The paper investigates the phenomenon of leadership in terms of its theoretical basis and real-life validation in various organizations. It analyzes the problem of definition of leadership explaining the major reasons of the scholars failure to reach agreement related to the issue. In addition, it dwells on the major leadership theories that experts use attempting to explain the reasons why some people succeed at leading positions whereas their counterparts fail. Analyzing real-life evidence and the theoretical material, the investigation suggests that leadership is a non-static phenomenon. Thus, there is no universal solution for making successful leaders. Therefore, modern leaders have to develop flexibility and analytical skills in order to adapt their leadership style for mitigating concrete situations and reaching specific aims. The reason for this is that peoples personal qualities and traits differ according to environments of their activity. In such conditions, flexible leaders have more chances to succeed when adapting to these situations instead of sticking to traditional leadership models.
Leaders and Leadership in Organizations
Leadership is one of the most important aspects of such processes as distribution and regulation of human resources to achieve or improve the efficacy of individuals, groups, and organizations. Typically, leaders are prominent individuals, who possess charisma and other characteristics, which help motivate their followers and lead them to different work perspectives. Often people become leaders due to the top position they occupy such as the CEO of a company or the head of the state. At the same time, leadership is a complex phenomenon, and, therefore, there is no simple solution for making good leaders. Consequently, leadership behavior includes a broad range of factors, which involve traits and skills that are validated either by internal or external factors. This paper investigates the leadership phenomenon, emphasizing the changing role of a leader within an organization and differentiating efficient leaders from inefficient ones. It suggests that modern theories fail to explore all aspects of leadership, but provide enough knowledge for different leaders to become more effective due to self- and environmental analysis. The results of the research are important to various individuals interested in new knowledge on leadership and practice and to the organizations, which want to improve the potential of their leaders.
Who Is a Leader?
Experts in research on leadership did not reach any mutual agreement of the core characteristics and the main definition of leadership, resulting in numerous theories on the topic. Despite these disagreements, there are common features that allow highlighting the main differences between leaders and followers and their position and activities within groups and organizations. First, leaders have a power of influence, which they exercise on their followers to make specific changes. In fact, this power is one of the most critical attributes of a leader. Almost in any organization, a leader occupies a top position in an organization, such as the CEO, the department supervisor or a manager. Experts define this type of leadership as formal, because such leaders have a legal authority to influence other members of a group. What is more, formal leaders have different resources such as organizational capital and human resources, the distribution and regulation of which defines their success. It is possible that a leader inadequately distributes the granted resources, what critically deteriorates an entitys performance, and can even lead to bankruptcy.
Organizations that take a leadership role tend to recruit talented and effective leaders despite their location, because achieved revenues, sustainability and competitiveness will compensate the recruitment expenses. The example of such case is problems faced by Sony Corporation at the beginning of the 2000s caused by a failure of its leaders to recognize the growing strength of the major market rivals. At that time, LG, Samsung, and Apple experienced a technological boost, which placed Sony behind the competition. The failure to recognize this issue and the fact that Sonys leaders were busy with the internal rivalry between departments put the whole organization at risk. Luckily, the newly-appointed CEO, Sir Howard Stringer, the former head of Sonys US operations, was skillful to save a company by transforming its systemic features and goals by 2010. This example demonstrates that a good leader can save an unprofitable company whereas a bad one can lead a well-performing entity to bankruptcy.
Along with the leaders, who have an authority within an organization or group, there are those, who perform well having no systemic power and resources. Scholars define such leaders as informal, who are capable of influencing and leading people because of special skills or talents. The validation of their role seems to be more difficult due to the lack of power, but it does not mean that such leaders are less effective than their empowered counterparts. In contrast, they are more communicative, relation oriented, authentic, and self-confident, than formal leaders, which ensures their success in diverse groups. Informal leaders can exceed the number of formal ones because the quantity of self-organized groups of various sizes can surpass their structural formations. George and Jones give an example of a team of waiters, who work at a restaurant, where one employee has outstanding interpersonal skills that make him an informal leader. Although all waitpersons have the administrator, who is a formal leader, they tend to adhere to its informal counterpart. This leadership is practiced when less skilled group members seek advice from an informal leader and try to copy his behavior, becoming the followers. In this respect, it is necessary to encourage informal leadership in an organization because it improves team communication and collaboration, benefiting the organization. Therefore, leaders have authorized an individual-based power, what allowed them influence other people and make the groups follow their decisions and guidelines. Thus, this research recognizes leadership as the capability of an individual to exercise influence and control over other members to help a group or organization achieve its goals. However, experts disagree regarding not only the definition of leadership, but also its critical features and the possibility of becoming a leader. Consequently, numerous leadership theories exist.
A great number of leadership theories is the result of the fact that in their analysis scholars focus on certain aspects of leadership omitting the ones marked as non-significant. For example, one of the first theories, trait leadership, presumes that personal traits differentiate leaders from other individuals. As a result, this theory rejects the opportunity to acquire leadership skills and restrains the progress of leadership theory development. One of the major reasons is the fact that this approach ignores the influence of the environment on the ability of leaders to be effective. For instance, leadership traits that assist a conductor in guiding the orchestra can be useful when attempting to guide a group of industrial workers, etc. However, later scholars revealed that there was no evident support of this theory, and, therefore, The Big Five personality traits list remained valid. These traits included neuroticism, extraversion, and openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness among which extraversion, conscientiousness, emotional stability, and openness were positively related to leadership. Thus, although the trait leadership theory is controversial, there is evidence that the ability to be successful leader correlates with personality, and the individuals with well-developed traits have better chances of becoming effective leaders.
The shift and the emergence of numerous theoretical models of leadership started when experts developed new evaluation methods for leadership assessment. Such sciences as psychology and psychometrics offered rigorous evaluation methods that enhanced the understanding of leadership content, application, outcomes and development. As a consequence, the successor of the trait theory, the contingency theory of leadership has broadened its focus and considered not only the leaders personal characteristics but also the environment in which the leaders function. The analysis associated with this theory significantly broadened the definition of leadership, offering the understanding of its complex nature and the framework of leaders actions and behavior. For example, it differentiated relationship and task-oriented modes of leadership, considered relationship with the followers, task structure, position power, etc. what encouraged the development of such contemporary theories as Path-Goal and Leader-Member Exchange Theory. Consequently, the understanding of the role of the leader and his/her characteristics has not always been similar, depending on the stage of the development of theoretical ideas within the subject. Nowadays, an increasing amount of empirical evidence demonstrates that the investigations on this issue continues and can lead to many discoveries. However, the primary interest of businesses is not the leadership theory but ability to put the results of contemporary leadership studies into practice and achieve the organizational goals.
Can Leadership Tools Be Universal?
The main guidelines in validating different leadership theories and models demonstrate that the selection of the appropriate leadership style cannot be a universal and widely applied process. The reason for this is that diverse businesses have a broad range of individual factors that can either boost or restrain the efforts of the leader. For instance, some situations require a leader to demonstrate directive behavior whereas others need him/her to be supportive, participative, or achievement-oriented. What is more, some scholars argue that, if needed, a leader can practice destructive behavior, which has a prevalence of 11% in the institutions of Netherlands. The overall efficacy of the latter method is doubtful due to the growing risk of employee absenteeism and turnover. However, it can be effectively practiced it in organizations or communities where it does not affect employees stress.
Recent investigations of the issue demonstrate that as any social phenomena leadership is not static, that is why even the most successful theories of the past may fail in contemporary business environment. In contrast, this is a dynamic issue with a constantly growing complexity, which leads to the fact that although influence remains at its core, other factors can significantly change. For instance, modern scholars see a perspective in broadening the knowledge on the traits of destructive leaders, nonlinear and conjugational approaches to trait measurement, the context of the role, etc.. In this situation, contemporary leaders have to be highly flexible individuals ready to comprehend a new knowledge in their domain of activity. Moreover, the ability to think analytically will allow them analyze the environment, the expectations of the followers, the modes of emotional connection and other parameters, helping select the best strategy of influence.
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In conclusion, leadership is a constantly changing phenomenon, the knowledge about which fails to explore all its aspects. The vivid example of available knowledge is the trait leadership theory, which is irrelevant in modern business conditions although it has been widely applied in the past. At the same time, the amount of knowledge and experience on leadership constantly grows giving contemporary leaders various solutions to the challenges they face. In this situation, the major task of a leader in a modern organization or business is to identify and analyze internal and external factors associated with leadership efficacy. This measure will allow finding ones weak and strong points, which can benefit an individual leadership style. Therefore, in a situation when theories develop simultaneously with leadership itself, the best solution for leaders is the development of analytical skills and professional flexibility. This toolkit can assure success of their leadership in their positions, despite their formal or informal origin.