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Leadership Essay, Research Paper

Concept of Leadership

Leadership – what is it? Many definitions have been offered, cultural stereotypes abound, numerous programs focus on leadership development, but the question remains. In fact, leadership is many different things to different people in different circumstances. When we think of leadership, we often think first of famous individuals. We may think of great political leaders: Washington, Churchill, Roosevelt. We may think of the leaders of social movements: Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Caesar Chavez. We may think of spiritual leaders: Jesus, Mohammed, Mother Theresa. Do we also include in our definition some of the infamous leaders such as Hitler, Stalin, or David Koresh? Obviously, leadership is not always or automatically good in and of itself. We are quickly reminded of the notion that power corrupts and that absolute power corrupts absolutely.

An exploration of leadership also quickly takes us beyond the lists of the famous when we consider the examples of leadership in our own lives: family members, friends, teachers, ministers, and others who by their lives and examples have influenced and led us in various ways. When we look at leadership in communities we see many leaders who may never become famous but whose leadership is essential to the life of the community. We begin to see leaders all around us.

Leadership Defined

Leadership is the ability to influence individuals or groups toward the achievement of goals. Leadership, as a process, shapes the goals of a group or organization, motivates behavior toward the achievement of those goals, and helps define group or organizational culture. It is primarily a process of influence.

Leadership is a dynamic or changing process in the sense that, while influence is always present, the persons exercising that influence may change. Possession of influence depends upon the situation and upon the relevancy of the individual’s skills and abilities to the situation. For example, if a particular individual has the expertise that is required to solve a problem, then that individual may be assumed to have some degree of influence over others.

Although some managers are able to influence followers to work toward the achievement of organizational goals, the conferring of formal authority on a manager does not necessarily make that individual a leader. Yes, that individual has authority, but whether or not they are able to influence their subordinates may depend on more that just that authority.

Not all leaders are managers, and similarly, not all managers are leaders. Within a team environment, manager and leader are simply roles taken on by members of the team. Most teams require a manager to “manage” — coordinate, schedule, liaise, contact, organize, procure — their affairs. The functions of this role may well be quite different from those of the leader. Management roles need not presuppose any ability to influence. A leader, on the other hand, must have the ability to influence other team members.

A leader must, by definition, have followers. To understand leadership, we must explore the relationship leaders have with their followers.

One view of leadership sees it as a transactional process whereby leaders respond to subordinates’ basic lower level and security needs. Similar to the exchange theory discussed previously, leaders and subordinates may be viewed as bargaining agents whose relative power regulates an exchange process as benefits are issued and received. Thus, a follower may follow a leader so long as that leader is perceived to be in a position to “deliver” some important needs. In some cases, the followers of a political leader may be very fickle; if the desired needs of the followers are not met by the policies enacted by that leader’s government, these follower may readily give their vote — follow another — at the next election.


“All leaders have the capacity to create a compelling vision, one that takes people to a new place, and the ability to translate that vision into reality” (Bennis, 1990). Current leadership literature frequently characterizes the leader as the vision holder, the keeper of the dream, or the person who has a vision of the organization’s purpose. In Leadership Is an Art (1989), De Pree asserts that “the first responsibility of a leader is to define reality”. Bennis (1990) writes that leaders “manage the dream” . Vision is defined as “the force which molds meaning for the people of an organization” by Manasse (1986).

According to Manasse, this aspect of leadership is “visionary leadership” and includes four different types of vision: organization, future, personal, and strategic. Organizational vision involves having a complete picture of a system’s components as well as an understanding of their interrelationships. “Future vision is a comprehensive picture of how an organization will look at some point in the future, including how it will be positioned in its environment and how it will function internally” (Manasse, 1986). Personal vision includes the leader’s personal aspirations for the organization and acts as the impetus for the leader’s actions that will link organizational and future vision. “Strategic vision involves connecting the reality of the present (organizational vision) to the possibilities of the future (future vision) in a unique way (personal vision) that is appropriate for the organization and its leader” (Manasse, 1986). A leader’s vision needs to be shared by those who will be involved in the realization of the vision.

Shared Vision.

An important aspect of vision is the notion of “shared vision.” “Some studies indicate that it is the presence of this personal vision on the part of a leader, shared with members of the organization, that may differentiate true leaders from mere managers” (Manasse, 1986). A leader’s vision needs to be shared by those who will be involved in the realization of the vision. Murphy (1988) applied shared vision to previous studies of policy makers and policy implementation; he found that those studies identified gaps between policy development and its implementation and concluded that this gap also applies to current discussions of vision. He stressed the need for the development of a shared vision. “It is rare to see a clearly defined vision articulated by a leader at the top of the hierarchy and then installed by followers” (Murphy, 1988). Whether the vision of an organization is developed collaboratively or initiated by the leader and agreed to by the followers, it becomes the common ground, the shared vision that compels all involved. “Vision comes alive only when it is shared” (Westley & Mintzberg).

Valuing Human Resources.

Leaders go beyond the development of a common vision; they value the human resources of their organizations. They provide an environment that promotes individual contributions to the organization’s work. Leaders develop and maintain collaborative relationships formed during the development and adoption of the shared vision. They form teams, support team efforts, develop the skills groups and individuals need, and provide the necessary resources, both human and material, to fulfill the shared vision.

Who will lead a group, team, or organization? Leadership emergence depends to a large extent on group members’ perceptions. Groups generally require leaders when interpersonal processes need improvement or the efforts of individual members must be better coordinated.

Emergence of a leader depends on team members’ perceptions with respect to the need for a leader and on the qualities of the individuals available to fill that role.

A number of factors may determine who emerges as a group’s leader:

(1) physical characteristics such as height, weight, age, and gender;

(2) intelligence;

(3) personality traits;

(4) task abilities; and

(5) participation rates.

Why do followers Follow

Although the number of reasons followers follow may be as numerous as the number of followers, we may generalize by saying that followers expect their needs to be satisfied. If the leader somehow provides the follower with the means by which he or she may satisfy needs, then it is likely that the leader will have followers. This assumption is consistent with Maslow’s assumptions about motivation.

Followers are motivated to follow — to do whatever is requested of them by the leader — if they are in a position to satisfy their own, dominant needs. Similarly, Expectancy Theory assumes that people are motivated — will see a reason to follow — if there exists a perceived expectation that their efforts (the following) will lead to positive job outcomes and, finally, positive rewards.

Transactional leadership is based on the notion of a social exchange; leaders control followers’ behaviors by imposing authority and power on the one hand and satisfying followers’ needs on the other. That is, leaders offer organizational resources in exchange for followers’ compliance and responsiveness.

Unlike transformational leadership, in this transactional relationship, the leader makes no particular effort to change followers’ values or involve them in a process by which they internalize organizational values.

In times of crisis, people become sensitive to the adequacy of their leadership. If they have confidence in it, they are willing to assign more than usual responsibility to the leader. However, if they lack that confidence, they are less tolerant of the leader than usual.

Furthermore, people are more likely to follow and to have critical decisions made by the leader if they feel that somehow they, the followers, are taking part in the decision-making process.

Although, the formal definition of leadership given above will serve us in our future discussions of leadership, Warren Bennis suggests a definition which is also interesting.

Leadership, Vision, Communication

If leadership is to be pro-active, it requires vision. This vision is a shared image of a desirable objective, shaped and defined by the leader and the followers.

However, vision itself is not enough. In order to get others — followers — to move in the direction of the desired goal (the vision), the leader must also be able to communicate that vision and the followers must be motivated to follow.

Ideally, the followers will internalize and fulfill this shared vision. If the followers are inclined to act on reasoned argument, then communication will serve to convey the rationale for the vision. On the other hand, the act of communicating may also touch the followers in an emotional way.

What makes a Leader

It is generally accepted that good leadership is essential to the functioning of an organization. This begs the question: What makes a good leader? It may be useful to think of the leadership process as the interaction between the situation, the leader, and the followers. Beh

Behavior and Personality

Since leadership is a behavior, it must, by definition, be , among other things, a function of the leader’s personality. Personality is defined as those relatively stable characteristics derived from culture, unique experiences, and biological makeup. If the leader’s skills, and motivations to fulfill certain felt needs, are combined with his or her personality, then we might conclude that these factors contribute to leader behavior.

Task Orientation, Relationship Orientation, and Influence

Much of the leadership research has reduced leader behavior to: task orientation, relationship orientation, and the attempt to influence others (note the similarity between these behaviors and McClelland’s needs — need for achievement, need for affiliation, and need for power). Behavior thus influences the net result of the leadership process.

Leader Behaviors, Influence, and Power Leader behavior is also a function of the power of the leader. Power (as per French and Raven) may be derived from a number of sources:

h expert

h referent

h reward

h coercive

h legitimate

Leader Behaviors and Situational Variables In an organizational context, the leader’s behavior invariably interacts with the environment. Thus, situational variables come into play. The type of job, technology, organizational politics, and the formal authority afforded the manger may influence the power available to the leader.


The role of leadership in management is largely determined by the organisational culture of the company. It has been argued that managers’ beliefs, values and assumptions are of critical importance to the overall style of leadership that they adopt.

There are several different leadership styles that can be identified within each of the following Management techniques. Each technique has its own set of good and not-so-good characteristics, and each uses leadership in a different way.

The Autocrat

The autocratic leader dominates team-members, using unilateralism to achieve a singular objective. This approach to leadership generally results in passive resistance from team-members and requires continual pressure and direction from the leader in order to get things done. Generally, an authoritarian approach is not a good way to get the best performance from a team.

There are, however, some instances where an autocratic style of leadership may not be inappropriate. Some situations may call for urgent action, and in these cases an autocratic style of leadership may be best. In addition, most people are familiar with autocratic leadership and therefore have less trouble adopting that style. Furthermore, in some situations, sub-ordinates may actually prefer an autocratic style.

The Laissez-Faire Manager

The Laissez-Faire manager exercises little control over his group, leaving them to sort out their roles and tackle their work, without participating in this process himself. In general, this approach leaves the team floundering with little direction or motivation.

Again, there are situations where the Laissez-Faire approach can be effective. The Laissez-Faire technique is usually only appropriate when leading a team of highly motivated and skilled people, who have produced excellent work in the past. Once a leader has established that his team is confident, capable and motivated, it is often best to step back and let them get on with the task, since interfering can generate resentment and detract from their effectiveness. By handing over ownership, a leader can empower his group to achieve their goals.

The Democrat

The democratic leader makes decisions by consulting his team, whilst still maintaining control of the group. The democratic leader allows his team to decide how the task will be tackled and who will perform which task.

The democratic leader can be seen in two lights:

A good democratic leader encourages participation and delegates wisely, but never loses sight of the fact that he bears the crucial responsibility of leadership. He values group discussion and input from his team and can be seen as drawing from a pool of his team members’ strong points in order to obtain the best performance from his team. He motivates his team by empowering them to direct themselves, and guides them with a loose reign.

However, the democrat can also be seen as being so unsure of himself and his relationship with his sub-ordinates that everything is a matter for group discussion and decision. Clearly, this type of “leader” is not really leading at all.


Trait Theories

In the 1920’s and 1930’s, leadership research focused on trying to identify the traits that differentiated leaders from non-leaders. These early leadership theories were content theories, focusing on “what” an effective leader is, not on ‘how’ to effectively lead. The trait approach to understanding leadership assumes that certain physical, social, and personal characteristics are inherent in leaders. Sets of traits and characteristics were identified to assist in selecting the right people to become leaders. Physical traits include being young to middle-aged, energetic, tall, and handsome. Social background traits include being educated at the “right” schools and being socially prominent or upwardly mobile. Social characteristics include being charismatic, charming, tactful, popular, cooperative, and diplomatic. Personality traits include being self-confident, adaptable, assertive, and emotionally stable. Task-related characteristics include being driven to excel, accepting of responsibility, having initiative, and being results-oriented.

Trait theories intended to identify traits to assist in selecting leaders since traits are related to leadership effectiveness in many situations. The trait approach to understanding leadership supports the use of tests and interviews in the selection of managers. The interviewer is typically attempting to match the traits and characteristics of the applicant to the position. For example, most interviewers attempt to evaluate how well the applicant can work with people.

Trait theory has not been able to identify a set of traits that will consistently distinguish leaders from followers. Trait theory posits key traits for successful leadership (drive, desire to lead, integrity, self-confidence, intelligence, and job-relevant knowledge) yet does not make a judgment as to whether these traits are inherent to individuals or whether they can be developed through training and education. No two leaders are alike. Furthermore, no leader possesses all of the traits. Comparing leaders in different situations suggests that the traits of leaders depend on the situation. Thus, traits were de-emphasized to take into account situational conditions (contingency perspective).

Behavioral Theories

The behavioral theorists identified determinants of leadership so that people could be trained to be leaders. They developed training programs to change managers’ leadership behaviors and assumed that the best styles of leadership could be learned.

Theory X and Theory Y

Douglas McGregor described Theory X and Theory Y in his book, The Human Side of Enterprise. Theory X and Theory Y each represent different ways in which leaders view employees. Theory X managers believe that employees are motivated mainly by money, are lazy, uncooperative, and have poor work habits. Theory Y managers believe that subordinates work hard, are cooperative, and have positive attitudes.

Theory X is the traditional view of direction and control by managers.

1. The average human being has an inherent dislike of work and will avoid if he or she can.

2. Because of this human characteristic of dislike of work, most people must be controlled, directed, and threatened with punishment to get them to put forth adequate effort toward the achievement of organizational objectives.

3. The average human being prefers to be directed, wishes to avoid responsibility, has relatively little ambition, wants security above all.

Theory X leads naturally to an emphasis on the tactics of control – to procedures and techniques for telling people what to do, for determining whether they are doing it, and for administering rewards and punishment. Theory X explains the consequences of a particular managerial strategy. Because its assumptions are so unnecessarily limiting, it prevents managers from seeing the possibilities inherent in other managerial strategies. As long as the assumptions of Theory X influence managerial strategy, organizations will fail to discover, let alone utilize, the potentialities of the average human being.

Theory Y is the view that individual and organizational goals can be integrated.

1. The expenditures of physical and mental effort in work are as natural as play or rest.

2. External control and the threat of punishment are not the only means for bringing out effort toward organizational objectives.

3. Commitment to objectives is a function of the rewards associated with their achievement.

4. The average human being learns, under proper conditions, not only to accept but also to seek responsibility.

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