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Looking into the reality of life, we do not have to be the world’s prominent figures like Gloria Steinem in order to get a chance to lead people. Actually, all of us have had countless chances to lead no matter how short the chance was. For example, leading a group discussion, a church activity, or even in an informal organization like clubs and women groups. All those situations called for leadership skills irrespective of their profile. Leadership can be very stressful if not properly handled; on the other hand, it can also be very rewarding and exciting. So many challenges and responsibilities are faced by leaders, and it is the way they handle them that distinguishes leaders from us (Ghoshal & Bartlett, 1999).
Scholars have written so much in an attempt to define what leadership is. Their views seem to evolve over time, just like people change their preferences and taste. Initially leadership used to be viewed as more of a trait than anything else. This approach to defining leadership focused on the inner qualities of famous leaders like Abraham Lincoln and was also referred to as the “great man” theory. Then scholars began focusing their attempts to explain what leadership is towards behavior. Researchers looked more into what leaders do in their day to day activities, and how they respond to different situations. This approach was followed by the relational approach, in which some researchers claimed that we know a leader from how he or she relates with his followers. Today we can borrow something from all these approaches in order to fully understand the meaning of leadership. It can be seen clearly that for any person to be a leader, he/she must be able to influence a group of people and steer them towards achieving a common goal. Therefore, we can define leadership as the process which involves one person influencing a group of two or more persons to achieve a particular goal. It is not true to say that leadership involves ability and trait only, or behavior and skill only, or a relationship between the leader and the subordinates. Leadership encompasses all those elements, and one must have them to be a successful leader.
It is evident how Gloria Steinem and her work have influence on both men and women all over the world regarding equality. She has led women from discrimination to liberation with so much passion. Her ability to influence the world puts her in the same profile as the famous political leaders we know and hear about today. She is a true feminist who come out clearly to banish the traditions of gender roles and submission of women to men. Just like any other leader, Gloria Steinem has faced so many challenges from the male chauvinists to a point of being accused of distributing man hate literature.
The society today is in a great demand for effective leadership. At both the national and local level, we want to see leaders who can get things done. For organizations to survive the competition in the market place, Chief Executive Officers must motivate all employees to reach their maximum productivity. This makes leadership a more desired quality today than ever. The question is what traits do people like Gloria Steinem posses? This question cannot be clearly and exhaustively answered, but we can consider some key qualities that seem to be consistent with all these famous leaders.
Intelligence can be regarded as one of the most vital traits for effective leadership. Gloria Steinem has very good language skills evidenced by her work with the media. Her perceptual and reasoning ability is quite exceptional which qualifies her as an intelligent woman. These skills ought to be acquired by any individual who dreams of being an effective leader. Though we cannot change our intelligence quotient, it is possible to improve on our intelligence generally through learning and acquiring a lot of new information. An intelligent person knows quite a lot about different disciplines and especially about the surrounding environment. This information enables them to be insightful and always lead in the right direction. For instance, it is general knowledge that a football coach must have vast knowledge about football to be able to lead a team.
Then a leader should always be confident. This is the feeling of self assurance and a strong belief that one can accomplish all their objectives perfectly. Confidence rules out the element of doubt or uncertainty. We all see how positive and sure Gloria Steinem is about herself. We can only build confidence from understanding fully what is required of us. Although at times, we need to be mentored to have confidence, our ability to perform what is required of us remains the first step to attaining it. For us to acquire the necessary skills, we need to practice tirelessly. Anybody is dreaming of being a leader should be able to take up minor leadership responsibilities even voluntarily. This gives one the practice they require before one is entrusted with major leadership responsibilities (Greenleaf, 1991).
Leaders should also have the most important charisma for effective leadership. This is the appeal or the charm that a leader uses to influence others. This quality differs from one individual to another, and it is upon an individual to establish his special attribute that they can use as a magnetic charm. For example, President John F. Kennedy used his eloquent oratorical style to influence the people of America. Such leaders are recognized from their ability to influence people and have so many followers who really love them. Their followers look up to them as their role models. The same can be said about Martin Luther King Jr. Charisma can be attributed to Gloria Steinem from her ability to influence women and serve as a role model to them.
One also needs to be determined to be an effective leader. Focus and ability to attend to one's tasks without being destructed make them determined. This is a decision that one has to make, and it calls for initiative, self drive and persistence until you get the job done. This quality helps leaders to persevere the hostile environment and come out successful no matter the obstacles. Determination is one of the Gloria Steinem’s special qualities. She does not give up on her activism even when the world does not seem to be responding so supportive. She has also encountered countless criticism, but none of the critics destructed her let alone change her mind.
She has also shown a high level of sociability throughout her life. This is her ability to establish pleasant and lasting social relationships with any kind of person. This is one of a leader’s most valuable attribute. Leaders must be able to understand and relate to everybody that they lead. You would not be able to make people do what you want if you cannot relate to them well and professionally. To be able to relate to others, one must be sensitive to their needs and always be concerned with their well being. This is what creates the “people persons” characters.
Having acquired all those skills, it is important for a leader to know the people they lead. A leader should understand his followers fully in order to be able to handle them in the proper way. A leader should be capable of predicting actions of his followers in different situations to enable him or her to take control of the situation and be proactive. In an attempt to understand people in a working place, Douglas McGregor analyzed the behavior of people. The attitude of workers towards work was discussed in his book TheHumanSideofEnterprise.
One way of influencing people, especially in the work place, is through motivation. Managers should be able to motivate and sustain the employees’ motivation to perform the organizational duties. In a bid to explain how managers approach their workers, he proposed two theories; theory X and theory Y. Theory X consist of three assumptions about the human nature. These assumptions when put together give rise to a philosophy of leadership used from time to time by most leaders. Firstly, he claims that the average person does not like work and would avoid it if possible. This attitude of people makes them look at work as a necessary evil. This is the group of workers who go to work in order to be paid. It follows that such people need to be directed, closely monitored and controlled, and, if need, be threatened with punishment to make them keep working. Such people can also be motivated by frequent reminders of the rewards of working. This theory also assumes that these people prefer to be directed, are not ambitious, and always try to avoid responsibility. Theory X makes managers view workers as lazy people with no interest in their jobs. Managers using this leadership style tend to be very controlling and supervise their workers very closely. They also threaten them as a way of keeping them motivated, as it is believed workers do not have self motivation (Kotter, 1996).
On the other hand, Theory Y is founded on the following assumptions. For example, an average person is believed to like work and working is as natural as playing. To them working is not a burden. Work is viewed as a source of satisfaction. Unlike theory X, people are happy to work, and they do not just work for the salary. It is also assumed that people will be responsible and self driven towards achievement of their goals. These people do not need to be supervised since close supervision will even display mistrust from their leaders. They do not need to be controlled or directed. They also seek and accept responsibility, especially in a good working environment. A leader who basis his leadership style on this theory sees workers as capable of working without supervision, and they give their workers responsibilities and challenges to motivate them. In this case, the role of a leader is to support his staff without having to control them. Though no one leader believes in just one of the theories, they all tend to believe stronger in one of them. Their position defines the leadership style that they apply on their employees. It cannot be clearly ruled that any of them is wrong given the diverse nature of people in the work place (Bass, 1998).
The leadership styles applied by different leaders can also be classified into three; authoritarian, Democratic, and Laissez-faire. Lewin, Lippitt and White detailed the impacts of these leadership styles on groups of people. Democratic leadership style is closely related to theory Y. Democratic leaders see their workers as capable of working on their own. Therefore, they become part of the team and work together with the subordinates without putting themselves above them. They guide the subordinates instead of directing them by merely suggesting alternatives and letting the juniors decide for themselves. This leadership style calls for proper communication, whereby everyone’s views are important to the organization. Managers listen to their juniors and help them to become self-directed. More often than not, democratic leadership yields positive results. It helps enhance creativity and innovation in an organization as each and every person’s idea is put into consideration (Kriger & Seng, 2005).
Laissez-faire leadership style differs from both theories X and Y in the sense that managers neither control their subordinates, nor guide and nurture them. On the contrary, leaders tend to ignore the workers and their sources of motivation. Laissez-faire leaders are always seen as nominal leaders who have very minimal influence on the followers. Such managers give the workers all the freedom to do as they wish, provided they attain organizational goals and objectives. Although these managers may recognize their employees, they never appraise or regulate their activities. This kind of leadership results in primary poor performance. The organization’s goals are not achieved under this leadership style as most workers end up not working at all. Complete freedom among the subordinates tends to attract chaos. However, on very rare occasions, people do well under the laissez-fair leadership style. It should not be completely rule out.
The authoritarian leadership style is one of the oldest styles used. This style can be likened to theory X. Under the authoritarian leadership style, leaders believe that subordinates should be controlled and directed for them to work. Subordinates are seen as unfocussed people with low ambitions. They are also assumed to be unmotivated and needed to be motivated using whatever means, including the use of threats in order to get the job done. The authoritarian leadership style does not allow the long procedures of decision making which involves the juniors. The leader is assumed to be all knowing and will never make a wrong decision or choice for his or her group. The leader is actually ruling, rather than leading his people. Some writers have likened the leadership style to dictatorship. This is because of the emphasis on the authority figure in the leadership style.
Successful leaders also need to establish their own personal style of leading others. Most leaders are torn between the task and the good relationship with the subordinates.
Task oriented leadership focuses on the organizational procedures and duties. Achievement of the organizational goals dominates all other concerns and activities. Relationship oriented leadership, on the other hand, is a leadership style that lays much emphasis on the well-being of the workers. This involves the working conditions and work relationships that are pleasant to all workers. Managers using this style are open to all requests of the workers to make them happy, but unfortunately, at the expense of the organization. Both concerns are necessary for any organization to be successful. Therefore, we cannot just stick to either of them, as the organizational goals will not be attained even if we chose to be task oriented and not mind about the work relationships.
The best leadership style would be the one that cuts in between the task oriented and the relationship oriented styles of leadership. Since we know we can only trade off one style for another, the leader should be very careful to identify the best point of mid-range to emphasize on. Though we may feel the need to take care of an individual’s problem out of sympathy, at a time we may have to stick to the organizational tasks and ignore employee's welfare. Extremes should be completely avoided if one wishes to be a good and influential leader.
At times, the leader is forced by circumstances to act the way he or she does. Some of the strongest forces that determine the actions of a leader in an organization include culture and climate. All organizations have different cultures. It comprises of the past leadership, current leadership, founders, history, major events like crises, and their outcomes among others, which results in norms and routines believed to be the style of doing things in the organization. These ways of doing things affect the behaviors of individuals and of the organization as a whole (Lewin, 1936).
On the other hand, climate is the feeling that all members have about the organization, the attitudes and perceptions that are shared across the employees unlike culture, which is the organization’s nature to take from one generation to another. The motivation of workers, both individually and collectively, is extremely influenced by these two factors. For example, the procedures of rewarding, punishing, hiring and dismissing, how qualified and competent the leaders are, and procedure followed when an employee commits some mistakes and the like.
The climate in an organization at a particular time influences a lot the leadership style to be adopted by the managers at that specific time. For example, sometimes due to some reasons employees would have a shared feeling on whether to do what they ought to do, or they can still do what they prefer themselves; this feeling creates the ethical climate. Organizational culture and climate have a great influence on the motivation of employees, and while leaders have very little to do about the culture in the short run, they can try and modify the climate of the organization in order to attain their desired outcomes. A manager should identify the most appropriate style of leadership at all times and be able to use it (McGregor, 1960).
Victor Vroom and Arthur Jago worked together until they developed a leadership model based on the decision making role. In this model, they presented five leadership styles laying so much emphasis on the time factor in decision making. It is believed that delayed decisions are just equivalent to no decisions at all. In the business environment, leaders need to make a decision about the market and other opportunities. It worth noting that in a free market one organization is competing with several other organizations, which makes time in decision making a very important aspect. When the decision is delayed, the opportunity goes to the competitors, and the organization loses (Northouse, 2009).
Vroom and Jago’s leadership styles were based on the level of powers given to the subordinates by their leaders. To begin with, the leader may opt to be making decisions alone and communicate them or sell the group. This is the decide style of leadership. The leader is usually more knowledgeable than the rest of the team members; he utilizes his skills to collect information from them and then make a decision. Secondly, the leader may opt to consult individual members of the team separately and then draw the necessary information that he requires to make decisions. This style is referred to as the consult individually style. Otherwise, the leader may also decide to consult the entire team collectively in order to enable him draw his conclusion in a style referred to as the consult team leadership style (Rokeach, 1974). This third style gives employees more powers than the second one, the consult individually style of leadership, while the first style does not give them any powers at all. Fourthly, leaders can use the facilitate style where they communicate problem to the team and join them to act as a facilitators and guide to obtain the solution. The team does pretty much of the work and decision making; though, the leader preserves his right of final say. This style gives employees power to decide collectively, which may at times call for voting. Finally, the leader may decide to transfer all the powers of decision making, especially on a certain activity. This is referred to as the delegate style, and a particular person through delegation assumes all the powers of the leader. Successful leaders use all those five styles, but in different proportions depending on the situation at hand.
In conclusion, leadership is not a talent, but it can be acquired over time, especially through persistent practice. Just like learning, leaders need to practice in the leadership skills to perfect themselves and be able to lead a big group of people, organization, or even a country. Just like Gloria Steinem a leader should not give up even after encountering obstacles in the practice. Both political and organizational leaders share all those qualities discussed, regardless their profile.
Leadership, as seen earlier, is a quality required by all of us, since we have to lead others in countless situations during our lives. We should try and be good leaders right in our homes and then in our working environment. Good leaders try to be a role model to everyone they lead. Through this, followers develop emotional connection, and then it becomes even easier to influence or motivate them to achieve the goals. Leaders like Gloria Steinem practice leadership from their youth; this is why they thrive in it instead of feeling the challenges. Leadership, when well handled, can be very exciting and rewarding to the leader as well as giving him the sense of self actualization.