What is leadership?
Leadership is “the behaviour of an individual when he is directing the activities of a group towards a shared goal”. (Hemphill and Coons, 1957, p.7)
A leader is interpreted as someone who sets direction in an effort and influences people to follow that direction. How they set that direction and influence people depends on a variety of factors. To really comprehend the “territory” of leadership, one should briefly scan some of the major theories, notice various styles of leadership and review some of the suggested traits and characteristics that leaders should have.
There are many leadership theories. Arthur G. Jago (1982) proposed a framework that organizes leadership theories based on each theory’s focus and approach.
“Focus” refers to whether leadership is viewed as a set of traits or as a set of actions. Focus on Traits: Theories with such a focus see leaders as having certain innate or inherent personality traits that distinguish them from non-leaders. These personality traits are supposed to be relatively stable and enduring. Focus on Behaviour: Theories with this type of focus see leadership as observable actions of the leader instead of personality traits.
“Approach” is concerned with whether a particular theory or model of leadership takes a universal or a contingent perspective. Universal Approach: This approach believes that there is a universal formula of traits or behaviour for an effective leader. In other words, the universal approach assumes that there is “one best way” to lead in all situations. Contingent Approach: Contrary to the universal approach, the contingent approach does not believe the “one best way” formula. It believes that effective leadership depends on the specific situation.
I am going to analyse two theories in detail, which according to me appear contradictory are Blake and Mouton’s Managerial Grid Theory (1978) under the head behaviour theories and Fiedler’s Contingency theories under the head contingencies theory.
For over 20 years, a major thrust in leadership research has focused on the various behavioural patterns or styles used by different leaders and the functions fulfilled by these individuals. This research examined the impact that leadership behaviour had on the performance and satisfaction of followers. From these studies, two dimensions of leadership behaviour emerged.
Consideration: Consideration, also known as employee-centred behaviour, refers to leadership behaviour that is aimed at meeting the social and emotional needs of individuals and group members.
Initiating structure: Initiating structure, also known as job-oriented behaviour, refers to leadership behaviour that is aimed at careful supervision of employee work methods and performance levels.
Some research indicates that those leaders that were high in consideration would be more effective than those who were high in initiating structure, particularly in regard to maintaining employee satisfaction and performance and reducing turnover and absenteeism. Subsequent research argued that being high in both dimensions was necessary for effective leadership.
As the early researchers ran out of steam in their search for traits, they turned to what leaders did – how they behaved (especially towards followers). They moved from leaders to leadership – and this became the dominant way of approaching leadership within organizations in the 1950s and early 1960s. Different patterns of behaviour were grouped together and labelled as styles.
This became a very popular activity within management training perhaps the best known being Blake and Mouton’s Managerial Grid (1964; 1978). Various schemes appeared, designed to diagnose and develop people’s style of working. Despite different names, the basic ideas were very similar. The four main styles that appear are:
Concern for task / production. Here leaders emphasize the achievement of concrete objectives. They look for high levels of productivity, and ways to organize people and activities in order to meet those objectives.
Concern for people. In this style, leaders look upon their followers as people – their needs, interests, problems, development and so on. They are not simply units of production or means to an end.
Directive leadership. This style is characterized by leaders taking decisions for others and expecting followers or subordinates to follow instructions.
Participative leadership. Here leaders try to share decision-making with others.
(Wright 1996: 36-7)
The central idea of this approach was that effective leadership was dependent on a mix of factors. Fred E. Fiedler argued that effectiveness depends on two interacting factors: leadership style and the degree to which the situation gives the leader control and influence.
Devices Fiedler used to determine leader personality and the situation was Least Preferred Co-worker (LPC) Scale. The LPC is used to measure a leader’s motivation: “Task motivation” vs. “relationship motivation” (these are the trait versions of the “concern of production” vs. “concern of people” categories in the Managerial Grid). Fiedler assumes that everybody’s least preferred co-worker in fact is on average about equally unpleasant.
But people who are relationship motivated tend to describe their least preferred co-workers in a more positive manner, e.g., more pleasant and more efficient. Therefore, they receive higher LPC scores. People who are task motivated, on the other hand, tend to rate their least preferred co-workers in a more negative manner. Therefore, they receive lower LPC scores. So, the Least Preferred Co-worker (LPC) scale is actually not about the least preferred worker. Instead, it is about the person who takes the test; it is about that person’s motivation type.
Three things are important here:
Leader-member relations refer to the degrees of confidence, trust and respect that followers have in their leaders. Task structure refers to the extent that the tasks the followers are engaged in are defined (i.e., structured or unstructured/clear or ambiguous). Position power refers to the degree of power and influence a leader has over subordinates.
When there is a good leader-member relation, a highly structured task, and high leader position power, the situation is considered a “favourable situation”. Leader-Situation Match and Mismatch
A match exists between a task-motivated leader and an either very favourable or very unfavourable situation. A relationship-motivated leader, on the other hand, matches an intermediate favourable situation. Leaders can lead most effectively when there is a match between his or her motivation type and the situation. When the leader and the situation do not match, some things have to be changed. Since personally traits are relatively permanent, a better solution is for the leader to move to a better-matched situation. This is called “job engineering”.
The factors are identified from most to least important. Together, they determine how favourable situations are for leaders. Research has shown that good leader-member relations, high task structure, and strong position power constitute the most favourable situations for leaders.
Fiedler contends that certain leadership styles are more effective for certain situations. However, rather than suggesting that leaders be trained to change their preferred styles, he suggests that a better alternative is to change the favourableness of the situations by making changes to one or more of the three factors listed above. The table below provides examples of how leaders might alter situational controls.
Modifying Leader-Member RelationsModifying Task StructureModifying Position Power If the leader wants to create positive leader-member relations, he/she may:Spend more (or less) time with subordinates (lunch, leisure time, etc.) Request certain people for their work group. Volunteer to supervise troublesome employees.
Transfer certain subordinate’s in/out of the group. Improve morale by giving additional rewardsIf the leader wants to create less-structured tasks, he/she may:Ask the boss to give the group new or unusual problems to tackle. Ask for the groups help in solving these new problems. If the leader wants to create more-structured tasks, he/she may:Ask the boss to give the group more structured or standardized tasks.
Divide the tasks into more routine subtasks for the group to complete.If the leader wishes to raise position power, he/she may:Show subordinates who’s boss by using available powers to the fullest. Ensure that all information to the group is channelled through the leader.If the leader wishes to reduce position power, he/she may:Invite group members to participate in planning and decision-making. Delegate increased power and authority to group members.
Many associate leadership with one person leading. Four things stand out in this respect. First, to lead involves influencing others. Second, where there are leaders there are followers. Third, leaders seem to come to the fore when there is a crisis or special problem. In other words, they often become visible when an innovative response is needed. Fourth, leaders are people who have a clear idea of what they want to achieve and why. Thus, leaders are people who are able to think and act creatively in non-routine situations and who set out to influence the actions, beliefs and feelings of others.
The “Managerial Grid” has its advantages and disadvantages. It focuses on observable actions of the leader in order to determine if the leader’s main concern is for production or for people. This provides a more reliable method for studying leadership than the trait approach. The Managerial Grid, however, adopted the universal approach. It aims at identifying the most effective leadership style for all situations, which is not supported by evidence in real organizations. The two dimensions used in this model — concern for production and concern for people — are two important dimensions used to examine leadership behaviour and characteristics.
Researchers often find that Fiedler’s contingency theory falls short on flexibility. They also noticed that LPC scores could fail to reflect the personality traits it is supposed to reflect. However, Fiedler’s contingency theory is an important theory because it established a brand new perspective for the study of leadership. Many approaches after Fiedler’s theory have adopted the contingency perspective.
From a review of leadership theories, it is obvious, that there are no best leadership styles. Leaders, are rarely totally group or task-oriented; group members and the situation itself, all influence a leaders effectiveness. The leader needs to be aware of his own behaviour and influence on others, individual differences of group members, group characteristics, task structure, environmental and situational variables, and adjust his leadership style accordingly. Leadership needs to be adaptive.
Organizations have changed over the past several decades with regard to the structuring of work methods and processes. Moving away from the traditional hierarchical design, most organizations are developing flatter, leaner structures that support a more empowered, team-based workforce. The nature of leadership has also changed significantly over time.
Gary A. Yukl, (2002) Leadership In Organizations, Prentice-Hall International Edition, 2nd Edition,
Peter L. Wright, (1996) Managerial Leadership, Routledge, 1st Edition,
Bittel L. R., The McGraw-Hill 36 hour Management Course, (McGraw-Hill, 1989),
Fred E. Fiedler, (1987), A Theory Of Leadership Effectiveness, McGraw-Hill, 1st Edition
Blake, R. R. and Mouton, J. S. (1978) The New Managerial Grid, Houston TX