Leadership is the ability of an individual, or a clique, to persuade others to embrace a shared goal and organise them to achieve that objective. People’s aims and desires, even their identities, are transformed by effective leadership, which substitutes self-centered behaviour with group-oriented behaviour. Leadership is not the exercise of power over others to force them to obey directives and bend to one’s will through rewards and punishments.
Despite the fact that leadership is a collaborative process (leaders need followers), leadership research has a long history of focusing solely on the characteristics of outstanding leaders. The concept that leaders are born rather than made is no longer popular, as research has failed to uncover “great leader” DNA. However, the thought that certain people have dispositions that predisposition them to lead well in all settings, regardless of how they got them, has sparked a lot of research. Extraversion, Openness to Experience, and Conscientiousness are three of the Big Five personality qualities linked to effective leadership, according to a thorough review published in 2002. Overall, though, people’s personalities make it difficult to distinguish between effective and ineffective leaders.
Differing scenarios and group activities, on the other hand, may necessitate different emphasis on the work or on relationships, in which case the relative success of task-oriented and relationship-oriented leaders may be dependent on the leadership situation’s characteristics. Fred Fiedler’s contingency theory of leadership, which was quite popular in the 1970s, represented this approach; one strength of this theory was that Fielder had an innovative way to measure both leadership styles (the least-preferred coworker scale) and describe how well structured situations were. Unless the group work was very poorly planned or very well structured, relationship-oriented leadership was most effective.
Normative decision theory is another interactionist viewpoint. Leaders can make decisions in one of three ways: autocratically (no subordinate input is sought), consultatively (subordinate opinion is solicited but the leader retains final decision-making authority), or as a true group decision (leader and subordinates are equal partners in shared decision making). The relative effectiveness of these tactics is determined by the quality of the leader-subordinate relationship as well as the task clarity and organisation. If the leader-subordinate connections are good and the work is adequately planned, autocratic leadership can be quick and effective. Consultative leadership is greatest when the task is unclear, and group decision-making is best when leader-subordinate relations are strained.
Another approach to think of leadership is as a transaction between leaders and followers: the leader performs something that benefits the followers, and the followers enable the leader to lead. The term idiosyncrasy credit was coined by Eric Hollander to describe a transaction in which leaders who initially comply to group norms and thereby serve the group well are then rewarded by the group by being allowed to be eccentric and innovative—key characteristics of effective leadership.
Leader-member exchange (LMX) theory is a significant transactional leadership theory. Because leaders must relate to a large number of subordinates, they differentiate among them and develop different LMX relationships with each one. The quality of these relationships ranges from high-quality LMX relationships based on mutual trust, respect, and obligation to low-quality LMX relationships based on the formal employment contract between the leader and the subordinate (low-quality relationships). Effective leadership is built on the formation of high-quality LMX relationships with as many subordinates as possible; these relationships energise and bind followers to the organisation.
Leaders are transformational when they are imaginative and can motivate followers to buy into and implement their new vision for the group. Transformational leadership is defined by (a) paying close attention to the needs, abilities, and aspirations of followers, (b) questioning followers’ core thinking, assumptions, and habits, and (c) using charisma and inspiration. Charisma is central to transformational leadership (there is a lot of talk about charismatic or visionary leaders and leadership), which has sparked a debate among scholars about (a) whether this is a return to older personality perspectives on leadership, and (b) how to distinguish between charisma in the service of evil (Slobodan Milosevic) and charisma in the service of good (Martin Luther King, Jr.) (Nelson Mandela).
People have stereotypical expectations (schemas) about the traits an effective leader should have in general, or in specific leadership contexts, according to leader categorization theory. When a person categorises someone as a leader, the relevant leadership schema is automatically engaged; the better the match between the leader’s real traits and the leadership schema, the more favourable the person’s evaluations of the leader and his or her leadership are.
Stereotypical expectations may have two major effects on leadership. According to status characteristics theory, a person’s evaluations of effective leadership in a task-oriented group are based on whether he or she believes the leader has the attributes to perform the group task, known as specific status characteristics, and whether the leader is a member of a high-status group in society, known as diffuse status characteristics.
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