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What is Leadership? Definition, Nature , Style & More

What is Leadership? Definition, Nature , Style & More

by Team Businesspedia

What is Leadership ?

Leadership is the interpersonal influence exercised in a situation and directed through the communication process, towards the attainment of a specialized goal or goals.

Leadership involves:

  1. establishing a clear vision,
  2. sharing that vision with others so that they will follow willingly,
  3. providing the information, knowledge and methods to realize that vision, and
  4. Co-ordinating and balancing the conflicting interests of all members and stakeholders.

Nature of Leadership

There are two main approaches to leadership—traitist and situationist. In the early times leadership was considered to originate from the personal qualities of the leader and insufficient attention was given to the contribution of the group structure and situation.

The early studies focused their attention on certain traits to compare leaders with non-leaders. Later studies, however, revealed the fallacy of the traitist approach. Gibb remarked that the leader traits are relative to a specific social situation and are not exhibited in isolation.

He pointed out that attempts to find a consistent pattern of traits that characterize leaders had failed and said that the attributes of leadership are any or all of those personality characteristics that in any particular situation make it possible for a person either to contribute to achievement of a group, goal or to be seen as doing so by other group members. The person who becomes a leader surpasses others in some qualities required by the goal in the particular situation.

The situationist approach to leadership provides a corrective to the traitist approach which regarded leaders as uniquely superior individuals who would lead in whatever situation or time they might find themselves. 

The situationist approach emphasizes that leadership is specific to a specific situation. It is a way of behaving exhibited by individuals in differing degrees in different situations. A leader in one group is not necessarily a leader in another. A leader in the class may not be a leader in the playground.

Though leadership may be considered as behaviour specific to a given situation, yet it does not mean that there is no generality of traits on the basis of which certain persons may be rated leaders. Carter noted correctly that if leadership is absolutely specific to a given situation then it cannot be a subject of scientific analysis and generalization.

It may also be mentioned that the leader is necessarily a part of a group and leadership is status and role in that group. It is obvious that leadership can occur only in relation to other people. No one can be a leader all by himself. The relationships which the leader bears to other individuals are status and role relationships. He is part of the group structure and as such he carries on reciprocal relationship with other members of the group.

In sum,

  • Leadership is not a personality trait, it is a way of relating oneself to others. Leadership accrues to those who take account of others in ways that facilitate group life and group cohesion. In other words, leadership is functional in two senses: it is a function of inter-personal relations it has a function in group life.
  • Leadership is situational; who the leaders are depends upon the concrete circumstances. A leader in one group is not necessarily a leader in another.

Styles of Leadership

What is Leadership? Definition, Nature , Style & More

1. Autocratic or Authoritarian leadership

An autocratic leader centralizes power and decision-making in himself. He gives orders, assigns tasks and duties without consulting the employees. The leader takes full authority and assumes full responsibility.

Autocratic leadership is negative, based on threats and punishment. Subordinates act as he directs. He neither cares for their opinions nor permits them to influence the decision. He believes that because of his authority he alone can decide what is best in a given situation.

Autocratic leadership is based upon close supervision, clear-cut direction and commanding order of the superior. It facilitates quick decisions, prompt action and unity of direction. It depends on a lesser degree of delegation. But too much use of authority might result in strikes and industrial disputes. It is likely to produce frustration and retard the growth of the capacity of employees.

The employees work as hard as is necessary to avoid punishment. They will thus produce the minimum which will escape punishment.

This leadership style is less likely to be effective because

  • The new generation is more independent and less submissive and not amenable to rigid control.
  • People look for ego satisfactions from their jobs.
  • Revolution of rising expectations changed the attitude of the people.

Autocratic leadership may be divided into three classes:

  • The hard-boiled autocrat who relies mainly on negative influences uses the force of fear and punishment in directing his subordinates towards the organisational goals. This is likely to result in employees becoming resentful.
  • The benevolent autocrat who relies mainly on positive influences uses the reward and incentives in directing his subordinates towards the organisational goals. By using praise and pats on the back he secures the loyalty of subordinates who accept his decisions.
  • The manipulative autocrat who makes the employees feels that they are participating in decisionmaking though the manager himself has taken the decision. McGregor labels this style as Theory X.

2. Democratic or Participative leadership

Participative or democratic leaders decentralise authority. It is characterised by consultation with the subordinates and their participation in the formulation of plans and policies. He encourages participation in decision-making.

He leads the subordinates mainly through persuasion and example rather than fear and force. Sometimes the leader serves as a moderator of the ideas and suggestions from his group. McGregor labels this style as Theory Y.

Taylor’s scientific management was based on the inability of the ordinary employees to make effective decisions about their work. Hence the decision-making power was vested with the management. But recent studies indicate the need for participation by subordinates. The modern trend favours sharing the responsibility with the employees.

This will foster enthusiasm in them. The employees feel that management is interested in them as well as in their ideas and suggestions. They will, therefore, place their suggestions for improvement.

Advantages for democratic leadership are as follows: (i) higher motivation and improved morale; (ii) increased co-operation with the management; (iii) improved job performance; (iv) reduction of grievances and (v) reduction of absenteeism and employee turnover.

3. The Laissez-faire or Free-rein leadership

Free-rein leaders avoid power and responsibility. The laissez-faire or non-interfering type of leader passes on the responsibility for decision-making to his subordinates and takes a minimum of initiative in administration. He gives no direction and allows the group to establish its own goals and work out its own problems.

The leader plays only a minor role. His idea is that each member of the group when left to himself will put forth his best effort and the maximum results can be achieved in this way. The leader acts as an umpire. But as no direction or control is exercised over the people, the organisation is likely to flounder.

Specific leadership styles

1. Transactional Leadership

This style starts with the idea that team members agree to obey their leader when they accept a job. The “transaction” usually involves the organization paying team members in return for their effort and compliance on a short-term task. The leader has a right to “punish” team members if their work doesn’t meet an appropriate standard.

Transactional leadership is present in many business leadership situations, and it does offer some benefits. For example, it clarifies everyone’s roles and responsibilities. And, because transactional leadership judges team members on performance, people who are ambitious or who are motivated by external rewards – including compensation – often thrive.

The downside of this style is that, on its own, it can be chilling and amoral, and it can lead to high staff turnover. It also has serious limitations for knowledge-based or creative work.

As a result, team members can often do little to improve their job satisfaction.

2. Transformational Leader

A transformational leader is a type of person in which the leader is not limited by his or her followers’ perception. The main objective is to work to change or transform his or her followers’ needs and redirect their thinking. Leaders that follow the transformation style of leading, challenge and inspire their followers with a sense of purpose and excitement. They also create a vision of what they aspire to be, and communicate this idea to others (their followers). According to Schultz and Schultz, there are three identified characteristics of a transformational leader:

  • Charismatic leadership has a broad knowledge of field, has a self-promoting personality, high/great energy level, and willing to take risk and use irregular strategies in order to stimulate their followers to think independently
  • Individualized consideration
  • Intellectual stimulation

The transformational leadership style depends on high levels of communication from management to meet goals. Leaders motivate employees and enhance productivity and efficiency through communication and high visibility. This style of leadership requires the involvement of management to meet goals. Leaders focus on the big picture within an organization and delegate smaller tasks to the team to accomplish goals.

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