What is Leadership?


1.0 Objective: To explain the nature of leadership, the different types of leadership, the different models of leadership, the qualities of a good supervisor.

1.1 Leadership is the process of encouraging and helping others to work enthusiastically toward objectives… It is the human factor that helps a group to identify where it is going and then motivates it towards its goals. Without leadership, an organisation would only be a confusion of people and machines, just as orchestra without a conductor would only be musicians and instruments. The organisations require leadership to develop their precious assets to their fullest.

1.2 Leadership process is similar in effect to that of the secret chemical that turns the insect pupa into a butterfly with all the beauty that was the pupa’s potential. Leadership, then, transforms potential into reality. Tiny firms develop into giant corporations with the help of leaders. Leadership is the act that identifies, develops, and uses the potential that is in an organisation and its people.

2.0 The nature of Leadership

2.1 Leadership is an important part of management, but not all of it. Managers are rewired to plan and organise, but the primary role of a leader is to influence others to seek defined objectives enthusiastically. This means that strong leaders may be weak managers if their poor planning causes their group to move in wrong directions. Though they can get their group going, they just cannot get it going in directions that best serve organisational objectives.

2.2 Other combinations are also possible. A person can be a weak leader and still be a relatively effective manager, especially if one happens to be managing people who clearly understand their jobs and have strong drives to work. This set of circumstances is less likely, and therefore we expect excellent managers to have reasonably high leadership ability. Fortunately, this ability can be acquired through management training and work experience.

3.0 Leadership behaviour:

3.1 People have been concerned about the nature of leadership since the beginning of history. Early research tried to identify the traits that differed between leaders and non leaders or between successful and unsuccessful leaders. Some studies focused on personality factors like intelligence, ambition and aggressiveness, others examined physical characteristics like height, build, and attractiveness. In general, no consistent set of traits that are stable across groups and tasks has emerged despite continued attempts.

3.2 Much of the recent emphasis has shifted away from traits and moved towards identifying leadership behaviours. In this view, successful leadership depends on appropriate behaviours, skills and actions and not on personal traits. This is highly significant, since behaviours can be learned and changed, while traits are relatively fixed. The three different types of skills leaders use are technical, human, and conceptual. Although these skills are interrelated in practice, they can be considered separately.

3.3 Technical skills refer to a person’s knowledge ability in any type of process or technique. Examples are the skills learned by accountants, engineers etc. These skills are the distinguishing feature of job performance at the operating level, but as employees are promoted to leadership responsibilities, their technical skills become proportionately less important. They increasingly depend on the technical skills of their subordinates and in many cases have never practiced some of the technical skills that they supervise.

3.4 Human skill is the ability to work effectively with people and to build teamwork. No leader at any organisational level escapes the requirement for effective human skill. It is a major part of leadership behaviour .

3.5 Conceptual skill is the ability to think in terms of models, frameworks and broad relationships such as long-range plans. It becomes necessary in higher managerial jobs. Conceptual skills deal with ideas, while human skill concerns people and technical skills involve things.

3.6 Analysis of leadership skills helps to explain why outstanding department heads sometimes make poor vice presidents. They may not be using the proper mixture of skills required for the higher level job, particularly additional conceptual skill.

4.0 Situational aspects

4.1 Successful leadership requires behaviour that unites and stimulates followers towards defined objectives in specific situations. All three elements-leader, followers and situation- are variables that affect each other in determining appropriate leadership behaviour.

4.1.1 The interdependence of leader, follower and situation is illustrated by hard boiled superintendent who is still managing the way he was twenty years ago. He thinks that leadership resides in him alone, untouched by outside influences. He fails to realize that as his people and environment change, he needs to change his leadership style. Though his style of leadership was acceptable twenty years ago, it is not acceptable today.

4.1.2 It is evident that leadership is situational. In one situation, action A may be the best choice, but in the next situation action B would be the ideal choice. There can be no standard pattern among leaders since this would suppress creativity and innovations. Sometimes leaders must resist the temptation to be visible in a situation. Even though good leadership involves a set of behaviours, it should not be confused with mere activity when it is not needed. Aggressiveness and constant interaction with others will not guarantee good leadership. At times the appropriate leadership action is to stay in the background keeping pressures off the group to keep quiet so that others may talk, to be calm in times of uproar, to hesitate and to delay decisions. At other times a leader must be more directive and controlling.

5.0 Leaders as followers

5.1 With few exceptions, leaders are also followers. They nearly report to someone else. Leaders must be able to wear both hats gracefully, to be able to relate both upward and downward. They need validation from higher authority just as much as they need support from followers. In formal organisations of several levels, the ability to follow is one of the first requirements for good leadership. It is the key that unlocks the door to leadership opportunities and keeps the leader in balance with the rest of the organisation.

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