Leadership and its different conceptions are the subjects of research in a vast body of academic literature. Most leadership theories tend to focus on the category of leader characteristics, in accordance with which Yukl and Gardner (2019) divided leadership research into five classes. These are the trait, the behavior, the power-influence, the situational and the value-based approaches, and each of them is based on a particular idea explaining the nature of leadership. Each leader has their own method of leading and knowingly or not, they might follow one of the widely recognized leadership theories. The evaluation of behaviors of particular people in relation to these theories proves that every one of them has the strengths that make it worth employing. In addition to having their own management strategies, a great leader has to constantly learn and perfect themselves in the area of leadership skills development.
Review of Key Perspectives in Organizational Leadership Theory and Research
Leadership is a commodity that is extremely sought-after and very highly valued. Over the course of the last decades, the public has been becoming increasingly fascinated by the notion of leadership. People keep wondering what makes an effective leader and looking for more information on how to become one. Many believe that leadership will change their lives for the better in personal, social, and professional areas. According to Scotcher and Cole (2016), organizations seek those with leadership qualities due to believing such individuals have special assets that will ultimately result in profits for the company. This is true; however, a plethora of existing perspectives on leadership and leadership theories prove: there are many ways to be a successful leader, one only has to choose an approach that is right for them.
There is an extensive body of academic literature that features leadership and its many various conceptions as the subject of research. One of the most useful leadership theory and research classifications is based on the most emphasized type of variable. Among the types of variables important for understanding leadership efficiency, there are characteristics of leaders, followers, and situations (Scotcher and Cole, 2016). Most theories of leadership focus on one category more than others as the main foundation for the explanation of effective leadership, and characteristics of leaders have been highlighted most often over the last 50 years. Usually, the emphasis is put on only one type of these characteristics, for instance, behavior, traits, or power. In accordance with much of the leadership literature, Yukl and Gardner (2019) suggest that leadership theories and research are divided into five approaches. They are the trait, the behavior, the power-influence, the situational, and the value-based approaches.
One of the first approaches to the study of leadership was the trait approach. It underlines leader attributes such as personality, skills, values, and motives. According to Yukl and Gardner (2019), this approach was based on the assumption that there are individuals who are natural leaders, and they are gifted with particular qualities that others do not have. Early theories of leadership ascribed managerial success to exceptional abilities, for instance, relentless energy, insightful intuition, inexplicable foresight, and irresistible powers of persuasion. A great number of studies on traits conducted in the 1930s and 1940s were aimed at discovering these tricky qualities (Yukl and Gardner, 2019). The principal method of research was to find a consequential correlation between the individual attributes of a leader and the success criterion of a leader without studying any expository processes. This method did not reveal any traits to guarantee success in leadership. However, as evidence from more sophisticated research has been accumulating over time, researchers advanced in establishing how leader attributes relate to leadership behavior and productiveness.
The early 1950s gave rise to the behavior approach after specialists started to become discouraged with the trait approach and began paying more attention to what actually occurs at workplaces. Upon the identification of observable leader behavior types, these were linked to outcome indicators such as the performance of a group or work unit of a leader. Yukl and Gardner (2019) note that most studies on behavior investigated only one or two commonly defined leader behavior categories. However, they failed to discover consistent results, which prompted more research into specific types of leader behavior. For instance, instead of studying task-oriented behavior itself, one could explore specific types of this behavior, that is, planning, clarifying, problem-solving, and so on. The most common method of behavior research was a survey field study where a questionnaire was completed by each leader or their subordinates. Hundreds of such studies delved into how leadership behaviors corresponded with leadership efficiency indicators such as performance, task commitment, and employee satisfaction. Far fewer studies employed laboratory or field experiments or critical incidents to ascertain how productive leaders differ from ineffective ones in their behavior.
The power-influence approach aims at explaining the effectiveness of leadership regarding the type and amount of power a leader possesses and how it is exercised. As per Yukl and Gardner (2019), power is considered important when it comes to influencing not only subordinates but also superiors, colleagues, as well as those outside the company such as suppliers and clients. The preferred method of research for this approach was the use of survey questionnaires to establish a link between leader power and different leadership productivity indicators. The study of influence behavior has been used to discover how leaders impact followers and those whose support and cooperation a leader needs. Looking into tactics of influence can be seen as a link between the approaches of power-influence and behavior. Different influence tactics and how they are used is compared in regards to their relative efficiency to get people to do what the leader wants. A number of different methods have been used for the research, including experiments, survey studies, and influence incidents.
The situational approach highlights the significance of contextual factors that affect leader behavior and how they impact outcomes such as performance and employee satisfaction. The main situational variables are follower characteristics, the type of organization, the nature of the external environment, and the kind of work conducted by the leader’s unit (Yukl and Gardner, 2019). One area of research is an effort to determine the extent to which features of leadership situations shape leader behavior. The main method of research is a comparative study of leaders in various situations, with a number of methods employed to measure leader behavior. Another type of situational research aims at identifying situational aspects that determine which traits, behaviors, or skills of a leader are most likely to improve the efficiency of leadership. It is assumed that the optimal leader behavior pattern depends on the aspects of the situation. According to Yukl and Gardner (2019), theories focused on this relationship are sometimes referred to as leadership ‘contingency theories’. Most of these put emphasis on leader behavior, but some also include leader traits and skills.
Finally, there is the value-based approach, which differs from all the approaches discussed above. This one emphasizes the significance of deeply rooted leader values that appeal to others and influence them. Despite the differences in the points they highlight, theories of authentic, ethical, spiritual, and servant leadership all consider leader values to be the base for leader goals, behaviors, and follower impact (Yukl and Gardner, 2019). In other words, in accordance with this approach, followers are drawn to a leader due to sharing their expressed values. Another reason why might be that followers see a leader as a personality that they admire and whose values and behavior they mirror. Some approaches to leadership put emphasis on the values of a leader and their followers as well as the behavior of a leader, for instance, charismatic and transformational leadership. These theories are founded on the idea that leaders inspire followers and motivate them to chase an idealized vision that includes followers’ shared values.
Behavior of Selected Leaders in Relation to Leadership Theories
Many leaders that successfully manage people tend to stick to one or another leadership theory, sometimes without even knowing it. One example I have is of a leader I used to work for briefly for a summer job. This person was the epitome of a charismatic leader in accordance with the theory of charismatic leadership. Northouse (2019) reports that this theory was first published by Robert J. House in the 1970s. He suggested that charismatic leaders behave in ways that are unique and have a particular effect on their followers. Some of the qualities that, as per House, charismatic leaders possess are dominance, self-confidence, a strong desire to impact people, and a strong sense of moral values.
Apart from having specific personality characteristics, charismatic leaders exhibit specific behaviors. First of all, Northouse (2019) notes, they are powerful role models for values and beliefs that they believe their followers should embrace. Moreover, charismatic leaders look competent to followers and communicate ideological goals with moral overtones. A great example of charismatic behavior is Martin Luther King Jr. presenting his famous speech ‘I Have A Dream’. In addition to that, charismatic leaders hold high expectations for others and demonstrate confidence in the ability of others to meet these expectations. What this behavior does is increase the sense of self-efficacy and competence of followers, which, in turn, helps their performance improve. Finally, charismatic leaders awaken in their followers task-relevant motives, which might include power, affiliation, or esteem. In an organizational context, charismatic leaders can motivate their organization’s members by modeling and strengthening the climate of transformational leadership. It can lead to an increase in employees identifying with their organization and improvement in the company’s overall performance.
As I have mentioned above, the leader I worked for fits the description perfectly. They had their own strong beliefs and values that they advocated for, and they wanted their followers to share these. They were competent at what they did and demonstrated it by articulating it. They also articulated their high expectations of others, stressing how they always try to be the best at everything and want their followers to attempt to do the same. This leader constantly encouraged others and motivated them with their own passion and confidence. It was a pleasure working for them, although I was not with the company for long. When someone else believes in you, you have an easier time believing in yourself and acting on it.
Another individual whose leadership style I would like to discuss is someone who I worked alongside a few years ago. This person can be described as loving, caring, and empathetic, which was reflected in the way they managed people. They were a servant leader, that is, someone who employed the strategy of servant leadership in their work. According to Northouse (2019), the term was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf, the author of historical works on the subject. Greenleaf stated that a servant leader is someone who is socially responsible for caring about those who are not as privileged. If there are social injustices and inequalities, a servant leader attempts to eliminate them. By becoming a servant leader, one does not use as much institutional power and transfers authority to those they lead. This type of leadership values community due to it providing people with the opportunity to experience trust, respect, interdependence, and personal growth.
There is a number of main characteristics that are central to servant leadership, as per Greenleaf’s writings. First of all, Northouse (2019) reports, it is empathy, which means the ability to put oneself into another person’s place and attempt to see how they view the world. Then there is the ability to listen to one’s followers, that is, hearing them and being receptive to what they say. In addition to that, a servant leader is aware of their environments, physical, social, and political. This is an important quality as it allows one to view themselves and their perspectives in situations’ greater contexts. A servant leader also possesses foresight, that is, the ability to foresee the future based on one’s skills of analyzing the past and the future. Moreover, one has to be committed to people’s organizational and personal growth: everyone is treated as a unique individual and helped to succeed in work and, if needed, in life. In addition to that, servant leadership promotes the development of community and, therefore, contributes to followers identifying with something that they value and that is bigger than themselves.
The servant leader whose work I observed was loved and respected by their followers precisely because they were a great example of a person following this leadership strategy. They were a fantastic listener who made others feel like their opinion and perspective were important. They cared about people’s well-being and helped them overcome personal struggles. They provided followers with various opportunities to further career development, acquire new skills, and take an active part in decision-making. This person knew how to take responsibility for the leadership role that was assigned to them and was very aware of and receptive to various environments. Followers felt safe around, trusted, and even loved their leader, which made work feel like joy and not like stress. People knew that they could make mistakes and not be punished for it but were encouraged to find smart and creative ways to fix them. Everyone felt like they were a significant piece to the organization and not someone who could be easily replaced if they were to leave. All of that was due to how the leader chose to interact with people and the world around them.
One more person whose approach to leading it would be insightful to delve into is one of my friends who I witnessed working a number of times. They are someone who I would call an adaptive leader; that is, someone who applies the strategy of adaptive leadership. As the name implies, this leadership type is focused on leaders encouraging followers to adapt to challenges and changes (Northouse, 2019). Adaptive leadership is about the adaptations people need to resort to when responding to changing circumstances. In contrast to the trait approach and authentic leadership, which focus primarily on the leader’s attributes, adaptive leadership emphasizes the leader’s activities regarding the work of followers in the contexts in various contexts they find themselves.
Central to adaptive leadership’s processes are adaptive tasks, which are problems that are not clear or easy to identify. They cannot be solved only with the help of the authority or experience of the leader or through the normal working methods of the organization. Adaptive tasks require leaders to encourage followers to identify difficult situations and implement relevant solutions. Adaptive tasks are not easy to address and often difficult to overcome, which is why they usually demand changes in people’s roles, priorities, values, and beliefs.
An example of tasks associated with adaptation is the problems a family faces when their parent is in hospice. In hospice care, patients and families are very uncertain about how and when the patient will pass away, and there is trouble with how to console them best. As per Northouse (2019), hospice workers can provide support and feedback on the process of dying; however, patients and families have to decide on how they want to approach the situation themselves. In such a context, the challenge of adaptive leadership is about prompting patients and families to address many of the issues and problems associated with a person’s death. My friend operated under circumstances similar to these in terms of complexity and sensitivity, and it was inspiring to watch them find what seemed the right solution every time.
A Summary of Learning for Development as a Leader
It is never an easy thing to discover exactly what you want, set a goal, and move towards achieving it, especially in the area of developing leadership skills. A great leader needs to be capable of managing and adapting to continuous changes in the business to achieve viable results and advance constant growth. When it comes to what I have learned is necessary to contribute to people’s and organizations’ success as a leader, first of all, one needs to know their values and be clear about them. According to Zigarmi and Arnold (n.d.), a person’s way of leading is reflected in their relationships with peers. This is why it is important to develop a personal mission statement and values guiding day-to-day decisions. If they are consistent with organizational goals and a person’s own goals, and employees at all organizational levels have these too, it leads to brilliant outcomes.
However, goals, just like people’s lives, tend to change depending on the circumstances. Plans sometimes require adjustments to reorient leadership strategies so that the demands of changes could be met. Therefore, I believe one should take time out of their day to evaluate where they are in terms of reaching the goals and thinking about the plan they have. This plan, as per Zigarmi and Arnold (n.d.), has to be both focused on the existing goals and easy to alter to meet the changing needs of the organization. Moreover, all of a leader’s daily activities and tasks are to contribute to the achievement of their goals. If there is not a performance plan, one simply reacts to what is happening around them and is not intentional about managing their day. Therefore, as stated by Connor and Pokora (2012), it is essential for a leader to take responsibility for their time and schedule. Each day’s key tasks and activities have to be listed, reviewed, and crossed out when they are finished. At least some of them have to be aligned with moving towards the goals and improving the organization.
To sum up, when there are definite goals, a clear understanding, and an implementation plan on a daily basis, I believe that there is only one more significant factor that needs to be taken into account. A good leader must be prepared to respond to anything that occurs during the day while keeping on track of one’s goals and the organization’s strategy. As per Connor and Pokora (2012), problems and failures inevitably happen sometimes, and one should not wait for other people to solve the problem. Granted, it does not mean that they are to do everything alone; however, a leader must be ready to take action. To use self-leadership skills is a great opportunity to determine what kinds of changes have taken place, what the problems are, and what the best ways to solve them are.
Connor, M., & Pokora, J. (2012) Coaching and mentoring at work: Developing effective practice. United Kingdom: McGraw-Hill Education.
Northouse, P. G. (2019) Leadership: theory and practice (8th ed.). United States: SAGE Publications.
Scotcher, E., & Cole, R. (2016) Brilliant Agile project management: a practical guide to using Agile, Scrum and Kanban. United Kingdom: Pearson Education Limited.
Yukl, G. A., & Gardner, W.L. (2019) Leadership in organizations (9th ed.). Germany: Pearson.
Zigarmi, D., & Arnold, J. (n.d.) The five contexts of leadership: how you lead depends on who, what, where and when you lead. Inspire. Web.