Leadership: Theory and Practice

Introduction

Leadership has been described as a process which entails interactions between managers and members of the team, so that managers function as leaders and influence their teams to obtain the aims and goals of the organization which they serve (Kramer, 2008). Good leaders and effective leadership have been an area of focus since times immemorial due to their impact on the positive results on organizations. It is therefore vital for prospective leaders and managers to understand the essentials of efficient leadership. According to Vince Lombardi leaders aren’t born, they are made”, which makes it crucial for managers to understand the importance of effective communication in leadership. This paper aims to determine the importance of effective leadership skills, style and traits through assessment. Assessment is undertaken by investigating models and empirical literature which will ultimately enable the reflection of the findings in the development of a practical plan for enhanced leadership skills.

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When I think of an effective leader, the first person who comes to my mind is my father, a dynamic and charismatic personality, patient with an excellent sense of humour. The qualities which I believe make him a true leader include hard work, innovation and teamwork. Ever since I remember, I have known my father to be an effective leader, one who is highly popular among his friends, colleagues, subordinates and peers. Loved and respected by all, I would feel proud to be the child of a man who seemed complete in all aspects. Not only is he an extremely talented and multifaceted person, he is extremely kind and understanding to the needs and problems of others. However, he is also a task master and a workaholic, and expects the same level of sincerity and dedication to work from all those who function with him, including me. His underlying philosophical belief is that he trusts people completely and has complete confidence in them and an extremely positive attitude. This philosophy is in line with that of Ed Hubbard (1994) who stated that people have the potential to deliver anything and succeed in any enterprise if they have the power, will and confidence to put in their best efforts (Hubbard, 1994).

Theoretical Background

Leadership Traits and Style

Success and development of companies depends on effective leadership which has a crucial impact on several aspects of an organization, its profitability, employees and the entire environment. Leadership is thus a management skill which is essential for the success of organizations and the achievement of the desired goals (Nair, 2009). The leadership style of managers varies according to personal temperament and the situational factors. The most appropriate leadership theory is that of Hersey and Blanchard’s (1969) which has gained immense popularity and has been integrated into leadership programs of numerous Fortune’s 500 companies Nair, 2009). According to the Situational Leadership Theory (SLT) of Hersey and Blanchard (1969) managerial leadership is based on subordinate readiness and the ability of leaders to effectively plan, organise, monitor and control the activities of subordinate employees.

Leadership style is primarily of four types including telling, selling, participating and delegating (Nair, 2009). ‘Telling’ style leadership is used by managers when subordinate employees display inability or unwillingness to perform job functions. In this case, specific instructions need to be given to employees and leaders are required to work in close collaboration with their subordinate employees (Nair, 2009). The ‘selling’ style leadership is used for employees who display willingness to perform their job functions but do not have substantial knowledge to go about it. In this case, effective leaders explain the job to subordinates (Nair, 2009). ‘Participating’ leadership style is used by leaders in case of employees who have the ability and expertise to perform particular job functions but need emotional support from the manager who then extends support and ideas to help employees achieve (Nair, 2009). Finally, the delegating style is used by managers for employees who have the capability and the willingness to perform job functions and the manager gives the employees autonomy as well as responsibility to accomplish the task independently (Nair, 2009). While participative management style is said to be the ideal form of leadership, managers should have the ability to adapt to situations and circumstances and apply the right form of leadership style to enable optimal results from subordinate employees.

Participative Leadership

I find that my father has all the vital effective management skills which are apparent from his ability and power to influence his subordinates and employees to work towards common organizational goals in order to achieve the desired objectives through their input (Islam and Ismail, 2008). Effective managers are those who “create a proper climate in which employees can develop to their fullest potential” and ensure their optimal participation (Steers and Porter, 1983). One of the ways in which effective managers can influence employees positively is through their participation and involvement in the decision making process. This paper aims to analyze the reasons why decision making is believed to be a fundamental aspect of management effectiveness. The paper also seeks to explore the meaning and significance of participative decision making, employee involvement, employee empowerment and employee ownership as vital aspects of effective management.

Living with my father for so many years, I have a clear idea of the manner in which he functions. However, it is only after I began reading the literature on leadership and management did I realise that my father is a transformational and participative leader. Transformational leadership grants individuals the power to make their followers perform to the best of their abilities by appealing to their values and emotions, so that the attitudes and beliefs of the individual favour the achievement of the desired goals and objectives (Bass, 1985). Having a clear vision and communicating it effectively to subordinates, is an essential leadership trait, which should be present in managers. As such, communication is an essential leadership trait, which enables managers to become successful leaders.

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Communication and Leadership

Communication is of crucial importance in leadership and the two have been “linked” together (Flauto, 1999). Since interactions and communication are an important and indispensable aspect of effective leadership, it is essential for leaders to comprehend their communication styles which impact their ability to collaborate so that they can sculpt their communication style to enable them to succeed in organizations (Wieand, Birchfield and Johnson, 2008). By addressing personal styles of communication and addressing their limitations and challenges identified in their styles, leaders would be able to develop the ability to realize the barriers to effective communication and enhance their collaborative techniques to produce productive outcomes within the organization they function (Wieand, Birchfield and Johnson, 2008). Living with my father for several years, I have noticed his style of communication as one which is direct, clear and precise. Nothing is left to assumptions and every detail is explained to the listener. Leadership theory asserts that a good communication style enables a leader to articulate the goals and vision in an effective way so that goals and objectives are accomplished.

Investigations of six firms regarding important leadership communication skills in managers reveal that responsive communication, managing people with positive regard, responsive communication and the presence of order and clarity in oral as well as written communication as crucial competency skills (Bigelow, 1996). Mark Sanborn (1996) identified six important skills or competencies to effectively handle people which include the basic communication skills of listening carefully and accurately and organizing appropriately, providing lucid information regarding tasks and activities and the ability to obtain “unbiased” data and knowledge. Strong and capable leaders with excellent conversational skills are a vital aspect of organizations, responsible for their growth, development and success.

Leaders impact the “climate” of an organization through effective communication and facilitate flexibility and responsibility which enables and motivates members and followers to work with a sense of commitment and purpose to the organization (Goleman, 2000). Climate of organizations helps in the encouragement of employees to work towards the common objectives and boost the morale of employees which directly positively impacts the productivity of the enterprise and helps in the enhancement of the organization.

Transformational Leadership

Leadership theory confirms that my father has essential traits which make him a transformational leader. Transformational leadership is stated to be a process in which individuals and people can transform themselves due to the positive impact of sentiments, principles, ethics, and values, all of which enable managers to assess the needs, motives and requirements of their followers, thereby treating them well, and in the process becoming excellent leaders (Northouse, 2004). Managers are required to possess the ability to lead and supervise optimally through training and mentoring people and evaluating them on the basis of their performances. I have seen my father deal with people in the most patient and understanding manner by constantly guiding them and leading them through difficult tasks and situations. This trait of my father’s had made him so popular among all his subordinates, that they would often come to him for help with their personal problems as well.

Transformational leadership is also defined as a process in which leaders and their followers motivate one another to function morally and ethically (Burns, 1978). Leadership is then said to be a process in which managers build and develop relationships with their followers through motivational responses and have the ability to transform the behaviours of these followers “as they meet responsiveness or resistance, in a ceaseless process of flow and counterflow” (Burns, 1978, pg. 440).

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While my father was an extremely kind and gentle man he is a strict disciplinarian too. Leadership theory confirms that managers who are effective leaders are also required to ensure discipline among the people they lead and counsel them when there appear to be any shortcomings in them (Sanborn, 1996). Effective leaders also bear the administrative responsibility of ensuring that time deadlines are met and goals are achieved as planned.

Leadership skills entail the ability to identify problems in the achievement of goals and solve them by making decisions only after the risks are evaluated (Sanborn, 1996). He displays great value for time and believes that all tasks should meet deadlines, failing which there is some punishment. This form of leadership is more transactional in nature since in this kind of leadership, the performance of the follower is monitored and remedial action is taken by the manager if the desired standards are not appropriately met (Bass, 1998). Transformational leadership is the more preferred form of leadership due to its focus on motivation and inspiration which provide the follower with a vision. Transformational leaders have the ability to maximise performances of followers’ constant motivation, guidance and charismatic influence by becoming role models for their followers (Shamir, House & Arthur, 1993).

Motivational Leadership

Leadership is said to be the process with which managers motivate members of their team and positively influence them to obtain the aims and goals of the organization (Kramer, 2008). However, different managers and leaders have distinct styles of encouraging and motivating their teams to deliver optimal results. As such, the term motivation has received great importance primarily due to its powers to influence those psychological processes which are responsible in initiating goal oriented voluntary activities through encouragement, direction and perseverance (Mitchell, 1982).

Motivation actually comes from the Latin word “movere” which literally means “to move” and refers to a “force” which removes boredom from monotonous tasks (Islam and Ismail, 2008). In business and working environments, motivation is highly regarded due to the power which controls behaviour so that the concerned performing individuals continue to persist in the undertaken task (Bartol and Martin, 1998). Effective leaders are those who can motivate their teams and subordinates to accomplish common goals and objectives through enhanced performances by stimulating and motivating them with a clear indication of focus in order that they channelize their energy in the right direction and achieve their goals.

Cross-Cultural Leadership

In the globalized world, it is vital for managers to understand the varied cultures within which firms choose to operate and function. Products and services in addition to management styles need to be adapted to suit the needs of the society and culture of the specific place. Since culture provides a sense of belonging to people and dictates how they should behave and what they should be doing, it impacts the behaviors, morale and attitudes of the people. It is therefore necessary for global organizations and managers to follow ten major tenets of leadership which are as follows (Harris and Moran, 1996).

  • Global leadership entails the capability of effective functioning in a global environments and being respectful of cultural diversity
  • Cross cultural communication entails the need to recognize self image and role in addition to personal values and expectations which are accustomed to the culture in which one operates
  • Cultural Sensitivity entails the assimilation of the general culture based on organizational and personal experiences
  • Acculturation entails effective adjustment and adaptation to specific cultures, in foreign lands or to a minority culture within one’s country.
  • Cultural Influences on management practices entail the understanding that management philosophies are developed rooted in a particular culture due to which they may fail to transfer to another
  • Effective Intercultural Performance entails the application of knowledge of cultural theory and insight to particular cross cultural organizations and situations which can have a positive impact on the performance and outcome of people.
  • Changing International Business Activities entails the management of interdependent business activities globally and culturally or regionally.
  • Cultural Synergy refers to the distinctions between people from different cultures and communities and how the similarities can be integrated to enrich the working system of the organization.
  • Work Culture refers to the application of the general traits of the people of a particular culture to learn the dynamics of their styles of functioning at a particular time and place.
  • Global Culture refers to the crucial knowledge and understanding that human culture is universal and a unique global culture is evolving with certain specific characteristics or features.

Leadership v/s Management

Leadership and management though interlinked, have certain distinctions. Not all managers are good leaders and effective leadership necessitates certain essential traits and qualities. Managers are required to perform duties like establishing goals, appropriate planning, organising, directing and execution of functions (Nair, 2009). Effective leadership involves setting of appropriate visions, goals and strategies for the organization and motivating employees to accomplish objectives (Nair, 2009). As such effective leadership is an ‘art’ which ensures that the management plans are executed and accomplished at the right time and in the right manner (Powell & Persico, 2003). Managing things optimally necessitates leadership qualities which makes leadership an essential trait in individuals.

Self – Reflection

My personal Leadership Proforma indicates that I have several attributes and qualities for becoming an effective leader. However, I leadership is a continuous process which should be improved and continually enhanced through experiences, training programs and reading literature on effective, influential and powerful leaders. Leaders should constantly improve their knowledge and apply it to relevant situations in life so that they improve and enhance steadily.

Personal Development Plan

Task based leadership entails that leaders are task oriented rather than relationship oriented which my scores confirm me to be. I intend to focus on three crucial principles in order to achieve core leadership skills, particularly in communication. I intend to expand my social circle with the objective of shedding my apprehensions and inhibitions with strangers so that I can learn to interact with them and communicate in positive ways.

According to the Leadership Attributes Proforma, I achieved a score of 15 affirms that I am a participative leader (3.2). My high ranking on the participative leadership scale indicates my abilities to engage in participative decision making behaviours which are essential for the success of an organisation. According to the Leadership Attributes Proforma, I achieved a score of 17 which confirms that I am an assertive leader (3.2). I believe that I am highly capable of becoming a transformational leader. I received a rating of 135 on the servant leadership questionnaire while others rated me with a total score of 144. Keeping the scores in view, I have devised a short, medium and long term plan for self improvement.

Short Term Plan

I plan to read several books especially the current literature available on the enhancement and development of leadership and management skills. For this, I aspire to take part in several academic activities. I plan to undertake new responsibilities by forming groups and teams to execute specific tasks which will provide me with the opportunity to assume new leadership responsibilities, in small groups. Most importantly, I wish to undertake work activities as these would provide me with the opportunity to communicate with strangers so that I will be able to improve upon my leadership and management skills.

Medium Term Plan

My medium term plan is to enhance my management skills by engaging in task based activities with medium to large groups of strangers. In order to achieve this, I plan to volunteer in social work activities. My immediate goals in these kinds of presentations are to garner feedback from the group by asking them to complete a short questionnaire to rate me on my leadership skills, which will enable me to understand the areas which need improvement. I also plan to engage in social activities like clubs and welfare so that my social base will improve which in turn will enhance my ability to interact with a wider audience. I also aim to become more open in my ways and will take interest in the activities of my organization, academic and social. I plan to establish and maintain contact with the people of my organization and attend speeches, seminars and presentations of all kinds so that I can witness other leaders at their best and learn from their finer attributes and communication skills.

Conclusion

My long term goal is to become a fine leader with communication and effective leadership competency, so that I can be an asset to the organization I serve. I aspire to achieve this through my short and medium term goals and by constantly upgrading myself with the current literature on leadership and communication skills. I consider books, journals and articles to be the best source of information; however, I aspire to put all my knowledge to practical use so that I can learn through the trial-and-error method. I see myself as a visionary leader in about a year from now and will put in the best efforts to achieve the success I have planned for myself.

References

Bartol, K.M. and Martin, D.C. (1998), Management, 3rd ed., McGraw-Hill, New York.

Bass, B. M. (1998). Transformational leadership: Industrial, military, and educational impact. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Bass, B. M. (1985). Leadership and performance beyond expectations. New York: Free Press.

Bigelow, J.D. (1996). Management skill teachers speak out. Journal of Management Education, 20(3), 298-318.

Hersey, P. & K. Blanchard. (1969). Life cycle theory of leadership: Is there a best style of leadership? Training and Development Journal, 33 (6), 26-34.

Burns, J. M. (1978). Leadership. New York: Harper & Row.

Flauto, F. J. (1999). Walking the talk: The relationship between leadership and communication competence. Journal of Leadership Studies, 6, 89-97.

Goleman, D. 2000. Leadership that gets results. Harvard Business Review on What makes a leader, Harvard Business School Press: Boston.

Harris, Philip. R., & Moran, T Robert. (1996). Managing cultural differences. Houston, TX: Gulf, 9-10,33,211-218.

Hersey, P., and Blanchard, K. H. (1969). Life Cycle Theory of Leadership. Training and Development Journal, 23(2), p. 2634.

Hubbard Edward L., (1994). Escape from the Box: The Wonder of Human Potential, ed. art Nicolet (West Chester, Pa: Praxis International, 58.

Islam, Rafikul, and Ahmad Zaki Hj. Ismail. (2008). Employee motivation: a Malaysian perspective. International Journal of Commerce and Management 18.4: 344(19).

Mitchell, T.R. (1982). Motivation: new direction for theory, research, and practices, Academy of Management Review, Vol. 7, pp. 80-8.

Nair, Shreekumar K. (2009). Leadership styles and effectiveness of managers in a public sector enterprise. Abhigyan 27.1: 1+.

Northouse, P. G. (2004). Leadership Theory and Practice (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Powell Colin & Persico, Joseph E My American Journey (New York: Ballantine Books, 2003), 255.

Sanborn, Mark (1996). Are you a leader or a manager? American Agent & Broker 68(12): 43-47.

Shamir, B., House, R.J. & Arthur, M.B. (1993). The motivational effects of charismatic leadership: A self concept based theory. Organization Science, 4: 1-17.

Steers, R.M. and Porter, L.W. (1983), Motivation and Work Behavior, 3rd ed., McGraw-Hill, New York, NY.

Wieand, P., Birchfield, J. and Johnson III, M.C., (2008) The New Leadership Challenge: Removing the Emotional Barriers to Sustainable Performance in a Flat World. Ivey Business Journal, Volume 72, Issue 4.

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