Theories of Leadership

Leadership has been described as the "process of social influence in which one person is able to enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task" [1]. A definition more inclusive of followers comes from Alan Keith of Genentech who said “Leadership is ultimately about creating a way for people to contribute to making something extraordinary happen.” [2] Students of leadership have produced theories involving traits [3], situational interaction, function, behavior, power, vision and values [4], charisma, and intelligence among others.


Trait Theory

Trait theory tries to describe the types of behavior and personality tendencies associated with effective leadership. This is probably the first academic theory of leadership. Ronald Heifetz (1994) traces the trait theory approach back to the nineteenth-century tradition of associating the history of society to the history of great men.[5] Thomas Carlyle can be considered one of the pioneers of the trait theory. In On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic History (1841) he used such approach to identify the talents, skills and physical characteristics of men who arose to power.


Proponents of the trait approach usually list leadership qualities, assuming certain traits or characteristics will tend to lead to effective leadership. Shelley Kirkpatrick and Edwin A. Locke (1991) exemplify the trait theory. They argue that "key leader traits include: drive (a broad term which includes achievement, motivation, ambition, energy, tenacity, and initiative), leadership motivation (the desire to lead but not to seek power as an end in itself), honesty, integrity, self-confidence (which is associated with emotional stability), cognitive ability, and knowledge of the business. According to their research, "there is less clear evidence for traits such as charisma, creativity and flexibility".[3]


Criticism to Trait Theory

Although trait theory has an intuitive appeal, difficulties may arise in proving its tenets, and opponents frequently challenge this approach. The "strongest" versions of trait theory see these "leadership characteristics" as innate, 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.


Situational theory

Situational theory appeared as an alternative to the trait theory of leadership. Social scientists argued that history was more than the result of intervention of great men as Carlyle suggested. Herbert Spencer suggested in 1884 that the times produce the person and not the other way around.[6] This theory assumes 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 behavior 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


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 favorableness (later called "situational control").


In the path-goal model of leadership, developed jointly by Martin Evans and Robert House and based on the "Expectancy Theory of Motivation", a leader has the function of clearing the path toward the goal(s) of the group, by meeting the needs of subordinates.


Functional Theory

Functional leadership theory (Hackman & Walton, 1986; McGrath, 1962) is a particularly useful theory for addressing specific leader behaviors expected to contribute to organizational or unit effectiveness. This theory argues that the leader's main job is to see that whatever is necessary to group needs is taken care of; thus, a leader can be said to have done their job well when they have contributed to group effectiveness and cohesion (Fleishman et al., 1991; Hackman & Wageman, 2005; Hackman & Walton, 1986). While functional leadership theory has most often been applied to team leadership (Zaccaro, Rittman, & Marks, 2001), it has also been effectively applied to broader organizational leadership as well (Zaccaro, 2001). In summarizing literature on functional leadership (see Kozlowski et al. (1996), Zaccaro et al. (2001), Hackman and Walton (1986), Hackman & Wageman (2005), Morgeson (2005)), Klein, Zeigert, Knight, and Xiao (2006) observed five broad functions a leader provides when promoting unit effectiveness. These functions include: (1) environmental monitoring, (2) organizing subordinate activities, (3) teaching and coaching subordinates, (4) motivating others, and (5) intervening actively in the group's work.


A variety of leadership behaviors are expected to facilitate these functions. In initial work identifying leader behavior, Fleishman (Fleishman, 1953) observed that subordinates perceived their supervisors behavior in terms of two broad categories referred to as consideration and initiating structure. Consideration includes behavior involved in fostering effective relationships. Examples of such behavior would include showing concern for a subordinate or acting in a supportive manner towards others. Initiating structure involves the actions of the leader focused specifically on task accomplishment. This could include role clarification, setting performance standards, and holding subordinates accountable to those standards.


Behavior Theory

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


David McClelland 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).


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. Other leadership styles have been identified as discussed below.


The bureaucratic leader (Weber, 1905)[7] is very structured and follows the procedures as they have been established. This type of leadership has no space to explore new ways to solve problems and is usually slow paced to ensure adherence to the ladders stated by the company. Leaders ensure that all the steps have been followed prior to sending it to the next level of authority. Universities, hospitals, banks and government usually require this type of leader in their organizations to ensure quality, increase security and decrease corruption. Leaders who try to speed up the process will experience frustration and anxiety.


The charismatic leader (Weber, 1905)[7] leads by infusing energy and eagerness into their team members. This type of leader has to be committed to the organization for the long run. If the success of the division or project is attributed to the leader and not the team, charismatic leaders may become a risk for the company by deciding to resign for advanced opportunities. It takes the company time and hard work to gain the employees' confidence back with other type of leadership after they have committed themselves to the magnetism of a charismatic leader.


The autocratic leader (Lewin, Lippitt, & White, 1939)[8] is given the power to make decisions alone, having total authority. This leadership style is good for employees that need close supervision to perform certain tasks.


The democratic leader (Lewin, Lippitt, & White, 1939)[8] This style involves the leader including one or more employees in the decision making process (determining what to do and how to do it). However, the leader retains the final decision making authority. Using this style is not a sign of weakness, rather it is a sign of strength that your employees will respect. This is normally used when you have part of the information, and your employees have other parts. Note that a leader is not expected to know everything — this is why you employ knowledgeable and skillful employees. Using this style is of mutual benefit — it allows them to become part of the team and allows you to make better decisions.


The laissez-faire ("let do") leader (Lewin, Lippitt, & White, 1939)[8] In this style, the leader allows the employees to make the decisions. However, the leader is still responsible for the decisions that are made. This is used when employees are able to analyze the situation and determine what needs to be done and how to do it. You cannot do everything! You must set priorities and delegate certain tasks. This is not a style to use so that you can blame others when things go wrong, rather this is a style to be used when you fully trust and confidence in the people below you. Do not be afraid to use it, however, use it wisely!


The people-oriented leader (Fiedler, 1967)[9] is the one who, in order to comply with effectiveness and efficiency, supports, trains and develops his personnel, increasing job satisfaction and genuine interest to do a good job.


The task-oriented leader (Fiedler, 1967)[9] focuses on the job, and concentrates on the specific tasks assigned to each employee to reach goal accomplishment. This leadership style suffers the same motivation issues as autocratic leadership, showing no involvement in the teams needs. It requires close supervision and control to achieve expected results. Another name for this is deal maker (Rowley & Roevens, 1999)[10] and is linked to a first phase in managing Change, enhance, according to the Organize with Chaos approach.


The servant leader (Greenleaf, 1977)[11] facilitates goal accomplishment by giving its team members what they need in order to be productive. This leader is an instrument employees use to reach the goal rather than a commanding voice that moves to change. This leadership style, in a manner similar to democratic leadership, tends to achieve the results in a slower time frame than other styles, although employee engagement is higher.


The transactional leader (Burns, 1978)[12] is given power to perform certain tasks and reward or punish for the team's performance. It gives the opportunity to the manager to lead the group and the group agrees to follow his lead to accomplish a predetermined goal in exchange for something else. Power is given to the leader to evaluate, correct and train subordinates when productivity is not up to the desired level and reward effectiveness when expected outcome is reached.


The transformational leader (Burns, 1978)[12] motivates its team to be effective and efficient. Communication is the base for goal achievement focusing the group on the final desired outcome or goal attainment. This leader is highly visible and uses chain of command to get the job done. Transformational leaders focus on the big picture, needing to be surrounded by people who take care of the details. The leader is always looking for ideas that move the organization to reach the company's vision.


The environment leader ( Carmazzi, 2005)[13] is the one who nurtures group or organizational environment to affect the emotional and psychological perception of an individual's place in that group or organization. An understanding and application of group psychology and dynamics is essential for this style to be effective. The leader uses organizational culture to inspire individuals and develop leaders at all levels. This leadership style relies on creating an education matrix where groups interactively learn the fundamental psychology of group dynamics and culture from each other. The leader uses this psychology, and complementary language, to influence direction through the members of the inspired group to do what is required for the benefit of all.
Leadership styles of "outstanding leaders"


In 1994 House and Podsakoff attempted to summarize the behaviors and approaches of "outstanding leaders" that they obtained from some more modern theories and research findings. These leadership behaviors and approaches do not constitute specific styles, but cumulatively they probably characterize the most effective style of leaders/managers of the time. The listed leadership "styles" cover:


1. Vision. Outstanding leaders articulate an ideological vision congruent with the deeply-held values of followers, a vision that describes a better future to which the followers have an alleged moral right.


2. Passion and self-sacrifice. Leaders display a passion for, and have a strong conviction of, what they regard as the moral correctness of their vision. They engage in outstanding or extraordinary behavior and make extraordinary self-sacrifices in the interest of their vision and mission.


3. Confidence, determination, and persistence. Outstanding leaders display a high degree of faith in themselves and in the attainment of the vision they articulate. Theoretically, such leaders need to have a very high degree of self-confidence and moral conviction because their mission usually challenges the status quo and, therefore, may offend those who have a stake in preserving the established order.


4. Image-building. House and Podsakoff regard outstanding leaders as self-conscious about their own image. They recognize the desirability of followers perceiving them as competent, credible, and trustworthy.


5. Role-modeling. Leader-image-building sets the stage for effective role-modeling because followers identify with the values of role models whom they perceived in positive terms.


6. External representation. Outstanding leaders act as spokespersons for their respective organizations and symbolically represent those organizations to external constituencies.


7. Expectations of and confidence in followers. Outstanding leaders communicate expectations of high performance from their followers and strong confidence in their followers' ability to meet such expectations.


8. Selective motive-arousal. Outstanding leaders selectively arouse those motives of followers that the outstanding leaders see as of special relevance to the successful accomplishment of the vision and mission.


9. Frame alignment. To persuade followers to accept and implement change, outstanding leaders engage in "frame alignment". This refers to the linkage of individual and leader interpretive orientations such that some set of followers' interests, values, and beliefs, as well as the leader's activities, goals, and ideology, becomes congruent and complementary.


10. Inspirational communication. Outstanding leaders often, but not always, communicate their message in an inspirational manner using vivid stories, slogans, symbols, and ceremonies.


Even though these ten leadership behaviors and approaches do not really equate to specific styles, evidence has started to accumulate that a leader's style can make a difference. Style becomes the key to the formulation and implementation of strategy and plays an important role in work-group members� activity and in team citizenship. Little doubt exists that the way (style) in which leaders influence work-group members can make a difference in their own and their people's performance.


(Adopted from: Robert House and Philip M. Podsakoff, "Leadership Effectiveness: Past Perspectives and Future Directions for Research" in Greenberg, Jerald ed.),pp. 45-82 Organizational Behavior: The State of the Science, Hillsdale, NJ, England: Erlbaum Associates, Inc, 1994. x, 312 pp..)


Leadership and Emotions

Leadership can be perceived as a particularly emotion-laden process, with emotions entwined with the social influence process[14]. In an organization, the leaders mood has some effects on his group. These effects can be described in 3 levels[15]:


1. The mood of individual group members. Group members with leaders in a positive mood experience more positive mood than do group members with leaders in a negative mood.The leaders transmit their moods to other group members through the mechanism of mood contagion[15].Mood contagion may be one of the psychological mechanisms by which charismatic leaders influence followers[16].


2. The affective tone of the group. Group affective tone represents the consistent or homogeneous affective reactions within a group. Group affective tone is an aggregate of the moods of the individual members of the group and refers to mood at the group level of analysis. Groups with leaders in a positive mood have a more positive affective tone than do groups with leaders in a negative mood [15].


3. Group processes like coordination, effort expenditure, and task strategy.Public expressions of mood impact how group members think and act. When people experience and express mood, they send signals to others. Leaders signal their goals, intentions, and attitudes through their expressions of moods. For example, expressions of positive moods by leaders signal that leaders deem progress toward goals to be good.The group members respond to those signals cognitively and behaviorally in ways that are reflected in the group processes [15].


In research about client service it was found that expressions of positive mood by the leader improve the performance of the group, although in other sectors there were another findings[17].


Beyond the leader's mood, his behavior is a source for employee positive and negative emotions at work. The leader creates situations and events that lead to emotional response. Certain leader behaviors displayed during interactions with their employees are the sources of these affective events. Leaders shape workplace affective events. Examples feedback giving, allocating tasks, resource distribution. Since employee behavior and productivity are directly affected by their emotional states, it is imperative to consider employee emotional responses to organizational leaders[18]. Emotional intelligence, the ability to understand and manage moods and emotions in the self and others, contributes to effective leadership in organizations[17].


Leadership and Vision

Many definitions of leadership involve an element of Goal management|vision � except in cases of involuntary leadership and often in cases of traditional leadership. A vision provides direction to the influence process. A leader or group of leaders can have one or more visions of the future to aid them to move a group successfully towards this goal. A vision, for effectiveness, should allegedly:


– appear as a simple, yet vibrant, image in the mind of the leader
– describe a future state, credible and preferable to the present state
– act as a bridge between the current state and a future optimum state
– appear desirable enough to energize followers
– succeed in speaking to followers at an emotional or spiritual level (logical appeals by themselves seldom muster a following)


For leadership to occur, according to this theory, some people "leaders" must communicate the vision to others "followers" in such a way that the followers adopt the vision as their own. Leaders must not just see the vision themselves, they must have the ability to get others to see it also. Numerous techniques aid in this process, including: narratives, metaphors, symbolic actions, leading by example,incentives, and penalty|penalties.


Stacey (1992) has suggested that the emphasis on vision puts an unrealistic burden on the leader. Such emphasis appears to perpetuate the myth that an organization must depend on a single, uncommonly talented individual to decide what to do. Stacey claims that this fosters a culture of dependency and conformity in which followers take no pro-active incentives and do not think independently.


Kanungo's charismatic leadership model describes the role of the vision in three stages that are continuously ongoing, overlapping one another. Assessing the status quo, formulation and articulation of the vision, and implementation of the vision.



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