Most writing on good management and what it takes to get to the top focus on leadership. It is regarded as one of the most important areas of personal development. This also explains the growing interest in leadership courses.
Defining just what makes a leader effective, however, remains as difficult today as it ever was. But that does not prevent us from seeking to distil their secrets - quite the reverse.
Of course, there must be almost as many theories on leadership as there are leaders themselves and models for the best kind of leadership change with the times.
In the 15th century, Niccolo Machiavelli advocated a combination of cunning and intimidation as a way to more effective leadership. His philosophy, if not his practices, became unfashionable some time ago.
"Great Man" theories, popular in the 19th century and early this century, are based on the notion of the 'born leader' who has innate talents that cannot be taught. An alternative approach that is still in vogue is based on trying to identify the key traits of effective leaders.
Behaviourist theory prefers to see leadership in terms of what leaders do rather than their individual characteristics, and it tries to identify the different roles they fulfil.
More recently, attention has moved away from the individual in the leadership role to embrace a more holistic view and investing less in what some commentators refer to as the 'myth of the heroic leader'.
Much recent work in this area has concentrated on trying to understand why some leaders are more effective than others by looking at their environment and the context in which their acts have been carried out. Situational theory views leadership as specific to the situation, for example, rather than to the personality of the leader. It is based on the idea that different situations require a different style of leader.
The basis of Situational Leadership is to provide a means of effective leadership by adopting different leadership styles in different situations with different people.
You may already be familiar with Situational Leadership, which we at JFC use, but if you aren't, here is an explanation: It is a model, not a theory. The difference is that a theory attempts to explain why things happen, whereas a model is a pattern of existing events which can be learnt and therefore repeated.
Requirements of a Leader:
An effective leader needs to be:
o A good diagnostician, who can sense and appreciate differences in people and situations.
o Adaptable, in the ability to adapt the leadership style to circumstances.
A leader must realise there is no one best way to influence people.
The Basis of Situational Leadership:
Situational Leadership is a way of describing and analysing leadership styles. It is a combination of directive and supportive behaviours.
Directive behaviour involves telling people what to do, how to do it, where to do it, when to do it and then closely supervising this performance. Supportive behaviour involves listening to people, providing support and encouragement for their efforts and then facilitating their involvement in problem solving and decision-making.
There are four leadership styles: Directing, Coaching, Supporting and Delegating.
Each style is appropriate in certain circumstances. They can be shown as follows:
o Delegating i.e. Low Supportive & Low Directive
o Directing i.e. Low Supportive & High Directive
o Supporting i.e. High Supportive & High Directive
o Coaching i.e. High Supportive & Low Directive
To those who would suggest that great leaders are born not made, I would say this: We can examine all of the great leaders in history and identify some common characteristics but we cannot say they were "Born Leaders". They all developed into their leadership roles over a period of time, learning the skills along the way.
I do believe that leaders can be developed - I have to believe that because currently we have far too few of them in the world, but we do have a surplus of managers!
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