Critically Assess the Various Theories of Leadership. Which Do You Find Most Relevant and Why?

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Leadership is vital in any endeavour that involves a team. This essay will evaluate theories of leadership and their pertinence to culinary arts management. It will assess primary theories as they emerged including trait and skills, behavioural and style, contingency and situational, and, managerial and relationship. Most, if not all, on their own have limited application as Needle (2004) acknowledges, and are best placed in the context of the relevant industry for evidence of their effectiveness. This essay therefore, will identify and explain, through example, their appropriateness to the predominantly team orientated culinary environment. Martin (2004: 336) defines leadership as “A process in which the leader is able to influence the behaviours and actions of those being led”. And, Mazlish (1990: 252) recognized that “there is no leader for all peoples and all seasons. A potential leader must find the right circumstances and the right group to lead”. It can therefore be reasonable to propose that what makes a leader, effective or otherwise, depends upon a myriad of considerations, and as such has been of considerable debate.

Trait theory, one of the earliest attempts at defining qualities of leadership, referred to the “great man” (Heifetz 1841). It implies that certain physical and mental characteristics, evident only in certain “men”, predispose them for leadership roles, and as such, leadership cannot be taught. This notion is now considered insufficient (Needle 2004). House (1977) expanded trait theory with the concept of charismatic leadership. Such leaders are full of energy and enthusiasm, have a clear goal and communicate well with their team, but may, however, be too self-absorbed. Its relevance to the culinary environment can be instantly associated with charismatic chefs such as Jean Christopher Novelli, but as he himself admits, there can be drawbacks, for example, a passion outweighing business acumen (Sunday Times 2006).

The next step in leadership theory encompasses a far broader, flexible and interlinked approach to the criteria for defining qualities of leadership, drawing on matters of behaviour, style, situation and contingency. The essence of behavioural and style theories, research of which was predominantly carried out in the USA (Stogdill and Coons 1957; Likert 1961), centres on the premise that a particular type or style of behaviour, if identified, could be taught to managers. As a result, three styles of leadership were identified: authoritarian (the leader alone makes decisions that the team must follow); democratic (the leader invites their team to participate in decisions); and laissez faire (almost an absence of leadership). Further to this, situational or contingency theorists recognised the importance of additional elements. Tannenbaum and Schmidt (1973) used an approach described as the continuum of leadership behaviour by stating factors concerning the qualities of the leader, the nature of his/her employees, the character of the work, time constraints and type of organisation. Fiedler’s contingency theory (Fiedler 1967) examined further elements of leadership adding yet more complexity to the leader-follower dynamic.

This essay will now consider the relevance of these more involved theories applied to the culinary workplace starting with the laissez-faire, or hands-off style leadership model. This specific type falls and stands on the need for subordinates to be highly trained, skilled, experienced, and educated. This is uncommon in this industry as around 40% workers are classified as relatively unskilled (EMCC 2006).

On the other hand, autocratic leadership is not uncommon. Anthony Bourdain, in the interview he gave for Harvard Business Review (2002), explains that this uncompromising and rather severe style is based on Auguste Escoffier’s “military brigade system” which thrives on a constant crisis and perception the kitchen is a hell resembling, degrading place. This...
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