Just possessing an impressive title or position does not equate to someone being a leader. Leadership is influencing others to follow your vision. The quality of one’s leadership is measured by their follower’s perception of the leader’s effectiveness. This perception is driven by the different characteristics and skills that a given leader has as well as the style they use. Which traits they possess and their chosen approach will have a direct impact on the effectiveness of their leadership. This paper will explore the different aspects of a leader’s personality and their position in an organization and how those factors impact the levels of influence gained.
It is important to make an early distinction, Leaders and managers are not the same. Management focuses on systems and processes, organising and staffing. John Kotter in discussing what leaders really do describes the focus of leadership as “motivating and inspiring – keeping people moving in the right direction, despite obstacles to change, by appealing to basic but often untapped human needs, values, and emotions” (Kotter, 1999, p. 54). There is overlap however, in that both managers and leaders must communicate the direction, but it’s a leader who will gain the commitment from followers to do what is needed to achieve the vision.
Leadership can be referred to as the process of moving a group of people in a certain direction, and if it is to be sustainable it must be done through non-coercive means, thus by gaining influence from the group. Leaders need to create commitment from their followers through motivation and inspiring them to achieve collective goals. Different circumstances may require leaders to use different styles. They may even behave in a different manner depending on who they are interacting with. That being interaction between a leader and a follower may be different than that between a colleague or supervisor. This is referred to as situational leadership, where there isn’t always a single approach that will satisfy all tasks, or influence all followers. According to Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard, situational leaders “should be able to place more or less emphasis on the task, and more or less emphasis on the relationships with the people they’re leading, depending on what’s needed to get the job done successfully” (Blanchard & Hersey, 2012). In a given situation a leader may be more commanding and tell the employee exactly what to do, and how to do it. This is often referred to as an authoritative style of leadership. In another situation the leader may try to ‘sell’ their message to gain greater commitment while still giving direction and providing information. Sometimes a participative style is the best fit, where the leader focuses on the relationships in the group and is prepared to share the role of decision making. And finally, a situation may call for a leader to delegate responsibilities to their follower, and take the role of a manager and monitor progress.
What style to use will depend on what Hersey and Blanchard refer to as the maturity of the individual or group. This would be the levels of knowledge, skills, and confidence that the followers have (Blanchard & Hersey, 2012). If the wrong style is used a leader may be faced with failure as too much responsibility was given to an employee with too low maturity, or being too authoritative to a follower with high maturity can damage the relationship through a lack of trust. Matching the leadership style with the appropriate maturity level (situation) is key to success and can strengthen leader follower relationships that will sustain future success. A strengthened relationship between leaders and followers has proven to be indispensable for an organisation’s success, as Bass argued the importance of this by highlighting survey results where “employees’ favourable attitudes toward their supervisors contributed to the employees’ satisfaction. In turn, employees’ favourable attitudes toward their supervisors were usually found to be related to the productivity of the work group” (Bass, 1990).
Stogdill (1974) argued that Leaders are born, that they posses inherent traits that make them suitable as a leader. This is referred to as trait theory. In Handbook of leadership: A survey of the literature, he observed successful leaders and identified skills and traits that these leaders had. It was thought that if people were selected for leadership positions who also had a combination of these traits, than they too could be great leaders if given the chance. The table below contains Stogdill’s findings:
Adaptable to situations
Alert to social environment
Ambitious and achievement-orientated
Dominant (desire to influence others)
Energetic (high activity level)
Tolerant of stress
Willing to assume responsibility
Diplomatic and tactful
Fluent in speaking
Knowledgeable about group task
Organised (administrative ability)
Source: Handbook of leadership: A survey of the literature (Stogdill, 1947)
McCall and Lombardo (1983) looked to focus on why some leaders succeed and others fail. They compiled their own list of traits for successful leaders. They argued that a leader needed to be emotionally stable and show composure in difficult situations. The leader should be calm, confident and predictable when under stress. They also saw that successful leaders were able to admit their own errors. That being prepared to own up to mistakes made, rather than focusing energy into covering up their errors. Another key skill they observed was good interpersonal skills. Being able to communicate clearly and persuade others without resorting to negative or coercive tactics is key to successful leadership. And finally McCall and Lombardo see a great importance in a leader possessing intellectual breadth. They describe this as being able to understand a wide range of areas, rather than having a narrow area of expertise. (McCall & Lombardo, 1983)
This idea that leaders are born has been challenged. Skills and traits can develop over time through life experiences such as a dramatic event, family upbringing, positive role models, work experience, education and training. These experiences can shape and alter an individual’s personality. Fiedler and Garcia argue that “when there is high uncertainty, or little time to think, we generally fall back on what has worked in the past. Leaders with a large repertoire of previously successful behaviours are more likely to perform better than those who lack this fund of experience” (Fiedler & Garcia, 2005). This highlights both the importance of experience and decisiveness in being a leader. Most of the skills and traits observed by Stogdill can be developed and shaped through life experiences. However, some skills and traits are more likely to be seen in leaders who are born with a particular personality, such as an extraverted personality.
Leadership is a relationship between a group of people and an individual. This relationship is based on both influence and power, but like any relationship, the personalities of its members will dominate its long term success. A leader’s personality must ‘fit’ both the group and the situation. However, as previously referenced there are personality traits that have been consistently observed in successful leaders. Having an extraverted personality is not necessarily a requirement of a leader, just as possessing an introverted personality is not a disqualification. However, extroverts are often associated with some of Stogdill’s traits. Extroverts are commonly perceived as those with high levels of energy, expressive, and seek close relationships, where as introverts are more low key and prefer solitude (Riggio, 2011). A certain personality may not guarantee one being a better leader, but what it can determine is what type of leader one may be.
When we think of great leaders many of the examples would fall into the category of extroverts; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Steve Jobs, and Bill Clinton. But they also come in the form of introverts; Abraham Lincoln, Bill Gates, and Mahatma Gandhi. All these men were/are great leaders, the difference is in how they approached their position as leader, and thus the relationship in the group. In a recent study by Psychology Today, it was found that social skills may be a better indicator of potential leadership. In the report, Ronald E. Riggio discusses misinterpreting the potential social effectiveness of an extrovert’s social energy. Riggio argues that “if the person lacks the social skills to direct that energy, then the person will not be socially effective. Conversely, socially skilled introverts should do well in social interaction, but in a more low-key manner” (Riggio, 2011).
Most leadership theories in business environments are based on a transactional relationship between the manager and employee, with the manager being the leader to the employee’s position as follower. The transaction occurs by the leader offering a reward for the employee’s performance, this being a wage or bonus. To increase motivation they may pay higher incentives or increase perks.
Path goal theory is based on the idea that an employee’s perception of what is expected regarding their effort and performance is greatly affected by a leader’s behaviour. A leader helps his followers (employees) attain rewards by clearly outlining paths to goals and removing obstacles that could negatively affect the followers performance. Leaders do this by providing support, information, and other resources which are required by employees to complete the task and reach their goal. Robert House developed path goal theory and identifies two major dimensions of leadership, those being initiating structure and consideration. Initiating structure is the degree that a leader assigns tasks, specifies procedures, clarifies expectations, and schedules work to be done by their employees (House, 1971). As for consideration, House described this as the degree a leader provides a supportive environment through warmth, friendliness, helpfulness. Leaders do this by being approachable, considerate to the follower’s personal welfare, and when change is on the horizon, giving advanced notice (House, 1971). House argued that “Leaders who initiate structure for subordinates are generally rated highly by superiors and have higher producing work groups than leaders who are low on initiating structure; and that leaders who are considerate of subordinates have more satisfied employees” (House, 1971). In this theory leaders are seen more as coaches who want to help their employees succeed.
In the text Management: ideas and actions, in contrast to transactional, Duncan offers a definition of transformational leadership as “a process whereby individuals create a connection that raises the level of motivation and morality of both the leader and the follower…” with the primary goal “to assist followers in attaining their maximum potential” (Duncan, 1999).
At the heart of transformational leadership is charisma. Sociologist Max Weber (1968) introduced the term charisma in the nineteenth century and described charismatic leadership as a non-rational form of authority. According to Weber, charisma is defined by a specifically “supernatural” trait that emerges in natural leaders during times of distress (Weber, 1968). But charisma is almost more in the hands of the followers in that they must ‘buy in’ to the leader’s personality, or vision. It is the follower’s perception that ultimately decides whether the leader is charismatic. Rukmani argues that transformational leadership is composed of “idealized influence and inspirational motivation, which serving as a charismatic role model and articulating a vision of the future that can be shared” (Rukmani, et al., 2010).
Each style has its place in organisations and at times a leader must be able to be both transformational and transactional at different times. During times of change in organisations, transformational leaders are required to inspire the masses to share their vision. Kotter argues that motivation will be more sustainable when people are energized “not by pushing them in the right direction as control mechanisms do but by satisfying basic human needs for achievement, a sense of belonging, recognition, self-esteem, a feeling of control over one’s life, and the ability to live up to one’s ideals” (Kotter, 1999). For that reason, once systems are in place a transactional style is more appropriate to manage the work that now must be completed by those who have the knowledge and skills to do it.
Leadership is the process of inspiring others to work hard to accomplish important tasks. Graen and Ulh-Bien (1995) propose three approaches to leadership, which a leader can adopt for effectively leading his or her employees. These include leader-based, relationship-based, and follower-based approaches. The approaches can be used in combinations at the same time with different followers. Effective leadership requires flexibility to employ these approaches in an honest and open manner.
The leader-based approach is concerned with establishing and communicating a vision for the company, inspiring the employees’ commitment and enhancing group cohesion. By doing so, the leader and the followers raise one another to higher levels of motivation. Entrepreneurs who are gifted leaders are extraordinarily good at turning their visions into concrete results. A drawback of this approach is that when people are highly dependent on the leader, they may follow an inappropriate vision without question. The leader-based approach works best when there is a need for fundamental change requiring uniform direction by a charismatic leader and limited diversity among followers.
The relationship-based approach is based on developing mutual trust, respect, and obligation between leader and follower, which generates influence between the parties. It emphasises building strong relationships with followers and on mutual learning and accommodation. It works best when there are different types of people with different kinds of needs who have to be managed. Relationship-based leadership can be seen as a sort of partnership between leader and follower. But, it is often time-consuming and relies on long-term relationships between particular leaders and followers.
With the follower-based approach, leadership involves empowerment, coaching, facilitating, and giving up control. Accordingly, it requires the ability and motivation of the leader’s followers to manage their own performance. Often, this approach makes the most of the follower’s capabilities, enabling leaders to focus on other responsibilities. The follower-based approach is most effective for performing unstructured tasks, in cases of weak position power of the leader, or non-acceptance of the leader.
In a business environment, the leader of the organisation may also be the founder of the company. In this case they are an entrepreneur and a leader. This situation demands that the leader takes on different roles in a new organisation. It often happens that the founder entrepreneur is unable to adapt to the needs of the growing organisation. If the entrepreneur is unable to learn a new set of skills or to relinquish authority, the venture’s performance can suffer. Many entrepreneurs cannot or will not break old habits in order to learn the roles they have to play in order to develop the venture, causing the company to lose control and turn profits into losses. The main problem seems to be that all too frequently the founder is reluctant to lose control of the business, wanting to do everything him or herself rather than manage others, so the growth potential of the business is strictly limited by his or her personal energy and capacity. Chandler and Jansen (1992) suggest that there are three distinct leadership roles that an entrepreneur has to develop adequately. Or, which members of the entrepreneur’s management team have to develop.
The entrepreneurial role requires the ability to recognise and envision taking advantage of opportunity. This ability has been referred as the core of entrepreneurship and may be contingent on the entrepreneur’s familiarity with the market. It can also be described as the drive to see firm creation through to fruition, which requires the willingness and capacity to offer intense and sustained effort.
A second role the entrepreneur must fill is the managerial role. This requires the ability to develop programs, budgets, procedures, evaluate performance, and perform other tasks essential to implementing strategy. Individuals with strong managerial skills enjoy high levels of responsibility and authority; they seek positions involving delegation and motivation. The effective manager must be competent in three areas:
â€¢ Conceptual competence: The mental ability to co-ordinate all of the organisation’s interests and activities, for instance, effective management of the venture’s cash flow.
â€¢ Human competence: The ability to work with, understand, and motivate other people, both individually and in groups. The manager must be able to clearly communicate the goals to be achieved and motivate others to behave in a synergistic manner. For instance, this requires the ability to delegate, manage customer and employee relationships, and exercise interpersonal skills.
â€¢ Political competence: The ability to enhance one’s position, builds a power base, and establishes the right connections. This may be particularly important in start-up firms, because the founder must enlist the support of network members. Establishing connections with people who control important resources and possess important skills and abilities is important to the performance of the new venture.
Finally there is the technical-function role. To function effectively in the technical-functional role, the entrepreneur/leader must have the ability to use the tools, procedures and techniques of a specialised field. The specific skills required are determined by the industry within which the venture operates. Consider for instance a restaurant spinoff with a strong technical entrepreneur who only has bartending experience. If such an entrepreneur is unable to develop his or her entrepreneurial and managerial role, and if there is no one else in his or her team to fulfil this, the restaurant spinoff is likely to fail. Generally, the entrepreneurial and the technical roles are of the greatest importance at the start of the business. However, in order to grow, the managerial role is of eminent importance as well.
If these roles are lacking yet the venture is determined to grow, a strong manager is needed who has the necessary knowledge and skills to fulfil these roles. But this is easier said than done. Most founders hate to step aside even though they are temperamentally unsuited to be managers. Clarysse and Moray (2004) suggest that investors have to be careful when they want to remove the founder-entrepreneur. This is because the initial team often only accepts a newcomer as a CEO once they have been convinced of the shortcomings of their friend as a “boss”.
Business Leaders today face multiple challenges of recruiting and retaining competent employees. In order to succeed both in reaching a common goal and creating commitment amongst their followers, a leader ability to inspire and motivate is crucial. Whether it comes naturally or developed over time, there are skills and traits that an effective leader must have in order to inspire their followers. They will need to be flexible, both for different task requirements and for the differing personalities and skills of their employees. If a leader can’t influence their employees then they will have no followers; so then if the leader has no followers than they really aren’t a leader at all. Without influence there is no leadership.