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Dissertation on Leadership

This is a dissertation chapter on Leadership:

Some believe that leaders are born, not made, while others think that leadership is a quantifiable set of skills and ways of thinking that can be taught (Messmer 1999). Concepts of leadership, ideas about leadership and leadership practices are the subject of much thought, discussion, writing, teaching and learning (Depree 1989). What is it that makes an effective leader? What are the attributes, skills and competencies leaders of organisations possess, and can these sets of skills be developed through training? Can some leaders perform below their potential, even becoming toxic leaders, and if so how is this occurrence recognisable? This report will investigate these concepts of leadership in order to provide a simple blueprint of the important aspects of what it is to be an effective leader in an organisation.

It is clear that effective leadership can make a difference to organisational performance. However, the determinants of leadership success are not as clear-cut. What is clear is that successful organisational leadership relies on a combination of traits, skills, attitudes, environmental and intra-organisational conditions (Sarros & Woodman 1993).

The five main attributes or competencies required for effective leadership within an organisation are identified as follows; (1) vision and creativity; (2) setting objectives/achieving targets; (3) confident decision making; (4) team building; (5) coaching. These five attributes are by no means exhaustive when discussing leadership qualities. However with these five skills in place hand in hand with the organisational goals in mind, organisational outcomes and effective leadership success will more often than not be achieved. The relationship of each attribute to organisational outcomes will now be established.

Vision is a leadership attribute that always is in vogue. Vision and direction setting are the building blocks to change, where producing change is the primary function of leadership. Vision is often defined as a description of something (eg. culture, technology) in the future in terms of what it should become. In a similar vein, setting directions and providing vision [by leaders] is clearly grounded in the need for organisations to adapt continuously to changing, unstable environments. Vision as a leadership attribute is related directly to employee commitment and work satisfaction. The logical extension of this is that satisfied and committed workers will be more productive, and in turn will assist organisational performance. The problem, of course, is in channelling the vision to achieve objectives without the interference of outside forces (Sarros & Woodman 1993).

Vision consists of a number of personal as well as organisational strengths. Visionary leaders are recognised by their energy, capacity for hard work, commitment, and risk-taking behaviour. Their organisational abilities include the tendency to think globally and to communicate widely and unambiguously (Sarros & Woodman 1993). These are the visionary attributes expected today of effective leaders.

Very few individual leaders seem to have both the capacities for creativity and vision and putting that creativity/vision into place. More vision/risk-taking needs to be adopted to break the cycle [of doom and gloom]. Whilst creativity in the ranks is often there, leaders do not act, or act on it far too slowly (Sarros & Woodman 1993).
Vision, strategic thinking and innovation are terms often mentioned together. Executives believed that effective vision encourages innovation and strategic thinking, but that it also requires courage, commitment and communication to be achieved. Vision and creativity may be directly related to organisational innovation, however strategic thinking, direction setting, and a motivated workforce underpin the measure of the success visionary thinking produces in terms of organisational outcomes. These relationships, while descriptive, provide a conceptual framework for coming to terms with visionary business leadership, and for further research in this area.

Setting and achieving objectives are the mainstays of leadership, and are as much components of vision as they are its outcomes. Without appropriate visions that are readily translated into tangible objectives, achieving targets will remain largely problematic (Sarros & Woodman 1993). A major aspect of effective leadership therefore appears to be the establishment of clear and specific objectives and the attainment of those objectives. Astute leaders recognise that ‘objectives’ are the outcome of a process of translating a personal vision of what the company might be into a strategy that is explicit and can be implemented. Achieving objectives requires the alignment of staff to the vision underlying these objectives (Sarros & Woodman 1993). Without alignment through consistent and constant communication, objectives are not realised and the vision fails, leaving followers with a sense of bewilderment. Setting and achieving realistic objectives means making the hard decision; that is, being prepared to take small losses for bigger gains in the long term.

When a sufficiently long-term approach is adopted, leaders encourage organisations to become more market driven and competitive. This approach thrives on environmental scanning and market niching, two fundamentals of competitive advantage (Sarros & Woodman 1993). Setting and achieving realistic objectives also need to be customer-focused and quality control driven, otherwise they will operate under a meaningless cloud.

Another key element of effective leadership within organisations is action-centred focus, identified through confident decision-making behaviour. Decision making of this nature encourages participation and commits the organisation to plans and strategies that result from the decision-making process. Because it is action-centred, confident decision making consists of initiative, conviction, assertiveness and calculated risk-taking (Sarros & Woodman 1993). Leaders maintain their calm and make decisions that infuse themselves throughout the organisation’s culture. This infusion is achieved by involving staff in every facet of the decision-making process, and ensuring that the process is consistent with performance and organisational objectives. Participation of staff plays a major role in situational demand on leadership. Today’s leaders must be willing and able to identify situational demands, and of selecting or designing appropriate methods of dealing with them.

In the normal scheme of things, leaders take time to consult and decide, to plan ahead with calculated risk. However, in a world of turmoil and unpredictable market forces, quick but sound decisions are the norm. This type of decision making takes conviction, guts, and determination: leaders must become more comfortable in being assertive and “going for it (Sarros & Woodman 1993). Effective leaders inspire followers because they challenge them to contribute to sometimes risky but potentially beneficial ventures. In many cases, a leader acquires skills through years of trial and error, often adapting strategies and techniques to suit the occasion.

One of the most critical elements of leadership is team building. Successful leaders are renowned for their ability to enthuse workers on to great individual feats, and to achieve superb organisational results through the efforts of their workforce (Sarros & Woodman 1993). Leaders are effective primarily in their ability to comprehend, visualise and articulate to their peers and subordinates the opportunities and threats facing the organisation through team involvement. The involvement of individuals and teams in everyday life of an organisation are essential tools of team building leaders.

In terms of organisational leadership, team building requires the ability to lead by example, to generate commitment and trust through that example, to involve and inspire followers, and to clearly communicate a vision. Essentially, effective team building means that leaders take on the mantle of role model. The best leaders step back when their work is done so that their followers take the credit and bask in the rewards. From this perspective, team building leadership is altruistic and enlightened (Sarros & Woodman 1993). Motivation and involvement of followers is the key to team building and effective team leadership. There’s an increasing understanding of the need for leaders to generate and communicate visions, to inspire and involve others. The major outcomes of team building leadership are motivated followers, increased self-esteem, innovative work practices, and achievement focus and enthusiasm.

Many organisations are relying on their leaders to assume a coaching role in order to achieve performance excellence in individuals and teams. The coaching process is vital to achieving performance excellence in today’s streamlined, diverse, global, and knowledge-based organisations (Brocato 2003). Rather than leading by intuition, leaders will have to learn what people want, study the nature of thought and human desire, and be expert listeners (Brown 2003). Organisations are in transition from an old paradigm of constancy, conformity and command driven, to a new paradigm of change, collaboration, and coaching (giving guidance and preparing others to be self-reliant).

The word “coach” (originally a four-wheeled carriage) is to “convey a valued person from where he or she is to where he or she wants to be” (Brocato 2003). It is important to note that in this meaning we are carrying a person to where he or she wants to be, not pushing them to where we want them to be. From this concept we understand that the coach is the vehicle that facilitates performance change; however, it is up to each individual we are coaching to have the “want” to make the change. The coach merely helps the change happen (Brocato 2003). Different types performance issues and problems exist that may be addressed by the coaching process, or in other words addressed by providing guidance to others so that they may be self reliant and resolve many of the issues themselves.

Self-awareness is the coach’s quantum leap to understanding. Self-awareness is the hallmark of effective leaders. Successful leaders understand what motivates people and how their strengths and weaknesses influence their decisions, actions, and relationships. Successful leaders also understand the importance of developing a critical quality called leadership character (Brocato 2003). One of the best ways to achieve this self-awareness and leadership character is through self-reflection on personal skills and behaviours. The instrumented learning (self-directed assessment) approach is one of the most effective tools in the self-reflection process. Being self-aware increases an individual’s effectiveness in a range of people situations and provides insights into the behaviours of others. It helps develop a role essential for today’s leaders and managers, coaching for improvement (Brocato 2003).

We have examined what are the attributes of an effective leader. It is also important to understand what are the characteristics of a toxic leader. It is important to understand this issue because poor performance of individuals, teams and indeed an organisation as a whole may be attributable if not entirely, at least in part, to toxic leadership. This issue is also worth examining in order not only for the sake of recognition, but also for corrective action.

Effective leaders go through good and bad times. During the bad times, even effective leaders can be distracted from their goals and objectives and may temporarily appear to be less attentive to their network of organisational relationships. What then, specifically distinguishes a toxic leader from a trustworthy leader who is just having a bad period (Whicker 1996)?

In the case of toxic leaders, distraction, poor performance and less attention to duties of followers result from internal tensions, problems and conflicts. These internal tensions and problems tend to be permanent in nature. Toxic leaders share three defining characteristics: deep-seated inadequacy, selfish values and deceptiveness (Whicker 1996).

Are leaders born or can they be made? This is a question that is often debated but is still, in many peopleТs eyes, unresolved (Forster 2003). Good leaders influence company culture and that is a major part of what they should do (Bashford 2003). Many leaders are often described as ‘natural born leaders’. But HR professionals don’t always agree there is such a creature, arguing that good leadership can be taught and learnt. Leadership is a science and it is also an art (Bashford 2003). Given self-awareness, many people can develop into good effective leaders. You may not have to be born with a particular personality trait, but you do have to be prepared to keep growing, adapting and develop yourself. This does not mean there is a blueprint for creating a good leader because that can depend on a number of factors such as timing, circumstances, economic climate and organisational make up to name a few. The most obvious example is the emergence of Winston Churchill during the dark days of 1940. Despite his success, he was rejected by voters in the 1945 Labour landslide as peace arrived (Bashford 2003). It is clear however that a major factor influencing the making of an effective leader is willingness. One must want to become a good leader first before actually becoming one.

Research examining the utility of emotional intelligence in predicting effective leaders is gaining momentum in I/O psychology (Gardner & Stone 2002). Emotional intelligence is thought to be playing a more significant role in producing and in predicting effective leaders. Leaders who are emotionally intelligent appear to be happier, more committed to their organisation, achieve greater success and perform better in the workplace (Gardner & Stone 2002). Emotionally intelligent leaders appear to be able to inject enthusiasm, a sense of trust and co-operation in other employees through developing interpersonal relationships. Despite these theoretical links there has been relatively little empirical research examining the relationship between emotional intelligence and effective leadership. More research is required in this area and may provide the key to unlock the answer to the question as to whether leaders are born or can be made.

The five main attributes or competencies required for effective leadership within an organisation was identified as vision and creativity, setting objectives/achieving targets, confident decision making, team building and coaching. Recognising the characteristics of toxic leadership is essential for corrective action to take place in order to protect and maintain excellent performance. The three main characteristics of a toxic leader are deep-seated inadequacy, selfish values and deceptiveness (Whicker 1996). Finally, are leaders born or are they made? The debate over this issue will need to continue. However what can be stated is that given self-awareness, many people can develop into good effective leaders. You may not have to be born with a particular personality trait, but you do have to be prepared to keep growing, adapting and develop yourself. Emotional intelligence is thought to be playing a more significant role in producing and in predicting effective leaders. Much more research is required and is continuing in this field before any definitive answer can be given to this question.

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