What Makes an Effective Leader

Gary Wills, a professor and cultural historian whose many books provide broad analysis of some of the world leaders, has once said: “The leader is one who mobilizes others toward a goal shared by leaders and followers. Leaders, followers and goals make up the three equally necessary supports for leadership.”

(Nkwocha, 2011) Thory (2011) defines leadership as the ability to influence people toward the attainment of organizational goals. Although there are people who are leaders by nature, it is strongly believed that successful management traits can be exercised and honed. ‘Leadership as capacity is developed through building interpersonal skills, social awareness, mutual respect, and trust.’ (Roberts, Roper, 2011)

Much has been written about the leaders and the effectiveness of their power and impact on the other people. Infinite discussions often refer to the previous and present world leaders, analysing their family background, education or personal traits and comparing one to another. Even though different types of researches into leadership styles and skills had been carrying out for more than a century, there is still no common definition about what it takes to be an effective leader.

The aim of this essay is to define the basic skills that most of the world leaders share. The methods of research refer to some influential management books and reliable journal articles. Three theories of leadership (trait theory, behavioural and situational) are to be discussed hereafter. The conclusions will provide the summary of the research suggesting the factors that contribute to leadership effectiveness based on the essay content.

TRAIT THEORYOne of the first hypotheses concerning to point out the main features that define a successful leader was called the trait theory. However, this phase, which ran from the turn of the century to about 1950, was largely unfortunate in pinpointing universal leadership characteristics (Schriesheim, Neider, 1989). The reasons of failure to prove the effectiveness of this theory are to be discussed later in this essay.

This theory attempted to explain distinctive characteristics in leadereffectiveness through the identification of a set of personal traits (Goff, 2003). ‘Traits are the distinguishing personal characteristics of a leader, such as intelligence, values, self-confidence and appearance’ (Thory, 2011). It was assumed that specific qualities most of the leaders share are the factors that determine success in their managerial styles. Such qualities can be separated into two categories: physiological and psychological.

‘Physiological characteristics include height, weight, appearance, physical endurance, etc., while psychological characteristics include intelligence, diligence, confidence, discipline, etc.’ (Tsai, 2008) Looking back to 1990s to such leaders as Henry Ford or M.K. Gandhi, it can be easily noticed that physiological characteristics as height does not contribute to the power of leadership due to the fact that physical measures of leaders differ widely (see Appendix 1).

When studying psychological traits, researchers tried to define the most common qualities that can affect leadership success. For instance, in a report to the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), Hockaday and Puryear (2000) provided a list of nine traits needed by the effective community college president. Those nine traits are: “vision; integrity; confidence; courage; technical knowledge; collaborators; persistence; good judgement; and the desire to lead. (Goff, 2003) In addition to that, Ralph Stodgill (1974), the originator of the trait theory, highlighted such features as high activity level or tolerance to stress, as well (see Appendix 2).

‚Trait theories are sometimes referred to as ‘Great Man’ theories both because leadership was thought to be the province of males and because leadership had a mythical, heroic sense of destiny (with leaders assumed to be born, not made).‘ (Nohria, Khurana, 2010) The early research focused on leaders who had achieved a level of greatness and the main idea was to find out what made these people great, and select future leaders who already exhibited the same traits. However, the research found only a weak relationship between personal traits and leader success. (Thory, 2011)

All in all, even if it was possible to prove that there are certain traits that all leaders share, this theory still raises a disagreement about why other people who have the same qualities (either physiological or psychological) fail to become successful leaders. ‚As a result scholarly attention turned to other explanations, refocusing away from „who leaders are“ (traits) to „what leaders do“ (behaviours)‘. (Nohria, Khurana, 2010)

BEHAVIOURAL THEORYBehavioural theories focus on a leader’s style of action. (Nohria, Khurana, 2010) It was assumed that qualities do not always determine effective leadership so deeper research into the behaviours of leaders was carried out. Two basic leadership behaviours were identified as important for leadership: task-oriented behaviour and people-oriented behaviour.

(Thory, 2011) This approach emerged to be applicable in many situations and it is being adapted to organizational practice even these days. The task-centred dimension refers to behaviour in which the leader organizes and defines the relationships in groups, establishes patterns and channels of communication, and directs the work procedures. Such type of leader is viewed as strongly concerned with goals and performance-facilitative behaviours (Deluga, 1988). He primarily works to get the task done and meet his objectives (Weinberg, Gould, 2011).

Successful task-oriented leaders are instrumental in contributing to their groups’ effectiveness by setting goals, allocating labour, and enforcing sanctions (Brooks, 1982). However, they are likely to keep their distance psychologically from their followers and to be more cold and aloof. (Lee, 1997) The people-centred dimension refers to behaviour in which the leader shows friendship, trust, respect, and warmth toward subordinates. Leaders with this style emphasize the needs of the subordinate and are viewed as strongly concerned with supportive human relations as well as interactive-facilitative behaviours (Deluga, 1988).

They are characterized by involved support, friendship, and mutual trust. It is leadership that is democratic and employee oriented, rather than autocratic and production oriented (Brooks, 1982). Relationship-oriented leaders develop interpersonal relationships; keeps open lines of communication, maintain positive social interactions, and ensure that everyone is involved and feeling good (Weinberg, Gould, 2011).

T-P Leadership Questionnaire is a direct result of the empirical research of Sergiovanni, Metzcus and Burden (1969) and originated from the Leader Behaviour Description Questionnaire form XII (LDBQ) (Brooks, 1982). It is being used by many companies to analyse the characteristics of employees and increase work efficiency by delegating appropriate tasks to different people.

This questionnaire was designed to explore whether a person is more task-oriented or people-oriented (The full questionnaire with explanations is provided in Appendix 3). Another well-known application to define the style of leadership is the managerial grid of Robert Blake and Jane Mouton. (Kriel, 2007) In this table, the leader’s concern is evaluated by a nine point scale where one stands for minor engagement and nine for a maximum concern (Egner). It is based on two conflicting factors: attention to people and to production. The model was designed to help leaders find out what part of the grid they occupy in order to help them understand whether they are more concerned about employees, tasks or both.

There can be five outcomes of types of management: Country Club Management, Team Management, Impoverished Management, Authority-Compliance and Middle-of-the-Road Management. (Thory, 2011) They all differ depending on leader’s attitude to his workplace and its environment (for broader explanation, see Appendix 4).

In addition to that, a substantial number of behavioural leadership styles were examined. Probably some of the most popular researches are Lewin, Lippitt, and White’s emphasis on autocratic, democratic, and laissez-faire leadership styles, where it is claimed that most of the leaders can be separated into three different groups depending on the way they manage their subordinates and qualities they maintain (Nohria, Khurana, 2010). Another research of University of Michigan states that leaders can be differentiated into two groups: employee-centred leaders and job-centred leaders depending on their effectiveness when managing work and behaviour towards subordinates (Thory, 2011).

SITUATIONAL THEORYIn contrast to trait and behavioural theories, contingency (or situational) theories explicitly assume that leadership can vary across situations and that there may not be a universally effective way to lead (Nohria, Khurana, 2010).

The prime example of a contingency theory of leadership is Fiedler’s model, proposed in 1967 (Redding, 1993). His theory assumes that leader effectiveness is a joint function of leader’s personal style (task or relationship oriented) and situational control (the ability of a leader’s relations to provide follower clarity in group tasks and authority) (Kenny, Livi, 2009). Fiedler considered a person‘s leadership style to be relatively fixed and difficult to change (Thory, 2011).

It is notable that the more theories are being created, the wider definition of what it takes to be an effective leader is made. It can be assumed that Fiedler’s model links both skills and behaviours of leaders that affect their style of management and remarks the importance of other external or internal situational factors that might contribute to the effectiveness of their leadership style.

Another widely known leadership approach is Hersey and Blanchard’s situational theory which basically focuses on the followers rather than the leaders. Their model consist dimensions, two of which are associated with relationship and task behaviour. These are used to produce four categories: (Papworth, Milne, Boak, 2009)

•Delegating (Low task focus, low relationship focus)•Participating (Low task focus, high relationship focus)•Selling (High task focus, high relationship focus)•Telling (High task focus, low relationship focus)

The point of Hersey and Blanchard is that subordinates vary in readiness level (Thory, 2011) which means that effectiveness of leadership can be maximised by matching the level of leadership style with the follower readiness (Papworth, Milne, Boak, 2009) It is significant to recognize different categories as using inadequate approaches can cause collapse of followers’ performance level and their morale distraction. (Thory, 2011) (For illustrative material of Hersey and Blanchard’s Theory see Appendix

5). The path-goal theory developed by House (1971) states that the main goal of the leader is to help subordinates attain their goals effectively, and to provide them with the necessary direction and support to achieve their own goals (Silverthorne C, 2001) by removing barriers and frustrations that arise along the way (Rainey, 2009). In brief, this model should be applied when subordinates face difficulties in their day-to-day tasks and leader needs to select the most suitable behaviour that would contribute to follower‘s success and high efficiency in the working environment. Path-goal theory identifies four leader behaviours:

•Directive (leader gives clear directions to subordinates of how to complete certain tasks) •Supportive (leader is concerned about subordinates‘ status and well-being) •Participative (leader listens to his subordinates‘ opinion ant takes their suggestions into account before making decisions) •Achievement – oriented (leader encourages subordinates to demonstrate their best performance possible) (Griffin, Moorhead, 2011)

To sum up, this type of leadership can contribute to less pressure for the followers in the working environment as they are always supported by their leader and directed to the right path if they face any challenges. Compared to autocratic leadership where no one is allowed to express his opinion, path-goal leaders treat their followers as a substantial part of decision makers and provide two-way communication between one another.

In conclusion, numerous researches into leadership styles have led to the perception that there is no single prescription for success (Redding, 1993). Based on trait, behavioural and contingency theories, the leader must combine his appropriate skills and behaviours in the way they could match different situations affecting working environment. Either the leader was born or made; he must always maintain his managerial skills and learn from mistakes he makes.

One of the most important factors when working with a group of people is building relationships between the members to encourage team-working, ensuring agreeableness and accepting other opinions to get everyone involved in accomplishing tasks. The leader needs to have enough power to handle the emotions of the others and enough authority to make the right decisions to demonstrate effective working skills.

Achieving a level 5 leadership which means becoming a great and effective leader is a process or series of accumulated decisions and the journey that consists of some very difficult day-to-day choices. But this is a process that can be learnt (Collins, Powell, 2004). Therefore, the leaders who want to become successful need to learn to judge their behaviour and accept criticism from the others so that they could make appropriate conclusions and adjust changes in their managing styles.