The Essence of Leadership

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Abstract

The essence of leadership is examined through a discussion of defining leadership, leadership theories, building and cultivating leadership, and exploring contemporary leadership dynamics, with a focus on focus on organizational leadership and its dynamics. Leadership is not easily defined but combining definitions that are most applicable to the broad concept of leadership is important in understanding how it has evolved from the past to today. Leadership theory has been largely influenced by time as new leadership theory seeks to redefine leadership in contrast to that in the Industrial Age. In line with new leadership theory, organizations have sought to build and cultivate leadership to compete successfully in the globalized marketplace. Lastly, contemporary leadership dynamics have framed new issues and challenges faced by organizations today and steps to be taken to face them.

The Essence of Leadership

Lao Tzu stated in 640 B.C.E. that, “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, not so good when people obey and acclaim him, worse when they despise him. But of a good leader who talks little when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: We did its ourselves” (Schaffer 2009, 31). Lao Tzu made observations about leaders and their actions over two-thousand four-hundred years ago. A leader is able to affect others tremendously. Lao Tzu knew that the best leaders aimed to succeed through collaboration with others. They don’t seek to stand out, but instead seek to harness the collective strengths of the group and allow them to flourish.

For the last one-hundred years, the study of leadership practice has changed due to its function in industrialization, globalization, education, organizational psychology, and advancements in business development. The twenty-first century has seen the language of leadership acquiring new vocabulary that include “dispersed, devolved, democratic, distributive, collaborative, collective, co-operative, concurrent, coordinated, relational and co-leadership” (James, 2011, p. 6). Leadership has shifted into a complex dynamic that reflect the complexity of globalization for organizations today. It appears the concept of leadership has taken a 360 turn where the collective dynamic is what establishes a leader, rather than individual actions. Leaders also do not behave in the hierarchal way leaders traditionally did. Roles within groups can shift as members can take on ‘leader’ in one situation and ‘follower’ in another. The collaborative environment of contemporary organizations has demanded the development of this new leadership (James, 2011, p. 6).

To understand the importance of leadership in organizations it is best to define leadership beforehand. De Gourmont once stated, “The human mind is so complex and things are so tangled up with each other that, to explain a blade of straw, one would have to take to pieces an entire universe.... A definition is a sack of flour pressed into a thimble” (Pigliucci, 2001 p. 1). Humans are so complex that seeing how leadership shapes events becomes recognizable, but it includes broad elements related to observational moment. To understand the observation, it has to be taken apart and explained to discover different perspective, purpose, settings, and find all the different elements important in creating that definition. Stogdill (1974) concludes that the endless amount of data available have not produced a holistic understanding of leadership. Gouran (1974) also argues that data may never show an understanding of leadership as it reveals the balance of elements in a given situation but cannot accurately estimate or consider all possible scenarios. Many scholars have defined and researched leadership in a variety of environments. Bass (1990), one of the founders of the social scientific investigation of leaders and leadership, defined leadership definitions by perspective. These leadership perspectives are listed below:

The focus of group processes

Leadership as personality and its effects

Leadership as the art of inducing compliance

Leadership as the exercise of influence

Leadership as an act or behavior

Leadership as a form of persuasion

Leadership as a power relation

Leadership as an instrument of goal achievement

Leadership as an emerging effect of interaction

Leadership as a differentiated role

Leadership as the initiation of structure

Leadership as a combination of elements. (Bass, 1990, pp. 11-18)

Clearly, leadership is multidimensional and can be defined according to these perspectives. Northouse (2004) states that there are just as many definitions of leaderships as there are people trying to define it (p. 2). At the fundamental level of leadership, it is a relationship between a leader and the membership of a group. As in defining any relationship, the context and perceptions have been to taken account.

Many researchers have tried to define leadership by assessing attributes and characteristics that are deemed appropriate for a responsible leader. In a survey conducted by Du Swaen, Lindgreen, and Sen (2013), the researchers presented a total of thirty attributes in seven categories: acting with integrity, caring for people, demonstrating ethnical behavior, communicating with others, taking a long-term perspective, being open-minded and managing responsibly outside the organization (p. 11). Notice the mixing of personal qualities and demonstrable qualities are important in understanding leadership. Dewan and Myatt (2008) examine leadership in both government and civil society. They concluded that in government a leader could be influential when political actors wish to make informed policy decisions and to coordinate with one another. Just as in organizations, a leader’s influence in government depends on their qualities and those of other successful leaders. Those that succeeded were able to communicate clearly and judge the best policies (Dewan & Myatt, 2008, p. 27). Leadership “provides the agency that coordinates the efforts of others” (Dewan & Myatt, 2008, p. 28). A leader’s role is to be a part of motivating the collective to achieve a common goal, whether it be political or not.

Zaccaro, Kemp, and Bader (2013) investigated the leadership process in an effort to understand leadership development and cultivation. They concluded that a leader’s cognitive abilities, personality, motives and values are necessary to influence growth but are not the most important part of the leadership process. The influence of social appraisal, problem-solving skills, expertise, and innate knowledge are necessary as well. Successful solutions adopted by organizations and better developed leader expertise allow successful problem solving throughout.

The essence of leadership is discussed through an examination of leadership theory, building and cultivation of leadership, and contemporary notions of leadership. The first chapter focuses on the historical trajectory of leadership from the age of industrialization to contemporary leadership theory. The second chapter explores the building and cultivating of leadership in contemporary organizations to understand leadership dynamics today. Lastly, chapter three seeks to discuss contemporary leadership through the lens of Kotter,(1990), Pink (2006), and Christianson (2000), who have supplied novel understandings of leadership in the age of globalization, its challenges, and subsequent solutions.

Chapter 1: Leadership Theory

Scholars have studied he evolution of leadership in organizations and its relation to performance, globalization competition and innovation from the age of industrialization to contemporary notions of leadership. According to Thomas Carlyle, “The history of the world is but the biography of great men” (Carlyle, 1888). His theory classified leadership as one created by individuals, particularly men, who shaped its current manifestation. It goes onto establish the individuals’ capabilities that made them born to lead. Galton’s Hereditary Genius also supported this idea of the leader having attributes that made them a natural leader. These attributes include intelligence, clear and strong values, and high personal energy (Bramwell, 1948). This theory, coined the ‘trait theory’ was popular in the early industrial age. In understanding that individuals were born great leaders it was also assumed there was and should be a connection between generations. Families handed down businesses from father to son, and so on. There were few exceptions of poor individuals rising from poverty to leadership positions and theorists did not argue differently.

Spencer (1896) wrote a rebuttal in response to Carlyle’s theory arguing that leaders are a product of their social environment. Spencer argued that these men were a product of the complex series of influence and social state that gave them the opportunity to lead. If not for these conditions in their lives the product of a leader would not be possible. Years later, Bass (1990) stated, “The study of leadership rivals in age the emergence of civilization, which shaped its leaders as much as it was shaped by them” (p. 3). Bass’s statement introduces a new idea of leadership influencing nature and being influenced by nature. He believed that leadership was neither natural nor environmental, but instead both.

The combination of these theories represent the dialogue beginning surrounding leadership in the early industrial age. This was a time where “great men” became leaders because of familial duty and responsibility. One can assume, then, that the assumption that leaders are only born and not made is a natural one. Nonetheless, these theorists, among others, began the development of industrial language and research in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The language needed to understand discuss leadership are developed as a result revealing a transformation of leadership as an integral part in the success of organizations.

Industrial methodology early on was a combination of events, experience, observation, and assembly of elements. To lead the industrial organization, a variety of language was needed to develop from the shop floor to administration. As innovations in energy, textile, mining, and machinery evolved, there became a need for the industrial environment to manage human performance. These fields were heavily dependent upon human performance, which could not count on ‘trait theory’ to be sustained. As a result, two engineers, Taylor and Foyal, developed the first theories and models to express new industrial demands. Taylor’s Scientific Management provided a science-based approach to maximize productivity through an analysis of the work itself. Taylor and his team were important in creating the basic ideas of transactional leadership that motivated workers by punishing, rewarding, managing tasks, planning, and developing and goal setting (Drucker, 2012, p. 24). Taylor’s principles were soon adopted globally, despite its conflicting results in different organizations. Shortly after Taylor’s principles, Weber (1947) defined power structures within industrial organizations. The basic elements of Taylor’s principle introduced the framework for a governing party that demonstrated the power and influence industrial leadership created. New debates started to shift toward what leaders did rather than their qualities or their actions that governed those of others. Types of behaviors by leaders are then categorized as ‘styles of leadership.’ In contrast to earlier theories assessing behavior of leaders, the theory of styles of leadership is in direct opposition to ‘trait theory’ because it believes that leaders can be developed and nurtured, not just born.

In the 1960s, there were major leadership models built on the premise that leadership could be a combination of task- and relationship-oriented behavior. Contingency-situational theories that were developed focused on style as being contingent upon factors like situation, people, task, organization, and other environmental variables. Fielder (1964) presented the first well-known contingency theory of leader effectiveness. Although he was criticized for his ‘least-preferred-coworker’ (LPC) measure, his assumptions were important in developing future theories of leadership style. It assumed that a leader’s description of a person whom they have a great difficulty working with reflects a basic leadership style. Second, leadership styles that correlated most with positive group performance varied situationally. For instance, a situation is least favorable for a leader when leader–member relations are poor, position power is low, and tasks are unstructured. The model predicts that when the situation is highly favorable or very unfavorable, low LPC leaders are more effective than high LPC leaders. In intermediate situations, high LPC leaders should be more effective than low LPC leaders. Support for this model is weak, but it offered new insight on organizational dynamics that are creating complexity in leadership. Further studies were conducted by Blake and Mouton (1964) and Hersey and Blanchard (1969) to investigate leadership styles. Blake and Mouton proposed an effective style of leadership, called the Management/Leadership Grid, that was equally concerned for people and for production. Hersey and Blanchard (1969) later focused on the situational leadership theory by proposing another leadership style that was dependent upon mixing tasks or people orientation based on the maturity of the follower. In determining leadership effectiveness, the two contingency theories concluded the importance of three factors: leader, follower, and situational factors. In more recent years, Fiedler and Garcia (1987) developed a model dealing with cognitive abilities of leaders in contributing to the cognitive resource’s theory of leadership. Group performance according to this model depended upon interaction between two traits, leadership behavior and aspects of the situation. According to David Wyld (2010) situational leadership is more about being flexible and creating the correct working environment for the worker to be successful. The situational leadership theory asserts that no one style fits all situations.

Modern theories of leadership have evolved to meet the current needs of organizations’ post-industrialization and in the technological era. This new era demands a new leadership model focusing on personal characteristics and attributes, and a new construction of leadership. New leadership theories have shown that those in high-power roles are now thought to be supported by a network of people engaging in leadership practices throughout organizations and not just simply them individually. Social networks, teamwork, and shared accountability all contribute to leadership, creating a complex dynamic of contemporary leadership theory (James, 2011, p. 5). Uhl-Bien, Marion, & McKelvey (2007) labeled the new perspective of leadership as ‘Complexity Leadership Theory.’ This theory recognizes that leadership is too complex to be attributed to an individual’s behavior and thus, should focus on a network of individuals participating in a “complex interplay of many interacting forces” (Uhl-Bien et al., 2007, p. 131). In understanding this theory, the rest of this chapter will discuss the dynamics of ‘Complexity Leadership Theory,’ which include adaptive leadership, the adaptive role, enabling leadership, and administrative leadership. Adaptive leadership is a complex dynamic producing adaptive outcomes in the system of an organization. It comes from struggling among people and groups over conflicting needs, ideas, or preferences. It results in or contributes to a building of alliances between these people, new ideas, new technologies, and instills cooperation. An example would be two co-workers arguing over two different ways of seeing a task when finally, both understand and create a compromise that encompasses both ideas. The understanding between the two is a direct result of adaptive leadership (Uhl-Bien et al., 2007, p. 123). Second, adaptive leadership dynamics cause individuals to adapt in their roles. Agents taking on adaptive roles seek to produce adaptive outcomes by producing effective discussion and interactions to spark creativity in collaboration. They commit to engaging themselves in problem solving individually rather than looking to authority (Uhl-Bien et al., 2007, p. 123). The independence of adaptive roles allows them to demonstrate leadership potential, thus the importance of enabling leadership. Enabling leadership involves the enabling of conditions where adaptive leadership can emerge and respond to challenges accordingly. For example, in the contemporary workplace, to demonstrate leadership, managers often examine how employees react and perform in high-stress situations, thus allowing the employee to show their ability to react adequately (Uhl-Bien et al., 2007, p. 124). Lastly, administrative leadership is related to the action’s individuals make to plan and coordinate organizational activities. Their role is multifaceted as it involves the structuring of tasks, planning, building vision, allocating resources to achieve goals, managing crises and conflicts, as well as managing organizational strategy. Furthermore, they are important in sustaining structural creativity, adaptability, and initiative throughout the organization’s workforce (Uhl-Bien et al., 2007, p. 128). Administrative leadership agents face a variety of challenges, but they are one of the most important dynamics in today’s contemporary organization as they steer the organization’s direction. In the current climate of technological innovation, companies are constantly in motion adapting to the environment that demands creativity and innovation as central hallmarks of companies. Organizations have developed sectors and created new training strategies to manage creativity by emphasizing the importance of leadership’s role in sustaining creativity. The next chapter seeks to explore the building and cultivating of leadership in organizations.

Chapter 2: Building and Cultivating Leadership

This chapter focuses on the building and cultivating of leadership within organizations as an integral part in sustaining organizational growth. Kotter (1990) proposed a theory of leadership that gained attention in the 1990s. It concluded that organizational success depended on responding to critical windows of opportunity. Leadership during these windows of opportunity was a key determinant of success. Although research and conceptual frameworks in business during this time became increasingly sophisticated, leaders lacked specific strategies for developing the skills needed to implement change and innovation. This researcher would be the first of many to write about leadership-oriented research in the late 1990s and early 2000s. This research and many others continue to formulate mew ideas of leadership development and used in practical situations.

Although research on leadership theory is important ,it is not always correlated with leadership development programs in organizations and contemporary leadership ideas. Many organizations develop these programs with emphasis on competence, behavior, and values, even though it should extend beyond those measures. Many scholars have argued the need for a collective and contextual approach to leadership in organizations. Contingency theories have placed an emphasis on the importance of examining leadership style as correlated with situations. Contemporary research in leadership theory has focused on collaborative forms of leadership, yet most effective, organizational challenges still focus on skills of individual leaders. Some argue that leadership development is very much related to leader development. As a result, there have been developments in contemporary organizations of competency models that set behavioral standards that are applicable in all contexts and industries (James, 2011, p. 9). A second demonstration of contemporary leadership development is the enablement of leaders to develop their full potential and become the leader they would like to be. To do this requires personal insight and awareness in reflecting on past assumptions and values, with risk-taking to view present experiences and challenges. The methods to which leaders can connect with their vales and pursue aspirations for leadership require innovation. How participants have learned in these methods allow them to experiment and apply it to the workplace (James, 2011, p. 11). Third, leadership development begins with understanding the concept of leadership which is dependent upon leadership requirements desired for the future. Leadership in an organization is most effective when it is applied throughout the organization from top to bottom. Finding individuals who have leadership is only one solution, whereas leadership development should also focus on the bringing together people to address challenges t (James, 2011, p. 18). Thus, leadership development in organizations is dependent on behavioral standards of individual leaders, enabling leaders, and fostering teamwork.

The building and cultivation of leadership in organizations requires the understanding of motivation as playing a key role in the leader-follower relationship. Motivation, in general, is a key component of human behavior. Understanding the reason an action must be taken has a strong impact on the action itself. Because of this, what motivates people is important to the essence of leadership. A leader’s personal motivation can influence the manner in which power is used and how situations are approached when dealing with conflict. Additionally, the leaders’ ability to motivate is a higher indicator of follower action and more likely to increase productivity in results. Some of the first theories of motivation importance in leadership were found in Taylor’s shop floor work experiments. However, people are no longer performing better because they are punished or rewarded, but to achieve personal goals of their own. Today, it can be seen that people perform better when they are praised for their good work. They are more motivated when they understand the purpose and value of their work. Also, people are working their best when they are doing something they are passionate about. When they are doing something, they are not passionate about, they are not productive. Yukl (2010) argues that a leader’s skills, behaviors, and style must have a direct correlation to results because they influence the actions of followers to complete tasks as needed. As mentioned above, one of the many tactics leaders use is motivation, which is important for the follower to have in completing necessary tasks.

Collins (2001) developed a concept to describe leadership style most associated with success in the business environment called ‘level 5 leadership.’ It includes counterintuitive qualities like humility and acknowledgement of weakness as important. It illustrates the emphasis of leadership as a means of determining effective response to change and innovation. Leadership is, to an extent, held over management because of its role when businesses enter risk and uncertainty (Pardey, 2010). Others argue that leadership is simply a part of management. Leadership is more focused on staying the course and keeping momentum, while management focuses on tasks and future direction. Both leadership and management skills are needed for teams for people to work with one another. Contemporary organizations have built and cultivated research through development programs and abilities to recognize the main forces of leadership development. However, contemporary organizations have bred contemporary forms of leadership that will be assessed in the next chapter.

Chapter 3: Contemporary Leadership

This chapter will focus on how contemporary leadership has evolved and the dynamics that challenge and sustain organizations today. Kotter, Pink and Christensen have explored different ideas of what is important in contemporary leadership practices.

Kotter created a model that was first published in an article in The Harvard Business Review in 1994. In 1996 he developed a book based on his personal business and research experience and did not reference any outside sources. Although Kotter’s model is said to lack a model of management change, its success remains important in the field of change management. Applebaum, Habashy, Malo, and Shafiq (2012) wrote a paper presenting the eight components of Kotter’s model to highlight the values of each, in addition to talking about the limitations of the model. The eight steps in Kotter’s model of change management include:

1. Establish a sense of urgency about change – people will not change if they cannot see the need to (Applebaum et al., 2012, p. 765)

2. Create a guiding coalition – assemble a group with power, energy, and influence in the organization to lead the change

3. Develop a vision and strategy – create a vision of what the change is about, tell people why the change is needed and how it will be achieved

4. Communicate the change vision – tell people, in every possible way and at every opportunity, about the why, what, and how of the changes

5. Empower broad-based action – involve people in the change effort, get people to think about the changes and how to achieve them rather than just thinking about them

6. Why they do not like the changes and how to stop them; generate short-term wins – seeing the changes happening and working

7. Recognizing the work being done by people towards achieving the change is critical

8. Consolidate gains and produce more change – create momentum for change by building on successes in the change, invigorate people through the changes, develop people as change agents; and anchor new approaches in the corporate culture – this is critical to long-term success and institutionalizing the changes. Failure to do so may mean that changes achieved through hard work and effort slip away with people’s tendency to revert to the old and comfortable ways of doing things (Applebaum et al., 2012, p. 766).

To keep up with the fast-paced environment and rapid change within industries, many companies have to adjust by changing management and applying this model. The book was popular with stakeholders who were involved in managing change. However, the eight-point action plan remains to be seen as directly applicable to the success of a business. Nonetheless it remains popular because of its practicality, intuitiveness and well-presented examples (Applebaum et al., 2012, p. 776).

While Kotter has focused on change management, Daniel Pink (2006) has emphasized the growing market need for creativity. He argues that for some time we were dependent on technical skills during the Information Age but now there seems to be a sliding towards capabilities that seemed useless, such as inventiveness, empathy, joyfulness, and meaning. In his opinion those qualities will determine who succeeds and who does not. The new globalized space today demands creativity because innovation is a propelled by creative agents. Furthermore, he believes what will make our society competitive will not be in teaching math and science skills, but from how well they can stimulate imagination and creativity. This is not to say that there should not be an emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, however there should be an implementation of creativity explored in those fields. The creation of products like the iPhone or iPad could not be possible without creativity, imagination, and simply the possibility of creating something that had never been created before. Pink emphasizes that we have seen people do the jobs that they have prepared for academically, but he notices that things are changing. The future belongs to a person that is a creator, empathizer, pattern recognizer, and meaning maker. People who are artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, and big picture thinkers will reap the richest rewards (Pink, 2006). Hiring these people in organizations will no doubt help in facilitating change throughout the organization, as Kotter (1990) demonstrated in his model, which is an important factor in remaining competitive in this new global landscape.

Christensen (2000) has offered a variety of perspectives on how organizations should respond to disruptive innovation. One view is that disruption by a new organization is a natural part of the life-and-death cycle of capitalism. Second, the solution for more established firms is to separate business units with different business models. Third, there should be a shift in focus from internal financial matters of maximizing shareholder value with existing customers by continuously innovating products. Despite these optimistic outlooks Christensen can sometimes be pessimistic about the no escape of disruptive innovation when stating it is a part of the life and death of firms (Denning, 2012, pp. 4-5). Companies are inevitably entering and leaving the market and most often it is in line with their life cycle. Companies that fail, in essence, do so because of their organizational structure and impending doom. To avoid failure, Christensen places an emphasis on achieving continuous innovation, which cannot be done overnight. Christensen urges that this can only be done by creating new roles for managers, new ways of coordinating work, new values, and new ways of communicating across the firm. These changes need to be made because the previous focus was shareholders; shifting focus to clients will require a restructuring of previous structures that did not align with clients. Firms that have mastered new management have changed everything and ultimately enhanced their position (Denning, 2012, p. 9). In conclusion, Kotter, Pink, and Christensen have supplied new understandings of the dynamics of globalization that have placed emphasis on change management, creative minds, and innovation.

This paper has sought to explore the essence of leadership through a discussion and definition of leadership, leadership theory, building and cultivation of leadership, and contemporary leadership. Contemporary leadership theory still remains, in the bureaucratic framework, applicable in the Industrial Age, which is a limitation of the research available. One of the examples of bureaucratic infrastructure in contemporary theory is the idea that goals are supposed to be rationally created and managerial practices should structure themselves toward achieving those goals. This idea of leadership theory being influenced by organizational goals is in line with the hierarchal organization structure (Uhl Bein et al., 2007, p. 113). These studies, however, fail to go beyond the surface of organizational need and leadership fulfillment of such needs. The dynamics of motivating individual workers and leaders can most certainly conflict. How then, can conflicting parties work together? The importance of leadership in team settings is reiterated throughout the paper as theorists place an emphasis on how a leaders motivate the larger group they are members of.

The Industrial Age saw the age of leaders that were placed biologically according to their familial trade. As industrialization ended and the Information Age began, many scholars have longed to study and depict leadership cross-industry and exclusive of situations; however, such a task is difficult. The dynamics of leadership involve a variety of factors including the leader, follower, organizational goals and strategies, as well as influential forces outside the organization. The purpose of leadership is important in motivational theory as it allows people to create value. This value is used to motivate them in doing their tasks and understanding what it means. Many believe that because of the dynamics of leader and worker there should be an emphasis placed on the difference between management and leadership. This paper did not go into much detail over how the differences between the two have been successful in organizations. Further research should focus on the differences between management and leadership within organizations. The role management plays in leadership development, cultivation, and process is important in understanding how leaders are created in organizational environments. Leadership, as it has been discussed here, is more a process of understanding and rediscovering than it is about developing new skills.

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