Introspection on Leaders and Leadership

Is Jack Welch an effective leader? How does he compare to such world famous leaders as Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela?

Although managers are seldom called on to be leaders in the heroic mold of a Lincoln or a Mandela, their leadership abilities and skills play a major role in their organizations; success or failure. For this reason, thousands of scholars have studied leadership. They have used three major approaches – the study of traits, the study of leadership behaviors, and the study of contingencies, or the situations in which leaders act.

In his survey of leadership theories and research, Ralph M Stogdill pointed out that “there are almost as many different definitions of leadership as there are persons who have attempted to define the concept. We will define managerial leadership as the process of directing and influencing the task related activities of group members. There are four important implications of our definition.

First, leadership involves other people – employees or followers. By their willingness to accept directions from the leaders, group members help define the leader’s status and make the leadership process possible, without people to lead, all the leadership qualities of a manager would be irrelevant.

Second, leadership involves an unequal distribution of power between leaders and group members. Group members are not powerless; they can and do shape group activities in a number of ways. Still, the leader will usually have more power.

Where does a manager’s power come from? We have discussed five bases of a manager’s power: reward power, coercive power, legitimate power, referent power, and expert power. The greater the number of these power sources available to the manager, the greater his or her potential for effective leadership. Yet it is a commonly observed fact of organization life that managers at the same level with the same amount of legitimate power differ widely in their ability to use reward, coercive, referent, and expert power.

Thus, a third aspect of leadership is the ability to use the different forms of power to influence followers’ behaviors in a number of ways. Indeed, leaders have influenced soldiers to kill and leaders have influenced employees to make personal sacrifices for the good of the company. The power of influence brings us to the fourth aspect of leadership.

This fourth aspect combines the first three and acknowledges that leadership is about values. James McGregor Burns argues that the leader who ignores the moral components of leadership may well go down in history as a scoundrel, or worse. Moral leadership concerns values and requires that followers be given enough knowledge of alternatives to make intelligent choices when it comes time to respond to a leader’s proposal to lead. As noted ethicist Michael Josephson has argued, “We don’t learn ethics from people who sermonize or moralize or try to preach to us about ethics; we learn ethics from the people whom we admire and respect who have power over us. They are the real teachers of ethics. It’s important to reinforce ideals, if they’re sincere. It is very important for leaders and role models, whether they be sports figures or politicians to make positive statements on ethics, if they’re not hypocritical.

It is worth noting that although leadership is highly related to and important to management, leadership and management are not the same concepts. To dramatize the difference, leadership writer Warren Bennis has said that most organizations are over managed and under led. A person can serve as an effective manager – a good planner and a fair, organized administrator – but lack the motivational skills of a leader. Others can serve as effective leader – skilled at inspiring enthusiasm and devotion but lack the managerial skills to channel the energy they arouse in others. Given the challenges of dynamic engagement in today’s organizational world, many organizations are putting a premium on managers who also possess leadership skills.