Over the years, political scientists, management scholars and experts, philosophers, psychologists and even sociologist have tried to pin down the leadership essence and proceeded to develop new styles and theories with the aim of meeting the needs of organizations. It is believed that the development of these new insights will make a difference between a successful and unsuccessful leader. However, leadership remains to be a complicated concept because of the assumption that some individuals have inherent attributes, qualities and traits making them better situated to leadership. Thus, leadership may be termed as a natural quality that is possessed by few people whereby natural leaders may use it more effectively by applying the different leadership theories in diverse circumstances. On the other hand, individuals who do not possess leadership naturally can also become effective leaders through diligent training. Although there are several theories of leadership, which may contain slight differences, it is noted that they play significant roles in effective leadership as explored in this essay.
In the early 20th century, people assumed that one could become a leader by the virtue of individual characteristics, a phenomenon so-termed as trait approach. The key traits associated with this approach included factors such as intelligence, energy level, self-confidence, dominance, performance and masculinity, although they were insufficient to distinguish leaders from followers (Ali, 2012). Nonetheless, trait theory has been observed to have a limited application to leadership development and management due to rising innate or unchangeable personality characteristics, leading to the emergence of new leadership theories such as behavioural theories, contingency along with power and influence theories (Lunenburg, 2012). All these theories provide a practical advice on how a person may become an effective leader.
For example, the great man theory may play a significant role in making an effective leader as it fixes leadership traits and simple dichotomies in a manner of task- or relationship-oriented (Kets de Vries & Korotov, 2010). Leadership effectiveness is mainly determined by the completion of vital tasks and attainment of goals and objectives. In this sense, a leader has to create relationships alongside forming bonds with his or her subjects so as to mobilize his or her followers to successfully complete the tasks (Garner, 2008). Consequently, any leader has to find a balance between relationship management and task. However, although this approach may contain distinct advantages, it is outdated since leadership has become more enabling, distributive and participative in nature (Campbell & Kodz, 2011). As a result, other models of leadership have been applied since they embrace distribution and development of leadership capabilities throughout the organization (Kets de Vries & Korotov, 2010).
One of the main leadership characteristics is using human talents in performance development, integrity and trust in workers as well as the organization. Personality refers to a combination of personal characteristics or a trait classifying the behaviour of a person, and it affects one’s conduct, insight and attitudes (Daft, 2005,). Trait theories, which claim that effective leaders share common personality traits, also play a crucial part in effective leadership. Although people have moved from this idea that leadership is innate, they help in identifying different traits and qualities (House et al., 2012). For instance, people are able to identify decision-making skills, integrity, assertiveness, empathy, self-control, creative problem-solving and even likability, factors that a crucial in leadership (Mind Tools, 2014). With respect to this, the characteristics of leadership refer to the core values as well as behaviours that will be observed by others, which they can easily translate into action (Mikoluk, 2013).
Contingency theorists view leadership from two perspectives; organization and leader, following criticism of the great man theories and behavioural (Robert et al., 2001). Notably, from the organizational point of view in systems theory, it is observed that the administrative and organizational processes are contingent upon the nature of the business itself, the business’ environment and the task (s) the firm is seeking to accomplish at that time (Marturano & Gosling, 2008). In other words, different environments are observed to contain differing needs on businesses, and remarkably, on the leaders of such organizations.
From the perspective of the leader, which is rooted in behavioural theory, contingent proponents claim that there is no specific way of leading since a leadership style may be effective in a certain situation and ineffective in another. In this sense, the ability of any person to lead is contingent upon different situational factors, for example, the preferred style of the leader, the ability and behaviour of his followers, among other situational factors. According to this approach, the effectiveness of any leader is a function of several organizational contingencies in terms of task, subordinate or group variables (Marturano & Gosling, 2008). In short, the effectiveness of any leader is determined by the situation and environment. The leader can change his or her style to fit different situations, observing the style he or she may use, the motivation of his or her followers, skills and the nature of the task.
The effectiveness of the leader as per this approach is mainly determined by three organizational contingencies. The first one is the degree to which the leader will be accepted and even supported by his or her group members (leader-member relationship). The second one is the ability of the leader to maintain and control subjects through punishments and rewards (leader positional power). Lastly, is the extent to which the tasks are organized, structured and with clearly defined goals and procedures (task structure) (Sampson, 2012). According to the proponents of contingency theory, the combinations of these contingencies can create favourable or unfavourable conditions for the leader, that is, situations whereby the leader can have an influence over the subjects. The most favourable conditions to exert influence over the group members are provided by high levels of task structure, leader-member relationships and positional power and vice-versa. Significantly, it has been affirmed that the most effective style that is applicable in situations where the leader has very much or extremely little influence is a task-oriented style (House et al., 2012). Task-oriented leaders have been highly recognized on getting their jobs or tasks completed since they actively define the task and the required roles, place structures, organize and monitor their subjects. Moreover, they are renown in forming and maintaining performance standards. One of the main advantages of such leaders is that they ensure deadlines are met. A relationship-oriented leader will be more effective in situations that have moderately favourable influence (Marturano & Gosling, 2008). Relationship-oriented leaders are mainly focused on organizing and developing people on their groups. Remarkably, these leaders treat every person in the group equally, and they are friendly, alongside paying attention to everyone’s welfare (House et al., 2012). The main benefit brought by these leaders is that they create a group that is admired by everyone, and as a consequence, the members become more productive and willing to take risks due to the support they get from their leader. As a result, this theory sums up that it is easier for any leader to change a certain situation in order to achieve effectiveness, instead of changing the style of leadership (Singh, 2009).
To sum up, looking from an employer point of view, the imperative to improve the capability o leadership and management arises from the changing work nature. It is imperative to note that this has been facilitated by a change of leadership from the conventional directive and performing nature, to a more enabling, distributive and participative nature. In this sense, this occurs mainly in the need to cope with the elevating competition alongside the continuous mayhems in the firms, demanding intellectual flexibility along with relevant skills, self-awareness and abilities. As a result, businesses as well as individuals have actively sought competitive advantage through investment in education, training and development processes. As noted, people may become successful leaders naturally as explained by the trait theory whereby one may have some traits that may lead him or her into leadership roles. The great event theory also affirms that an ordinary person may have leadership qualities after a certain occurrence or experience while transformational leadership model, which states that an individual may choose to become a leader and learn the skills, remains to be the most accepted leadership model.
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- Caroline Mutuku (Author), 2018, The Role of Leadership Theories in Making an Effective Leader, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/429855