Leadership Theories and Traits of Leaders

According to Nathan F. Iannone, leadership can be defined as the art of influencing, directing, guiding, and controlling others in such a way as to obtain their willing obedience, confidence, respect and loyal cooperation in accomplishment of an objective. Leaders are not born…sure there are some gifts-traits-attributes, natural endowments that affect relative abilities…but they are not born, they are made.

Any reasonably intelligent person with enough forcefulness to develop his/her ability to inspire others to follow him can earn leadership status. Remember that we have both formal and informal leaders…. Being a Captain /Sergeant doesn’t make you a leader!

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Booher and Watson refer to classic leadership theory because it describes an approach to understanding leadership that by and large is out of style. Nonetheless it is clear that one can learn a great deal by studying the important personal ingredients in the leadership equation.

Studying the traits of great leaders became unpopular because it was and is associated with the “great man” theory of leadership. This approach was espoused in the 19th. and early 20th. Centuries, and asserted the leadership qualities are largely inherited. This was called “trait theory.” Researchers such as Mann and Stodgill found no consistent correlate between particular traits and leadership.

Later research, particularly more recent and more sophisticated work has found a consistent and strong relationship between certain traits and leadership. Possessing these core traits simply makes it more likely that a person will take the appropriate action leading to leadership success.

What is the nature of leadership, leadership is an art! As with any form of artistic expression, painting, music, leadership is an art form in that it:

  • Is an expression of the individual within the social and environmental context.
  • Reflects the individual’s personality.
  • Can be easier to demonstrate and develop when one has a talent for it.
  • Can be learned-you may have a talent for it, you may not, either way, anyone can still become an effective leader.
  • Is greatly enhanced through a disciplined regimen of learning and feedback.

Through science, we can study the elements of leadership and provide valuable understanding into its nature. This enables us to determine where to focus our leadership skills and abilities, as well as measure to some extent, our effectiveness. However, the act of leading itself is largely unscientific and is far more akin to practicing an art form than studying scientific variables.

Understanding both facets of leadership is crucial to your development as a leader. For you as a leader, remember that leadership is an art; your leadership is always a work in progress. Many people believe that there is one type of leadership that is most effective, and if they can only develop that style, they would be effective as a leader. Some leaders have one style, and honestly believe that it is best to stick with what comes naturally. As with any art form, one has a number of tools at one’s disposal.

In leadership, these tools are different leadership styles. Although certain situations call for specific styles, most situations call for a combination of styles.

The four general styles of leadership are: Autocratic also known as authoritarian leadership is rule by authority. As a manager or supervisor, a person is endowed with a level of authority, which is expected to be obeyed. An autocratic leader rests on this fact, expecting his subordinates to comply.

Participative leadership is often referred to as democratic although democratic processes (voting etc.) need not be present to constitute participative leadership. Laissez-faire leadership (really non-leadership) is a hands off approach. If the group’s goals are being accomplished under the management of a LF leader, it is because the group members are self-motivated, demonstrate effective teamwork, and exhibit expertise in their field.

Variable leadership, a precursor to “situational leadership” draws from a combination of the above styles. Whether this form of leadership is effective depends on how each style is applied at what time.

The styles of leadership help us understand how people go about practicing the art, the question how does our individual traits affect our ability to do so? Traits can be described as our general orientation (paradigm) toward people and things. Regrettably we tend to view ourselves, as the way people ought to be. That is problematic. This clouds our judgment of ourselves and others, hindering our ability to ascertain weaknesses, and objectively evaluate and develop upon our strengths.

Traits are such a fundamental aspect of our personalities that they lead us to display consistent behavior across different situations. (Each of us can be described in terms of our personal traits.) There are certain traits that are associated with effective leadership. They are so critical, yet difficult to pinpoint, that for centuries, volumes have been written in an effort to define and describe them. They are the critical foundation of successful leadership. These traits distinguish leaders from non-leaders.

Integrity of character is the foundation of lasting and effective leadership. Kouzes and Posner assert, “Honesty is absolutely essential to leadership. After all, if we are willing to follow someone whether it is into battle or into the boardroom, we want first to assure ourselves that the person is worthy of our trust. We want to be fully confident in the integrity of our leaders.”

Professional competence includes a solid grasp of the methods, processes, procedures, and techniques of a leaders organization. This competence can be everything from “rocket science to parking tickets,” without it leaders quickly lose the respect of their followers and find it difficult to make well-informed decisions. Certainly it is critical that given the pace of law enforcement, leaders are capable of making intelligent, quick strategies that solve problems. Make good decisions or you wont be around long as a boss. Genius is not required, above average intelligence is.

Typically we imagine leaders doing only exciting things, letting others do the real work. This mental frame ignores the hard reality that being the boss isn’t easy. High levels of energy are needed physical vitality helps leaders overcome the often unrelenting demands of leadership. Drive to excel, high desire for achievement, outstanding leaders drive themselves and their organizations to complete challenging assignments and achieve extraordinary results.

Carl Watson and Carl Chimers (UC-Santa Cruz) tell us that confident leaders are more successful than ones who lack confidence. Self-confidence is important because confident leaders remain calm under pressure, persist doggedly in the face of adversity, and act boldly and confidently which helps encourage and embolden followers. A person riddled with self-doubt may not be able to act effectively under pressure or command respect of followers. “By demonstrating grace under pressure, the best leaders inspire those around them to stay calm and act intelligently.”

People who lack emotional stability are more prone to moodiness, angry outbursts, and inconsistent behavior. This undermines their relationships with followers, peers, and superiors. Highly successful leaders, on the other hand, remain even-tempered and are calm, confident and predictable during a crisis.

Lastly, outstanding leaders have a strong desire to lead” they want to be in charge. To fulfill this desire they are more willing to accept responsibility and subsequently take decisive action. Leaders have a strong desire to have influence and impact others. In short, they accrue and use power. Power can be used pro-socially (responsibly) and it can be used capriciously. The fact that power can be abused should not blind us to the fact that it is necessary for organizations to function. Excellent leaders use their power to build up their organizations, develop their people, and make them successful.

Let us talk about leadership principles that guide people toward the actions that lead to successful leadership. If traits are the necessary preconditions for leadership; then principled actions are the fulfillment of the promise. Moral courage is not an all or nothing proposition. Exceptional leaders consistently exhibit the unwavering courage of their convictions, often refusing to follow the easy path because it violates a moral standard. To become an effective leader, one must establish or adopt clearly defined moral standards, then adhere to then relentlessly.

To develop their followers, you must know them well. Think how people are constantly changing…makes your job even more difficult. Managers (as opposed to leaders) restrict information to their people as a method of maintaining control and importance to the team. Leaders empower their people with information so that the entire team, and through this leader, can excel. Keeping people informed also provides feedback and points of reference to monitor success.

Human beings have a tendency to form cliques. Although this natural tendency has advantages, its drawbacks tend to inhibit effective teamwork. The most significant way this happens is by stifling contrary points of view. Although we normally think that we want total agreement during all stages of a project, in reality contrary points of view provide more choice and help avoid unethical decision-making.

Exceptional leaders demonstrate loyalty not only to their organization, but also to their followers. Being loyal means that they deeply consider what is best for others, despite what you may want or need for yourself. Do, as I say, not as I do is the best way to fail in leadership. Remember the old cliché: Actions speak louder than words, people can be inspired by words, but they follow actions.

Self-knowledge is critical for people to develop and grow in every aspect of our lives, and that includes leadership skills. By being familiar with our strengths and limitations, we are able to use our strengths to best advantage and create a plan to expand the abilities we find limited. Alternately, we can surround ourselves with people who compensate for our limitations. Whatever approach we eventually take, self-knowledge is the first critical step.

Johari’s Window is a concept used by self-development trainers. It describes degrees of knowledge about the self in two dimensions,

  • that which is known/unknown to the self
  • that which is known/unknown to others.

Using these categories produces a two by two matrix of potential circumstances of knowledge regarding the self. The first quadrant, public knowledge describes things about us that we are aware of and so are others. The second quadrant, blind knowledge, can be what derails us from success as a leader.

This quadrant describes things about us that others are aware of and that we are not; thus, we are blind to our true natures. Often, it is as simple as thinking we are better at something than we really are. Because this is such a large problem in organizations, many companies in private business have instituted multi-rater (360 degree) feedback processes. These allow superior, subordinates, and peers. To arte how effective leaders are on a variety of dimensions (usually based on a validated competency profile). Multi-rater feedback provides a great opportunity for leaders to reduce their blind spots.

The third quadrant describes that which is neither known to us that we hide or keep private from others. Keeping things private is both expected and necessary. Lets talk about how all these traits and principles fit together. First, we propose that integrity of character and moral courage are the foundation or basis of principled leadership. After the foundation of integrity and courage, we turn to what is called “e-cubed” which describes some leadership fundamentals.

Extraordinary leaders enable their followers. That is, they set them up for success by ensuring that they have the right experiences, skills and resources. They also actively remove obstacles or barriers to success. In order to enable their people, leaders must be professionally competent, have the smarts to make right decisions, and have a through knowledge of the strengths, limitations, and preferences of their followers.

Extraordinary leaders empower their followers. In other words they share information, power, and authority to make decisions and take action. How do these traits and principles come into this? Emotionally stable leaders do not allow their strong desire to lead to lure them into hoarding power, acting capriciously, developing cliques or playing favorites. These leaders understand that sharing information and power leads to better performance and more motivated followers.

Extraordinary leaders energize their followers. They excite their followers by challenging them to met difficult goals, expressing confidence in their ability to meet the goal, and setting the example by their own enthusiasm, energy, and hard work toward the goal. If people continue to write about your effective leadership 50 years after your death, that’s a pretty good sign that you were a great leader. For everyone else, it’s very difficult to tell.

Some of us, whom have adoring followers, have failing organizations. Some of us who have successful organizations have burnt out and bitter followers. Few of us have both for a sustained period of time. When we do, it is easy to become with our leadership qualities. We suggest we should seek to raise our art to an even higher form, constantly seeking to become, and help others become, better leaders. With this view, we never become so enamored with ourselves that we say, “Yeah, I am a great leader.” Instead, one recognizes that many factors contribute to leadership success, No small measure of our success is due the efforts, smarts, and tenacity of our followers. And, as the environment in which we do business change, so too must our leadership skills grow and expand.

People from top to bottom in most organizations exercise leadership. It does not require charisma; it is not mystical or mysterious. Leadership is the process of giving meaningful direction to collective efforts.

  • Willing support and cooperation.
  • Planning vs. Setting a Direction
  • Organizing and staffing vs.. Aligning People
  • Controlling and problem Solving vs. Motivating People.
  • Articulating a Compelling Vision.

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Leadership Theories and Traits of Leaders. (2018, Jul 03). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/leadership-theory-essay/