Since the very beginning, mankind has been baffled by the word leadership. What is leadership? What makes a good leader? Are you a born leader or is it something you acquire? Since the studies began with “The Great Man” Theory in the 1840’s, “it seems, the concept of leadership eludes us or turns up in another form to taunt us again with its slipperiness and complexity. So we have invented an endless proliferation of terms to deal with it…. and still the concept is not sufficiently defined.” Stated by Bennis (1959, p. 260). In other words, there are many different perspectives on how leadership is defined, thus we have created many theories and academic research in an attempt to solve this puzzle, but it has not yet been mastered and I believe it never will. The progress being made in this field is very slow, and we are no nearer an answer than we were a century ago. This essay will focus on leadership in teams, and evaluate the necessity of it with the consideration of contemporary leadership theories: Servant, Charismatic and Transformational. But to understand the importance, we first need to ask what is the meaning of leadership? If you search the web, you will find thousands of different meanings of leadership, but certain words seem to constantly recur: power, influence, authority, control, achievement and direction. Similarly, there are four main approaches in which leadership is viewed: situation, person, result or progress. It is very hard to measure the effectiveness of such leadership styles, hence the reason why this topic is so cluttered.
Leadership can be actively seen in our day-to-day lives. Many people associate leadership with the workplace, but we use leadership unconsciously in our personal lives just as much as we do in business situations. We expect parents to be great leaders in moulding their children into adulthood, just as much as we expect our bosses to lead the team to success. Sometimes we take the benefits of a leader for granted, but once they are absent, we can certainly see the workload begin to stagnate and loose direction. When leadership is executed well, leaders play a vital role in the success of a company; they are a fundamental part of keeping an organisation running smoothly.
One recent discovery in leadership theories is Servant Leadership. This is the idea of a leader being less of a dictator, but having a desire to serve others. Robert K. Greenleaf first devised this concept in his essay “The Servant as Leader” in 1970. Greenleaf describes the servant leader as first having a natural want to serve first, and then this introduces the aspire to lead. He explains how this contrasts greatly with the one who puts leadership first, as they are more motivated by power drives or material possessions rather than the needs of employees. The servant leader has goals to become an ethic, moral and well-respected leader with the hope that others will be influenced to follow in their footsteps. To see the effectiveness of this theory, a very successful example is Southwest Airlines. Southwest has been practising servant leadership for over 30 years and has recently appeared number 8th in Fortune’s most admired companies of 2017. With an outstanding focus on customer service, Colleen Barrett, the President Emeritus of Southwest Airlines once stated “We are in the Customer Service business. We just happen to fly aeroplanes”. Southwest expects their employees to be highly motivated and attentive to customers, and they respond by doing the same with their employees. This is a deeply effective strategy as if you help your employees; they are more likely to aid your success in the company. The servant leader possesses personal referent power over people that respect and admire them, and in return, this produces subordinate satisfaction. They are attracted to them through their personality and views; this makes it easy for them to exert power and influence over these people. If Southwest employees had no respect for their leader, it would be hard to find motivation or any kind of positive work from them.
One drawback of this theory on the leader’s side could be the use of power share between the employees. Generosity is a trait that servant leaders are praised for, and this is a good thing in educating employees, striving for a successful team and gaining trust. This can sometimes make the leader more vulnerable. It is no secret that time management is vital in teams and meeting deadlines, knowing this, the servant leader is more likely to say yes to a deadline extension to please the employees and gain their admiration without thinking about the negative impact on the company. As well, the leader tends to have more information and knowledge as they are positioned high on the organisational chart. Servant leaders tend to share their information more freely, and this can aid better decision-making and trust with lower level employees thus making them wiser. This can have adverse effects on the leader as they start to lose their expert power, leading to the possibility of someone taking their job from them. If the leader has taught the follower everything they know, what makes them a better leader? With reference to Southwest Airlines, they proclaim they have never had any pay cuts or layoffs since start-up. On the surface, this seems impressive, and many would be inclined to search for jobs within Southwest. However, if they employ the same people year after year, the company may not grow as much, as new people equals new ideas and experiences. With this said, I believe that servant leaders are very successful amongst employee engagement and empowerment, and communicating this mind-set and enthusiasm to the customers. This attitude grows a very profitable business, as evident with the success of Southwest Airlines. A profitable business does not necessarily need servant leadership alone, as the leaders may face power struggles. I feel this style of leadership is most important in the customer service or healthcare industry.
A very different approach to leadership began with the work of Burns in 1978: transformational leadership. This style is designed to “motivate followers to commit to and to realize performance outcomes beyond organizational expectations” (Conger, 1999). This theory has two forms of leadership: transactional and transformational. Transactional is at one side of the spectrum, following a carrot and stick motivation style where the employee is usually motivated by extrinsic factors such as money, promotions, and lack of punishments. On the other side, the transformational leader motivates and inspires the employee beyond what is expected. The employee usually works for intrinsic factors such as enjoyment and interest in the subject. They enjoy the challenging work as it is stimulating and improves them as a person. These both styles can be effective and ineffective depending on the situation. A transactional leader is better suited to a fast paced customer service environment, or times of stress and urgency when a decision needs to be quickly made. Quick service restaurants need one transactional leader to be confident and strictly delegate employees. Whether it is serving on the till, washing pots or making food/drinks, the manager needs to have full control over employees. They need to be alert for when problems escalate rapidly and a quick solution needs to be found. In situations as described, a leader is highly needed, and the operation would fall apart in minutes without one. One downside to this style is the lack of motivation and energy seen in the employees. Many employees will be motivated by money and have very little passion and fulfilment from the job, so they will do the bare minimum work to receive their reward. Transformational leaders are driven and set high goals so they can achieve rapid success with the help of their team, so it is evident they are more crucial within the start-up of a company. Transformational leaders are better suited as CEO’s or sales managers as they motivate and stimulate all employees ensuring no one is left without a voice.
Charismatic leaders are more complex than the ones mentioned above. They can easily develop a cult following through the motivation effects they have on people. They create visions of an idealised future and this puts them in a position of high trust. Charismatic leaders share similarities with transformational leaders, but charismatic leaders focus more on a passion or movement rather than a style of doing business. A charismatic leader is likely to attract more high-skilled employees and loyal customers using their highly developed interpersonal skills. This is increasingly becoming more important to an organisation as there is a lot of competition within the market to have the most loyal customers and skilled employees. One pitfall of this style is the followers can create a sense of dependency on its leader. This negatively impacts the worker’s productivity and independence as they start to rely on the leader’s direction and are unable to think and act on their own.
According to Tuckman and Jensen’s (1977) Stages of Group Development, there are five key stages any team will enter: forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning. Firstly, forming is the formation of the group. In this stage, individuals will most likely avoid conflict to seek acceptance whilst getting to know each other. They will secretly be sizing each other up and working out different roles, status and power amongst the group. At this point, no leader is necessary as we are still in the early stages and there is little action amongst the group. The group starts to enter conflict at stage two (storming) as people compete for positions. There are many problems with the group dynamics, and issues are likely to be repressed and result in over-conflict as members are still trying to be likeable and avoid tension. At this point, a leader should be elected to deal with the conflict and keep the team members happy. If there is no leader, it will be easy for the group to disband. A transformational leader would be ideal as they are very supportive and aim to engage with all employees on a personal level. Their attention to detail will help pick out the most relevant positions for employees whilst maintaining a peaceful atmosphere. As we enter stage three (norming) we start to settle into our individual roles and responsibilities and get a sense of rules and strategies. If any new members join at this point, they face being out casted if they don’t abide these rules. However, it is the leader’s responsibility to ensure this is done fairly. It is important to set the intentions of the group at this stage, as they are unlikely to be changed after this point. The leader will be responsible for the final decision and will be the one to blame if it is unsuccessful. The fourth stage, appropriately named performing, is when the team is ready to perform as a cohesive team. This is the desired state of the development process where all members know and trust each other and are able to work effectively together to reach the team’s outcomes. All members are comfortable with airing concerns without causing uncomfortable conflict. Lastly, the adjourning stage is where tasks have been completed well, and the team will either break up or plan to start new projects together.
Leadership is not the only crucial role within a team; in fact, every role is critical for a successful team no matter how big or small. Belbin (1993; 2000) developed a model of roles adopted by individuals within a team, and their certain strengths and weaknesses. This is known as “The Nine Belbin Team Roles”. This model is primarily used as a way of making sense of different types of team roles rather than using them as actual measurable roles. When dealing with role ambiguity within the team, it is easy to refer to this model and make sense of who is responsible for certain things. This research suggests that all nine team roles have to be present to create a successful team. However, one person can hold two or three different roles, so we don’t necessarily need nine people to be a success, and not all roles are needed simultaneously. Out of the nine roles, the shaper, completer/finisher and the implementer are all action-oriented roles. More intellectual roles include the plant, monitor evaluator and the specialist. The roles that are best suited for extroverts are the resource investigator, coordinator and the team worker.
A new perspective on leadership raises the question; do we actually need leadership? Kerr and Jermier (1978) argue the opinion that the leader is irrelevant as many substituting factors held within a team can make a leader obsolete. If individuals within a team all have an input to decision making, performance, goals, wages, and other tasks the leader usually deals with, this can be labelled as a self-managed work team (SMWT). A leader is not required in this situation, as the team is trained in routine procedures and managing conflict well amongst themselves. All members are aware of the desired outcome and what is needed to meet this. I like the thought of this method as it equips all team members with leadership qualities, which will sequentially result in a more attentive action plan if all members have an input. One way this method can be critiqued is that this would only work in small teams up to around 20 people as anything larger would need a leader to keep the large group focused and in control.
With reference to the MNGT 120 away day, I was part of a 5-person group. As there was no clear leader, I feel like this was the ideal situation for a SMWT. The first task was to memorise the way several wooden blocks were shelved together to make a certain shape. When ready, we would have to arrange them from scratch in the correct order, the team who completed it in the least amount of time would win. At this point, the team was still in the forming stage and trying to establish ground rules. There were many similar grooves on different pieces of wood, which made it difficult to remember which piece went where. We made a strategy to divide the task up so everyone was in charge of one segment. This arrangement helped massively as it split up one complicated task into a few simple ones. The communication to overcome this problem brought us closer together as a group, and if we relate this to Tuckman and Jensen’s group development theory, we would be at the storming stage. We practised our method several times to improve efficiency. One issue was raised when one member of our group would repeatedly forget the arrangement of her assigned wooden blocks. We discussed this and came up with the idea that the person who arranged their blocks first, would move on and help the other person to make it more efficient. Using an effective strategy, along with continuous support and communication with each other, we completed the task at a time we were all proud of. At this point, I felt the team had transitioned to the performing stage where everyone knew their duties and what to do to achieve our goals. This task was based highly on effective work delegation, problem solving and teamwork.
Ultimately, I feel a leader is definitely a primary role that contributes to the success of a team, but it is not the only essential element. The leader has to gain respect from their team, but also, the leader has to have confidence in their team that they can be trusted to reach deadlines. In my opinion, every part of a team is a necessity, including leadership. Without leadership, there is no motivation or guidance to achieve high success. A team would survive without a leader if all members had the right skills and training to work cohesively with no hierarchy system. Saying this, each member will still have leadership qualities which, if all put together, will likely be similar to having one leader.