo’ state between certainty and uncertainty, or to seek out and cross the edge into the unknown in order to return with new insight.” (French, Simpson & Harvey, 2001).
A good leader is always open to learning something new, and not haughty enough to claim that he is already “made”. Being human and fallible is one trait that all members of the group share, and what better quality to relate to than that? Group members will even feel important enough to share the burden of thinking up solutions to problems with their leader.
In work environments, leadership may be distinguished from management. Leadership is giving the organization direction, having an overview, setting standards and making tough decisions while management is concerned with setting up and managing systems (Harris, 2003). Leadership is about development, vision and growth. Management is about attending to the status quo and ensuring that systems work” (Harris, 2003, p.5)
A good leader has a clear vision of where he is going and sets directions to others towards that vision. He collaborates with other people on ways and means to reach their goals and not focus the authority on himself. In doing so, he empowers them to be confident in their abilities and motivates them to welcome challenges and opportunities. Because of his positive influence, he gains the respect of everyone to follow his lead while pursuing a common mission for the growth and development of the organisation (Leithwood & Riehl,2003).
Clark (2008) discusses a study reported by Lamb and McKee (2004) that concludes that the two most important keys to effective leadership are trust and confidence as well as effective communication. Having trust and confidence in a capable leader was shown to be a reliable predictor of employee satisfaction in an organisation. These employees are assured that they are in good hands and that there are safely on a journey aboard a tight ship run by an efficient captain. Such trust and confidence are won with effective communication prevalent in the organisation. This is shown in three critical areas. One is in the area of helping employees understand the organisation’s overall strategies. Another is in helping employees understand how they can contribute to meeting the organizational goals and objectives. The last area where effective communication must take place is in sharing information with employees on how their group is performing in relation to the organizational objectives.
Finally, Kouzes and Posner (1987) explain the processes on how great leaders can shine even more. They advise leaders to challenge the process and improve on the areas in the process that needs it. Leaders are also recommended to inspire a vision that can be easily understood by their followers. Leaders are also enablers. They must be good at encouraging people to act on their own by providing them with the tools and methods to solve their problems. It also cannot be said often enough that leaders have to be good models, most especially when the going gets tough. They should exhibit an attitude and behaviour of positivism that their followers can emulate. Lastly, leaders should encourage their followers’ hearts while keeping their pains within their own.
To conclude, let me share my own conception of what a good leader should be. For me, a good leader has a clear vision of how an institution should be. He is equipped with the knowledge and skills of how to get there, complemented by a positive attitude and high emotional intelligence in handling people. He does not see himself as central in the process of change but shares his leadership with key people like his members who directly affect the institution. His caring, considerate and sensitive attitude is oriented towards the growth and development of the members and the institution itself.
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Bass, Bernard (1990). From transactional to transformational leadership: learning to share the vision. Organizational Dynamics, Vol. 18, Issue 3, 19-31.
Blake, Robert R. and Mouton, Janse S. (1985). The Managerial Grid III: The Key to Leadership Excellence. Houston: Gulf Publishing Co.
Clark, D. (2008) Concepts of Leadership. Web.
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French, R., Simpson, P. & Harvey, C. (2001), ‘Negative capability’: the key to creative leadership. Presented at the International Society for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organizations 2001 Symposium.
Harris, A. (2003) Teachers’ perspectives on effective school leadership. Teachers and Teaching: theory and practice, Vol. 9, No. 1.
Hutter, A.D. (1982) Poetry in psychoanalysis: Hopkins, Rosetti, Winnicott. International Review of Psycho-Analysis 9, 303-16.
Kouzes, James M. & Posner, Barry Z. (1987). The Leadership Challenge. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Lamb, L. F., McKee, K. B. (2004). Applied Public Relations: Cases in Stakeholder Management. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum
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Liethwood, K.A. & Riehl, C. (2003) What We Know About Successful School Leadership. NCSL.