This assignment critically evaluates leadership theories within a strategic framework by drawing upon literature sources and contrasting different academic perspectives. It will explore the relevance of strategic leadership within a small organization , as it appears that, from an initial review of the literature, that strategic leadership theories are aimed at large, complex, corporate organisations. Recommendations will be made as to whether or not the strategic leadership theories are of relevance to a small organisation and which theories have more relevance than others in this specific organizational context.
The concept of leadership is not new and it has been suggested that it was philosophers from ancient civilisations who first started to examine the definition of leadership (Grint 2001). The oldest known military text The Art of War (circa 400 BC) states: 'the leader of armies is the arbiter of the people's fate, the man on whom it depends whether the nation shall be in peace or in peril' (Sun (undated)). As early as the fourth century BC Plato believed leadership and the development of leaders to be of fundamental importance (Bass 1990). However, over the last few decades the concept of leadership has been heavily studied and debated; so much so that, for the first-time reader on the subject matter, the definition leadership appears, at first sight, to be intangible.
It would appear that every layperson, when asked, instinctively knows what a leader is, but when asked to describe this in detail they falter. Fielder (1987) states that there have been at least 65 definitions of leadership put forward, and Stogdill (1974) argues that there are almost as many definitions as there are commentators.
Leadership has been defined by Bennis (1998) as ‘a function of knowing yourself, having a vision that is well communicated, building trust among colleagues, and taking effective action to realize your own leadership potential’. However, Heifetz argues that there is little chance of ever resolving an all-embracing definition of leadership. This view is supported by Drucker (1996) who argues that ‘the only definition of a leader is someone who has followers’ and Nanus (1997) who states that ‘leadership is like the Abominable Snowman, whose footprints are everywhere but who is nowhere to be seen’. Recent research carried out by the South West Regional Development Agency concludes that ‘Despite recognition of the importance of leadership, there remains a certain mystery as to what leadership actually is or how to define it (Bolden 2004). Everyone has their own intuitive understanding of what leadership is, based on a mixture of experience and learning, which is difficult to capture in a succinct definition. The situation appears to be far more complex than the statement by Maxwell (1998) that ‘leadership is influence - nothing more, nothing less’ would have us believe.
There does however appear to be some consensus that leadership is not management, and Zaleznik (1977) was one of the first to delineate the differences between leadership and management. He saw a leader as an artist, who uses creativity and intuition to navigate his way through chaos, whilst the manager is seen as a problem solver dependent on rationality and control. The dichotomy between leaders and managers was forcefully established by Bennis and Nanus (1985) who suggest that managers ‘do things right’ whilst leaders do ‘the right thing’. Bennis (1989) went on to draw twelve distinctions between the two groups:
Managers ask how and when
Leaders ask what and why
Managers focus on systems
Leaders focus on people
Managers do things right
Leaders do the right things
Managers rely on control
Leaders inspire trust
Managers have a short-term perspective
Leaders have a longer-term perspective...
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