Leadership is defined as the practice of social manipulation or simply, social influence. It is the process by which an individual will utilize and enlist their influence to shape public opinion and get the support of other people in the accomplishment of certain responsibilities or tasks. Leadership is about taking responsibility and influencing a course of action by guiding from the front. In the context of management, leadership is fundamental; the style adopted by a leader in management shall influence the performance of an organization; some religious and political authorities have attempted to define a leader as actually being a servant. What is important for the leader, however, is the recognition and personal disposition that will enable them to know when to demonstrate leadership traits and servanthood traits because both are essential in leadership (Robbins, 2003). The essence of leadership is the act of making decisions, the ability to articulate ideas and visions, the capacity to diagnose problems accurately setting out appropriate agendas for discussion and initiating constructive organizational change.
There are various theories that attempt to describe the concept of leadership are pegged around such elements as behavioral traits, interactions with the prevailing situation, charisma, vision, intelligence, power, influence among other values (Vroom & Yetton, 1974). Trait theory is amongst the oldest leadership theories and is used to describe the concept of leadership from the perspective of the actual characteristics associated with the leader. The theory is based on the assumption that there exist certain striking and distinguishing traits that differentiate a common individual and a leader. These distinguishing traits are considered inborn and inherited and begin to manifest from birth. This trait theory generally finds application in both profit and non-profit making organizations.
Among the desirable traits that can be used to distinguish someone as an accomplished leader include the ability to be decisive and make timely decisions at the right time, possession of ambition and being results-oriented (being interested in the outcome of activities and events), being assertive and dependable, leaders should always assert themselves and their positions to take responsibilities of the outcomes of their actions whether positive or otherwise. Other attributes include persistence, self-confidence, tolerance and co-operation with other members of the organization. Corporation enhances the unity of purpose and goal synergy because members are able to share ideas and experiences that enhance their productivity and performance. The above qualities are necessary for both profit and non-profit making organizations since they apply indiscriminately in their management. A leader, whether or not motivated by profits must show some of these qualities for effective organizational management.
The traits theory has however been extensively criticized on grounds that in as much as it tries to identify certain qualities and behavior traits as commonly seen among leaders; there could still be other people who may not be necessarily leaders but in possession of these traits. The theory significantly fails to give a tacit explanation as to why some people with leadership characteristics are not leaders. There is also a growing dissent that the traits theory narrowly identifies a small group of people such as those in possession of what has come to be known as the big five personality traits while ignoring some key individual cognitive abilities, social skills, intrinsic expertise and problem solving abilities. The theory fails to consider how some stable leadership characteristics may account for the behavioral diversity observed in efficient leaders. There is also no clear distinction between the people who possess this desirable leadership attributes yet they are unable to exert the same charisma under certain conditions and those without these attributes and are able to act prudently when a given situation calls for leadership.
The above criticisms led to the development of the contingent leadership theories. The contingency leadership theories attempt to concentrate more on the variables surrounding the entity i.e. the external environment and current conditions surrounding the organization. These external variables are fundamental because they determine to a large extent the approach and style that will be adopted by management to contain them. This theory holds that there is no specific best way to lead an organization, a specific leadership style may be successful in one instant and fail in another. This is because the approach is determined not just by the characteristics and personality attributes of the leader but also by the characteristics of the external environment, the attributes and qualities of the people being led as well as certain situational aspects.
The contingency theory is more favorable in the management of profit making organizations. This is because the environment that surrounds a profit making organization is subject to a number of variables that may not remain stable over time. An environment that is motivated by profits is subject to a number of external influences from either customers, competitors or both. Competitors may collude in their bid to maximize on the available profits by forming cartels that collectively determine the prices of products in a given industry or undercut on producer or distributors and isolate them from the market. Such situations of cut throat competition and price wars among competitors interested in profits and market share may be detrimental to an organization unless it is under the control of a visionary and contingent leader capable of deflecting and combating such threats and converting them into opportunities. Changing environmental patterns test the mental acumen and intelligence of leaders within organizations and expand their intelligence and strategic reasoning faculties to think in context and according to the peculiar problem at hand and provide workable solutions.
Critics of this theory however claim that it is not self supporting and cannot be considered in isolation. The qualities that will make a certain leader behave in a certain desirable way so as to handle a situation competently are not just dictated by the circumstances surrounding the decision or judgments of the individual but the individual’s personality and characteristics. Individuals that are averse to risk will for instance shy away from taking up certain management decisions that are considered highly risky while risk takers would embrace risks especially where returns expected from the venture appear promising.
The behavioral theory of leadership on the other hand focuses mainly on the presumption that leaders are not born but they are made, leadership is not inborn, but the traits and attributes associated with leadership are developed and learned overtime. The leadership qualities of a leader are not in any way based on the mental intelligence of the person as per this theory but rather the training that an individual has received through careful study and observation of practicing leaders by apprenticeship.
This theory borrows heavily from the existence of role models in the discipline of leadership and strongly advocates for the development of a strong mentorship strategy in developing future leaders. It has introduced the concept of internships and learning by apprenticeship where future leaders are isolated in an organization and taken to work under the supervision of an experienced leader or an authority in the discipline. Work is issued under strict instructions and close supervision of the seniors and evaluation is based on the effectiveness and competencies of the apprentice (Vroom & Yetton, 1974).
Within the business setting, this approach has received an overwhelming level of acceptance as it has been recently applied especially in profit motivated organizations to fast track performance. It has formed a fertile ground for the training of future leaders and psychologically preparing them to face future challenges. This being a contemporary leadership model, it has made it easier to promote employees in management levels without causing instability and drastic changes in the organization culture, for the reason that future leaders are modeled around existing organizational leaders hence there is continuity and perpetuation of organizational culture.
Externally recruiting personnel to fill up management positions and influential positions of leadership within an organization is not at times worthwhile as it erodes the organizational culture since the newly recruited personnel in leadership positions tend to introduce new practices that may be incompatible with the organizational structure in operation. Therefore the behavioral leadership theory is fundamental in maintaining a steady transition when a leader retires; the newly appointed leaders are in a position to be more effective than their predecessors because they were able to learn from their past mistakes and therefore cannot repeat similar mistakes committed in the past.
Management leadership theories largely rely on the duty of management to control, organize, and supervise the performance of groups within the organization. The management leadership theories (also known as the transactional leadership theories) are pegged on an overall system of a bureaucratic reward and punishment mechanism. They majorly find application in profit oriented businesses where management motivates their employees to act in a certain way through the use of reward schemes. In order to encourage productivity in the work place for instance, a compensation scheme is designed by the leadership arm of the organization that encourages hard working employees to be recognized and rewarded appropriately. Employees that are also not working as per the acceptable standards and regulations of work are punished through demotions, transfers, reprimands or depending on the nature of their indiscipline, sacking and permanent dismissal (Stogdill & Coons, 1951).
Relationship leadership theories (transformational theories) by contrast focus on the natural connection and bond that is created between the leader and the led. This is entirely based on the influence exerted by the leader on the subjects and the leader’s capacity to inspire, capture aspirations and motivate the people. The transformational leaders are sensitive to the entire group and their specific needs but also concentrate on the individual needs of unit members within groups and help these people realize their potential. It is a form of leadership approach that calls for high levels of integrity, accountability, ethics, morality and motivational standards. This approach finds application across the board and is desirable for both profits oriented and non profit oriented firms.
This leadership dimension is key in initiating and managing change within the organization. In order for a leadership style to significantly manage change in an entity, there is need for the leadership to be influential on the conduct and acts of the workers operating in that specific environment. Using this leadership model, it becomes easier to effect such changes because it calls for management to motivate workers and subjects and be in a position to influence their general conduct, an influential leader gathers respect from all members in the organization and therefore the directives and instructions of such a leader are obeyed (Robbins,2003).
Power and influence are key in effective leadership, it is impossible to lead without the instruments of leadership one of which is power. Leaders are able to govern by virtue of their power and the influence they have over their subjects. Different forms of power are available for use by managers depending on the prevailing circumstances surrounding the exercisability of such powers. Leaders may utilize Coercive power given their ability to administer punishment and regulate organizational conduct. Employees who disobey the set rules operational in the organization may be punished through transfers, demotions, failure to be promoted or total dismissal.
Charismatic power is used to positively influence and lead employees out of a difficult situation. It goes further to create appropriate role models in the organization and influence individuals at a personal level. A leader with charismatic power is respected not only by employees being led but also obtains respect among peer leaders. Charismatic power is obtained through integrity, ethics and level headedness. Reward power on the other hand is accorded to leaders based on among other things the amount of influence they possess over certain rewards in the work place. They could be line managers who provide the necessary recommendation before an employee is promoted or the ones who determine whether an individual is to receive a pay increase and by how much. Employees are therefore influenced to work in total obedience to these managers because they all wish to receive their rewards.
In the practice of leadership, a number of leadership styles are applicable. Depending on the power and influence exerted by a leadership authority on the subjects, a leader may be an autocrat or may exercise an autocratic leadership style; under this style, there is a centralized from of decision making responsibilities and powers. This style of leadership has been associated with organizations that subscribe to a strict bureaucratic code. Within this framework, managers have become successful in leadership because the time spent in decision-making has been greatly reduced. Only the leader makes the decisions and this is binding on the entire group in the entity. This form of leadership allows the leaders to take responsibility for their decisions fully and cannot get excuses because they are solely responsible for this task of making decisions. The failure however to make the correct decision by a person may however affect the entire organization, this therefore calls for sufficient consultation on the side of the leader to ensure that the views of all or at least majority of the stakeholders are captured in the decisions arrived at.
With a democratic leadership style the decision making is decentralized. There is the participation all major stakeholders in the process of making decisions, the decisions arrived at are after consultations and careful consideration of the aggregate opinion of everyone in the organization. A democratic approach allows cooperation, team work and interaction that are achieved when a problem is discussed. In addition it is also important in improving individual perceptions and enhancing the unity of ideas. Everyone takes responsibility in case a democratically arrived decision is successful or otherwise. This may at times be undesirable when the decision arrived at is wrong or results in the making of significant losses. This form of leadership style is what has come to be generally accepted in the contemporary realms of leadership as the most practical and efficient resulting in minimal complaints from the led.
In the Laissez-Faire leadership style, the person in position of leadership lets others do whatever they please. It is a free rein sort of leadership style and the leader actually does not lead but allows the group full authority to either subordinate or decide on whatever policy they consider most applicable and relevant.
Different circumstances however require the application of varied styles of leadership. When for instance there are emergencies with minimum time available to make requisite consultations and agreements, the autocratic style of leadership is most applicable, but in a situation involving a much highly motivated and fairly independent group of employees, the uniform level of experience and expertise may call for a laissez faire approach or a democratic approach. The design adopted should not only be in a position to achieve the set objectives but also strive to balance out and accommodate the individual member interests and the group demands (Yuki, 2010).
In leadership, the aspect of integrity and ethics is fundamental, modern trends have proved that respect in leadership is cultivated and is not limited to one particular gender, any person can make it into positions of leadership whether male or female. Gender activists have recently emphasized equality and gender parity in leadership positions. A number of employers recruiting personnel in management positions have adopted an “equal opportunity employer” stance. This makes it clear that leadership is not a reserve of a particular gender.
Robbins, S. P. (2003). Organizational behavior, 10th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.
Stogdill, R. M., & Coons, A. E. (1951). Leader behavior: Its description and measurement. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University, Bureau of Business Research.
Vroom, V. H., & Yetton, P. W. (1974). Leadership and decision-making. New York: Wiley
Yuki, G. (2010). Leadership in organizations, 7th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.