Components of Good Leadership

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Managers demonstrate effective and positive leadership when they are able to strike a balance in how they exercise their power over their subordinates and use the strengths of their personalities to gain respect. In a management definition, leadership is “the process where a person exerts influence over others and inspires, motivates and directs their activities to achieve goals” (Weber, n.d.). While these three points: inspiration, motivation, and direction, are the most important elements of managing employees, there is some debate regarding the exact approach of being an effective leader.

There are two general types of leaders, those who delegate tasks to other employees and support their subordinates and those who are authoritarian. While either may work in specific situations with different kinds of businesses and individuals, managers need to be aware of the culture of the company and of the individuals. For example, a software startup may find that having an open, “level playing field” where employees are encouraged to share ideas and disagree; whereas, a manufacturing plant may not have the same flexibility and may need to be managed in a clear cut, hierarchical manner. Regardless of the business type, the culture of a company is important for a manager to understand, as an authoritarian manager will be strongly disliked at a company where most of the other managers are not. Since leadership comes with a degree of power, deciding how a manager will express their power is an important point to consider. 


When management is deciding on the style of leadership, the culture of the employees must be taken into account since different cultural backgrounds have different values when it comes to interaction and motivation from management. For example, Japanese and American workers have many workplace differences that may hinder and help a business. In an American company, like Coca-Cola, focuses on short-run efforts and profitability as a part of their business model. American employees are educated in universities that follow this cultural management model and, therefore, adjust well to this business model. On the opposing side, a Japanese company, like Nissan Motors, is collective-oriented and focus on the long-term outlooks of business decision making. Japanese employees are educated in universities that reflect these cultural beliefs and adjust well to Japanese business styles (Weber, n.d.). The conflict is that, in the overwhelming increase of global business interactions, when an American work for a Japanese company (or vice versa) but has not adjusted to the difference in culture. For management, this can mean the difference between successful leadership and failed leadership. So to lead a team of employees well, a manager must understand the cultural values relating to power, discipline, and motivation for his or her subordinates.

Power, Discipline, and Motivation

There are several sources of power that a leader can exert over the employees and the company; legitimate power, reward power, coercive power, referent power, and expert power. These different types of powers allow managers to be leaders over their subordinates and to move towards company goals (Weber, n.d.). Legitimate power is the authority that a manager can exercise; such as hiring and firing and the assignment of tasks. The power to hire and fire, Alexander and Buckingham (2011) suggests, is the basest level of leadership. They explain that even though a manager can fire a subordinate, it should not be used as a threat for minor issues because of the damage it can do to an employee’s feeling of belonging in a company. If an employee is given many threats of disciplinary action but no follow-through, he or she may see bluffs as not being valid and are likely to continue the issue.

On the other hand, managers also have reward power which is the manager’s ability to give raises, bonuses, and praise. These too, Merrell explains in his article “Effective Change Management: The Simple Truth,” (2012) need to be used in moderation to strengthen employee buy-in. The rewards, he explains, should be directly tied to the achieving of goals that are clearly defined in the planning stages. For example, if Company A has a sales goal of selling a certain amount of product in an allotted time, the manager can choose to set a goal with a reward at the start of the allotted time or the manager can choose to reward an employee who has been consistently reaching high goals. While both can be effective ways of motivating employees, the manager should be aware of possible issues with a competition style reward, as a collaborative style company may find that the competition between employees may not work to the benefit of the company (Kass & Grandzol, 2011). However, the raise style reward can be effective for a company and employee motivation because of the need for a standardized rubric that allows managers to objectively gauge just how well an employee is doing and how he or she can be more effective (Alexander & Buckingham, 2011). Communicating the expectations and standards in either the reward system is absolutely vital for good leadership because managers have a chance to discuss these with every employee and offer motivation on an individual basis. 

There are times, however, when an employee is falling below standards or is facing some other issue within the company. In these cases, the manager must exercise coercive power, or, the ability to punish and reprimand subordinates (Weber, n.d.). A leader’s ability to communicate effectively is also extremely important for this exercise of power, as improperly communicated punishment can lead to employee strife and anger toward the manager and company. For many cultures, giving employees the opportunity to “save face” and receive criticisms and punishment in privacy is important in ensuring that the communication is as positive as possible (Michaelis et al., 2009) However, other companies, such as Pizza Hut (owned by Tricon), offer a different approach of making some criticisms open for all employees to see. A weekly phone survey performed by the store’s manager asks about every level of service; from calling in, placing an order all the way to the delivery and the quality of the products ordered. The results of the survey are posted on the wall, with the name of the customer service representative, the cook and the delivery driver with the customer’s rating for each. While this may not involve individual communication, the idea is to show the importance of each step in the process and the aspects of weakness. The process is also short enough where the results are shared with employees in a matter of days. If an order has a complaint about a specific part of the order (for example, the pizza had sparing toppings or was over/under cooked) the employee meets with the manager to receive re-training in the specific area that the subordinate failed in within several working days. The fast intervention is to put an immediate stop to the poor service and improve the issues as well as alert the employee that they are not performing as expected. The re-training works to show the employee the standard that is expected of them and how they can improve. If an employee is not improving or consistently provides poor service in another phone survey, the employee may be written up or re-trained depending on the shortcomings of the employee. In this case, a good leader has clear standards, communicates these standards efficiently and takes action when it is needed in the way that is dictated by the company in a way that is respectful of the employee. However, employees must also have a degree of respect for their manager in order to be lead effectively.

In business fields that generally have a more technical or scientific background, a good leader may also lead by his or her knowledge, this is called expert power. Expert power builds respect in subordinates because the manager has abilities or skills that employees may not have or may need guidance with (Weber, n.d.). An example of expert power is in laboratory science or pharmaceutical businesses. While education and highly technical knowledge are necessary for employees to complete tasks, there may be certain areas where a manager or leader may need to step in to assist with a problem or employees may approach him or her to ask advice. Since the leader has knowledge and experience that the subordinates do not have, the employees respect the manager’s opinion and will likely respect the manager him or herself. However, leadership may also appear in other, less skill-based ways.

The other way for a manager to gain power is through referent power. This is when the manager’s character encourages employees to hold the manager in high regard and the manager may genuinely be concerned about their workers (Weber, n.d.). J.P. Doh (2003), in his article, “Can Leadership be Taught?” (2003) noted that referent power is one of the most difficult things to train management in because it relies heavily on the personality of manager and leaders who can effectively use this power are generally known as being “born leaders.” Highly sympathetic but with high standards and expectations, referent leaders are remembered in the history books because they are known as “loved” leaders. This is likely because their subordinates feel that they are cared for and, therefore, feel a desire to do a good job to please leadership. While this is a highly sought after personality, it also has a downside if the manager leaves the company and a less loved leader steps into his or her place.

Getting Employees to “Buy-In”

A leader who is highly effective often empowers employees to get involved in decision making and “buy-in.” Employees who have “bought-in” feel like they have ownership over their job; and, in turn, employees are more likely to work harder and miss fewer days of work (Weber, n.d.). Buy-in, also sometimes called job ownership, can be the difference between an employee who just works to get a paycheck and one who is dedicated to doing the best job they can, no matter what it takes. Referent managers are often able to get employees to buy-in to their jobs quickly, and this makes a very positive impact on the business. However, not every leader is a referent leader, and many managers study and utilize the two models of leadership to be effective leaders. 

There are also two models of effective leadership which include studying trait and behavioral models. The trait model seeks to show personal characteristics that are prevalent ineffective leaders and the behavioral model shows how managers can care for workers but also ensure that work is done (Weber, n.d.). Trait models examine past and present leaders and make a list of their individual traits and the situations that the traits were effective in influencing. These traits are then taken examined by management and they look for ways to learn and use these skill sets in their own leadership. For example, positive communication skills are present in many leaders as they are able to be inclusive and fair when they communicate with their employees. So, to emulate this, a manager may take a seminar in communication or practice through role-playing with other managers and receive criticisms (Alexander & Buckingham, 2011). The behavioral model attempts to be a referent leader model, in that the manager cares about the employees and cares that they do well, but also cares about the tasks and goals of the business. This model approached leadership from a team-based strategy focuses on interpersonal relationships and common goals (Kass & Grandzol, 2011) and can be highly effective if balanced properly. 


A good leader should know his or her subordinates; including their culture, what inspires them, what motivates them, and what goals they harbor while also balancing the needs and goals of the company. When selecting a leadership style, it is important to examine a manager’s strengths as a leader as well as their weaknesses to select the style that fits both the individual so he or she can be the most effective leader possible.


Alexander, J. M., & Buckingham, J. (2011). Common good leadership in business management: An ethical model from the Indian tradition. Business Ethics: A European Review, 20(4), 317-327. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8608.2011.01632.x

Doh, J. P. (2003). Can leadership be taught? Perspectives from management educators. Academy Of Management Learning & Education, 2(1), 54-67. doi:10.5465/AMLE.2003.9324025

Kass, D., & Grandzol, C. (2011). Learning to lead at 5,267 feet: An empirical study of outdoor management training and MBA students' leadership development. Journal Of Leadership Education, 10(1), 41-62.

Merrell, P. (2012). Effective change management: the simple truth. Management Services, 56(2), 20-23.

Michaelis, B., Stegmaier, R., & Sonntag, K. (2009). Affective commitment to change and innovation implementation behavior: The role of charismatic leadership and employees' trust in top management. Journal Of Change Management, 9(4), 399-417. doi:10.1080/14697010903360608

Weber, Warren. (n.d.). Leadership [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from California State University, Pomona. Website: