Let’s talk about Leadership – Definition part 1

Leadership… everybody talks about it but do we really know what it is all about? The purpose of this post will be to clarify and define the concept to open the door to more posts going into more details and sharing experience.

Interestingly enough, scholars and practitioners have not been able to deliver an accurate definition of what it is so that we end up with many activities, processes or people being labeled with leader or lead or leadership but covering an unclear concept.
Having said that, I will then select a few quotes to get a basis for our purpose.

R.M. Stogdill in his Handbook of Leadership (New York, Free Press, 1974, 43-44) defines it as an interaction between members or a group. Leaders are agents of change, persons whose acts affect other people more than other people’s acts affect them. Leadership occurs when one group members modifies the motivation or competencies of others in the group.

J.L Gibson, J.M. Ivancevich and J.H. Donnelly Jr in their 10th edition of Organisations: Behavior, Structure, Processes (Boston, Irwin McGraw Hill, 2000, 272) it is an attempt to use non coercive influence to influence individuals to accomplish a goal.

I also read that Jack Welch, the former General Electric CEO, defined a leader as a person that has enormous energy and, beyond that, ability to energize others and draw out their best, usually on a global basis.

So I think that now we could show that Leadership means different things to different people so what is important is to define what they have in common.
This can be done by using some internationally recognised models.

Fiedler’s Contingency model:
The Fiedler Contingency Model was created in the mid-60s by a scientist who studied the personality and characteristics of leaders. The model states that there is no one best style of leadership. Instead, a leader’s effectiveness is based on the situation.
It is important to realise that in Fiedler’s Contingency Theory your leadership style is fixed. You cannot change your style to suit the situation. Instead, you must put leaders into situations that match their style. This statement makes it difficult to adopt as it sounds like it is not flexible but let’s check how we can apply it.
Start with defining your Leadership style:

We will detail these later on.

The next step is to understand how favorable the situation you face is. This is determined by how much control over the situation you have as a leader (situational control).
To achieve this we need to look at 3 aspects, what is the Leader-member relationship and whether the trust is in place or not. Secondly how structured is the task at hands, clear or vague? And thirdly, the position power i.e. it is determined by your authority, meaning the power you have to reward or punish your subordinates.

You can use the following table to score yourself on the LPC (Least-Preferred Coworker) scale. Fill in your answers keeping in mind the one person that you least like to work with. A high LPC score (>=73) indicates that the individual is a relationship-oriented leader, while a low LPC score (<=53) suggests a task-oriented leader.

The 2nd step is to understand the situation i.e. trust, task structure and position power…
Now that we understand how we like to lead, and we understand the situation we are facing, we’re in a position to determine if we have the right style for the situation we’re facing.

From Fiedler’s perspective, you would place leaders into situations that are most suited to their style.
However, a more modern approach is to adapt your style according to the situation. Taking us back to my comment saying that adaptability is key now to be as relevant as possible facing a situation.
(inspired by https://expertprogrammanagement.com/)

Leadership styles:

I won’t try to to unfairly explain whether there is a better style than another because i believe that all are good depending on what we are facing as difficulty as mentioned in the previous paragraph.

Let’s give a brief overview of the 4:
Autocratic: it is all about the leader and means that we develop a central decision making process i.e. subordinates are not part of it.
Democratic: it is all about the team and decisions are made together, the leader is there to guide the conversations and processes.
Transformational: it is about the leader who models the behavior they expect to see, sets clear goals, and has high expectations. To reach this (s)he is supporting and emotionally guiding subordinates to achieve.
Laissez-faire: the leader is delegating to his team including decision making process. It is “hands-off” and has as objective to let the team run and stay out of the way while protecting the team and enable the team to be in an environment that allows this.

What is important to take from here is that the higher the skills of your subordinates, the higher the box of the style to adopt.
This means that if you have a highly skilled team you may enable an environment where the team can be self-directed so that you can focus on protecting the team and enable optimised delivery.

There are more models to be talked about and I will touch on these in my coming posts 🙂 stay tuned..

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