Within a society that is defined by capitalism and the free-market, leadership has become something of a buzzword in Western popular discourse. Many courses, both on the everyday and academic level, are offered about how to become effective leaders. Leadership in this sense is specifically related to achieving goals; at the same time, the concept presupposes a team of workers that is to be led and commanded.
In the powerpoint presentation, some of the basic concepts of leadership are defined; at the same time, the presentation successfully shows that there are diverse ways to lead. Leadership is in this sense made up of two primary aspects: firstly, the mobilization of a team of workers towards a goal; and secondly, the technique or approach which will be used to lead.
The presentation begins by offering a general description of leadership. Hence, the author of the powerpoint gives two definitions: first, “Leader as somebody whom people follow or who guides or directs others” (Slide 2) and second, “organizing a group of people to achieve a goal.” (Slide 2) We can understand organizations where there are leaders as follows based on these definitions: all organizations where leadership has an important function are hierarchical organizations.
This means that the leadership has an increased amount of responsibility in relation to the other group members: the leader is one who has to make difficult decisions about what course of action the group will pursue. In other words, the leader has to identify the goal at stake in the given project; he or she has to understand how to effectively use the talents of the diverse group of individuals to realize this goal; he or she also has to think about how he or she will communicate with those in the group.
Because of this fairly complex combination of notions that make up the leadership task, many theories exist as to how to effectively perform the tasks of the leader. The presentation gives us an account of some of these theories, for example, “great man Theory”, “trait theory”, “behavioral Theory”, “contingency theories” and “participative theories.” (Slide 3) The difference between these approaches shows how diverse a theme leadership is, as it can be approached from a plethora of different perspectives.
The presentation moves forward to give us an account of each of these theories and the heart of the presentation is in the elaboration of these different approaches. The presentation begins by addressing the “great man theory.” (Slide 4) To summarize this approach, the basic idea is that leadership is something rare, or rather, the leader is someone who is born or not made. This is a somewhat mysterious theory in the sense that it does not offer any perspective on how one can practice to be a good leader: it seems to indicate that leadership is merely the result of natural traits.
What makes this theory problematic, however, is, as the presentation notes, that “no agreement of key traits has been made.” (Slide 4) This leads to an interesting question for further research: if no agreement on key traits has been made, does this mean that the great man theory is flawed? In other words, there seems to be no definition on what makes up a “great man”, thus making this approach problematic.
As the presentation notes, because of these weaknesses in the great man theory, other theories have been proposed, such as the behaviorist approach. Behavior theory in other words looks at how people may be conditioned to behave as leaders because of various circumstances. Traits are not something that are in-born, but are instead something that can be learned over time. In other words, anyone can become a “great man”: to realize this goal, the right behavioral approach is all that is needed, although this of course is easier said than done.
Contingency theories arguably take an even more abstract approach to leadership, since the basic point is to even further deemphasize the individual’s role in leadership. This is because such a theory states “that everything depends on the situation”, (Slide 7), or in other words, leaders are formed by a set of contingent circumstances. This theory, however, can also be thought of in terms of the great man theory: for if everything depends on the situation, even in a situation where a leader is required, this does not mean that everyone becomes a leader. Namely, certain people respond to a pressure situation such as a war, and become leaders in this process, for example, leading guerilla movements.
Executive coaching seems to build upon the notion of behavior theories. In this approach, what is crucial is the learning of good leadership traits. The prospective leader works with a coach, trying to develop his or her leadership skills. This, as the presentation notes, is a process of continual learning. However, this theory also presupposes that the coach knows what are successful traits for leadership and also that the coach can understand the situation where the leadership is to play an important role.
The coach in other words must him or herself be an effective leader for this approach to have value. This theory can be phrased in other words as a type of leadership mentoring, which is also covered in slide 12, although the difference according to the presentation is that the mentor is one who is a “senior member of the organization.” (Slide 12) The presentation in this regard could have further elaborated on what the difference is between these two approaches.
Action learning changes the dynamic of the coaching theory, replacing the coach with “completing real tasks on the job.” (Slide 11) Instead of being mentored by another human being, the learning of leadership becomes shaped by events. The leader in this sense must possess some inborn leadership traits so as to successfully turn the challenge of real tasks into a leadership approach that effectively understands how to perform these tasks.
All these theories are way to address how leaders are formed; but this still does not exclude the fact that there are different types of leaders. The presentation gives us a list of these different approaches: for example, “dictator style”, “democratic style”, “free-rein style”, “narcissistic style” and “toxic style.” (Slide 14) What is interesting about these different styles, other than showing how leadership can be handled in diverse ways, is that they potentially can be compared and contrasted. For example, democratic style and free-reign style seem to emphasize autonomy. In these approaches, the leader to a certain degree minimizes his or her own authority so as to let the group use their potential in an autonomous manner.
Dictator and narcissist emphasize the exact opposite: the central role of the leader in the process, so that the ultimate success of the group is ultimately tied to the competency of the leader. However, both approaches can lead to “toxic situations”: for example, if a leader emphasizes autonomy, but the group itself is not competent, the group will become worse after the leadership tenure; if the central position of the leader is abused, the group may turn against the leader, thus leading to toxicity, while if the leader is incompetent, then this same result will be reached because of the important role the leader gives him or herself.
Accordingly, the presentation gives a compelling account of the different aspects that make up leadership. Leadership evades stable definitions, as the presentation clearly gets across with its emphasis on different leadership theories. At the same time, leadership can be executed in different manners. The presentation thus gives a great introduction to an important concept in the contemporary world.
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