DEAR LORD, LET ME BECOME A GOOD LEADER… More Easily Said Than Done!
1) Leadership TRAIT theories don’t work.
Only 5% in allegedly important character traits overlap across research, and it’s impossible to possess all of them. More importantly, any replicable correlation between Leadership success and traits is spurious. However, the idea that “anyone can be a leader”, whatever their traits, is equally flawed.
2) Leadership STYLE theories don’t work.
The assumption that followers work harder if leaders display certain styles, eg democratic, coaching, visionary (as opposed to authoritarian) is not supported by evidence. The major difference in styles relates to the focus of power: it is assumed that more democratic styles — ceteris paribus — are superior, because they fulfill needs for participation and self-actualisation needs. Whilst supportive styles have some positive effects, most studies fail to show any meaningful improvement in productivity based on styles alone. Notably, in routine work structured leadership styles prove more effective (even if morale reduces).
3. CONTINGENCY theories are better, but it quickly gets complicated.
Contingency theorists look for optimum strategies in a specific Leadership situation, defined in particular by fit between task, team/ind and the position/personality of the leader within the team (see eg John Adair).
Fiedler suggests that leadership behavior is dependent on whether the leader is liked/trusted, whether the task is well defined, and whether the leader has (reward/sanction) power. When tasks are defined and leaders well respected — or tasks ambiguous and leaders weak, psychological distance of leaders to groups (read: command and control) seem to increase effectiveness. Ambiguous tasks and strong leaders instead call for democratic approaches. Vroom looks at even more complex decision-making processes, but both models only have limited empirical support.
However, their basic idea remains compelling i.e. that no one trait or style will generate leadership success. What matters is the practical wisdom to reflect on and enact the most appropriate intervention, based on fitness with contingent factors, in the context of a specific organisation.
From Leadership to Good Leadership
In our own #GoodOrganisation inquiry the further challenge is to develop a systemic and ethical leadership model. Here, success is not only determined by outcomes, but by the way people interact, develop and flourish. An Organisation is only as good as “the people it creates” through work. Therefore, leaders (also) become guardians of the “moral character”, of the gestalt and meaning of their businesses. Any habitual behavior is not only aimed at producing, but becomes a symbolic expression of “who” the organisation wants to become…
More information: https://goodorganisations.com
References (and picture): Understanding Organizations by Charles Handy. The book remains a must-read for anyone interested in management science, beyond the hype