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Leadership in the Workplace

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The Essence of Leadership

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Qualities of leadership

Studies of leadership have suggested qualities that people often associate with leadership. They include:

  • Talent and technical/specific skill at some task at hand
  • Initiative and entrepreneurial drive
  • Charismatic inspiration - attractiveness to others and the ability to leverage this esteem to motivate others
  • Preoccupation with a rôle - a dedication that consumes much of leaders' life - service to a cause
  • A clear sense of purpose (or mission) - clear goals - focus - commitment
  • Results-orientation - directing every action towards a mission - prioritizing activities to spend time where results most accrue
  • Optimism - very few pessimists become leaders
  • Rejection of determinism - belief in one's ability to "make a difference"
  • Ability to encourage and nurture those that report to them - delegate in such a way as people will grow
  • Role models - leaders may adopt a persona that encapsulates their mission and lead by example
  • Self-knowledge (in non-bureaucratic structures)
  • Self-awareness - the ability to "lead" (as it were) one's own self prior to leading other selves similarly
  • With regards to people and to projects, the ability to choose winners - recognizing that, unlike with skills, one cannot (in general) teach attitude. Note that "picking winners" ("choosing winners") carries implications of gamblers' luck as well as of the capacity to take risks, but "true" leaders, like gamblers but unlike "false" leaders, base their decisions on realistic insight (and usually on many other factors partially derived from "real" wisdom).
  • Understanding what others say, rather than listening to how they say things - this could partly sum this quality up as "walking in someone else's shoes" (to use a common cliché).

The approach of listing leadership qualities, often termed "trait theory", assumes certain traits or characteristics will tend to lead to effective leadership. Although trait theory has an intuitive appeal, difficulties may arrise in proving its tenets, and opponents frequently challenge this approach. The "strongest" versions of trait theory see these "leadership characteristics" as inate, and accordingly labels some people as "born leaders" due to their psychological makeup. On this reading of the theory, leadership development involves identifying and measuring leadership qualities, screening potential leaders from non-leaders, then training those with potential.

David McClelland, a Harvard-based researcher in the psychology of power and achievement, saw leadership skills, not so much as a set of traits, but as a pattern of motives. He claimed that successful leaders will tend to have a high need for power, a low need for affiliation, and a high level of what he called activity inhibition (one might call it self-control).

Situational leadership theory offers an alternative approach. It proceeds from the assumption that different situations call for different characteristics. According to this group of theories, no single optimal psychographic profile of a leader exists. The situational leadership model of Hersey and Blanchard, for example, suggest four leadership-styles and four levels of follower-development. For effectiveness, the model posits that the leadership-style must match the appropriate level of followership-development. In this model, leadership behaviour becomes a function not only of the characteristics of the leader, but of the characteristics of followers as well. Other situational leadership models introduce a variety of situational variables. These determinants include:

  • the nature of the task (structured or routine)
  • organizational policies, climate, and culture
  • the preferences of the leader's superiors
  • the expectations of peers
  • the reciprocal responses of followers

The contingency model of Vroom and Yetton uses other situational variables, including:

  • the nature of the problem
  • the requirements for accuracy
  • the acceptance of an initiative
  • time-constraints
  • cost constraints

However one determines leadership behaviour, one can categorize it into various leadership styles. Many ways of doing this exist. For example, the Managerial Grid Model, a behavioral leadership-model developed by Robert Blake and Jane Mouton in 1964, suggests five different leadership styles, based on leaders' strength of concern for people and their concern for goal achievement.

Kurt Lewin, Ronald Lipitt, and R. K. White identified three leadership styles: authoritarian, democratic, and laissez-faire, based on the amount of influence and power exercised by the leader.

The Fiedler contingency model bases the leader’s effectiveness on what Fred Fiedler called situational contingency. This results from the interaction of leadership style and situational favourableness (later called "situational control").