Leadership – Theories, personality, strategies
During the studies in Entrepreneurship and Team Leadership, one can clearly notice how differently the act and art of leadership can be carried out in reality. Therefore, answering a question “what does leadership and being a leader mean?” has grasped our attention even more. During the early part of the 20th century, wider research about the theories of leadership styles and methods had been taken up by various sociologists, such as Kurt Lewin, Ronald Lippitt, Ralph K. White, and many others. (Lyon 2021) Nevertheless, this phenomenon is still on an ever-developing question mark, since there is no right or wrong answer, as there are no same situations or people in this world. In this essay the authors will take an attempt to learn more and write about 4 most widely known leadership theory eras (trait, behavioural, situational, and new leadership), personality impact on leadership, as well as strategies and styles.
Leadership Theory Eras
During the trait era, the main attention point was the inner characteristics, traits and other qualities of a leader. In the 1840’s, the leadership theory research was mainly focused on the Great Man theory, which implies that a leader is born, not made (Benmira & Agboola 2020). Many historical references, such as Julius Caesar or Abraham Lincoln, were used as examples to show the ways of being a natural leader heroic and legendary. As the name of this theory hints, these attributes were mostly drawn to men as leadership was seen as a quality a male possesses, especially in the military field. The Great Man theory suggests that leadership is a quality with inherent characteristics, highlighting the nature vs. nurture type of a viewpoint. Consequently, it also ignores the importance of other vital factors when it comes to leadership, such as characteristics of the group, the situation, societal structure, and so on (Cherry 2021).
The Great Man theory later played its role in the evolution of the Trait theory, which gained its recognition during the 1930’s. The main idea of this theory is to highlight how leaders share a collection of common distinguished traits that others in different roles do not possess. It is also implied that a leader can be born or made, therefore the focus had shifted from looking at specific people in the leader role to analysing the common traits one ought to inherit or acquire through practice in order to be an efficient leader.
However, the Traits theory did not bring much clarity with the list of these certain qualities, since the trait sets vary depending on the sources. (Benmira & Agboola 2020) For instance, Peter Northouse, a professor of communication at Western Michigan University, suggests these 5 dominant traits amongst leaders:
- self-confidence- certainty about one’s skills and abilities;
- determination- a strong drive to move forward;
- integrity- being honest, trustworthy and dependable;
- sociability- being diplomatic, senseful and having good interpersonal skills, as well as supportive communication.
Nevertheless, it is still questionable how deeply the traits listed above can actually be considered as traits (genetically determined characteristics) and not learnable behaviours or ways to act in certain situations. Moreover, there are still many who do possess these personality traits linked with leadership, however they never seek a position in this role. And, vice versa, there are many who seemingly are not associated with the above-mentioned qualities, however still excel at leading others (Lyon 2021).
Behavioural era’s main focus is the Behavioural theory, which gained its prominence in the 1940’s-1950’s. This theory is based on behaviourism, also known as behavioural psychology, which was firstly introduced in 1913 by John B. Watson, an American psychologist, also recognised as the father of behaviourism. In brief, behaviourists believe that a behaviour is simply a result from an experience. It emphasises the crucial aspect of one’s environment since the stimuli of one’s surroundings are seen as the main factor for acquiring a certain kind of way to behave (Cherry 2022).
The Behavioural theory of leadership therefore states that a leader is made, not born- quite the opposite from the theories in the Trait era. It supports the nurture rather than nature point of view when looking at leadership qualities, meaning, it focuses on one’s actions and learnable behaviour rather than natural attributes (Cherry 2021). In conclusion, behavioural theory states that personality is the result of an interaction between individual and their environment, focusing on observable and measurable, rather than mental or emotional behaviours.
As it was in the latter, the Situational era also puts its emphasis on the effects of the environment. However, this time it focuses on the relation between environment and the leader-follower dynamic. Comparing to previously mentioned era’s, the Situational era highlights leadership in specific situations, rather than one’s traits or behaviour. The Situational theories come to the idea that a leader must take action depending on the circumstances, meaning that one must have the skills to assess the context of what is happening since there is no “one solutions fits all” leadership style (Benmira & Agboola 2020).
The most commonly known theories of the Situational era are the Contingency theories. As the name suggests, these theories describe that in order to achieve efficient leadership, one’s leadership style must fit the situation, meaning, it is contingent- dependant or conditioned by something.
A leader who is efficient in one setting, can be useless or even disruptive in another environment. One must be aware of their dominant leadership style and reflect on the previous experiences since there will always be at least on challenging case- even for the most “successful” of leaders. Aspects to keep in mind when reflecting on a leadership case- personal skills, size of the team, project’s scope, goals, the expertise of others, relationships between employees, and many others.
One of the most well-known Contingency theory is the Fiedler’s model, developed in the 1960’s by Fred Fiedler, an Austrian researcher of industrial and organisational psychology. Firstly, Fiedler believes that one’s leadership style is fixed, therefore, if it is not applicable to a certain setting, the leader must be changed. Secondly, this model suggests that a leader must also determine one’s situational favourableness by evaluating these factors:
- leader-member relations- how reliable, trustworthy and liked the leader is in the team;
- task structure- the clarity and common understanding of tasks and goals;
- leader’s position power- how much authority and impact the leader has over the followers.
All these combined result in a high situational favourableness, which plays a huge role when looking at how efficient a leader is in one’s role. However, that also depends on what the certain situation demands and how flexible one is with their leadership style in real life (Indeed Editorial Team 2020).
New Leadership era
Since the world is getting more and more globalised, fast paced and technologically advanced, a new, different perspective to leadership and its complexity had to be taken on. Comparing to the previously mentioned theories which approached leadership in a more top-down, one-direction manner, the New Leadership era, beginning in the 1990’s-2000’s, brought a fresh look on the leader, the followers, the environment and the system as inseparable parts when talking about leadership as a whole (Benmira & Agboola 2020).
The above-mentioned reasoning led to the development of the Transformational theory, also known as the Relationship theory. This concept was firstly introduced by James McGregor Burns, an American 21st century historian and biograph. It mainly focuses on the connections between leaders and followers, where a leader inspires and motivates others by highlighting the relevance and the good of one’s duties. Transformational leaders are commonly enthusiastic, positive and with high moral standards, wishing to help others unlock their potential.
With the addition of an American leadership and organisational behaviour scholar Bernard M. Bass, Transformational leadership is based on 4 key components:
- intellectual stimulation- transformational leaders favour challenging the status quo, and inspire the followers to be open-minded and creative;
- individualised consideration- a leader is approachable, open for communication and follows the development of not only the team, but individuals, too;
- inspirational motivation- these leaders convey their message and vision clearly, as well as inspire others on the way;
- idealised influence- followers trust and highly respect the leader, putting one in the position of a role model.
Teams led by a transformational leader are usually united and have a high success rate. Moreover, a study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine indicates that employees in this kind of a working environment also link to a positive influence on one’s well-being. Regardless of all the positive attributes of Transformational leadership, it might not be the most suitable of options in cases where a stronger control amongst less-skilled members is necessary (Cherry 2020).
Another one of the New Leadership era’s theories is the Transactional theory, also known as the Management theory, which, on the other hand, highlights the importance of authority when it comes to motivating others. The Transactional theory was firstly introduced in the 1980’s by Max Weber, a 20th century German sociologist, and, as the name of it suggests, it is based on the concept of transaction. Meaning that leaders and managers give something followers want with the exchange of receiving something the leaders wish for themselves. However, this idea only works with a mutual understanding of equity and fairness of the trade.
The focus in the Transactional Leadership theory has shifted on to supervision and performance measures, initiating the idea of a reward and punishment system as a key motivator. A transactional leader is reactive rather than proactive (as it is in the Transformational theory) and values order, structure, rules and directions. Meanwhile, a follower is commonly skilled in their field, as well as works effectively and is motivated in the reward-penalty system.
The dimensions of this leadership style can be defined as:
- contingent reward- a reward to followers for meeting certain expectation;
- active management (by exception)- a manager foresees coming issues and monitors the progress;
- passive management (by exception)- a manager interferes in the work process only if necessary in out-of-ordinary situations (St. Thomas University 2018).
In practice, the Transactional leadership style can be seen in the business world, military fields and the athletic teams. It can be most effective in situations of clearly defined problems or times of crisis to help remain the status quo since the focus is on the structure, action and the correction of errors. Nevertheless, the Transactional theory is not always advised because of the time spent on monitoring the processes and the reward-punishment concept not fitting everyone out there (Cherry 2020).
Personality impact on leadership
Different personalities lead differently
Carl Gustav Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst (1875-1961) wrote that what appears to be random behaviour is in fact the result of differences in the way people prefer to use their mental capacities (The Myers Briggs Foundation 2022).
Later on this theory was further developed by Isabel Briggs Myers and her mother to what we know now as the MBTI personality test. In the MBTI there are 16 personalities or categories each category consists of 4 letter combination. Introversion or extroversion, intuitiveness or sensing, feeling or thinking, perceiving or judging. In the following chapters, it will be analysed how the different characteristics can contribute to one’s leadership style.
Introversion or Extroversion
Introversion and extroversion exist on a scale of energy. An introvert can get energized by their internal world such as thoughts, ideas and reflection, meanwhile an extrovert can get energised by external world such as people and situations. How does that affect a person’s leadership style? Extroverted leaders typically excel in social situations where they can connect with people. Introverted leaders excel at thoughtful analysis, listening and reflection. However, it’s not all black and white, in fact, most of us are ambiverts and depending on the context we can reflect or connect with the outside world. Regardless of where you see yourself, it is important to get comfortable with uncomfortable. If you are more introverted, perhaps it’s time to focus on networking more, if you are more extroverted, you should develop your listening skills (Stark 2019).
Intuition or Sensing
Intuitive people tend to focus on the future, patterns, big picture, change, innovation while sensing types tend to focus more on the present, details, facts, and they have a practical approach. An intuitive leader might get carried away with ideas and lose focus of now. On the other hand a sensing person might get stuck on the small details disregarding the plans for the future.
A few tips for the sensing leader:
- Don’t assume you are going to fail because something hasn’t been done or proven before.
- Failure is essential part of innovation, you should view it constructively.
- Don’t hesitate to ask a lot of questions about the details it will come in handy later.
Tips for an intuitive leader:
- Try to prove your ideas, don’t just assume.
- Gather details for your projects, they will come in handy later. You can also collaborate with sensors in this.
- Don’t live in the future, learn to appreciate the present moment as well so you won’t miss out on life (Giant 2017).
Feeling or Thinking
Feeling is a psychological function judging what someone or something is worth. Thinking is a mental process interpreting what is perceived (Luton 2022). If a decision needs to be made, a feeling type will approach the situation based on their values and taking individuals into account, while a thinking type would make the decision based on objective measurements, taking the facts into account. Feelers need to learn that sometimes it is best for the individual as well if the decision doesn’t rely on feelings. Thinkers need to calculate feelings into the equation because it can have a ripple effect, both positive and negative.
Perceiving or Judging
Perceivers are capable of taking massive amount of information in and listen, while judgers can organize and express the information. As leaders, perceivers are more likely to let things flow in their natural way while judgers like to set goals and strict deadlines. Perceivers have a sensor like approach to decision making, they want to know the details while judgers have a more intuitive like approach making them fast but many times not accurate decision makers.
Styles and strategies of leadership
Strategic leadership is an essential component of ensuring the sustainable development of an organisation. At its core, a legendary Canadian professor Glenn Rowe specialising in strategic leadership has defined the term strategic leader as a person showcasing the ability to influence others to voluntarily make day-to-day decisions that enhance the long-term viability of the organization while maintaining its short-term financial stability (Rowe, 2001). Rowe’s discussion fundamentally believes in a concept of voluntary decision-making on all levels while focusing on future through present times as a method to align employees with the organisation’s strategic value, save time on monitoring the employees work and more importantly, create a trusting environment, where the gathering of feedback and development of the organisation happens together with the employees. Deriving from this, strategic leadership could be seen as a way of pursuing the company’s best interests of development financially and conceptually while fostering a highly motivated, vision-aligned and efficient work environment to keep an innovative competitive edge in close contact with the consumers without compromising the short-term financial stability.
In most cases, an evolved large-scale organisation exhibits three classified leaderships: an organisational leadership, a strategic leadership, an action-oriented leadership and an operational leadership. Understanding the leadership classifications also help assess the state and scale of the organisation.
The operational leadership encompasses a goal of ensuring the proper execution of daily consistent processes eg monitoring performance.
Production leadership is transparent of their decisions and procedures primarily affecting the short-term goals of the organisation. As consistency is a vital part of meeting their goals within the leadership, this leadership rarely innovates.
Organisational leadership determines the processes and short-term goals primarily for the employees of the organisation.
Lastly on the highest level, the strategic leadership showcases the senior executive that encompass the vision and cultivate the long-term strategic direction of an organisation.
These short introductions of the classifications also shed additional light onto the goal of a strategic leader, however, it must also be noted that nowadays, different organisational designs such as the team structure are modernized, meaning that detailed or tall organisational structures are not preferred as much, changing the chain of command among employees. Regardless, strategic leadership is necessary and the leaders are involved in creating significant organisational change for the future while meeting current demands, meaning that strategic leaders must be attentive to a multitude of areas in the organisation.
Thus, to best excel in the role of a strategic leader in addition to the aforementioned traits influencing the behaviour and actions of a leader, a leader should also be mindful of seamless, consistent two-way communication, which creates a trustworthy work environment and supports trustful feedback opportunities, show empathy and compassion in communication and conflict resolution, excel at delegation and authorizing of employees as well as focus on seeing and communicating the larger picture forward to the employees.
Another vital trait of a strategic leader is to fully understand the vision of the organisation, the value proposition of the organisation and the scope of the customers. It is only then that a leader can align and create a quality strategy for the organisation and cultivate an environment of innovation that develops the organisation forward. Finally, the leadership implementing strategic leadership should possess excellent problem-solving and adaptability skills in order to fully explore new market possibilities and adapting to new situations.
Regardless of the level of the leadership, at its core, leadership encompasses four different styles in itself: directing, coaching, supporting and delegating. We can assess the behaviours they bring as supportive and directive behaviours.
Directing has a low supportive and a high directive behaviour, meaning that this is the lowest leadership skill you may have. Directing is used when there are clearly set ideas, undertakings and outcomes, where the employee is essentially told what to do. Such style works well with outsourced work, however, it would potentially compromise the team culture.
Coaching primarily focuses on the idea of selling a new vision to people that work for you but have not necessarily contributed to the outcome or the vision. It is a high directive and supportive behaviour, since the leader has not worked with the team to form the vision but supports them in execution.
Supporting is the third leadership style, which acts as a high supportive and low directive force. The idea is that a leader fosters trust, highlighting a strong work culture of collaboration and contribution with the final confirmation coming from the leader. The teammate is provided a trustful environment of contribution without the accountability in the event the outcome should fail. This style is strongly favoured in more modern organisational structures and among a team of managers.
Delegating is last and perhaps the most favoured style of leadership for its low directive and high support behaviour. Due to these aforementioned characteristics, the leader authorises the team or the individual to create and make the final decision, which shifts the responsibility from the leader to the teammates and adds extra value to the teammate.
The leadership styles provide an overview of the primary components belonging to a leader’s work process. The styles guide and tend to be mixed to best fit the organisation’s vision and the needs of the team. Ultimately, the essay provides an introduction for the reader the explore the topics further.
In conclusion, deepening one’s understanding on the different influencers regarding leadership can be crucial when reflecting on or choosing a leader for a team. Leadership theories clearly show the evolution of the understanding of leadership and it’s ways. Nevertheless, there is still no right or wrong answer since people and situations are never the same to compare with. When looking at one’s personality type, it can be noticed how the different characteristics can contribute to one’s leadership style. This, therefore, has an impact on the leadership strategy one might choose or find the most suitable for them or a certain situation. Understanding these key elements can be the turning point for an effective leadership, and the authors of this essay truly hope to paint a picture of such a diverse topic at least a tiny bit clearer.
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