Enterprise and Small Business Principles

Theories of leadership

Leadership theories are commonly grouped into four broad categories, as follows.

15.4.1 Theories of leadership traits

This is one of the earliest approaches to the study of leadership. It assumes that leaders have certain personal characteristics such as sociability, persistence, initiative, know­how, self-confidence, perception/insight, cooperativeness, popularity, adaptability, good communication skills, etc. While it has been acknowledged that such traits are import­ant, over the years it has become recognised that ‘a person does not become a leader

by virtue of the possession of some combination of traits, but by patterns of personal characteristics, activities and goals of the followers’ (Stogdill, 1948: 64). Leadership is actually invested in a person by her followers based, as Wickens (1999) suggests, on

their respect for her ability, their trust in her, their sharing of her goals and whether or

not they are inspired by her.

15.4.2 Theories of leadership style

This is one of the most widely researched aspects of leadership. Generally, attention has focused on the emphasis that the leader places on the task and the people under­taking it. Essentially there is thought to be a continuum with concern for production at one end and concern for people at the other. Using this concept, Tannenbaum and Schmidt (1973) have suggested that leaders can be classified as:

■ autocratic - they dictate what they want;

■ persuasive - they sell their ideas;

■ consultative/participative - they discuss with the team members before reaching a decision;

■ democratic - they involve the team members in both the discussion and the decision.

How the leader manages these determines the kind of organisational climate that is created. However, it is generally accepted that the most effective leaders are open, can­did and employee-centred, but the style of leadership depends on a range of situational factors.

15.4.3 Situational theories

These relate to the group environment, its physical setting, the size of the group, its technical abilities, the authority given to the leader by his superiors, etc. Perhaps the greatest attention has been focused on the role of communication in the group. The person at the centre of the communication system is often seen as the leader since group members come to him for information.

15.4.4 Integrative theories

These are the most comprehensive and realistic but least precise or conclusive. They embrace a wide variety of variables and from them it is possible to ascertain that the successful leader is aware of the great many forces affecting her effectiveness and is able to determine the most important forces operating at any particular time. Possibly two of the most significant contributions to this field are Fiedler’s (1967) contingency theory and the work of Tannenbaum and Schmidt (1973), which identifies the factors or forces a leader needs to consider when deciding how to lead. The former suggests that the leader’s performance can be improved by changing either her personality and motivation pattern or the favourableness of her situation. In contrast, the latter sug­gests that the way a leader should lead is decided by the forces invested in her (personal value system, confidence in her subordinates, own leadership inclinations, own feelings of security), her subordinates (their need for independence, their willingness to assume responsibility, their tolerance of ambiguity, their interest, their understanding of the group’s goals and objectives, their knowledge and experience, their expectations with respect to the decision-making process) and the situation (the type of organisation, the effectiveness of the group, the problem and the urgency).

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