Leaders are those who inspire people, have a unique vision, innovate, and change the world. Although initially leadership was considered exclusively inherent ability, it can be developed. The Leading Yourself course offers fundamental theories, concepts, and models that reveal and explain the skills and knowledge leaders need. This paper briefly presents the basic concepts of the first seven weeks of the course. They are devoted to vision, communication, creating connections, solving problems, creating teams, planning, and emotional intelligence in organizations and the role of the leader in them.
Leader as a Visionary
Leadership research began with the study of people who could unite many people together. For example, according to the “great man” theory, leaders appear under challenging situations because they are born with the natural qualities necessary for this role. Expanding this theory, trait theory supporters explored which qualities represent the leadership potential. Examples of such characteristics I consider essential include self-confidence, reliability, honesty, and motivation. Behavioral theorists, in turn, pay attention not to quality but to the way a leader behaves with subordinates delegating responsibilities. According to this theory, leaders adhere to one of the styles – autocratic, democratic, or laissez-faire, ranging from not delegating duties to employees to complete trust. I believe that a good leader should be highly concerned about both aspects – caring for people and work achievements.
Situational theory invites managers to adapt and act according to circumstances. Within its framework, the Hersey and Blanchard model has been developed, offering leaders a focus on employee competence and confidence to choose leadership styles – telling, selling, participating, and delegating. Along with it, the path-goal model, in addition to choosing a style, also offers to remove obstacles in front of employees and motivate them. Functional theory invites leaders to act focusing on a task, team, and individual simultaneously. Relationship theories acknowledge the influence of the interaction of the leader with people and their motivation. They include transformational leadership theory, which claims that the leader inspires and motivates people, and leader-member exchange theory, which draws attention to the opportunities offered by the followers for an organization.
Leader as a Problem Solver
By comparing the manager and the leader, it can be noted that the manager controls the work and staff, while the leader inspires people. I consider it crucial to note that the positions are not exclusive. Moreover, leader managers can be highly effective in displaying the best qualities of both roles. They motivate and direct, manage resources, and set goals clearly. To remain effective, leaders must take into account internal and external factors as well as context. The latter is especially important because it affects selecting the necessary leadership skills and the required level of influence (Bazigos et al., 2016). With substantial impact, fewer leadership skills are needed (for example, military), and vice versa, less influence – more skills (volunteers).
The leader has a significant influence on such a critical aspect of work as organizational culture. It implies the rules and traditions of the work process adopted in the organization, and the leader forms them to create the most favorable atmosphere for work. Moreover, I believe leaders should also consider and analyze external environmental factors – competitors, political, and ethical circumstances. Even without the ability to change them, the organization must at least adapt to them. Following new trends, leaders are expected to be innovative – to introduce new unique ways of working. I associate this concept with change leadership – a leader’s promotion of a new vision or process to launch profound transformations. Change leadership is compared to change management, which helps keep changes and factors that may hinder them under control (Kotter, 2011). Considering constant changes, I think one of the most critical skills for a leader is problem-solving, which is part of leadership competencies.
Leader as a Team Builder
Work processes in the modern world are increasingly concentrated on teams, and the leader must be able to shape and manage them. The stages of development of the group include formation – a collection of team members; storming – disputes about roles and processes; norming – the beginning of issues’ coordination; performing – workflow; adjourning – disbanding team after the goal achievement. At the same time, the most effective teams have special qualities that the leader promotes – shared values, goals, and activities, a team leader, and members focused on improvement.
I consider motivation as an essential driver; it includes incentives and desires inspiring to work. Following Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, to create a desire for self-actualization, it is vital to provide other needs – physiological (food, sleep), safety, belonging, and esteem. Leaders can use it, for example, by ensuring a safe workplace or recognizing an employee’s achievements, creating a feeling of belonging to the company. I believe that recognition and the work itself are often the primary motivators. Another inevitable part of the business process is workplace conflicts. They can be functional – related to tasks and work process, and dysfunctional – related to interpersonal relationships. I consider it an essential leader’s duty to cope with both types, evaluating conflict’s parties’ assertiveness – the readiness to defend own position, and cooperativeness – willingness to concede.
Leader as a Manager of Emotional Intelligence
In addition to intelligence (or IQ), leaders need to understand emotions, personal and of employees, express them and manage, which implies emotional intelligence (EQ). Emotions are strong feelings aimed at an object or person. The manifestation of EQ is possible in four directions: self-awareness – understanding own emotions; self-management – personal emotions’ control; social awareness – understanding others’ emotions; social management – establishing relationships with others based on empathy (“Emotional intelligence,” n.d.). I believe EQ is not necessarily innate but can be developed, and part of this process is emotional regulation – understanding and changing personal feelings from negative to positive. Moreover, emotions can be shared with other people, which is called emotional contagion – the transmission of emotions from one person to another, for example, from employees to customers. Several leadership styles associated with emotional intelligence are distinguished:
- Visionary leadership – the leader clearly sets the goal and inspires; employees understand what they are striving for.
- Coaching leadership – the leader clearly understands the strengths and weaknesses of employees and efficiently allocates tasks.
- Affiliative leadership – the leader is most focused on the well-being of people.
- Democratic leadership – the opinion and ideas of employees are considered essential.
- Pacesetting leadership – goal orientation and monitoring continuous progress.
- Commanding Leadership – behavior directed only at issuing instructions.
Leader as a Communicator
Communication is essential for leaders, as they need to convey their ideas, build relationships, understand others and be understandable. These abilities are included in the range of social judgment skills. Communication is the transmission and understanding of a particular meaning (Nordquist, 2019). In my opinion, leaders must convince that clear and consistent messages – verbal and non-verbal ways to convey meaning, are transmitted between employees and management. The sender is the one who generates and sends the message through a specific channel, and the receiver gets and interprets it. The process of developing a message is called encoding, and its processing and understanding by the recipient, respectively decoding. Sometimes the receiver sends feedback – a reaction to the information and its interpretation. I consider it useful, as it helps to ensure mutual understanding since obstacles – called noise can occur during transmission and not allow accurately get the message.
Depending on the channel selected for communication, its types are also distinguished:
- Face-to-face communications are personal contact at a meeting.
- Nonverbal communication is facial expression, gestures, and body language.
- Written communication – sending a message in texts as e-mails. I find critical the method for avoiding noise in this form – chunking – dividing information into several meaning blocks (for example, bullets).
Moreover, the communication process may have a few different directions. Downward communications – messages are sent from people in the higher position to their subordinates. Upward communications – from assistants to their managers and leaders. Lateral communication – communication between employees of the same level.
Leader as a Liaison
Another role assigned to the leader is to be a liaison – to establish relations with figures outside their own organization, for example, with leaders of other firms. In this way, a strategic partnership can be created – a union in which different organizations use their resources together to achieve common goals. Effective collaboration requires a suitable organizational structure, which represents how the activity is distributed and occurs. The organization’s structure can be mechanistic – with a strict hierarchy and bureaucracy, clearly established specialized workflows, and organic – more flexible and adaptive. I suggest, in today’s rapidly changing world, the second type will be more profitable.
Leaders must have the power – the ability to organize resources and people to achieve the goal. There is a division into types:
- Formal power is based on the position in the organization. It includes:
- Legitimate power – leaders have influence as their role is higher in the hierarchy.
- Coercive power – the effect is based on coercion and negative incentives as punishment.
- Reward power – the impact is supported by waiting for a reward, such as a bonus.
- Personal power is based on character qualities and includes:
- Reference power – supported by genuine admiration and respect for the leader.
- Expert power – based on the knowledge and experience of the leader.
Departing from the assumption that leaders can only need power, the theory of servant leadership has arisen. According to it, the goal of leaders can be to care for common purposes and subordinates. The presence of such a leader in the organization contributes to its structural changes and the transformation into a boundaryless organization. Organizations of this type have no restrictions between employees and their positions, decisions are made jointly, and work occurs in cross-functional teams.
Leader as a Planner
A significant part of the leader’s work is devoted to drawing up plans – special intentions with a goal and steps to achieve it. They are related to the vision displayed in the mission statement – the goals and plans that the company seeks to achieve. At the same time, plans often contain milestones – significant actions or achievements demonstrating progress. To build an effective strategy, a SWOT analysis is used that evaluates the organization’s strengths (C), weaknesses (W), opportunities (O), and threats (T) (Schooley, 2019). Plans may vary due to terms of intended completion and their content. Strategic planning usually concerns the overall company’s work direction and its place in the market. Operational planning, in turn, relates to current business processes in the short term, from a few weeks to months. Intermediate planning relates to the work of the organization for a period of several months to several years. Finally, project planning is compiling steps for current tasks that should be finished soon.
A theory such as transactional leadership is closely related to planning – all activities aim to achieve goals, and contingent rewards support motivation. Another leadership style, oriented on planning – path-goal leadership, already mentioned earlier, but can be supplemented by models of leadership behavior:
- Directive leader behavior – leaders clearly define roles, plans, goals, and other aspects of the work.
- Supportive leader behavior – leaders express concern for employees.
- Participatory leader behavior – leaders encourage employee participation in decision-making.
- Achievement-oriented leader behavior – the leader requires constant progress and excellent work.
Thus, the study of leadership begins with theories, focusing on various aspects – the qualities of a leader, relations with followers, or the pursuit of a goal. A successful leader takes care of his organization and employees and, therefore, considers the factors of influence on its activities and knows how to solve problems. In addition to this problem-solving skill, his competence also includes social judgment skills and knowledge. The leader can apply his skills, effective communication, and emotional intelligence in relations with employees and colleagues from other companies. A well-built relationship will contribute to the prosperity of the organization and the achievement of its goals. Finally, it is crucial for leaders to constantly develop and gain new knowledge and experience, which they will bring to their work.
Bazigos, M., Gagnon, C., & Schaninger, B. (2016). Leadership in context. McKinsey & Company. Web.
Emotional intelligence (n.d.). Maetrix. Web.
Kotter, J. (2011). Change management vs. change leadership — what’s the difference? Forbes. Web.
Nordquist, R. (2019). What is communication? ThoughtCo. Web.
Schooley, S. (2019). SWOT analysis: What it is and when to use it. Business News Daily. Web.