(by Peter G. Northouse)
Table of contents
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The subject of leadership is universal. However, its nature is still a challenge to its practitioners and even to scholars. The various definitions of leadership hinges on the process of influencing that supports group goals and lead them to their fulfillments. The book specifically defined leadership as a process wherein an individual influences others in order to fulfill its common goals. The book recognizes that both leaders and followers are important parts of the leadership process. Hence, it aims to tackle all the issues confronting both of them. The book also suggests that the issues surrounding them should be analyzed in a contextual manner.
Before, many studies have focused on the subject of leadership as a “trait.” This pertains to the special characteristics (often regarded as innate or inborn) of certain individuals which make them leaders. While it suggests that leadership is a process which can be learned by any individual, it also suggests that leadership is only available to those people which possess the said qualities.
There are two kinds of leadership – the assigned and the emergent. The assigned is based on one’s title or position while the emergent type is based on one’s action and how he acquires support from his/her role/s. Power is another concept which is always related to leadership. Power is defined by the book as a potential to influence and there are two kinds of power, the personal and the positional. Leadership and coercion are different while leadership and management are overlapping topics. While leadership is concerned with adopting and changing, management is more on typical activities of staffing, planning, etc.
Trait approach suggests that there are some people who are born to rule or lead. They have special traits which make them become good leaders. Hence, it is focused on defining the special traits of the leaders. However, in the mid 20th century, this theoretical approach to defining leadership was changes. It became more focused on the impact of the situations and of followers on leadership. Researches began to explore the context of a leader vis a vis his environment. Some of the most commonly identified leadership traits include the following: extraversion, conscientiousness, openness, low neuroticism, and agreeableness.
The practical feature of the trait approach is that it uses personality assessment instruments to identify those who have the ascribed traits for a leader. It also enables leaders or managers to change their styles since they become more aware of the traits they need to imbibe to be more effective.
While this approach is appealing and extensive, it also has some setbacks. Firstly, it does not carry a definitive set of traits ascribed to a leader. It fails to account the context of leadership. The approach is also subjective since the listed traits are not grounded on hard, solid researches. This approach also fails to link the traits of the leaders with the results of the group and their performance. This is also not very useful for training and development purposes.
The skills approach is centered on the leader and it highlights the competencies of the leaders. Katz and Mumford best feature this approach through their three-skill approach. (Northouse, 2007) In this approach, effective leaders are dependent on three most important skills – human, technical and conceptual skills. The importance of these skills varies in the management levels. Conceptual and human skills are highly important for upper management. In lower management, technical skills are more important. In the 1990’s, the approach focused more on the knowledge and skills of the leaders. These include problem solving skills, social judgment skills, and knowledge. The leader’s capabilities are also influenced by his experience/s and his environment.
The strength of this approach lies in its emphasis on the importance of the leader’s abilities. Effective leadership is often equated with the leader’s skills. It also describes leadership that is open to all individuals, unlike the traits approach which ascribe certain characteristics to special individuals. On the negative side, this approach seems to be more extensive than the breadth of leadership. It is also weak in its predictive value. It does not full relate a person’s capabilities to his effective leadership performance. It is also weak in its general application (since it was modeled out of data from military men).
The style approach hinges on the actions of the leaders, more than who they are. It notes that leaders work on two behavioral aspects: task behaviors and relationship behaviors. The central emphasis of the style approach is how it combines these two behaviors to influence others. Specifically, the Blake and Mouton model of this approach describe leadership behaviors along the lines of their concern for others and their concern for people. How they combine these orientations results in five main leadership styles: authority-compliance, country club management, impoverished management, middle of the road management, and team management.
The strengths of the style approach include its broadened scope of leadership research which includes the study of the leaders’ behaviors rather than their traits or characteristics. It is also a very reliable approach because it is backed by various studies and researches. This is also very valuable because it underscores the two essential dimensions of leadership – tasks and relationships. Meanwhile, it has several setbacks. For instance, researches have a hard time relating the behaviors of the leaders with the outcomes such as group morale, job satisfaction and productivity. There is also no universal set of leadership behaviors that would consistently result in effective leadership. It is also very high style and highly relational.
In general, the style approach is not a very fine theory in leadership which gives a fully organized set of prescribed leadership behaviors. Rather, it provides an important framework for assessing leadership in a broad manner in terms of tasks and relationships.
This is defined as a prescriptive approach to leadership because it suggests how leaders can become effective in many different types of organizational settings, with various organizational tasks. Its model prescribes how a leader should behave based on the requirements of a given situation. This approach categorizes four leadership styles: high directive – low supportive, high directive – high supportive, low directive – high supportive and low directive – low supportive. It describes how each of these four categories applies to followers who work on different levels of development such as low in competence and high in commitment, moderately competent and low in commitment, moderately competent but lacking in commitment, and a great deal of competence and a high degree of commitment.
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This approach defines an effective leader as someone who can precisely diagnose the development level of his followers and then apply the leadership category which works best in a given task situation. Its strengths include: its standard for training leaders, practicality; clear set of prescriptions of how leaders should act; and promotion of flexibility and adaptation. It is also being criticized for its limitations. It does not have a strong body of research to support it. It is also not clear on how the followers move from one level of development to another. The demographic make-up of the followers is also not being carefully considered. It also does not give guidelines for how leaders can use the said approach in group contexts.
This approach represents the shift in focus on leadership studies from the leader in focus to that of a leader in the context of a situation where he works. It is some sort of a leader-match theory which stresses the vitality of matching a leader’s style with the requirements of the situation.
In measuring leadership style, the Least Preferred Coworker (LPC) scale is used. This is like a personality test which delineates people who are more task-oriented from those who are socio-dependent and those who are motivated by their relationships.
To measure the situations, there is an assessment of three variables: leader-member relation, task structure and position power. All in all, these variables define the style of leadership that is going to be most successful. Generally, the contingency theory shows that low LPCs are effective in extreme situations and that high level of LPCs are more useful in moderately favored situations.
Its strengths include its research support as it is backed by various studies and data. Also, it is predictive of leadership effectiveness. It enables leaders to be effective in situations but not in all situations. On the contrary, this theory is highly criticized for its inadequate explanation of the link between styles and situations. It is also heavily reliant on the LPC scale. This is also not very much applicable in situation engineering. In general, this theory has made breakthroughs in our understanding of the leadership process.
The Path Goal Theory intends to motivate subordinates to be more motivated, effective and productive in their work. Its basic principles are derived from expectancy theory which shows that employees tend to be motivated when they think their efforts are to be rewarded ad that they feel competent in their work. The leader is able to support the subordinates by applying the type of leadership which the subordinate seems to miss (either directive, participative, supportive, achievement oriented types of leadership). This theory gives a large set of predictions of how leaders’ style interacts with the needs of the subordinates and the nature of the work that needs to be done.
Its three main strengths are: providing a theoretical framework in indicating how various types of leadership styles such as directive, participative, etc. Affect the productivity and motivation of employees. It also integrates the motivational element of expectancy theory. Lastly, it gives a practical model which emphasizes the ways in which leaders help subordinates.
This theory, however, is very difficult to use in an organizational setting because it overcomes so many interrelated groups of assumptions. The claims of the theory are not also fully supported by research. It does not directly show how the leaders’ behaviors influence the motivation of the subordinates. Finally, this theory is very leader focused and it fails to recognize the transactional nature of leadership.
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