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Introduction to leadership

Leadership is defined as a process by which a person influences others to accomplish an objective and directs the organisation in a way that makes it more coherent and cohesive.

leader can operate in a variety of contexts, it could be a politician pursuing a cause through passion, a business executive developing and executing a new strategy or someone creating and coaching a sports group. Leaders can be leading something big or small, yet it is the attitude and skills they have that define them as a good leader.

“Leaders instil in their people, success and a belief in themselves. Positive leaders empower people to accomplish their goals.” – Unknown

Theories of leadership

Over the past 100 years, interest in the psychology of leadership has increased. As a result, different leadership theories have been introduced to explain why certain people become great leaders. Such theories often focus on the characteristics of leaders, but some try to identify the behaviours that people can adopt to improve their own leadership abilities in different situations. Here are a few examples of some classic leadership theories:

‘The great man’ theory– According to this theory, certain people are ‘born to lead’ and are therefore  born with all the necessary characteristics needed to be a successful leader such as charisma, confidence, intelligence and great social skills. This approach sees leadership as inherent and therefore something that cannot be learned easily.

‘Situational’ theories– these theories state that leaders choose the best courses of action based upon situational variables. Different leadership styles may be more appropriate to different types of decision making or problem solving circumstances.

Management’ theories– These theories focus on the role of supervision, organisation and group performance. They base leadership on a system of rewards and punishments whereby when employees are successful they are rewarded, and when they fail they are reprimanded.

Behavioural’ theories– These are based on the belief that great leaders are made, not born. This focuses on the actions of leaders rather than the mental qualities and traits they are born with. Accordingly, people can learn to be good leaders through teaching and observation.

Nowadays the focus is more on teaching people to be great leaders, as there is more belief in the behavioural model compared to the ‘great man’ theory.

Different styles of leadership

Alongside the theories of how people can become leaders there are also many different styles of leadership, each with different levels of effectiveness:

Democratic leadership– Commonly effective

Within this style, the leader makes decisions based on the input of each team member, so that each has an equal say on the direction of a project but the leader makes the final call. This is one of the most effective styles as it allows lower level members to exercise authority and learn skills for later positions they might hold.

Autocratic leadership– Rarely effective

This is the opposite of democratic leadership as the leader makes decisions without taking input from any lower level members of the team. They are thus expected to go along with any decision the leader proposes and their expertise and ideas are not listened to or used effectively.

Coach style leadership–  Commonly effective

A leader using this style focuses on identifying and nurturing the individual strengths of each member in their team. They focus on strategies that will allow the team to work more effectively together. This is similar to democratic leadership but puts more focus on the growth and success of individual employees.

Laissez-Faire Leadership– sometimes effective

The French term ‘Laissez-Faire’ translates to ‘let them do.’ Leaders who utilise this style give nearly all authority to their team members. This can empower employees by affording them trust and freedom, however it can also lack direction, limit development and overlook critical growth opportunities within an organisation.

The difference between leadership and management

There is often a lot of overlap between what leaders and managers do and the goals they are trying to achieve for a project, but there are also features that make them distinct.

Traits of good leaders

  • Good leaders motivate team members to be and do their best, empowering them to perform better to achieve goals. Positive motivation builds confidence within the team and members are better able to recognise and build their strengths.
  • A good leader is a great coordinator, they foster mutual understanding and enthusiasm within the team by harmonising organisational goals with the individual interests and skills of the team members.
  • Leaders act as key representatives for their team, cause and goals. A good leader can therefore represent the organisation in the best way possible.
  • Leaders facilitate change and progress, they are able to convince people about the need for change and taking risks to succeed.
  • Leaders are proficient goal setters, they set goals and guide others to achieve them.
  • Good leaders have high emotional intelligence (EI). This means they are able to recognise and control their own emotions, while adapting emotional responses to different situational needs. A leader’s level of EI can have a large impact on their relationships, communication styles, team management, and general interactions within the organisation.

Overall, good leaders are team and people orientated, they are good at communicating and should have a positive and inspiring influence.