Leadership: An Introduction to Fundamental Concepts and Styles

By: Anne Breen

 

 

 

\x93There was a time when I thought that brains were everything.\xA0 That view has dimmed recently.\xA0 I think brains are important, but now I also look for good team-builders, good communicators, and courageous people who don\x92t get stuck with an idea.\xA0 You need people who are more nimble, who have the ability to lead organizations in changing and tumultuous times comfortably, without panicking.\x94\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0

- Larry Bossidy, Chairman & CEO, Allied Signal, Inc.

 

 

I.                    Introduction

 

What makes a good leader?\xA0 This question has bothered people for centuries.\xA0 Many look to the individual\x92s intellectual capability (IQ) as a marker of leadership but it has become clear that this offers little competitive advantage, especially since most members of professional and technical fields are in the top 10% of intelligence.\xA0 In 1998, Daniel Goleman in partnership with the consulting firm of Hay/McBer, recognized that 90% of the difference separating the average and the best leaders lies within their grasp of emotional competencies, i.e. self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and social skill.1\xA0 In fact, only one cognitive ability, pattern recognition, appears to differentiate outstanding leaders from average leaders; while emotional intelligence is twice as important as IQ and technical expertise combined and four times as important for overall success.\xA0

 

II.                 Leadership Style

 

Leadership has often been described as a continuum of two extreme styles, autocratic and democratic.\xA0 However, it appears that leadership styles vary from situation to situation and are not an either/or continuum.2 Hersey and Blanchard describe four leadership styles with varying amounts of directive and supportive behavior.\xA0 Directive behavior can be described as a one-way communication in which the leader clearly dictates the role of the follower with a high level of supervision.\xA0 On the contrary, supportive behavior is a two-way communication that encourages interaction by the follower in the decision-making process.\xA0 The choice of the style depends upon three variables: the amount of direction the leader provides, the amount of support and encouragement the leader provides, and the amount of follower involvement in decision-making.3\xA0\xA0

It has been suggested that the development level of the followers may be the best guide of the amount of direction and/or support that should be provided in a particular situation.3\xA0 The leader must understand not only the ability but the willingness of the follower to perform the task at hand.\xA0 Ability describes the technical aspect of work and willingness incorporates confidence and motivation to perform the task at hand.\xA0 A follower\x92s competence may vary from task to task and a highly adaptive leader is able to adjust their level of support and direction accordingly.\xA0 In addition, a successful leader creates a culture in the organization that allows the followers to increase their willingness and ability so that they may be more independent in their level of functioning.\xA0 This type of environment assists both leaders and followers in increasing their performance capacity. What has become clear over the years is that a \x93best\x94 leadership style does not exist; rather a successful leader is one that matches the style with the current situation to maximize productivity and human satisfaction.\xA0\xA0 The adaptability of a leader appears to be his or her greatest asset.

A random sample of 3,871 executives from a database of over 20,000 executives worldwide was analyzed in an attempt to determine the characteristics of effective leaders.\xA0 The consulting firm of Hay/McBer found six distinct leadership styles, each of which stems from different aspects of emotional intelligence (EI).\xA0 The following is a table that describes the six leadership styles.1

 

Coercive

Authoritative

Affiliative

Democratic

Pacesetting

Coaching

Demand immediate compliance

Mobilizes people toward a vision

Creates harmony and builds emotional bonds

Forges consensus through participation

Sets high standards for performance

Develops people for the future

EI: achieve, initiative, self-control

EI: self-confidence, empathy, change catalyst

EI: empathy, building relationships, communication

EI: collaboration, team leadership, communication

EI: conscientiousness, drive to achieve, initiative

EI: developing others, empathy, self-awareness

To be used in crisis or to start a turnaround

To be used when change requires new vision or to provide clear direction

To be used to motivate people in stress or to heal team conflicts

To be used to build consensus or get employee input

To be used to get quick results from a motivated and competent team

To be used to help improve performance or develop strengths in employees

Negative impact upon climate

Most strongly positive impact upon climate

Positive impact upon climate

Positive impact upon climate

Negative impact upon climate

Positive impact upon climate

 

 

The coercive style is the least flexible and its use should be limited to emergency situations, like a pending takeover or recovery from natural disasters.\xA0 Its failure to foster pride or to support the development of initiative on the part of its employees places the largest constraint on its utility.\xA0 On the opposite end of the spectrum, the authoritative style is the most effective in every aspect of an organization\x92s climate.\xA0 An authoritative leader provides a clear vision that motivates the employees to be creative in their pursuit of the organization\x92s mission while providing a supportive structure.\xA0 However, an authoritative leader must resist the temptation to be overbearing, especially in the presence of experts and peers.\xA0 The affiliative style is based upon a caring and nurturing approach, which works well in conjunction with the authoritative style.\xA0 Affiliative leaders attempt to develop trust and create harmony through the use of continuous positive feedback.\xA0 These features allow for the development of bonds, teamwork, and communication that are needed when new teams are forming or tension exists within a current group.\xA0 The successful implementation of this style greatly depends upon the development level of the employee.\xA0 This highly supportive style is not a successful combination with an employee that requires a high level of direction and may leave an employee in that situation rudderless.\xA0 With the focus upon positive feedback there is a tendency when using this style to overlook poor performance.\xA0 The weaknesses of the affiliative style just described highlight the need to mesh the six different leadership styles, and specifically point to the use of the authoritative style in close conjunction with the affiliative style when a leader finds an employee rudderless. 1

Similar to the affiliative style, the democratic style requires highly developed and competent constituents to respond appropriately to the open-ended questions and request for opinions.\xA0 A leader uses this style to develop buy-in and build trust among workers and peers.\xA0 Through the use of the democratic style the leader asks employees to participate in the decision-making and in doing so fosters respect and commitment on the part of the employee.\xA0 Obviously, the use of this style is limited in times of crisis when constituents tend to require direction more than support from their leader.\xA0 However, this style may be helpful to guide the leader and generate a new vision for an organization.\xA0 The pacesetting style reminds us that a skilled leader is able to adapt his or her leadership style to each situation.\xA0 This style has the potential to destroy climate by not providing a clear vision yet demanding high performance.\xA0 As the name suggests the pacesetting style is guided by the desire for high performance standards while maintaining a tight agenda.\xA0 An effective leader recognizes that a highly motivated and competent crew in need of little direction will respond well to the pacesetting style.\xA0 The coaching style is an important tool to be used when a leader recognizes an employee\x92s potential for success.\xA0 The effective use of this style requires an employee to possess both the willingness and ability to improve his or her performance and a patient leader committed to the development of the employee.\xA0 While this style focuses upon personal development it also improves performance.\xA0 As employees tap their strengths and acknowledge their weaknesses they are better able to cope with challenges, experiment with new ideas, and accept responsibility for failures.\xA0 The use of this style requires a considerable investment of time on the part of the leader but a successful leader understands the power of this tool and its contribution to the future success of the organization.1

Emotional intelligence describes an individual\x92s ability to manage his or her self, as well as other relationships effectively.\xA0 It consists of four fundamental capabilities and their corresponding set of competencies.1\xA0 The fundamental capabilities include: self-awareness (self-confidence), self-management (self-control, initiative, adaptability, and trustworthiness), social awareness (empathy and service orientation), and social skill (influence, communication, conflict management, and collaboration).\xA0 Interestingly, the research of Hay/McBer indicates that effective leaders intertwine each leadership style in their daily practice, anticipating and adapting their style to the needs of each situation.\xA0 Similarly, David McClelland, a Harvard University psychologist, found that leaders with strengths in six or more emotional intelligence competencies were far more effective than their peers who lacked such strengths.1\xA0

The research of Hay/McBer, headed by Mary Fontaine and Ruth Jacobs, analyzed the specific behaviors of executives in an attempt to discover how leaders handle crisis, motivate employees, manage change, and impact the organization\x92s climate or working environment.\xA0 Psychologists George Litwin, Richard Stringer, and McClelland described \x93climate\x94 as incorporating six key factors that influence an organization\x92s working environment. The six factors that are felt to incorporate the term \x93climate\x94 include flexibility, responsibility, standards, rewards (performance feedback), clarity, and commitment.\xA0 Fontaine and Jacobs went a step further and evaluated the affect each leadership style had upon the different aspects of \x93climate\x94.\xA0 The research of Fontaine and Jacobs confirms what has been stated previously that none of the leadership styles should be relied upon exclusively, but they go a step further to state that all of these styles have a measurable effect upon each of the factors associated with an organization\x92s climate.\xA0 Although only four of the six leadership styles (authoritative, affiliative, democratic, and coaching) have a consistently positive impact upon climate each of the styles has a role in the daily performance of a leader.\xA0 Also, there appears to be a direct correlation between climate and financial performance and that along with economic conditions and competitive dynamics, climate appears to have positive impact upon performance.\xA0

What is clear from the research mentioned above, the more styles that a leader possesses the better.\xA0 The skilled leaders are sensitive to the development level of their constituents and the impact they are having upon others and their keen awareness allows them to adjust their style to get the best results.1\xA0 Leaders that discover that they only possess a few of the leadership styles have two options, they can associate themselves with other peers that possess the style that they lack or they can expand their own styles.\xA0 For a leader to successfully expand his or her repertories of leadership styles he or she must have a great deal of insight about his or her strengths and weaknesses.\xA0 By acknowledging which emotional intelligence competencies that one is lacking and making a commitment to develop some of them a leader is adding more power to his or her tool kit.

In summary, emotionally intelligent leaders create and maintain relationships based on trust with their employees.\xA0 They possess the skills to confront problems promptly, challenge others appropriately, remain optimistic, and constructively channel impulses.\xA0 In addition, emotionally intelligent leaders know their values and emotions and use that knowledge to make decisions.\xA0 The success of their actions often depends upon their ability to accurately read the emotions of others.

 

III.               The Context

 

Leadership has been described as a process of persuasion where the leader (or team of leaders) acts as an example for a group in order to motivate and induce the group to pursue the objectives of the leader and the organization.\xA0 In this regard it is important to realize that leaders cannot be separated from the historic context in which they arise or the culture of their working environment.\xA0 They are integral parts of the system in which they arise yet dependent upon two-way communication with constituents and the forces that create the circumstances in which they emerge. In addition, leaders are accountable for the performance of their organization or the success of the movement that they are heading regardless of the context in which it occurs.\xA0 There are many kinds of leaders with a wide array of styles and qualities, and there appears to be no limit to the variety.\xA0 These complex individuals are selective in displaying different sides of their nature in the different situations that arise.\xA0\xA0

Although the outcomes of an organization or movement are often attributed to a leader or a team of leaders, it is apparent that outcomes are the result of a complex set of interactions among group members plus environmental and historical forces.4\xA0 Often times as a leader struggles to bring about results he or she simultaneously encounters forces not only beyond his or her control but occasionally beyond his or her knowledge that hinder the results.\xA0 Under these circumstances consequences may not be an accurate measure of leadership.\xA0 Unfortunately, this is not realized until the situation is examined closely in light of the context in which it developed.\xA0 For example, President Franklin D. Roosevelt\x92s efforts to bolster the economy of the United States in the middle-to-late-1930s were greatly assisted by a force that did not originate with his economic analysis of the situation, rather with the start of World War II.4\xA0

A leader performs in the frame of an environmental and historical context.\xA0 This includes the acceptance of the actions of his or her predecessors and the performance left behind for the successors.\xA0 In addition, some of the changes sought by leaders, like the movement toward racial equality and women\x92s rights, involve slow changes that evolve under the scrutiny of public debate.\xA0 Some leaders may leave this world before their success is recognized and others may have the opinions of their performance reversed by future generations.\xA0 Regardless, the performance of a leader is complex and requires an assessment of the context under which it arises.\xA0

 

IV.              Leadership as a System

A system has been described as a completely functioning process dependent upon many parts to create results.\xA0 Each part of a system is interdependent and consequently only understood in the context of the entire system.\xA0 Every part of the system has a central purpose that is linked to the global goal of the entire system and achieving the global goal is contingent upon the interaction of the parts. \xA0A system can be analyzed by evaluating its parts but it can only be understood as an entire entity.\xA0 It is essential that a system have a clearly defined purpose otherwise it is difficult to accurately assess the success or failure of the system, and it is even more difficult to redesign or improve the system.\xA0

Traditionally, leaders are described as decisive, assertive, task-orienting individuals who are also adept at diplomacy.\xA0 Edward Deming introduced a new and provocative leadership philosophy in Tokyo in the 1950s that brought the concepts of systems thinking into the frame of leadership, or the idea that everything is an interdependent part of a system.\xA0 In this context the system is the method by which results are achieved and any failure to achieve a desired outcome is a failure of the system.\xA0 This differs considerably from the traditional focus upon the individual within organizations, with success or failures measured as a result of the performance of an individual or group of individuals.\xA0 Because a system includes interactive and interdependent parts, success and failure must be measured at the level of the system, not the individual.\xA0 Implementing change at an individual level does not translate to a change for the system.\xA0

It is with these ideas in mind that leadership can be thought of as a system.\xA0 As stated earlier, research and experience has shown that there is no formula for leadership.\xA0 Adopting a single leadership style does not equate success nor does it encompass all aspects of leadership.\xA0 Generally, good leadership encompasses the presence and spirit of the leader and the relationship developed with those who are led. This includes understanding not only the skills and capabilities of the constituents but also accommodating their needs and values.\xA0 Within this integrated network of a leader or team of leaders and the followers lies a system, and it is a system with purpose, technology, relationships, and a community that drives the organization or the mission.\xA0 Good leadership acknowledges the framework of this system and incorporates an understanding of this framework in daily activities.\xA0 A good leader is merely one part of such a system.\xA0

In running a successful system a leader must establish and continually reinforce the aim and vision underlying the structure of the organization.\xA0 Even the most developed constituents need to be reminded of the mission of the organization, and most importantly their role in achieving the mission.\xA0 Leading a system also requires an understanding of the expertise and technology necessary to remain competitive and survive.\xA0 Skillful leaders who recognize leadership as a system understand the importance of human interaction and the need to establish a sense of community within the organization.\xA0 Relationships at all levels within an organization are the key to achieving the mission and a good leader is instrumental in creating an atmosphere of cooperation and pride in the workplace.\xA0 Similarly, there are organizational interactions within an enterprise that often encounter structural and philosophic barriers to effective and efficient workflow.\xA0 Leadership requires the knowledge and understanding of the interdependence of the microsystems within an organization, and encourages collaboration amongst workers in planning activities so that the organization can achieve the mission.\xA0 A successful leadership system encourages and supports leadership at various levels in a hierarchical organization and is dependent upon this process.\xA0 A leader is responsible for ensuring that leading occurs so that an organization can function as an integrated system.\xA0\xA0\xA0

The functions of leadership have been described as the following: (1) the ability to create a clear focus, purpose or vision, (2) understanding the organization as a system, like the system described above with interdependent points of interaction that are aligned in their effort, (3) the ability to created channels of communication and connection within the organization while accepting the value of diversity, and (4) developing an understanding within the organization of new technology or methodology for improvement.\xA0 While spontaneous and serendipitous activities are still encouraged the best leadership arises from well-developed systems.\xA0 The idea of leadership as a system of functions varies from traditional approaches to the topic.\xA0 However, this idea still incorporates the fundamental concept that successful leaders not only adapt their activities and responses to a variety of situations but also intimately understand the aim of the organization and disseminate that aim to the constituents.5\xA0 The importance of understanding and disseminating the aim or mission to all levels of an organization was expressed by Donald Peterson, CEO of Ford Motor Company, in February of 1982 when he addressed the senior executives with these words:

\x93\x85As I was thinking about this meeting, it struck me strongly that you are the ones who are going to decide whether we are really successful in making a dramatic change in how we do business.\x94

\x93\x85I seriously suggest that you give that some heartfelt thought as to whether you really understand what we are talking about.\xA0 I had the experience in January at our Management Review that most people in the room thought I was talking about something so elementary that we, of course, already do it in the Ford Motor Company.\xA0 They could not understand why I was talking about it.\xA0 It left me with the sense that many of us still do not understand what we are really trying to change.\xA0 So I urge you to ask yourselves, do you really understand what it is we are trying to change\x85.\x946

 

In addition, Peterson\x92s words recall the key aspect of leadership as a system, which is that it is a highly integrated network of interdependent parts.\xA0

 

V.                 Final Thoughts from the Constituents

 

The portrayal of leadership is incomplete without expressing the views of those that are or have been led by others.\xA0 Afterall, leadership is a reciprocal process requiring an exchange between those who lead and those who follow.\xA0 The constituents are clearly important and necessary for successful leadership, and those who aspire to lead must acknowledge the values and vision of the constituents.\xA0 In the early 1980s research by James Kouzes and Barry Posner attempted to learn about the values that constituents admire and respect in their superiors.\xA0 The top four characteristics held by admired leaders included honesty (88%), forward-looking (75%), inspiring (68%), and competent (63%).\xA0 Interestingly, with repeated submission of the survey developed by Kouzes and Posner these characteristics are consistently highlighted.7 \xA0

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0 Constituents consistently selected honesty as the most important leadership characteristic.\xA0 Honesty was judged by the consistency between a leader\x92s words and behavior.\xA0 It was also apparent that leaders who were clear and confident in their own beliefs were also highly regarded.\xA0 Constituents were also concerned about leaders who lacked direction or a clear vision of the future.\xA0 Even the most highly developed constituents wanted to feel confident about the organization\x92s aim for the future.\xA0 Effective leaders inspire confidence in the validity of the aim and their personal commitment to pursuing the aim generates enthusiasm and pride in their constituents.\xA0 Finally, competent leaders are capable of challenging, inspiring, enabling, modeling, and encouraging others, and performance is dependent upon it.7

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VI.              Conclusion

Leadership exists on many levels and throughout all aspects of society.\xA0 The common purpose that motivates leaders is the overall accomplishment of the organization or the system.\xA0 After recognizing leadership as a system it becomes clear that an understanding of the relationship between leaders and their constituents is essential.\xA0 In addition, developing and maintaining successful organizations requires leaders to understand the culture of the organization, to adapt to the challenges of the environment, and to respect the constituents that make up the organization.\xA0

The responsibility of leadership extends from the executive offices and beyond the local levels to the public.\xA0 The possibilities and limitations of leaders must be understood so that the public can intelligently strengthen and support \x93good\x94 leadership.\xA0 Many have described the skills and tasks necessary to be a leader and it is likely that these skills are widely distributed throughout society.\xA0 An important question is how can this reservoir be tapped.

 

 

 

Endnotes:

 

1.\xA0 Goleman D.\xA0 Leadership That Gets Results.\xA0 Harvard Business Review; March-April 2000: 78-90.

 

2. Stogdill RM and Coons AE, eds.\xA0 Leader Behavior: Its Description and Measurement.\xA0 Research Monograph No. 88 (Columbus, Ohio: Bureau of Business Research, The Ohio State University, 1957).

 

3. Hersey P and Blanchard K.\xA0 Management of Organizational Behavior: Utilizing Human Resources, 4th edition (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall Inc., 1982).

 

4.\xA0 Gardner JW. On Leadership (New York, N.Y.: The Free Press, 1990), p. 1-22.

 

5.      Scholtes PR.\xA0 The Leader\x92s Handbook: Making Things Happen, Getting Things Done (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1998), chapters 2 & 10.

 

6.      Scherkenback WW.\xA0 The Deming Route to Quality and Productivity (Washington, D.C.: Ceepress Books, 1986)

 

7.      Kouzes JM and Posner BZ.\xA0 The Leadership Challenge (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1995), chapters 1-3.