Leadership: What it is and how to step up

by | May 19, 2017 | Entrepreneurship, Planning Your Business

Much has been written about leadership: rules, pointers, styles, and biographies of inspiring leaders throughout world history. But there are certain ideas that we often fail to recognize and realize in the course of reading these books. And therefore, we fail to step up to our potential, regardless of where we are in the organizational hierarchy.

Think for yourself. Be a boss!

Here is a short list of things you should keep in mind about leadership.

1. Leaders come in different flavors.

There are different types of leaders and you will probably encounter more than one type in your lifetime. You will also find that, given the opportunity to be a leader, you will gravitate toward a favored style of leadership.

Formal leaders are those we elect into positions or offices such as the senators, congressmen, and presidents of local clubs. Informal leaders or those we look up to by virtue of their wisdom and experience such as in the case of elders of a tribe or our grandparents; or by virtue of their expertise and contribution to a given field such as Albert Einstein in the field of Theoretical Physics and Leonardo da Vinci in the field of the Arts. Both formal and informal leaders practice a combination of styles.

Lewin’s three basic leadership styles: Autocratic (making decisions without consulting others), Democratic (facilitating consensus within the group) and Laissez-Faire (allowing people to make their own decisions).

Likert’s four leadership styles: Exploitive Authoritative (uses fear-based methods to achieve conformance), Benevolent Authoritative (uses rewards to encourage appropriate performance), Consultative (makes genuine efforts to listen to ideas), and Participative (makes use of participative methods).

Goleman’s six emotional leadership styles: Visionary (moves people towards a shared vision), Coaching (connects wants to organizational goals), Affiliative (creates people connections and harmony within the organization), Democratic (acts to value inputs and commitment via participation), Pace-setting (builds challenge and exciting goals for people), and Commanding (soothes fears and gives clear directions by a powerful stance).

2. Leadership is a process of becoming.

workplace leadership
Although certain people seem to be born with innate leader qualities, without the right environment and exposure, they may fail to develop their full potential. So like learning how to ride a bicycle, you can also learn how to become a leader and hone your abilities.

Knowledge of leadership theories and skills may be formally gained by enrolling in seminars, workshops, and conferences. Daily interactions with people provide the opportunity to observe and practice these theories. Together, formal and informal learning will help you gain the right attitudes and insights, and thus further the cycle of learning.

You do not become a leader in one day and just stop. Life-long learning is important in becoming a good leader for each day brings new experiences that put your knowledge, skills, and attitude to a test.

3. Leadership starts with you.

leadership cat
The best way to develop leadership qualities is to apply it to your own life. As an adage goes “action speaks louder than words.” Leaders are always in the limelight. Keep in mind that your credibility as a leader depends much on your actions: Your interaction with your family, friends, and co-workers; your way of managing your personal and organizational responsibilities; and even the way you talk with the newspaper vendor across the street.

Repeated actions become habits. Habits in turn form your character. Steven Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, provides good insights on how you can achieve personal leadership.

4. Leadership is shared.

Leadership is not the sole responsibility of one person, but rather a shared responsibility among members of an emerging team. A leader belongs to a group. Each member has responsibilities to fulfill.

Formal leader positions are merely added responsibilities aside from their responsibilities as members of the team. Effective leadership requires members to do their share of work. Starting as a mere group of individuals, members and leaders work towards the formation of an effective team.

In this light, social interaction plays a major role in leadership. To learn how to work together requires a great deal of trust between and among leaders and members of an emerging team. Trust is built upon actions and not merely on words. When mutual respect exists, trust is fostered and confidence is built.

5. Leadership styles depend on the situation.

There is no rule that says only one style can be used by a leader. Most of the time, leaders employ a combination of styles depending on the situation. When staff members are highly motivated and competent, a combination of high delegative and moderate participative styles of leadership is most appropriate. But if staff has low competence and low commitment, a combination of high coaching, high supporting, and high directing behavior from organizational leaders is required.

Now that you are reminded of these things, keep in mind that there are always ideas that we think we already know; concepts we take for granted but are actually the most useful insights on leadership. If you want to grow in your career, you would be wise to learn more about leadership concepts and start using them in your life and job, regardless of whether you are currently in an official leadership position or not.


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