What Makes an Effective Leader

Topics: Leadership, Situational leadership theory, Management Pages: 7 (2079 words) Published: October 10, 2012
Gary Wills, a professor and cultural historian whose many books provide broad analysis of some of the world leaders, has once said: "The leader is one who mobilizes others toward a goal shared by leaders and followers. Leaders, followers and goals make up the three equally necessary supports for leadership." (Nkwocha, 2011) Thory (2011) defines leadership as the ability to influence people toward the attainment of organizational goals. Although there are people who are leaders by nature, it is strongly believed that successful management traits can be exercised and honed. ‘Leadership as capacity is developed through building interpersonal skills, social awareness, mutual respect, and trust.’ (Roberts, Roper, 2011)

Much has been written about the leaders and the effectiveness of their power and impact on the other people. Infinite discussions often refer to the previous and present world leaders, analysing their family background, education or personal traits and comparing one to another. Even though different types of researches into leadership styles and skills had been carrying out for more than a century, there is still no common definition about what it takes to be an effective leader.

The aim of this essay is to define the basic skills that most of the world leaders share. The methods of research refer to some influential management books and reliable journal articles. Three theories of leadership (trait theory, behavioural and situational) are to be discussed hereafter. The conclusions will provide the summary of the research suggesting the factors that contribute to leadership effectiveness based on the essay content.

One of the first hypotheses concerning to point out the main features that define a successful leader was called the trait theory. However, this phase, which ran from the turn of the century to about 1950, was largely unfortunate in pinpointing universal leadership characteristics (Schriesheim, Neider, 1989). The reasons of failure to prove the effectiveness of this theory are to be discussed later in this essay.

This theory attempted to explain distinctive characteristics in leader effectiveness through the identification of a set of personal traits (Goff, 2003). ‘Traits are the distinguishing personal characteristics of a leader, such as intelligence, values, self-confidence and appearance’ (Thory, 2011). It was assumed that specific qualities most of the leaders share are the factors that determine success in their managerial styles. Such qualities can be separated into two categories: physiological and psychological. ‘Physiological characteristics include height, weight, appearance, physical endurance, etc., while psychological characteristics include intelligence, diligence, confidence, discipline, etc.’ (Tsai, 2008) Looking back to 1990s to such leaders as Henry Ford or M.K. Gandhi, it can be easily noticed that physiological characteristics as height does not contribute to the power of leadership due to the fact that physical measures of leaders differ widely (see Appendix 1).

When studying psychological traits, researchers tried to define the most common qualities that can affect leadership success. For instance, in a report to the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), Hockaday and Puryear (2000) provided a list of nine traits needed by the effective community college president. Those nine traits are: “vision; integrity; confidence; courage; technical knowledge; collaborators; persistence; good judgement; and the desire to lead. (Goff, 2003) In addition to that, Ralph Stodgill (1974), the originator of the trait theory, highlighted such features as high activity level or tolerance to stress, as well (see Appendix 2).

‚Trait theories are sometimes referred to as ‘Great Man’ theories both because leadership was thought to be the province of males and because leadership had a mythical, heroic sense of destiny (with leaders assumed to be born, not...
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