The Truth About Leadership Theories
In general, situational models of leadership work because they emphasize behavior which can be measured in terms of its intended results Boone & Boone, (2005). It was John Broadus Watson, the father of behavioral psychology who said, “Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select – doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors.” John Locke suggested we are all born tabula rasa i.e. blank slates and leadership behaviors are learned through the use of our senses and by exposure to stimuli in the external world Liden, Wayne, Zhao & Henderson, (2008); Locke, J., (1689). The implications for this are huge as it suggests leaders are made not born and also that their behaviors can be systematically improved upon Hannah & Avolio, (2010); Leigh, Shapiro & Penny, (2010).
Fiedler’s Contingency Model works well in departments because it states two conditions effect performance outcomes. First, can the leader modify his/her style of leadership to meet the needs of the situation without impacting the relationships he/she has built with staff? Second, does his/her motivation come from accomplishing the task or from building relationships with others Fiedler & Berkowitz, (1964). This system would be effective in our organization for the following reasons i.e. we can measure the leadership behaviors of our managers and with additional coaching, improve upon their efforts. In addition, leaders who can adapt to the needs of any given situation would be more likely to succeed where others may not.
The only caveat I would add is that if a leader is too adaptable, it may be seen as an attempt to manipulate employees to achieve an outcome. In order to build trust with employees, behavior has to remain fairly constant Pine & Galloway, (2011). Conversely, if you change your behavior in a significant way, staff might perceive you as unpredictable and therefore less trustworthy and trust drives outcomes Prusak & Cohen, (2001).
Some of the research done on Fiedler’s model suggests leadership skills are not transferable across industries and in point of fact they do. Its only experience that may not be transferable. A true leader will always be able to build relationships with staff, surround him/herself with knowledgeable people who can advise them while they come up to speed and become subject matter experts. Human resources for the most part supports this viewpoint because they only consider people who have already had the job and not the ones that can do the job based on their accomplishments. Over the course of the past decade, this writer has gone into many different departments where a lack of experience with a medical specialty should have caused his demise and yet did not. A leader’s skill set will always allow you to have influence with the group and to motivate their performance.
To further illustrate this point, the one thing all definitions and models of leadership have in common is influence with people and that is the key to your success in any environment Kinicki and Fugate, (2011). An Army officer is considered by the military to be a universal leadership expert. He/she is expected to be an effective leader and get results in any scenario. That means an infantry officer should be able to lead effectively whether he is placed in charge of an infantry platoon or a logistics battalion and this writer can speak from experience to the truth of that statement. If you couldn’t do your job better, faster, smarter than the officer who had it before you, you didn’t get to stay around for very long. We can say without fear of contradiction that the success of Fiedler’s model relies upon the skill of the person using it. Actions speak to character and will ultimately impact the relationships you have built with staff. The trick is to adapt enough to succeed without becoming unrecognizable.
In addition, Situational Leadership bridges the gap between age, ethnicity and gender by allowing the leader to anticipate stereotypes and modify behavior enough to accommodate the needs of the situation and the group Conway & Vartanian, (2000).
On the other hand, Transformational leaders focus on developing their people to become the next generation of leaders in the organization Dumdum, Lowe & Avoilo, (2002). This style of leadership is extremely effective because it builds trust through relationships and trust drives outcomes Prusak & Cohen, (2001). Transformational Leaders exemplify the four qualities of leadership that will ultimately make any leader effective: intelligence, trust, humanity and moral courage.
- Transformational leaders can think critically
- Build relationships based on trust
- Treat everyone fairly and equally across the board
- Have the moral courage to do the right thing even if they must make a personal sacrifice to do so Pine & Galloway, (2011).
This model focuses on both leader and employee behavior which eliminates the perception of age, ethnicity and gender as a potential source of bias. People are always appropriate, behavior may or may not be. When it’s not, it is the behavior that becomes inappropriate and must be dealt with, not the employee thereby eliminating the potential for discrimination of any kind Pine & Galloway, (2011).
In conclusion, while situational and transformational models of leadership are both effective at creating influence with staff, it is transformational leadership that place the greatest emphasis on behavior as a constant. When a leader becomes more predictable he/she also becomes more trustworthy. An added benefit is it allows staff to predict with greater certainty the rewards or consequences of specific behaviors which in turn tends to influence the overall behavior of the group in a positive way. The best possible scenario would be to combine both styles to the extent possible thereby ensuring the synergy of both would ultimately be superior to the results obtained from any single theory.
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