Is ‘effective’ leadership a function of individual leader excellence, or other situational factors?

Leadership is a topic that has been broadly debated and immensely research throughout the years, as many people believe that it is important elements of achieving effectiveness. However, we are still far from understanding it in a reality of what makes a good leader. The leader is someone who has the ability to influence, to have a follower and ability to give guidance or set direction to get someone else to do something by inspiring them. It is a process of organising with greater emphasise on inspiring, listening and facilitating rather than just instructing. While on the other hand, a manager is someone who needed to achieve organizational goals through a function such as forecasting, organizing, coordinating and monitoring the power given to authority that must be obeyed by their subordinates. It is more to bureaucratic and command-and-control approach to regulating the allocation of a workflow. The topics of leadership are widely being engaged with management because both have the same mission of directing people towards certain goals. Because of that, the meaning of leader and manager are being treated as virtually interchangeable, however, these two words actually describe a different concept. (Knights & Willmott, 2012) Early leadership theories perceived that leadership is broadly on the attribute of the individual (trait) and focus more on leaders and followers while the later theories look more on the variable such as situational factors and level of skills. There is no definitive answer to which one is the best style of leadership but there is a number of approaches that has been used to understand and explain in depth about leadership such as traits approach, the behavioural approach, the situational approach and contingency approach. The traits approach sees leadership with some sets of character. An alternative to this approach is a behavioural approach that defines leadership by the way how the leaders act. This approach suggests determining what good leaders do to train people to be a good leader. Both of approach see leadership as a function of individual leader excellent. On the other hand, the necessity of leadership is being questioned in the situational approach. It seeks to determine when leaders are needed and factor that can be an alternate for leadership. Contingency approach brings behavioural approach and situational approach together. For instance, it would be hard to determine what makes a good leader but it is possible to claim good leadership in certain situation such as emergency situation.
The first major approach is the trait approach. This approach is based on series of character and personality trait that is said to be possessed by the effective leaders. This is the oldest approach to leadership. Recent researchers have suggested some sets of traits that are associated with leadership such as adaptability, intelligence, alertness, creativity and originality, extraversion, stability and flexibility. The basic category that could be associated with leadership is physical, social background, intelligence and ability, personality and social. If these characteristics are being analysed and deliberated, it should be possible to know what makes a good leader. Certain types of traits can make leaders more effective. For example, Jeff Bezos, the CEO of who was known as someone who has the ability to see forward. Advantageously, this approach gives the idea to the society that leaders are set apart from the rest of the world. This serves as a benchmark to identify suitable leaders for some organizations or bodies. No one could actually pinpoint what makes good leadership but effective leaders have some distinction from typical followers in displaying a greater level of these characteristics overall. The problem is that people who are outstanding leaders in one situation, for example in IT business company, does not necessarily meant to be successful in others, for example in a different business department or might be even politics. For an instance the value of intelligence and wisdom. One of the traits suggested for a good leader is to have intelligence and wisdom. This seems like a true statement but does it necessarily means the truth for one-fit to actually define leadership? It is true that good leaders have the tendency to be having higher intelligence than average, but leaders are not necessarily the most intelligent people in their organisation. The importance of intelligence itself different by places and situation. Let say for example in the military, it is important to have high intelligence, but in politics, it is more important to have high communication skill than intelligence. It is obvious that not all situation need the same approach.
The behavioural approach determines leadership through a set of behaviours. This is because the approach seeks to determine how good leader act of training the other to be a good leader. Most researchers in this approach focus on issues of decision-making style and task versus social focus rather than traits like motivation, creativity and wisdom. Through the decision-making issue, the benefits of authoritarian are being compared with democratic leadership. Based on Vroom and Jago theory, the best decision would be dependent on the situation or problem. There are pros and cons of each different decision-making approach. Democratic leaders are likely to encourage more job satisfaction, motivation and commitment of their followers, yet democratic decision can be slow and the leaders are potential to be viewed as weak. On the other hand, autocratic leaders tend to be more efficient in decision making but can create high dissatisfaction in the workplace. There might be a high probability of problem in implementation. Based on Likert, the behavioural approach also examines whether the leader should focus on the tasks or on the social relation among the group members. The research has been inconclusive, except for the verdict that subordinates prefer leaders who show social consideration. The correct answer to decision-making issue depends on the situation. If performing a routine task, the leader should focus more on the social relation. This is because the team would need the only minimal help of task. While if working on the difficult or one-off project that requires a lot of guidance, the leader should have the higher understanding and counsel the team. If the team able to self-management, the leader may even choose to ignore both and focus on external problem or project. A group or team itself can comprise a vast array of range of individuals. A leader does not treat everybody alike. It can be that a leader is effective with some team but not the other team. Thus, this approach enlightens to open path to delve deeper in trait approach as it constricts possibility of the environment such as with whom the leaders working and on what project the leaders are working.
As trait approaches become more out of date, new approaches which are the situational approach emerged. This theory suggests that leadership is contingent on different situational factors. This theory seeks to help the leader to decide the best way to act or to make a decision depending on the characteristic of the environment and the team member. In a situation where people have important or in desperation when people tend to seek some help to resolve them, many charismatic and inspiring leaders emerged. For example in the time of apartheid era, Nelson Mandela came out and in the era of oppression of Indian people by the colonialist, Mahatma Gandhi started his independence movement. The emergence of leaders normally during a dramatic time which means the importance of leaders might be overrated by people. Whilst, it is undeniable that leaders have a strong impact on the success of organisations, in most day-to-day operation their influence is much less than the subordinates who do most on operational task. Nonetheless, leaders are important in directing the subordinates. In contingency approach, the theories focus on the characteristic of situations. Many theories study some aspect of the type of task, the level of structure in organisation and situation of the leader either it is favourable or not. Then the theory also tests on some other aspect of the leaders’ personality or behaviour on whether they are task-orientated leaders or relationship oriented. For example, in a situation where the subordinate has to follow and comply, autocratic leaders work the best. There are few factors of situation favourableness for the leaders to determine the subordinate readiness. Leaders must consider some aspect in their leadership style which are the leader-follower relations, the task structure and the position power. The first factor involves the relationship between leaders and followers or subordinates. Leaders who have a positive relationship with followers tend to have higher respect, mutual trust and confident with each other and vice versa. While the second factor, which is the task structure concern about the structure of the task. If the task is highly structured it will be more repetitive, which will be more likely to be understood by the followers. That will be more favourable to the leaders. The final factor is the position power. Leaders who have the ability to utilise power over the follower have greater ability to wield their will on their followers.
Leadership situation

Table 1.1: Fiedler’s contingency model (Fred Fiedler. Fiedler’s contingency theory, 1958)

The leader now can attempt to alter their leadership style to match the favourableness or change the situation to match their style to have a higher positive outcome and become more efficient.
Another situational leadership theory is a model proposed by Paul Hersey and Kenneth Blanchard that seek to divide leadership into the task which is the leader directive behaviour and the relational which are the supportive behaviour dimension. They suggest that leader should use suitable leadership type depending on the follower readiness based on four type which is directing, coaching, supporting and delegating. (Hersey, P., Blanchard, K. H., & Johnson, D. E., 2000).


Table 1.2 Hersey and Blanchard contingency model of leadership type (Knights & Willmott, 2012)
Leaders can be in directing which is a high task and low relationship, coaching which is a high task and high relationship, supporting which is a low task and high relationship, or delegating which is a low task and low relationship based on their evaluation of the follower readiness. Group readiness can be evaluated based on the skills, experience, the capacity to set a goal and ability to assume responsibility. The connection between the leader’s behaviour and the group’s readiness level is shown in table 1.2. For instance, imagine being a group leader of a new intern in a company. At the beginning, the team have little experience with both task and working together. A leader should start to take charge and get the team to work together. A directing approach (task oriented) would be needed. As time passes by, the group gain experience and the leadership style will slowly change into coaching mode. Once the team ready to perform the job and take responsibility, leaders would need to further reward member by allowing them to take part in decision making. The leadership style has changed into supporting. This will increase the sense of responsibility and develop leadership skill in the team member. When the group are ready to take full responsibility, the leader no longer needed to guide them and start to delegate the task and let the group manage itself. From this example, it is shown that leader has to adjust style relative to the readiness of the team and leadership is a developmental process.
In conclusion, it is clear that it is not enough to depend on leadership as a function of individual leader excellent itself to be effective. This is because this approach is too self-assuming and essentialist in the individual. It ignores the context of being a leader in favour of a universal individual essence which can be not effective and flexible at the most time especially in an organisation. (K.Grint, 2000). While on the other hand, situational approach perceives context as essential. It did not assume universal leadership style but drawing appropriate leadership types to different context or situation. Both individual and context are equally important because, without the individual trait, one could never possess the respect of having the distinct or slightly greater characteristic to be followed. While on the other hand, context is important because we deal with a human who is uncertain. As the leader is a server to guide human in a group to work toward certain goals, leader supposed to be fluid and flexible yet principled in guiding the team or organization. Environment factor has to be taken into consideration for effectiveness in term of working towards a goal in the less timely manners while considering human factor (both team and leader) in best and conducive working atmosphere.

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