What is Leadership: Strengths and Weaknesses of Leader

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What is leadership? If someone would have asked me that question at the beginning of the semester, my response would have been a simple, one-sentence response about how leadership is something one is born with. However, just in the first chapter, we learn that leadership is not as simply defined as we think. It cannot even be explained in one sentence because there are many types of leaders and many ways of approaching leadership.

Leadership as a trait explains that a person possesses an innate quality of leadership. It says that one is not made a leader, but rather born one. Leadership is a subject that has fascinated humanity and it has been the focus of literature for many years. Because of this interest, there are many theories and approaches to leadership. This evolution can better be understood through the following approaches: trait approach, behavior approach, situational approach, relational approach, “New Leadership” approach, and emerging leadership approach. Early trait approach theories were called “Great Man” theories because they focused on the innate characteristics and qualities possessed by great historical leaders. According to Northouse, studies of leadership were strong from 1900 through the early 1940s and enjoyed a renewed interest in the 1970s. Then, in the 1980s, researchers linked leadership to the “Big Five” personality factors.

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What is leadership? Leadership is an ability that essentially means that one has a natural ability to become a leader. Anyone can lead. Northouse refers to UCLA basketball coach John Wooden as an example of leadership as ability. Wooden implemented four principles into his coaching: explanation, demonstration, imitation, and repetition. Through his principles, Wooden taught his players how to do the right thing instinctively under great pressure.

Leadership as a skill means leadership developed to be competent to carry out tasks. Leaders that know what they need to do and how to do it. The example used in the book is the leader of a fundraising campaign, which hit home with me since I am the United Way coordinator for the department I work for. I have become familiar with the United Way and all the fundraising procedures, from how flyers are to be created to signing up employees who want to make contributions through payroll deduction to depositing the money raised to the Finance department. Having all this knowledge makes me a skilled leader to run an efficient campaign.

Leadership as behavior are the actions that leaders take when they are in a leadership role. Research in the late 1930s by Ohio State University, and in the 1940s and 50s at the University of Michigan analyzed how leaders acted in small groups and what the research showed was that leaders were either engaged in task behaviors or process behaviors. Task behaviors are what get the job done, for instance, preparing the meeting agenda. Process behaviors are what leaders do to make others in the group feel comfortable and included. As per Northouse, the biggest challenge for leaders is to combine task and process behaviors since leadership requires both to achieve desired results. I tend to focus more on the task at hand and ensuring it gets done well and timely, and that desire to do a job well may interfere with making others feel included.

Leadership as situational essentially means that different situations require different leadership approaches. Serious research on situational leadership began during the late 1960s by Hersey, Blanchard, and Reddin.

Leadership as a relationship is when a leader is focused on communication with his/her followers. Authority is not top-down but shared; authority and influence are interactive. Thus, leadership is not restricted to the formally designated leader of the group. This leadership approach has an ethical overtone because everyone is working together for a common goal. Researchers in the 1990s began examining the relationship between leaders and followers, and this research evolved into Leader-Member Exchange Theory which predicts that high-quality relations generate more positive outcomes than low-quality relations.

During the 21st century, there has been an array of diverse approaches to leadership. Adaptive leadership encourages followers to do problem-solving and adapt to change. Authentic leadership is currently receiving a lot of attention. Authentic leaders are self-aware of their strengths, limitations, and emotions and show their legitimate selves to their followers without worrying they may appear weak (Kruse, 2013). Spiritual leadership uses a sense of calling to motivate followers. Servant leadership is focusing on the needs of team members before one’s own needs. Acknowledgment is given to other people’s perspectives and support is given to help team members meet work and personal goals (Williamson, 2017). Gender-based studies which has gotten much attention as women continue to dominate in the workplace.

Leadership as an influence means “that it is not a trait or an ability that resides in the leader, but rather an interactive event that occurs between the leader and the followers” (Northouse, 7). Leaders work toward persuading followers to achieve a common goal. In explaining leadership, a distinction must be made between leadership and management. Management is the people who do things right and leaders do the right thing.

There are different views of leadership in other parts of the world. In 2004, Robert House led a team of researchers to study the impact of culture on leadership effectiveness. The GLOBE studies researched 17,000 people in 62 countries. They identified 22 positive characteristics and eight negative characteristics that are accepted universally.

Leadership is not always used for the better good. A leader can use his or her power for personal benefit. The dark side of leadership thrives on three conditions: a destructive leader, vulnerable followers, and a conducive environment.

The identified traits of effective leaders are intelligence, confidence, charisma, determination, sociability, and integrity. While each trait is important, I feel that determination is most important. It does not matter how intelligent or charismatic a person is, if the drive is not there, there is not much anyone can do to get a group interested in the task.

Strengths are characteristics of individuals that account for successful performance. According to Northouse, strength researchers propose that strengths are the “ability to consistently demonstrate exceptional work”. Further, strengths are positive highlights about ourselves that make us effective and successful. This is a popular question on interview panels, I have been asked and I have asked them “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” question many times. Speaking about one’s strengths is an issue that makes most of us uncomfortable. In some cultures, speaking overconfidently about oneself may come off as boastful. I do not believe leaders are exempt from feeling uncomfortable about discussing their strengths. They are many types of leaders and not all are assertive or overconfident people that will feel at ease discussing this issue. While there is nothing wrong with having some humility, it is important to know and recognize what strengths we possess, as well as let others know what they are so they know what we are capable of and what we can bring to a group.

Whatever behaviors you exhibit as a leader are an indication of your leadership style. There are three leadership styles: Authoritarian, Democratic, and Laissez-Faire. The authoritarian leadership style is like Theory X. These leaders need to control followers and remind them who is in charge. Democratic leadership style is like Theory Y. Democratic leaders treat followers as being capable of doing their work without micromanaging. They see themselves as guides and not so much as directors. Finally, the Laissez-Faire leadership style is different from Democratic and Authoritarian leaders. Laissez-Faire does not control followers, but they do not nurture them. They have a hands-off approach toward followers and do not try to influence their activities.

In conclusion, at one point or another in our life, we will be asked to step into a leadership role. Maybe you will lead a fundraiser, a class project, or an entire organization, and while leadership may come naturally to some, it does not to most. It is important to do self-evaluation and learn what type of person you are and what type of leader you have the potential to be. Find out what your strengths and weaknesses are and learn from that discovery. Read stories of other leaders and their leadership styles and learn from their mistakes and accomplishments.   

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