Leadership has been defined by the late President Eisenhower as “the ability to get people to do what you want because they want to do it.” This statement also includes the concept of motivation: the ways and means of getting people to want to do whatever is to be done. Some management observers feel that the idea of leadership is outdated. The traditional image of the business leader who stands at the head of his “troops” and guides them along, doesn’t suit the image of the modern executive.
Motivation has come to be the preferred concept and to some extent it encompasses the ends of leadership. However, the burial of the leadership concept is premature. The average executive has good reason to want to ‘keep up-to-date on the subject of leadership, as well as motivation. Accordingly, you will find both areas covered in this section.
Why leadership works
Everyday experience plus the assurance of industrial psychologists tell us that leadership on the business scene is an important element ineffectiveness. And yet, as important as this fact is, very seldom is the question asked, Just why is it that leadership works? Analyzing the response of the individual and of the group to good leadership yields considerable insight into managerial effectiveness:
Leadership and the Individual. Individuals working in constructive relationships with their superior can accomplish tasks that surprise even themselves. Personal productivity and creativity take an upward bounce. Often, individuals can make constructive innovations in their jobs and on the entire work scene. Here’s why:
The president of a New Mexico public service company puts it this way: “I get my people lined up on the target, make them aware of what contributes to our goals and what does not.” Leadership that is expertly exercised makes individuals aware of desired goals, steers them away from dead ends.
A New Jersey electronics manufacturer reports that one of his managers without prior factory experience became one of their most capable men. Explains the executive, “His boss was able to arouse an enormous amount of talent that the employee didn’t even know he had.” There is latent energy and untapped talent in every individual—no matter what his position, no matter at what level he is performing. The good leader is able to bring out the wealth of these hidden gold mines. And a key point is this: the improvement in performance doesn’t come about by the employee working himself into a lather. The man doesn’t work harder, he works smarter—to use an old axiom.
Most people are affected with varying degrees of self-doubt: “I can’t do that assignment, I’ve never done it before.” Or an employee will accept an assignment—and spend hours worrying whether he can fulfill it. His performance is bound to be adversely affected. A good leader gets a subordinate to improve performance by breaking the chains forged by self-doubt. Superior performance results from this upsurge in self-confidence.
Leadership and Groups.
There are times when the manager wants his workforce to tackle an assignment as a team. Good leadership turns individuals into team members. Here’s what happens:
“The leader creates a concept of a common goal,” says a Pennsylvania manager. “I can take machinists who are out for themselves and help them see that it’s more important for the unit to win the ball game, so to speak, than for each one to try to hit home runs.”
A South Carolina cotton mill manager recently presided over the installation of semiautomatic equipment in his department. “I realized,” he said, “that if the men would help one another learn the new ropes, we’d have fewer mistakes. The faster learners could teach the slower ones, not leave them to fend for themselves.” By talking to the men, he was able to get them to help one another. Soon the entire department had mastered the new equipment. The reason? Good leadership, which created, in this instance, a department-wide atmosphere of good will and mutual helpfulness.
The leader takes an aggregation of people and molds them into a team. You see it done by good sports coaches, on the diamond and gridiron. You see it on the work scene, when masterful managers are at the helm. The leader who knows his business can put the work of individuals in phase with the work of colleagues.
“I can modify a man’s assignment,” said a California aircraft manager, “or put him on a different task entirely, until his work is ready for him. If I do my job right, individuals work smoothly, in step with one another. There is less time wasted, fewer starts and stops.” The result of this “phasing” of the work, and the result, too, of providing common goals and a spirit of mutual helpfulness, has been expressed as: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It is the sign of an effective leader.
A brief review of approaches to leadership
Historically, leadership concepts have been of three types:
The trait approaches.
This explains leadership in terms of the personal traits of the leader. Ever since the dawn of the human race, people have been aware that leaders possess qualities that set them apart. Personal courage, for example, was one of the traits generally ascribed to early tribal leaders. The trait approach has advocates in our own day. There are some management authorities who say, to be effective, a leader must—
- Be enthusiastic
- Know himself
- be mentally alert
- be self-confident
- have a sense of responsibility
- develop a sense of humor
The list is far from complete. Dozens of items could be added. No one can really quarrel with the value of many of these traits. However, the trouble with the trait approach is that it’s about as useful as a handbook on traffic rules would be to the motorist who needs a road map.
No one would deny that an enthusiastic leader can be a highly inspiring one. But, if the would-be leader is not naturally enthusiastic, he could work himself into a nervous break-down trying to develop an enthusiasm he did not feel. And the insincerity of phony enthusiasm can be disastrous. The same handicap pertains to other leadership traits—they’re fine in theory, but not very practical when it comes to developing leader-ship, or applying it.
The situationist approach.
Some experts feel that the situations in which the leader operates hold the key to effectiveness. Accordingly, this concept stresses the characteristics of leadership situations. Norman F. Washburne, in Nation’s Business, lists a number of actions performed by a good leader that reflect the situationist approach:
- A good leader initiates action.
- Firstly he gives orders that will be obeyed.
- Secondly he uses established channels within his group. He knows and obeys the rules and customs of his group.
- Next he maintains discipline.
- Subsequently he listens to subordinates.
- Also, he responds to their needs.
- Then he helps them.
Although Washburne’s ideas go a step further than the trait approach, we need something more. The trouble with the situationist approach, in general, is that, it’s descriptive rather than prescriptive.
For example, we have all verified the fact that a good leader initiates action. However, the statement “a good leader initiates action” raises more questions than it answers. What kind of action does the leader initiate? When does he initiate it? And, exactly how does he do so?
The social activist approach.
Some authorities view the role of the leader as one of putting together the elements, human and material, required for successful performance. This method includes the assignment of individuals or groups to specific tasks, and stresses the nature of the relationship between the leader and his followers. The method of Selective Leadership, the next item in this section, is an example of this approach.