This paper defines “context” as it relates to leadership and the inclusion of context in leadership theories. I will show examples of different leadership styles and how they relate to the context of leadership. In closing, I will reflect on the challenges of contextual theories and how these challenges can be met in the current environment. Meaning of Context and Treatment in Leadership Research Different types of leadership often need to be applied in a distinct manner, depending on the context and who is involved.
Osborn, Hunt, & Jauch (2002) indicated leadership theory and research needs to expand to the complex levels of leadership. The authors further posited leadership theory needs to explore the dynamism involving the context in which leadership takes place, rather than to study leadership taking place in a vacuum. Here, the authors referred to context as the circumstances or parameters that cause effective leaders to emerge. Leadership in context takes on many different characteristics and certain circumstances can cause different actions.
A closer examination of the linkages between components of theory increases one’s understanding of individual differences in leadership development (Allen, Shankman, & Miguel, 2012). Authors Osborn, Hunt, & Jauch (2002) illustrated four contexts of leadership; stability, crisis, dynamic equilibrium, and edge of chaos. Stability takes into account surrounding external circumstances involving the composition of organizations, scopes, and skill sets. Stability examines the various measures of leadership to improve and to develop objectives for anticipated circumstances.
I worked with a leader who demonstrated stability in a position; however, that same leader transferred to a different position and she became unstable. In the previous position, the leader was confident in her role, encouraged interaction from the team, and made team members feel comfortable to approach her at any time. The leader transitioned to a new contract, and a new client and things changed. The leader became unapproachable, and she became overwhelmed by her role and the pressures of the job. A lack of stability in this environment was evident because team members did not have effective leadership.
Eventually, that person resigned and moved on to a less demanding and less stressful position. Crisis can be defined as, “a situation that threatens high priority goals that suddenly occurs with little or no response” (Hermann, 1969). A crisis causes changes in the leadership context that compel leaders to adjustment to the situation. A change in the context can be the defining moment of a leader’s effectiveness and leadership ability. Crisis may be unavoidable in some situations, but an effective leader will plan before, during, and after a crisis.
Contingency plans, communications plans, and strong leadership can assist in alleviating some of the stress associated with a crisis. Leaders must recognize when to delegate authority if and when the need arises. The third context of leadership is a dynamic equilibrium, defined as a gradually increasing change. In a dynamic organizational system, the role of leadership is to support opposing forces and harness the constant tension between them, enabling the system to improve (Nonaka & Toyama, 2002; Teece & Pisano, 1994; Weick & Quinn, 1999).
Various components affect dynamic equilibrium in leadership, such as, technology, external forces, and market conditions. To improve, the organization has to maintain a dynamic equilibrium among the various components. The authors referred to fourth context of leadership as, edge of chaos. Edge of chaos can be defined as being on the verge of pandemonium, but not quite there. Virtually, everything is tainted, but not so tainted that the organization implodes or explodes (Authors Osborn, Hunt, & Jauch 2002). If everything is tainted, there would be complete chaos in the organization.
New Factors and the Inclusion of Context in Leadership Theories The emerging field of cross-cultural leadership research has underscored the importance of examining how the inclusion of the context in models of leadership may alter how effective or desirable leadership is operationally defined, measured, and interpreted. Integration of culture as a contextual factor in models of leadership necessitates that researchers consider; the cultural implicit theories of both leaders and followers, the cultural implicit heories of both leaders and followers, the interpretation of enacted behaviors, the broader cultural context in which leaders and followers interact, the duration of the leader–follower relationship, and exogenous events that may trigger different interpretations of leadership, such as instability, uncertainty, and growth (Avolio, B. , 2007). A Leader Who Effectively Engaged With Context Leadership / Leader Who Failed To Read and Engage with Context Leadership Effectively
Leadership in context may undertake numerous characteristics, which may put leadership in conflict. Examples of leadership that may effectively engage within context are doctors who work in an emergency room of a hospital (Hannah, Uhl-Bien, Avolio, & Cavarretta, 2009). In this example, the authors suggested doctors may show high levels of leadership when put in extreme circumstances frequently. Consequently, there is a need to be prepared constantly and to maintain high levels of vigilance and situational awareness to ensure quick and accurate responses.
Examples of leadership that may fail to engage within context are managers within a hotel (Hannah, Uhl-Bien, Avolio, & Cavarretta, 2009). In this example hotel managers may fail to be prepared and develop safety procedures in case of a fire emergency. The authors explained that because of the relatively minimal chances of a fire occurring coupled with the surety of an adequate rescue response from authorities, hotel managers are less likely to make preparations in case of a fire.
According to this premise, managers may not manifest any leadership tendency because circumstances do not create a need to exercise leadership (Hannah, Uhl-Bien, Avolio, & Cavarretta, 2009). Differences in Leadership Styles and Approaches In the first example, the leaders demonstrated a sense of urgency and an understanding of responsibility which requires immediate reaction as leaders. In the second example, leaders do not demonstrate the same urgency. The leaders are of the mindset that someone else will respond if the situation occurs.
Each situation determines the leadership style which accomplishes the organization’s goals and vision; therefore, there is not a “best” leadership style or approach. Challenges of Developing Contextual Theories of Leadership Efficiency may come with leadership, but leadership can be overpowering and complex. Innovation of alliances is not always required for leadership. However, a study conducted by Osborn & Marion (2009) examined the aspects of contextual leadership in which transformational leadership was dysfunctional for the innovation of alliances.
Today’s technology enables leaders to influence followers virtually. Even though, the follower may not be in the same location as the leader, this should not create an issue with leaders motivating followers to undertake an assignment. Purvanova and Bono (2009) suggested leadership through virtual means may exhibit the same behaviors as the traditional face-to-face style. The authors argued that leaders may adapt behavior based on context of the situational demand. An example of a leader’s virtual influence is the course for which this paper is written.
The professor influences the class to improve writing skills by assigning additional exercises to better prepare for the doctoral study. In addition, the class is encouraged to relate personal experiences to tie in with assigned readings and research. The context determines the matter in which leaders influence their follower, whether leadership is conducted face-to-face or virtually. How Contextual Theories of Leadership Challenges Can Be Met The examples above demonstrated the dynamics and complexity of contextual leadership.
Challenges in contextual leadership can be met by examining the factors for the source and development of leadership. The initial step is to determine the situation, analyze the nature of leadership, and document the context of the leadership development. Similarities can assist in determining the effective leaders of the future. Theories on leadership have determined that leadership is about showing flexibility in our ever changing environment and applying the appropriate leadership context in the ideal situation.
Conclusion The subject of leadership garnered much research and study. Leadership consists of a variety of characteristics and complexities involving the context in which leadership takes place. Analyzing the complexity of the context of leadership can aid in determining future leaders. To understand individual differences in the context of leadership requires additional study. Further research will assist educators and scholars with the added knowledge of applying effective leadership.
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