Leadership Essay

Published: 2017-10-03 15:29:56
1816 words
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Boston College
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What is Leadership

Leadership is a broadly used concept that if not defined more narrowly can be ambiguous. In a study, Miller and Sardais(2011, pg.201) proposed a baseline conception of leadership by giving the concept defined in literature into two groups of too broad and too narrow definition. From a broad definition perspective, leadership is a process that influences behavior. This conception accounts 40 percent of the 1940 leadership definition that refers to "influence". Leadership is a process that influences the will of followers. Each of these definitions encompasses a wide variety of disparate situations. Influence may comprise persuasion, setting an instance and coercion.From the narrow meaning perspective, leaderships is a process in which a leader changes the convictions of a group of people or an organization or a subordinate. Leadership can undoubtedly have an impact on the mindset of a group, yet it can likewise concern and include an individual. Also, it need not happen within an official organization or amongst superior and assistants. It may span boundaries of an organization, originating with a subordinate that changes the convictions of a leader.

One way of defining types of leadership is by the category of "followers" that are led, and another is the nature of work that is the primary emphasis of the leader. Some leaders spend most of their time with followers over them whom they are in authority over, such employees; other leaders primarily represent their followers such as constituents and still other leaders don't have any authority over or direct authority from followers but have intellectual sway over adherents such as role models, based on the creativity of the leader or the ideological clarity. Other people assume the role of leadership because they are in charge of getting things done; some are leaders because they are in charge of ensuring policies,  and still others are leaders because they come up with ideas or well-formulated ideologies that others emulate or admire.  In mature organizations and system, such roles are usually distinct, but in a few special cases such as a new entrepreneurial organization, these roles are merged, as was seen in the case of Bill Gates at Microsoft and Mark Zuckerberg are Facebook (Hitt et al., 2011, pp.57-75). The impact of strong initial leaders can be profound too in the public sectors when they have the ability to bridge several functions.

Modern Leadership

Even though the serious study of leadership is only about a hundred years old, interest in leaders, as well as leadership, dates back thousands of years. In addition to the enormous power that leaders have had over their people –literally life and death –leaders usually gain godlike status alone. Modern leadership studies began in the early 1900s and gained popularity during World Wars I and II. After World War II, Caroll Shartle, Ralph Stogdill, and John Hemphill at Ohio State University became the very first group to examine leadership from a multidisciplinary approach that included education, psychology, sociology, and economics (Bryman, 2011). The nineteen century was dominated by the notion of the "great man" thesis. Especially great men (women were invariably overlooked despite great historical women such as Elizabeth I, Joan of Arc, and Clara Barton) in some way move forward history due to their exceptional characteristics as leaders. The stronger version of this theory holds that history is a handmaiden to encounter men; great men actually change the direction and shape of history.  Philosophers such as Fredrich Nietzsche and William James firmly asserted that history would not be the same if a great man were suddenly incapacitated. Economic determinists such as Karl Marx and Fredrich Engels, even though not theorizing about leadership per se, implied that great men overcome the obstacle of history more effectively and quickly compared to lesser individuals. Although these lines of thinking have more sophisticated echoes later in the trial and situation leadership periods, "hero worship" is certainly alive and well in popular culture and biographies and autobiographies.

The scientific mood of the early twentieth century fostered the growth of a more organized search of the basis of leadership. Researchers developed personality tests and made a comparison of the results of average individuals with the ones who perceived to be leaders. By 1940s, the researchers had amassed long lists of traits from several psychologically oriented studies. This technique had two issues. First, the provided lists turned out to be longer and longer as research continued. Second, and most important, the traits and characteristics identified were not powerful predictors across situations. For instance, leaders have to be decisive, but they also need to be flexible and inclusive. On the surface, these traits are contradictory. With no situational specificity, the unending list of traits offer limited prescriptive assistance and descriptively becomes nothing more than a long laundry list. In 1948, Ralph Stogdill published a devastating critique of pure trait theory, which subsequently fell into disfavor as being too unidimensional to account for the complexity of leadership.  

Ohio State Leadership Studies

The next major thrust focused on the situational context that affected leaders attempted to find meaningful patterns of theory building and useful advice.  An early example was the work that came out of Ohio State Leadership Studies (Hemphill and Coons, 1950). These studies started by testing 1,800 statements that had relations to the behaviour of leaders. By constantly distilling the behaviors, researchers arrived at two underlying factors: consideration and the initiation of structure. Consideration describes various behaviors related to the development, inclusion as well as good feelings of subordinates. The initiation of structure describes various behaviors related to defining roles, control mechanism, tasks focus, and work coordination both inside as well as outside the unit. Coupled with humanist and human relations revolutionary that was taking place in the 1950s and 1960s, these and other studies spawned a series of useful, if not simplistic and largely bimodal theories. Agryis’s maturity theory (1957), Likert's motivational approach (1959) and McGregor's Theory X and Theory Y (1960) implicitly encourage more conversation in all leadership behaviors.  Maslow's Eupsychian Management recommends that leadership is assigned based on the needs of the situation so that authoritarian tendencies (excessive structure can be curbed (1967). This thinking line was further advanced and empirically tested by Fiedler, who came up with a contingency theory and associated leader-match theory. Blake and Motoun’s (1964) managerial grid recommends that leaders be highly skilled in both task behaviors and people-oriented behaviors. Hersey and Blanchard's life cycle theory (1969) relates the maturity of the followers, regarding both expertise and attitude, to the ideal leader behavior where features such as directing, consulting, participating and delegating are involved (Bass, 1991, pp.19-31).  

These situational theories of early times were useful as an antidote to excessively hierarchical, authoritarian techniques that had developed in the first half of the twentieth century with the rise and dominance of large organizations in both private as well as public sectors. They were additionally important tools for incipient and practicing managers, who had appreciations of the uncomplicated models although they were descriptively simplistic. As a class, however, such theories failed to meet scientific standards because they attempted to explain too much with very few variables (Kellerman, 2010). Of the major theories, only a decision-making model by Vroom broke out of this pattern because of it self- consensually focused on a single dimension of leadership style –the role of participation and identified seven problem attributes and two classes of cases. Even though this situational perspective still from the basis of most leadership theories today, it has largely either done so in a strictly managerial context on a factor-by-factor basis or been subsumed in more comprehensive approaches to leadership at the macro level.

Even though ethical dimensions were occasionally mentioned in the mainstream literature, the coverage was invariably peripheral due to the avoidance of value-laden issues by social scientists. The first major text devoted to ethical issues was Robert Greenleaf’s book Servant Leadership (1977). He was assumed by mainstream theorists who were dominated by positivists in spite of affiliation with Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Virginia, Harvard and Dartmouth and he ultimately founded the Centre for Applied Ethics. In contrast, James Burn's took on leadership onto the scene in 1978 and had unusual heavy ethical concerns(Graen & Cashman, 1975, p.165). However, it was not the ethical dimensions that capitulated it to prominence but the transformational subject. Both Greenleaf, a former business executive, and Burns, political scientists were outside the usual leadership academic circles, whose members were there mainly from business and psychology backgrounds. Several contemporary mainstream leadership theorists, both academic and popular such as DePee (1989) among others in contrast with Bennis’s other work.  Have continued in this tradition to one degree or another.

Leadership Literature

Until 1978, the emphasis of the mainstream literature was on leadership at lower levels, which was amiable to small-group and experimental methods with simplified variable models, while executive leadership, with its external demands and more amorphous abilities to induce large-scale changes, were largely ignored. Burns’s book on leadership changed that interest dramatically by introducing the idea that only transaction leadership was being studied and that other highly significant arena were largely ignored (Northouse, 2015).  Overall, this school agreed that leaders have a special responsibility for understanding a changing environment, they facilitate more dramatic changes, and they often can strengthen followers far past what traditional discussion theory would propose. Infusion of transformational leadership institutions led to a reinvigoration of academic and non-academic studies of leadership as well as to a good deal of initial confusion. Was the most transactional leadership that the situationists had so assiduously studied just mundane management? Or was the new transformational leadership an extension of a more basic skill that its advocates were poorly prepared to explain with more conservative scientific methodologies? Even before the 1980s, some work had been done to create holistic models that tried to provide an explanation for aspects of leadership (Miller & Sardais, 2011 pp. 174-183). Yet it was not until the 1980s that work started in earnest and conventional models routinely incorporated transactional and transformational elements. Bass's work is a good example of this regard.  

Not surprisingly, then, scholarly cross-fertilization and new economic, social and philosophical trend brought new perspectives to the study of leadership. First, fresh efforts to obtain integrative models were common starting in the 1990s. There was a tremendous need for obtaining ways of conceptualizing the different schools of thought as complementary rather than as mutually exclusive (Riggio et al., 2008 p.10). Second, there was an enormous resurgence in looking at leadership as less hierarchical and more distributed with ramification for a structure such as teams, training focusing on empowerment and self-leadership and acculturation leading to tighter cohesion and less internal competition. Finally, postmodern perspective emphasized leadership as a process instead of an event, and as a group dynamic instead of the artifact of individuals.


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