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The imperatives of leadership (part 1)


The principle of leadership has been of interest for many hundreds of years, from the early Greek philosophers such as Plato and Socrates to the plethora of management and leadership gurus, whose books can be found everywhere. Seldom, however, has the need for effective leadership been voiced more strongly than now. It is argued that in this changing, global environment, leadership holds the answer not only to the success of individuals and organisations but also to sectors, regions and nations. A nation or an organisation without leadership is like a general without troops or a ship without water to sail on. This is to underscore the importance of leadership. Whether a nation is great or not or whether an organisation succeeds or not depend more on its leadership rather than other variables. To this end, we shall x-ray the definition of leadership; what it means; how it operates and its undisputable imperatives.

Definition of leadership

Despite recognition of the importance of leadership, however, there remains a certain mystery as to what leadership actually is or how to define it. In a review of leadership research, R.M. Stogdill in his book, Handbook of Leadership: A survey of theory and research, concluded that there are “almost as many definitions of leadership as there are persons who have attempted to define the concept”. At the heart of the problem of defining leadership lie two fundamental difficulties.

Firstly, like notions such as ‘love’, ‘freedom’ and ‘happiness’, leadership is a complex construct open to subjective interpretation. Everyone has their own intuitive understanding of what leadership is, based on a mixture of experience and learning, which is difficult to capture in a succinct definition. Secondly, the way in which leadership is defined and understood is strongly influenced by one’s theoretical stance.

There are those who view leadership as the consequence of a set of traits or characteristics possessed by ‘leaders’, whilst others view leadership as a social process that emerges from group relationships. Such divergent views will always result in a difference of opinion about the nature of leadership.

“Leadership appears to be, like power, an ‘essentially contested concept”. Some definitions of leadership restrict it to purely non-coercive influence towards shared (and socially acceptable) objectives. Within such frameworks, the likes of Hitler, Stalin and Saddam Hussein would not be seen as leaders but rather as tyrants working solely for their own benefit and depending on threat, violence and intimidation rather than the more subtle processes of interpersonal influence more frequently associated with ‘true’ leadership. Such distinctions, however, are always problematic as the actions of nearly all leaders could be perceived more or less beneficially by certain individuals and groups. In short, leadership is a complex phenomenon that touches on many other important organisational, social and personal processes. It depends on a process of influence, whereby people are inspired to work towards group goals, not through coercion, but through personal motivation. Which definition you accept should be a matter of choice, informed by your own predispositions, organisational situation and beliefs but with an awareness of the underlying assumptions and implications of your particular approach.

Types of leadership

1.Transformational Leadership

2.Transactional Leadership Transformational leadership Transformational leadership is defined as a leadership approach that causes change in individuals and social systems. In its ideal form, it creates valuable and positive change in the followers with the end goal of developing followers into leaders.

Enacted in its authentic form, transformational leadership enhances the motivation, morale and performance of followers through a variety of mechanisms. A transformational leader therefore, is a person who stimulates and inspires (transform) followers to achieve extraordinary outcome.

He/she pays attention to the concern and developmental needs of individual followers; they change followers’ awareness of issues by helping them to look at old problems in a new way; and they are able to arouse, excite and inspire followers to put out extra effort to achieve group goals.

Transformational leadership theory is all about leadership that creates positive change in the followers whereby they take care of each other’s interests and act in the interests of the group as a whole. Transformational leadership enhances the motivation, morale, and performance of followers through a variety of mechanisms. These include connecting the follower’s sense of identity and self to the project and the collective identity of the organization; being a role model for followers that inspires them and makes them interested; challenging followers to take greater ownership for their work, and understanding the strengths and weaknesses of followers, so the leader can align followers with tasks that enhance their performance

Weaknesses of transformational leadership

Firstly, is the ambiguity underlying its influences and processes. The theory fails to explain the interacting variables between transformational leadership and positive work outcomes. The theory would be stronger if the essential influence processes were identified more clearly and used to explain how each type of behaviour affects each type of mediating variable and outcome. Secondly, is the overemphasis of the theory on leadership processes at the dyadic level.

The major interest is to explain a leader’s direct influence over individual followers, not leader influence on group or organisational processes. Examples of relevant group-level processes include:

(1) how well the work is organised to utilise personnel and resources;

(2) how well inter-related group activities are coordinated;

(3)the amount of member agreement about objectives and priorities;

(4) mutual trust and cooperation among members;

(5) the extent of member identification with the group;

(6) member confidence in the capacity of the group to attain its objectives;

(7) the procurement and efficient use of resources; and (8) external coordination with other parts of the organization and outsiders.

How leaders influence these group processes is not explained very well by the transformational leadership theories. Organisational processes also receive insufficient attention in most theories of transformational leadership.

Leadership is viewed as a key determinant of organisational effectiveness but the causal effects of leader behaviour on the organisational processes that ultimately determine effectiveness are seldom described in any detail in most studies on transformational leadership.

Transformational leadership theories would benefit from a more detailed description of leader influence on group and organisational processes. Thirdly, is the insufficient specification of situational variables in transformational leadership. A fundamental assumption of transformational leadership theory is that the underlying leadership processes and outcomes are essentially the same in all situations. Fourthly, the theory does not explicitly identify any situation where transformational leadership is detrimental. Several studies have shown that transformational leadership can have detrimental effects on both followers and the organisation. Stevens et al (1995) believes that transformational leadership is biased in favour of top managements, owners and managers. Followers can be transformed to such a high level of emotional involvement in the work over time that they become stressed and burned out.

Individual leaders can exploit followers (even without realising it) by creating a high level of emotional involvement when it is not necessary. If members of an organisation are influenced by different leaders with competing visions, the result will be increased role ambiguity and role conflict. Leaders, who build strong identification with their subunit and its objectives can improve member motivation, but excessive competition may arise among different subunits of the organisation. When inter unit cooperation is necessary to achieve organisational objectives, the result can be a decline in organisational effectiveness.

The possibility that transformational leadership has negative outcomes needs to be investigated with research methods designed to detect such effects. Lastly, like most leadership theories, transformational leadership theory assumes the heroic leadership stereotype. Effective performance by an individual, group, or organization is assumed to depend on leadership by an individual with the skills to find the right path and motivate others to take it.

In most versions of transformational leadership theory, it is a basic postulate that an effective leader will influence followers to make self-sacrifices and exert exceptional effort. Influence is unidirectional, and it flows objecfrom the leader to the follower. When a correlation is found between transformational leadership and subordinate commitment or performance, the results are interpreted as showing that the leader influenced subordinates to perform better. There is little interest in describing reciprocal influence processes or shared leadership.

Researchers study how leaders motivate followers or overcome their resistance, not how leaders encourage followers to challenge the leader’s vision or develop a better one. In spite of the numerous criticisms of transformational leadership, its popularity has grown in recent time. For instance, studies have shown that managers in different settings, including the military and business found that transformational leaders were evaluated as more effective, higher performers, more promotable than their transactional counterparts, and more interpersonally sensitive.

Empirical evidence also shows that transformational leadership is strongly correlated with employee work outcomes such as: lower turnover rates, higher level of productivity, employee satisfaction, creativity, goal attainment and follower well-being.

Transactional leadership

Transactional Leadership, also known as managerial leadership, focuses on the role of supervision, organisation, and group performance; transactional leadership is a style of leadership in which the leader promotes compliance of his followers through both rewards and punishments. Unlike Transformational leadership, leaders using the transactional approach are not looking to change the future, they are looking to merely keep things the same.

These leaders pay attention to followers’ work in order to find faults and deviations. This type of leadership is effective in crisis and emergency situations, as well as when projects need to be carried out in a specific fashion. Transactional leadership works at the basic levels of need satisfaction, where transactional leaders focus on the lower levels of the hierarchy. Transactional leaders use an exchange model, with rewards being given for good work or positive outcomes.

Conversely, people with this leadership style also can punish poor work or negative outcomes, until the problem is corrected. One way that transactional leadership focuses on lower level needs is by stressing specific task performance. Transactional leaders are effective in getting specific tasks completed by managing each portion individually. (To be continued).

And this Crack your ribs

“I will never smoke weed again, last night I and my friends were looking for me”- Anonymous.

Thought for the week

“Ultimately, leadership is not about glorious crowning acts. It’s about keeping your team focused on a goal and motivated to do their best to achieve it, especially when the stakes are high and the consequences really matter. It is about laying the groundwork for others’ success, and then standing back and letting them shine”. (Chris Hadfield line God bless my numerous global readers for always keeping fate with the Sunday Sermon on the Mount of the Nigerian Project, by humble me, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, OFR, FCIArb., LL.M, Ph.D, LL.D. kindly, come with me to next week’s exciting dissertation.

• Follow me on twitter @ MikeozekhomeSAN

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