You can find many definitions of leadership and read about many different qualities that leaders have that make them leaders. In short, a leader is a person who is able to share his or her vision with others so that other people can help the leader reach that vision. Being a great leader has much to do with politics, but that is the subject for another class.
How Do You Become a Leader?
In informal situations, the person who knows more about the topic, who has ideas for making the vision a reality, or who is able to communicate that knowledge, can often become an emergent leader. You can become a successful emergent leader if you volunteer for meaningful goals and follow through on those tasks to bring about a successful solution. Some people say that an emergent leader talks early and often in meetings, but if that person is not also listening and then sharing useful and pertinent information, the talking strategy will backfire. Being a leader is not always a glorified position. Often a leader emerges when someone is willing to do the task that no one else wants to do. This person has intuited that the role of leader is often that of servant: an effective leader serves the needs of the group. This type of leadership is referred to as servant leadership. Many large, successful corporations utilize the servant leadership model with great results. You can find out more about Servant Leadership through the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership.
Another way that people become leaders is that they are appointed. Designated leaders are hired, promoted, elected, or appointed. These people have demonstrated their leadership skills in other situations and they are then assigned to leadership positions.
Types of Leadership Powers
Leaders have access to five different types of power: reward power, coercive power, legitimate power, expert power, and referent power. Leaders use their reward power when they persuade people to do what the leader wants by offering others perks, recognition, and other types of rewards. Reward power may also be backed up, implicitly or explicitly, withcoercive power. Employees know that if they do what the leader wants they will receive a reward, but if they fail to do what is required, they can be penalized. Leaders rely on theirlegitimate power when they rely on the authority of their position as leader. We have all been socialized to varying degrees to follow certain authority figures. Leaders who rely on theirexpert power use their knowledge about a process to guide others on what needs to be done. Finally, leaders with great charisma rely on their referent power. People will do things for these leaders just because they like or admire the leader.
Are great leaders made or born? People who believe in the “great man” theory, as it has been called, believe that great leaders are born that way. These people have certain traits that make them effective leaders. According to this theory, you either have these traits in your personality, or you don’t. However, others believe that great leaders can be made by teaching individuals the skills and qualities needed for effective leadership. External behaviors are important, not internal qualities. What do you think?
Styles of Leadership
There are three basic styles of leadership: autocratic, democratic, or laissez-faire leadership. As the name suggests, autocratic leaders rule by themselves. They make all decisions by themselves and do not ask others for input into the decision making process. This leadership style is effective when time is of the essence. In a crisis or a high-stress situation, an autocratic leadership style is most effective. In other situations, an autocratic leadership style can stifle creativity and ideas, and can stress employees. Democratic leaders take decisive action, but they will first draw on the strengths and expertise of their team. This type of leadership supports innovation and is less stressful for employees, but it may sacrifice productivity. Laissez-faire leadership is a “hands off” style of leadership. With this style, the leader lets the group do what they need to do. This style works well with a mature, self-directed group of experts who know what needs to be done and will do it. It does not work well for young, inexperienced teams. An effective leader will be a master of all these styles and will be able to use them as needed. Different situations and different types of team members call for different leadership styles.
“Watch your thoughts, they become words. Watch your words, they become actions. Watch your actions, they become habits. Watch your habits, they become character. Watch your character, it is your destiny.” -Frank Outlaw
Reflect on the different styles and types of leaders. What are your strengths as a leader? What skills do you need to develop to be an effective leader? Some students shy away from the mere idea of leadership. However, you need to be the leader of your life. While your parents and teachers have guided you, it is now time for you to take this primary role in your life, if you haven’t already. Also, if you are thinking of having a family, you will need to serve in a leadership position there as well. Your family will be looking to you for direction and guidance. As you learned in the online lecture on communication, taking responsibility for meeting your own needs offers you opportunities for empowering yourself. You no longer have to be dependent on others. You can choose, however, to be interdependent with others. That doesn’t mean that you can’t ask for help, it just means that you know who is responsible, in your life, for meeting your needs.
As you work on your leadership/role model paper, think about the necessary qualities for being an effective leader. You need to have a vision of where you want to go. You need to be able to communicate that vision to others. You need to make sure that you give your team the tools they need to be effective team members. You need to be able to plan effectively, which means that you need critical thinking skills. You need to be an expert in your chosen field of study, which means knowing more than the minimum and knowing more than others know. You need to be able to express yourself clearly and competently – no misspelled words or poor grammar in your e-mails, memos, or executive reports.
What can you do now to accomplish this while you are at college? It will mean implementing smart goals or action plans that keep you at the top of each class. It will mean focusing and dedicating yourself to excellence. Starting today, you need to act in a professional manner, to face your fears and face them down, and to take strides towards the future you want. This class has given you the tools to know yourself, develop your character, and to become the person you have dreamed of being. What will you do next? I hope you can’t wait to find out!