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The main theories on leadership Essay

Explain how an understanding of the main theories on leadership can benefit managers of organisations.

Anybody can learn the finer points of management and how and when to implement them, follow policy and do things by the book, however this does not guarantee a manager’s success. To be successful, a manager must have many assets, one of which is leadership.

The success of any group activity usually depends heavily on leadership. It can therefore be advantageous for a manager to possess a broad understanding of the many different theoretic styles of leadership. There are three main types of theory which, although providing some enlightenment, do not fully explain what makes an effective leader. Briefly explained, these are:

· Trait Theories

“Trait” theory relies on certain personality characteristics, which can range from intelligence, and self-assurance to upbringing and education or even personal appearance and health, the list is endless, yet 80 years of study have failed to identify any one trait to distinguish a leader from a non-leader.

· Style Theories

The belief here is that certain styles of leadership work better than others in getting the most out of staff performance. These styles are identified as:

 Dictatorial – basically “bully-boy” tactics are used to force subordinates to work;

 Autocratic – the leader makes all the decisions and expects things to be done his way;

 Democratic – group decision-making is employed and subordinates must be willing to participate;

 Laissez-faire – minimal direction is given to subordinates who are given extensive autonomy.

The degree to which each or any of these styles is effective is largely dependent on the work environment, leader and subordinates. Douglas McGregor believed that, ultimately, a manager will most likely choose his leadership style based on how he views his subordinates. Either way, managers must exercise authority and take responsibility, regardless of how they choose to do so.

· Contingency Theory

The “Contingency” theorists understand that the manager’s ability as a leader depends on the particular situation he is faced with. Charles Handy believed that leaders must consider:

(a) their own preferred style;

(b) their subordinates’ preferred style of leadership;

(c) the task at hand; and

(d) the working environment.

Managers must find the best fit for their particular situation.

Managers can derive from these theories that there is no one right style of leadership. No two situations are completely alike. A theory that worked well in one situation may be totally wrong in another. When faced with a new situation, the leader must decide what to change in order to bring the leader, subordinates and task into line. Sometimes he may need to change his own behaviour, but often there is much to be gained from redefining tasks or developing the group.

Perhaps the real secret of a good leader lies in their ability to evaluate the task in hand and the people involved and then decide upon the approach to take.

Assess the difference between leadership and management processes.

Leadership and management are two notions that are often used interchangeably. However, these words actually describe two different concepts.

Leadership is just one of the many assets a successful manager must possess. Care must be taken in distinguishing between the two concepts. The main aim of a manager is to maximise the output of the organisation through administrative implementation. To achieve this, managers must undertake the following functions:

· Organisation

· Planning

· Staffing

· Directing

· Controlling

Leadership is just one important component of the directing function. A manager cannot just be a leader, he also needs formal authority to be effective. For any quality initiative to take hold, senior management must be involved and act as a role model. This involvement cannot be delegated.

In some circumstances, leadership is not required. For example, self-motivated groups may not require a single leader and may find leaders dominating. The fact that a leader is not always required proves that leadership is just an asset and is not always essential.

Managers think incrementally, whilst leaders think radically. “Managers do things right, while leaders do the right thing.” This means that managers do things by the book and follow company policy, while leaders follow their own intuition, which may in turn be of more benefit to the company. A leader is more emotional than a manager. “Men are governed by their emotions rather than their intelligence”, illustrating why teams choose to follow leaders.

Leaders stand out by being different. They question assumption and are suspicious of tradition. They seek out the truth and make decisions based on fact, not prejudice. They have a preference for innovation.

Often with small groups, it is not the manager who emerges as the leader. In many cases it is a subordinate member with specific talents who leads the group in a certain direction. Conflict may arise if the leader and manager have different views as the manager may feel his authority is being questioned.

Groups are often more loyal to a leader than a manager. This loyalty is created by the leader taking responsibility in areas such as:

· Taking the blame when things go wrong;

· Celebrating group achievements, even minor ones;

· Giving credit where it is due.

A leader is someone who people naturally follow through their own choice, whereas a manager must be obeyed. A manager may only have obtained his position of authority through time and loyalty given to the company, not as a result of his leadership qualities. A leader may have no organisational skills, but his vision unites people behind him.

Management usually consists of people who are experienced in their field, and who have worked their way up the company. A manager knows how each layer of the system works and may also possess a good technical knowledge. A leader can be a new arrival to a company who has bold, fresh, new ideas but might not have experience or wisdom.

Managing and leading are two different ways of organising people. The manager uses a formal, rational method, whilst the leader uses passion and stirs emotions.


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