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Who Is a Good Leader and to What Extent Do They Influence the Future of Organisations?

Essay by   •  October 4, 2013  •  Research Paper  •  1,930 Words (8 Pages)  •  1,776 Views

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Leadership can be defined as the 'process of directing, controlling, motivating and inspiring staff towards the realisation of stated organisational goals' (Clegg et al. 2011 p.126). However, what defines a good leader? Leadership happens to be one of the most 'overtheorised, overresearched...areas of management...with a clear lack of unity of perspectives or approaches' (Clegg et al. 2011 p.126). Thus, in the first section of this essay, I will explore these various perspectives and approaches such as the trait approach and the behavioural theory. The second section presents an in-depth discussion of the competency approach as an alternative to the trait or behavioural theory. The final section will analyse the aspects of leadership influence on organisations, focusing on the negative aspect, as well as how, in some instances, leadership does not pose an influence at all.

Due to the ever changing views of societies, cultures and the environment, theorists believed that there was a need for change to the definition of leadership. Over the years, a number of theorists have presented their perspectives and interpretations on the concept that is leadership, further developing and challenging the traditional definition. Each of these contributions have led to the complex understanding of the term which is now best seen as 'a product of one's position...personality traits...observable behaviour' (Clegg et al. 2011 p.126). It is undeniable that in today's society, leaders play a vital role in the operations of an organisation and in this section I will explore the traits and theories that have emerged through the years of leadership evolution.

The trait theory, also referred to as the 'great person theory' by Barker (2001), suggests that people are born with certain qualities or characteristics, such as particular personalities or physical appearances, which make them natural leaders. It is believed that there are a set of traits that differentiate those who will rise to become leaders, and those of us who will become the followers, as identified by House et al. (1996), those being 'an underlying drive for achievement, honesty and integrity, and an ability to share and to motivate people towards common goals' (Clegg et al. 2011, p. 128). Unfortunately, theorists were unable to provide evidence to support this theory, and failed to factor in the possibility that a number of the characteristics and qualities that are believed to be the contributing element to being a leader can be affected by society's 'norms and culture' (Clegg et al. 2011, p. 128). Although the trait theory failed to accurately define a leader, it has contributed to the evolution of the definition, and thus a new theory emerged, focusing on behaviour rather than traits.

Opposing the assumption that leaders are born with specific traits, the behavioural theory focuses on observable behaviour and 'explains how leaders combine task and leadership behaviours to influence subordinates in their efforts to reach a goal' (Browning, 2007). A study conducted by Blake and Mouton (1985) led to the expanded definition of the behavioural theory, which they referred to as the managerial grid. With two dimensions, concern for production and concern for people, five leadership styles are derived from the grid, these being team management, high concern for both people and production; impoverished management, little or no concern for people or production; country club management, high concern for people; task management, high concern for production; and middle road management. According to Likert (1979), 'employee centred leaders were more successful than job centred leaders' (Clegg et al. 2011, p.131). However, this grid was portrayed as a tool for determining and training leaders than a theory, placing an emphasis on the fact that a balance between managing people and tasks is an important aspect to good leadership.

Advancing from the behavioural theory, theorists believed that the situational and contingency theory is an influential factor in determining a leader. The theory, also referred to as a 'leader-match theory' (Browning, 2007), suggests that leaders emerged depending on certain situations - 'the same person who may emerge as a leader in one situation may find themselves unable to cope...in a different situation' (Clegg et al. 2011, p. 132). It also brings forth the idea that leaders need to be flexible and have the ability to adapt to the ever changing business environment, factoring in possible contingencies. The two main contingency theories that have emerged include a study by House (1971) on the path goal theory of leadership shows that an effective leader motivates their employees and helps them gain an understanding that their jobs will assist in fulfilling their needs; therefore emphasising that this ability to assist employees both physically and psychologically is vital to a successful leader. The other theory was Hersey et al's (1996) study of the situational leadership model which emphasises on the subordinates and their 'readiness and willingness to be led by others' (Clegg et al. 2011, p. 134). More often than not, individuals are willing to be led, as they fear making the wrong decisions - '...people look up and around. They rely on others, not because of inexperience, but because of fear of failure' (Jackall 2010).

The definition of leadership continues to evolve as three recent approaches, which incorporate all previous leadership theories, have been introduced. The first, charismatic leadership emphasises a particular vision or goal that will benefit society. Secondly, transactional leadership which focuses on production and effectively disregards concern for the individual. Last, transformational leadership which is the opposite of transactional leadership as it is more people oriented rather than task oriented. Inevitably, theorists will continue to research and attempt to understand the complex concept that is leadership and these recent theories will contribute to those future definitions and theories.

It's evident that there is no solid definition for leadership and as a result, it calls for an alternate means to 'selecting, measuring and developing leaders' (Bolden & Gosling 2006) effectively. The competency approach addresses the situation and

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