Last updated: June 11, 2019
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Abstract

Since time immemorial, concepts of leadership, ideas about leadership, and leadership practices are the subject of much debate, writing, teaching, and learning. Many scholars sought the formula that could mold true leaders. Leadership is not an easy subject to explain. Thus, exploring the concepts of the different theories, behaviors and traits of how to become a leader would help us grasp a better understanding on this subject.

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Leadership: Exploring Concepts, Behaviors and Traits on Becoming a Good Leader

All the world’s greatest leaders never expected that they would possess the power to influence people. Some view leadership is a responsibility. Even the hackneyed adage says, “a good leader should also be good follower.” Some leaders are born, some leaders are made. Some even force their way into the stature of being called a “true leader”. But, what really are the traits that make a good leader?

Since time immemorial, concepts of leadership, ideas about leadership, and leadership practices are the subject of much debate, writing, teaching, and learning. Many scholars sought the formula that could mold true leaders. According to James Kouzes (2003), leadership is not an easy subject to explain. The goal of thinking hard about leadership is not to produce great, or charismatic, or well-known leaders. The measure of leadership is not the quality of the head, not even the tone of his or her voice. Outstanding leaders shine appear primarily because of their followers. Thus, in defining leadership, there are a lot who offered their acquired concept of what a leader should be or do. Brown (1954) defined leadership as:

A collective function in the sense that it is the integrated synergized expression of a group’s efforts; it is not the sum of individual dominance and contributions, it is their interrelationships. Ultimate authority and true sanction for leadership, where it is exercised, resides not in the individual, however dominant, but in the total situation and in the demands of the situation. It is the situation that creates the imperative, whereas the leader is able to make others aware of it, is able to make them willing to serve it, and is able to release collective capacities and emotional attitudes that may be related fruitfully to the solution of the group’s problems; to that extent one is exercising leadership.

On the other hand, Tom Peters and Nancy Austin, authors of the best-seller, A Passion for Excellence (1985) describe leadership in broader terms:

Leadership means vision, cheerleading, enthusiasm, love, trust, verve, passion, obsession, consistency, the use of symbols, paying attention as illustrated by the content of one’s calendar, out-and-out drama (and the management thereof), creating heroes at all levels, coaching, effectively wandering around, and numerous other things. Leadership must be present at all levels of the organization. It depends on a million little things done with obsession, consistency, and care, but all of those million little things add up to nothing if the trust, vision, and basic belief are not there.

With those definitions, we could delineate leadership as harnessing capabilities of your subordinates for them to reach their full potentials. Therefore, leaders should see to it that: are the followers reaching their potential? Are they learning and serving? Do they achieve the required results? Do they change with grace? Do they know how to manage in times of conflict?

We all are aware that leadership is not a simple concept of being just on top on the food and social chain, but it is a multidimensional concept. It includes intrapersonal, interpersonal, intergroup, and situational variables. As a result, it is not easily defined or measured. However, leadership may be analyzed as a process that includes social, ethical, and theoretical components.

It is significant to point out the diverse natures of leadership. The social nature of leadership entails the interpersonal skills necessary to be effective in a variety of situations. The ethical nature of leadership involves the inherent power of a leadership position that, when exercised, should benefit the common good. Leadership is the means by which things get done in organizations. A manager can establish goals, strategize, relate to others, communicate, collect information, make decisions, plan, organize, monitor, and control; but without leadership, nothing happens. Thus, leadership clearly entails more than wielding power and exercising authority and is exhibited on different levels. At the individual level, for example, leadership involves mentoring, coaching, inspiring, and motivating (Kreitner & Kinicki, 2004).

The three earliest approaches used to explain leadership are the Great Man theory, Trait theories and Behavioral theory. The Great Man theory relies on an ancient concept of leaders should arise from the kin of famous monarchs and royal blooded denizens.  Trait theories focus on identifying the personal traits that differentiated leaders from followers. Behavioral theorists examined leadership from a different perspective. They tried to uncover the different kinds of leader behaviors.

Great Man Theory of Leadership

It said that Thomas Carlyle was the first to propose “The Great Man” theory which supposes that leaders are born and not made. At one time leadership was considered a birthright. Kings and queens ascended to thrones because of custom. Individuals in formal leadership roles were accepted without question. This is similar to the great man theory, which states that great leaders are born with the ability to lead, influence, and direct others. As such, only those possessing these qualities are leaders. Under this perspective, leaders may not be developed (Wikipedia Website).

Trait Theory

The serious study of leadership began when the following question was asked: Who is a leader? Early theorists recognized that leadership was by nature elusive, but might be explained by virtue of a leader’s traits. The trait approach states that leadership exists as an attribute of a personality. If certain traits are exhibited, an individual is a leader. However, because the traits necessary for successful leadership varied from situation to situation, no exhaustive list of traits was offered.

Stogdill concluded that five traits tended to differentiate leaders from average followers: (1) intelligence, (2) dominance, (3) self-confidence, (4) level of energy and activity, and (5) task-relevant knowledge (1948). Among the seven categories of personality traits examined by Mann, intelligence was the best predictor of leadership. Unfortunately, the overall pattern of research findings revealed that both Stogdill’s and Mann’s key traits did not accurately predict which individuals became leaders in organizations. People with these traits often remained followers (Bass, 1985).

Even though no one leader type was described, certain personality traits have been identified through early psychological studies to correspond to effective leadership behavior. Among these are intelligence, social sensitivity, social participation, and communication skills.

Behavioral Theory

Because traits were insufficient to explain leadership, the study of what leaders do was a predictable next step. This change in perspective examined specific leadership behaviors in the workplace. The early work of Lewin et al. (1953), they explained leadership in terms of decision-making behaviors. Their classic work and terminology is foundational to the study of leadership style.

The thrust of early behavioral leadership theory was to focus on leader behavior, instead of on personality traits. It was believed that leader behavior directly affected work group effectiveness (Kreitner ; Kinicki, 2004). All leaders have been described in terms of their decision-making styles in one or more of the following ways. Schmitt and Tannenbaum (1964) classified three major styles of leadership: Autocratic, or dictatorial, meaning that the leader makes all decisions and allows subordinates no influence in the decision-making process. Such supervisors are often indifferent to subordinates’ personal needs. The second system of decision making is entitled participative, or democratic. In this case, the supervisor consults with the subordinates on appropriate matters, giving them some influence in the decision-making process. This type of supervisor is not punitive and treats subordinates with fairness and dignity. The third system is called laissez-faire, or free reign, which means that supervisors allow their group to have complete autonomy. Because they rarely supervise the group directly, the group makes its own decisions. These decision-making styles have become synonymous with the concept of leadership styles, which by definition refers to the underlying needs of the leader that motivate behavior.

One advantage of looking at leaders in terms of behavior instead of, say, personality is that behavior is often easier to measure; leadership behaviors can be observed whereas personality traits, values, or intelligence must be inferred from behavior or measured with tests. Another advantage of looking at leader behavior is that many people are less defensive about, and feel in more control of, specific behaviors than they do about their personalities or intelligence. This point has significant implications for developing leadership skills.

Behavior versus Skills

According to Hughes, Ginneth and Curphy (2001), leadership behaviors are somewhat different from leadership skills. A leadership behavior concerns a specific action, whereas a leadership skill consists of three components, which include a well-defined body of knowledge, a set of related behaviors, and clear criteria of competent performance.

To best understand the difference of the leadership skills concepts, one could better understand it by using an analogy from basketball. Hughes, Ginneth and Curphy (2001)pointed out that people differ considerably in their basketball skills; good basketball players know when to pass and when to shoot, and are adept at making lay-ups, shots from the field, and free throws. Knowing when to pass and when to shoot is an example of the knowledge component, and hitting lay-ups and free throws is an example of the behavioral component of skills. In addition, shooting percentages can be used as one criterion for evaluating basketball skills.

As such, leadership skills, like delegating, can also be seen much in the same way. Good leaders know when and to whom a particular task should be delegated (i.e., knowledge), they effectively communicate their expectations concerning a delegated task (i.e., behavior), and they check to see whether the task was accomplished in a satisfactory manner (i.e., criteria). Thus, a skill is knowing when to act, acting in an manner appropriate to the situation, and acting in such a way that it helps the leader accomplish team goals (Hughes, Ginneth & Curphy, 2001).

In the realization that rather than trying to describe the variety of behaviors leaders exhibit in work settings, the researchers at the University of Michigan sought to identify leader behaviors that contributed to effective group performance (Likert, 1961). They concluded that four categories of leadership behaviors are related to effective group performance: leader support, interaction facilitation, goal emphasis, and work facilitation (Bowers & Seashore, 1966).

Bowers and Seashore that (1966) both goal emphasis and work facilitation are job-centered dimensions of behavior similar to the initiating structure behaviors described earlier. Also, they identified that goal emphasis behaviors are concerned with motivating subordinates to accomplish the task at hand, and work facilitation behaviors are concerned with clarifying roles, acquiring and allocating resources, and reconciling organizational conflicts. Leader support and interaction facilitation are employee-centered dimensions of behavior similar to the consideration dimension of the various Ohio State questionnaires. Leader support includes behaviors where the leader shows concern for subordinates; interaction facilitation includes those behaviors where leaders act to smooth over and minimize conflicts among followers. Thus, researchers at the University of Michigan developed a questionnaire, the Survey of Organizations, to assess the degree to which leaders exhibit these four dimensions of leadership behaviors.

New Theory of Leadership

The sad fact about our obsession about the concept of leadership is that it is the most studied and yet, it is the least understood of the social sciences, and these changing and turbulent times require uniquely effective leaders. Seeing this, Bennis and Nanus (1985) suggested a new theory of leadership based on an extensive study of 90 leaders who participated in interviews for the purpose of discovering what is common to leadership and leaders.

The findings of this study concluded that there are four types of “human handling skills” common to leaders. In order to elaborate in great detail the specifics of these skills and, Bennis and Nanus (1985) refer to them as strategies:

·         Strategy I — attention through vision.

·         Strategy II — meaning through communication.

·         Strategy III — trust through positioning.

·         Strategy IV — the deployment of self through positive self-regard and the Wallenda factor.

Strategy I, or the management of attention through vision, refers to the leader’s ability to create a focus or a clear picture of an outcome. The leaders who were interviewed were all results oriented. The ideas they held were very clear in their own minds, making it easy for people to see where they were going.

Strategy II, or the meaning through communication, means that this group of leaders was able to turn its vision into images that others could understand. These leaders had the ability to translate their ideas into symbols with real meaning. From this ability, referred to as the management of meaning and the mastery of communication, leaders are able to inspire by capturing the imagination of others.

Strategy III, or trust through positioning, refers to the leaders’ ability to inspire trust in others by contributing to the organization’s integrity. This means the leader never loses sight of why the organization exists. The leader knows what the organization stands for and what it has to do. A second component of a leader’s contribution to the management of trust is the facilitation of constancy, or staying the course. Like a pilot and an airplane, the leader takes the organization in the right direction. In this way a leader, through positioning, maintains the organization’s harmony and purpose but also recognizes the need for change and incongruities and provides for innovations. In essence, the leader provides stability for the organization but also allows for the necessary changes that provide for organizational growth.

Strategy IV, or the deployment of self through positive self-regard, means that the leader leads in a very personal way. The leader will display a positive self-image, and especially self-respect. This is achieved by the leader recognizing his or her strengths and compensating for weaknesses while nurturing the talents and skills that he or she possesses.

One interesting aspect of the management of self is the deployment of self through the Wallenda factor. This is best explained through a story about Karl Wallenda, a tightrope aerialist. For three months prior to his fatal fall, Wallenda talked about falling and not succeeding, rather than walking the tightrope. It was as though he were destined to fail. The conclusion is: attitudes influence outcome. Positive attitudes that concentrate on success are what this special group of leaders shared (Bennis ; Nanus, 1985).

The groundbreaking work of Bennis and Nanus (1985) could be much applied on all areas that require this modern outlook in the concept of leadership. We could delineate that leadership is not merely a skill that needs to be learned but it is a series of process that have to be undergone in order to have the full grasp of what it is all about

Conclusion

In this time and age, upcoming leaders face tougher challenges as the whole world braces from the rapid spread of information and technology. Apart from that, the expansion of the traditional businesses into venturing in e-commerce and globalization had kept leaders busy thinking of up-to-date business strategies, new competitors, new cultures, complex markets, political uncertainty, and huge logistical problems.

As a process, leadership in all its stages requires application of theory to determine the best possible leadership action. The knowledge and skill level of the duly-appointed leader directly and indirectly influence the short-and long-run goals of any organization. Interpersonal relationships significantly influence the possible alternatives that might be generated to solve a problem or to make a decision. The creative leader who possesses innate intelligence, resourcefulness, dominance, and self-sufficiency will be able to facilitate what the proper course of action should be.

Indeed, the ultimate impact of the practice of leadership in the era of globalization is that leaders should somehow come at pace with the swiftly changing times. Being a global leader is not just a pursuit for self-improvement, but harnessing the energy of other people.  In the end, it is the global leaders who determine the roadmap, a mixture of traditional and modern concepts, which will guide both themselves and their organizations to new heights of international competitiveness.

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References

Bass, B.M. (1985). Leadership and performance beyond expectations. New York: The Free Press.

Bennis, W., ; Nanus, B. (1985). Leadership: The strategies for taking charge. New York: Harper ; Row.

Bowers, D. G., and S. E. Seashore. (1966). Predicting organizational effectiveness with a four factor theory of leadership. Administrative Science Quarterly 11, pp. 238–63.

Brown, J.A.C. (1954). The social psychology of industry. Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books, pp. 129–130.

Great man theory. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia Website. Acquired last 23 January 2005 at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_man_theory

Hughes, Richard L., Ginnett, Robert C., and Curphy, Gordon J. (2001). Leadership: enhancing the lessons Of experience. New York: The McGraw?Hill Companies.

Kouzes, James. Everyone’s business — leadership for today and tomorrow. The Leadership Challenge, 3rd ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2003.

Kreitner, Robert and  Kinicki, Angelo.(2004). Organizational behavior. New York: The McGraw?Hill Companies.

Lewin, K., Lippitt, R., & White, R.K. (1953). Studies in group decisions. In D. Cartwright & A. Zander, Group dynamics, New York: Harper & Row.

Likert, R. (1961). New patterns of management. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Peters, Tom and Austin, Nancy K. (1985). A passion for excellence: the leadership difference. New York: Random House, Inc.

Schmitt, W., & Tannenbaum, R. (1964). How to choose a leadership pattern: Skills that build executive success. Harvard Business Review, 6 (116).

Stogdill, R.M. (1948, January). Personal factors associated with leadership in a survey of the literature. Journal of Psychology, 25, 35–71.