Leadership is such an interesting and yet complex concept that it seems, despite years of research and study, scholars and researchers are yet to fully apprehend it. In this adventure of studying the leadership enigma, a whole industry has sprung up, and it is still being taught from primary school up to PhD level, and research on it still continues, and there is no sign that interest in leadership will wane tomorrow.
The foregoing complexity no doubt is responsible for the tomes of definitions attributed to the concept. Some of the definitions of leadership focus on process, while some stress relationship and still others emphasise on skills. Yet, each of these definitions has elements that improve our understanding of the concept.
If we look at the key elements such as context, goals and influence, one of the best definitions of the concept is one offered by Kevin Cruse. According to him, leadership is a process of social influence which maximizes the effort of others towards the achievement of a goal.
This means, leadership is the potential to influence the behaviors of others, and the capacity to influence a group towards the realization of a goal. In essence, a leader is involved in shaping and moulding the behaviour of the group towards accomplishment of organisational goals.
LEADER VERSUS MANAGER
For the purpose of this lecture, let me quickly differentiate between leaders and managers. All managers may be leaders but not all leaders are managers.
Managers are position or status defined with accompanying responsibilities: planning, organizing, staffing, directing and controlling. On the other hand, a leader may not necessarily need a position to function. Leadership basically thrives on influence. And that may be the reason behind the assertion of Peter Drucker, one of the management gurus of our time, that leaders are pathmakers whereas managers are path followers. He also maintained that leaders do the right things and managers do things right.
As interesting as the above dichotomy is, it is not as interesting as the axiom that ‘the first person you lead is yourself’. At any rate, without leading yourself successfully, how do you hope to lead others. Perhaps, the deficit in this aspect of leadership is responsible for the alarming decline in leadership quality in our world today.
This self leadership presupposes having skills in career development, personal development, productivity and personal wellness.
LEADERSHIP QUALITIES VERSUS LEADERSHIP SKILLS
Some writings on leadership tend to conflate the two. But in essence they are not the same. Though, the essential difference between the two is that while qualities are innate and can distinguish one for leadership, skills are abilities or competencies that can be learned to improve one’s leadership effectiveness.
Thus, honesty, humility, empathy, courage, learning agility and many others are qualities useful in leadership while listening strategy, communication skills, conflict management and a host of others are all skills that can be learned to enhance a leader’s effectiveness.
WHAT MAKES A GREAT LEADER
There are many things that could be implicated in the greatness of leadership. However, in succinct form, the following can contribute in large measure to leadership effectiveness
• communicating top-down and bottom-up
• Having strong convictions and being open to continuous learning
• Courage to take risks without being reckless
• Ability to influence others
• Building trust and transparency
• Understanding and being able to work with diversity inherent in group composition
• Vision and purpose
BEST LEADERSHIP PRACTICES
Just like the proliferation of definitions of leadership, best leadership practices are as varied as they come. But the following practices appear comprehensive as they encapsulate development at both individual and corporate levels.
- Self Development
Because developments occur in the world at neck break speed today, self development becomes indispensable to leaders. Leaders must be married to lifelong learning. In today’s world, both for leaders and individuals, learning, unlearning and relearning is sine qua non to relevance and cutting edge performance
- Team Development
Just as personal development is important, developing team members is also crucial, and by this, leaders should adopt approaches that embrace developing partnerships with their subordinates or team members. This includes giving them latitude to work independently while not neglecting their(leaders’) supervisory roles
- Strategic Thinking and Acting
To stand out in today’s competitive environment, organisations or companies must remain nimble and responsive to change, and here is why strategic thinking is one of the prized assets of leaders.
Strategic thinkers take a broad and long-range approach to problem solving and decision making. Brian Bullock opined that leaders should look for the best routes to get the desired outcome in a way that amazes or beats the expectation of the people they serve.
- Ethical Practices and Civic- mindedness
Leaders set standard for their team based on their values and world views. Therefore, there must be proper alignment between the words and actions of leaders. Ethics and civic mindedness are dictated by organisations and are usually codified as procedures and policies. Leaders should be well acquainted with them, and regularly reference them.
To stay afloat in today’s fast-paced world, leaders must be creative, and must also encourage creativity in their team members. They must create an atmosphere of security for the sprouting and thriving of innovations.
CHALLENGES OF LEADERSHIP
Challenges of leadership are of three types, depending on their sources and they are: internal, external and circumstantial challenges.
i. External Challenges: These include issues such as lack of funding and other resources, opposition from forces within the community, social, economic and political factors including policies of government that may hinder the progress of the organisation.
Dealing with External Challenges
• Being proactive- A leader must be proactive. Waiting is occasionally the right strategy, particularly during crisis situation when disillusionment and uncertainty pervade the rank and file of the organisation
• Creativity: A leader must be creative. This means thinking outside the box or being unconventional in thinking, and in unexpected but effective ways.
• Face conflict squarely: Leaders should not be cowardly. They should identify and resolve conflicts.
• Seeking common ground: In situations where the opposition to the causes of the organisation stems from conflict of interest, a leader should be tactful and seek common ground to balance the interest of the group with the opposition.
• Objectivity: A leader should be objective when mediating conflicts. This creates trust in his leadership
ii. Internal Challenges
Leadership provides us the opportunity to showcase our strength, ironically, it also exposes our limitations. In many cases, great leaders have to overcome some of these challenges to realise the greatness inherent in them.
Fear, lack of confidence, insecurity, impatience, intolerance, indecision, defensiveness etc can act as barriers to manifestation of effective leadership. Overcoming these ills can turn a mediocre leader to a great one.
Dealing with Internal Challenges
• Listen with rapt attention: Leaders should learn to listen to people’s opinions about their ideas and plans. Listening more than talking should be cultivated.
• 360° feedback: Leaders should seek the opinions of people they work and interact with and utilise them.
• Observe your environment: Are you the centre of controversy and chaos in your organisation? Or do calm and good feeling seem to reside wherever you are. Opt for the latter.
• Reach out for help in facing internal challenges: Reaching out for help in dealing with personal challenges may be beneficial. Reaching out when necessary is highly recommended. Many of us can rarely change on our own. Psychotherapists, trusted friends and colleagues, clergymen and similar others may be the key to overcome that personal challenge.
iii. Challenges Arising from Leadership Itself
Real leadership is tasking. It makes a great demand of people. As a leader, you are responsible for your group’s vision and mission, setting standards and upholding them, motivating your team and being the face of the organisation and a lot more. In fact, you have to be leader all the time. This is tasking, no doubt.
Dealing with Challenges Arising from Leadership Itself
• Revisit your vision: A leader should create mechanisms to revisit the vision of the organisation regularly. It might be through occasional meetings or yearly retreats to discuss vision and appraise commitment to it. And if necessary, visions and strategy could be reworked.
• Share the burden: A leader should surround him/herself with good and competent people and delegate responsibilities to them. Sharing responsibilities with competent people makes all involved to be more effective.
• Find an outlet for the discussion of realities of leadership: The higher one grows in leadership, the lonelier it may become. Meeting on regular basis with peers or others whose opinions, whether critical or complimentary, will benefit, to discuss the difficulties in leadership is recommended. Such engagements provide feedback and prevent burnout, and can also help a leader gain more insight about his/her leadership
• Creating personal time: In order to maintain freshness in views and thoughts, taking time away from being a leader, and away from the organisation, periodically, may be useful. Just any activity that takes the mind off daily concerns of leadership will help. It could be daily meditation, playing music, vacation or fitness regimen. After the getaway, the leader will come back refreshed and reinvigorated.
GAINS OF LEADERSHIP
There are many benefits to effective leadership, some of which are:
i. Effectiveness ( Effective leaders- Effective Teams): A good leader promotes a culture of cohesion and collaboration within the work place and generally motivates people to be effective
ii. Productivity: By creating effective teams, productivity naturally spikes because of the culture of collaboration and shared purpose
iii. Loyalty and a climate of happiness: Effective leadership improves loyalty of team members including boosting their morale, and in businesses, this will lead to general job satisfaction and staff retention.
iv. Identifying opportunities: Good leaders tend to be visionaries, ‘big picture’ kind of people. This enables their organisations to thrive and stay ahead of competition
v. Building other leaders: Good leaders make great mentors and trainers, and building other capable leaders is close to their hearts because of the desire to reproduce their kind. This creates a chain of leadership succession which the society continues to benefit from.
vi. Skilled leadership creates good organisational culture: The culture of a business or an organisation is its personality, the environment in which employees or members work, including its values, ethics and mission.
Effective leadership, direction and support from the top are part of the key ways to sustain incredible organisational culture.
vii. Increased returns or deliverables: In business, effective leadership will generate increase in revenue and in environments other than that, it will facilitate goal achievement and other deliverables to the satisfaction of all stakeholders including the larger society.
The most important gain of leadership seems to revolve around its indispensability. For meaningful progress to be achieved in any human endeavour requiring two or more people working together, some form of leadership, whether by default or design, becomes imperative. This means, neither our society nor the small enclaves of our individual aggregation of people can function effectively or achieve its purpose without good leadership.
But whether leadership will be a lonely, rough and hard road, or an exciting and collaborative experience, depends largely on how we approach it, and also, the often neglected other side of the coin, the quality of followership.
© 2021 Toyyib Olaniyi Musa-Omoloja