Business climate

Most organisations recognise that in today’s business climate, survival depends upon workforce capability and specifically, the quality of leadership. To maintain the leading edge and survive, organisations have to predict and create the future. This shift in emphasis in leading the future rather than managing the present, also places emphasis on key leadership qualities and the need for organisations to be highly proactive identifying and developing their leadership talent. You are therefore asked to research and review.

This implies that a leader is not necessarily the one with authority – anyone trying to influence another’s behaviour is displaying leadership characteristics. Adair, however, suggests that this concept which “often implies that leaders create followers” is not correct; rather it is a partnership – leaders create partners and that is the ability required in a leader. “You can be appointed a manager…. but you are not a leader until your appointment is ratified in the hearts and minds of those who work for you” (Adair 2000)

One school of thought suggests there are certain traits which good leaders share and are born with (Bernard 1926), including intelligence, extrovertism, initiative, self assurance and experience. If these factors are missing then that person is unlikely to become a good leader. By identifying these traits you identify a potential leader and provide development training. However, research done cannot identify which traits are common to all effective leaders (Kakabadse et al 1987).

Although many good leaders possess these traits, the absence of them doesn’t preclude being a good leader, and conversely, possession of these traits doesn’t necessarily make someone a good leader (Handy 1993). Research subsequently investigated leader behaviours towards a particular task and people involved, to identify what successful leaders do. This shifted the focus away from a leader’s traits. This approach has categorised styles from authoritarian at one end of the scale to democratic at the other. Key models include Michigan and Ohio state leadership studies and Blake, Shephard and Mouton’s managerial grid (1964).

This work was replicated by others and identified that leaders are not born and that effective leaders could be developed (Saal and Knight 1988). Contingency theorists approached good leadership as more situational – a good leader will modify their approach based on the task, the team and the position of the leader within that team in any given situation. This major development opened up the possibility that not only were there different styles of leadership but also that leaders may exhibit different styles in different situations.

Key theories include Fiedler’s concept of situational favourability, House and Mitchells’ path-goal theory and Vroom and Yetton’s decision tree model. Adair (1983) proposed a model based on inter-linked group, task and individual needs. It was unlikely that needs would match so the leader’s role is to manage the inherent tension based on a functional approach. More recently he emphasises an increasingly team based approach with more people within the team taking responsibility for each need (Adair 2000). Research suggests the skills required for effective leadership can be developed.

The “differentiated trait” approach concluded by Handy (1993), furthers his best fit theory by suggesting that some people will be more effective leaders as they can handle the requirements of his complex model, factors in many of the theories highlighted earlier. Some define a good leader as one who knows, and can communicate, what they want and when and why they want it (Bennis 1989). Others, such as Fiedler, point to follower productivity which is perhaps unreliable due to the variables that impact this.

The majority of research and theory, although providing a good basis, isn’t enough to understand what makes a successful leader in the current climate. The various models together with current thinking suggest that such people will have the right mix of personal characteristics and developed skills, including (Handy 1993, Kilpatrick ; Locke 1991 and Pierce ; Kleiner 2000). Although these skills are either pre-existing or can be acquired there are other factors that determine whether leadership will be effective.

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