The one thing that keeps a business from falling into chaos and disorder is its leadership. Whether leaders take on the form of the owner, a CEO, a manager, a supervisor, or the head of a team, they are a valuable asset for a business' continued success in society. They are like the captain of a ship who keeps the crew working and guides the vessel safely through dangerous waters. In this sense, it's rather easy to see that leadership would have an integral part in organizational behavior as one of the primary controlling forces in a business.
Leadership has changed throughout history and not all leaders lead in the same way. The circumstances of a situation dictates what kind of leader is needed and how successful they will be as the head of the group. This article will look into what being a leader in a business truly means and what qualities are necessary for someone to efficiently lead others. Information on how to improve your leadership skills will also be available later in the article.
As stated, leadership is what keeps a business and its employees in motion. It is the leaders that set the tone, keep things functioning, as they are the ones that establish the defining characteristics of a business or organization and tie together all of its components.1 Their actions as a leader set the tone of the business and determine what path it will take in society. The major decisions-the kind that are big, life-changing moves that alter the fate of the group and its members-are reserved for those in positions of leadership. Their actions can shape the entire dynamics of the business, affecting morale, motivation, actions, and the behavior amongst their employees.2 It can be a lot of responsibility, and leadership roles are not something to be handled or given lightly.
In organizational behavior, leadership is an adaptable force that is constantly in motion. When the behavior and culture of an organization changes or shifts, the leadership changes along with it.3 Often this is because the leadership was the catalyst of those changes and not adapting to the new sets the group up for failure. Many people have witness or experienced an instance of leadership that refused to change and adapt with the times or the business and brought the whole thing down with their stubbornness. It can be a life-or-death situation in some cases; healthy defined leadership equals a healthy organization.
From classical leadership to more contemporary styles, the history of leadership is vast and ever changing. The professional and public worlds are in a constant state of flux and leaders that are not willing or able to navigate through changes and new ideas are not going to last long. Not all leaders lead the same, in part to their own personalities and perspectives; they are as unique as each of their employees and they carry their own strengths and weaknesses like anybody else. Leadership styles, likewise, are varied and unique in their own traits. It is only the very basic qualities of leadership that are universal, and different circumstances require different kinds of leaders.
In order for an organization to determine what style of leadership they need, they have to understand what is involved with each type. Choosing a particular style often works best by determining what traits are missing or necessary for the group to function, and applying the style that best fits. The more common styles of leadership that are found in organizational behavior and business include:
- Autocratic-A classical leadership style, autocratic leaders are fairly common. It fits the general idea that people have for a leader: an authoritarian, decision-based, powerful, and solo-operating force.4 These are the leaders that guide the business based on their own abilities without seeking input from others. Strong classical leaders can be best in businesses that have a smaller hierarchy or need closer supervision. Unfortunately, classical autocratic leadership can be incredibly toxic because it's a single person who is in control with absolute power.
- Laissez-Faire-Also referred to as delegative, laissez-faire leadership is a style that prompts employees to have more control in making decisions. It's a less hand-on approach where leaders don't lead in the traditional sense, but instead acts as a resource for the group and is held responsible for their actions.5 A lot of businesses with self-sustained and independent employees tend to go for a laissez-faire approach, as they tend to be more autonomous and not in need of intense leadership. It can be a poor choice in groups that lack the proper knowledge and experience to operate on their own, since those businesses tend to need stronger guidance to stay productive. Misjudge the abilities or behavior of the employees, and laissez-faire leadership can backfire for a business.
- Transactional-Transactional leadership tends to focus more on performance and results than anything else.6 These leaders are goal-oriented and are fond of reward and punishment systems of guidance. A lot of workplaces follow this through things like bonuses and position promotions for successful productivity, and demotions and penalties for poor productivity. Businesses that struggle to stay on track in their work may benefit from transactional leadership, as it could keep them focused and prevent distractions.
- Participative-As the name suggests, participative leaders are more likely to be acting alongside their employees as a peer. They follow a more democratic format and will frequently seek out and encourage feedback and contribution from employees. Staff members tend to like participatory leaders more since they tend to be more interactive and make their employees feel like valued members of the group. As beneficial as this may be, it seems to pose some issues when quick decisions are needed on a large scale.
- Transformational-A style that is complimentary to transactional leadership, transformational leadership focuses on communication between the different areas of a business. It can be very goal-oriented, but it pushes the responsibilities of motivating and guiding productivity onto the management rather than the leader at the very top of the hierarchy.7 These leaders tend to value the business as a whole rather than its individual components when it comes to decisions and goals. Transformational style is best suited for leaders who are charismatic and have an entrepreneurial streak, as these are the primary skills that they use to motivate their employees.8 It can be a bit manipulative, however, in cases of power abuse. Both transformational and transactional leadership are considered to be contemporary styles, as they are less strict in their format and are highly adaptable to environmental changes.
Qualities of a Good Leader
Simply saying that a person is a leader doesn't necessarily mean that they are a good one. Anyone can be a leader, but there are certain traits that make some more successful than others. Certain styles of leadership and businesses may put more value on certain qualities over others, but that's based on circumstances. The following are just some of the general traits that have proven to contribute to good, strong leadership:
- Communicative-This should be a no-brainer. By this point, you should realize that good communication skills are a vital component to organizational behavior and business success. Being communicative is a hallmark of leadership, and leaders who cannot convey their guidance will cause more problems than they solve. Recognizing non-verbal cues like body language is especially important, as many leaders frequently need to be able to read a situation rather than be dependent on thing being explained to them.
- Problem Solving and Negotiation-Many negotiators are in positions of leadership, so many of the same traits associated with that ability are sought after in leaders. The ability to take a problem and quickly find the best solution that serves all parties involved is something that many leaders are going to be faced with on a daily basis. Leaders at any point in a business' chain of command are going to be the person that conflicting staff members go to for assistance, so be ready.
- Empathy-While some circumstances may require a more neutral emotional state and mindset, leaders will still need to be able to empathize with others.9 Empathy allows a person to think about who their actions will impact and what the long-term consequences are. It can be much better than a sterilized, business-like approach because it prompts a person to look at all the factors involved before making a move. Since leaders often need to double as strategists, such a trait is incredibly valuable for success.
- Transparency and Honesty-One of the first things that experts list for quality leadership is honesty. Leaders who are able to be honest with their followers and transparent in their actions often follow ethical practices.10 As a leader, you are responsible for others and your employees will trust you to act in their best interest. If they do not think you to be ethical and honest, they won't want to follow you and do what you want them to.
- Inspirational-Throughout society and history, leaders have been an inspirational source for many. These are the people that the public looks to when they need motivation and guidance. Business leaders need to be able to inspire their employees and themselves in order to keep things going. Inspiration can boost creativity and productivity in the workplace, and there is power in being able to generate it.
- Confident-Leadership is a public position in the group; you are the person that everyone looks to for guidance. You need to be sure of yourself and of your actions to be effective in that position, and people will notice if you are not confident. Leaders generate confidence in others through their own ability to be assertive and strong in their behavior.11 If you lack confidence, or are unable to display confidence, it's going to translate to the public as a weakness. As a result, they may not respect you as a leader.
How to Improve Leadership Skills and Abilities
Not everyone is going to be a born leader or have perfect leadership skills. That doesn't mean that it isn't possible for a person to develop or strengthen their abilities as a leader. Those who are committed to improving their leadership skills should consider trying some of the following:
- Practice-You can't get better at something if you only do it when it's demanded of you. Practicing can help a person improve any ability by familiarizing them with the actions and details necessary to execute that skill in real situations. Business leaders can practice by their skills by using them outside of the office-things like empathy, communication, and honesty are all things that are valued in society after all. You don't have to follow the 10,000 Hours Rule-which has since been debunked-to become an expert, but deliberate attempts at practice can help.12
- Seek Out Feedback-There's no guarantee that you will be able to tell what state your leadership skills are in through your own analysis, so actively seeking out feedback from others can help you pinpoint what needs work. Some of the effects of your actions are not going to be easily measurable without asking others how they've been impacted. If you encourage feedback, those you are leading will be more trusting of you and your actions. Feedback can also give you some vital information about what your strengths and weakness are and keep you from going over your personal and professional limits.
- Engage Others-Engaging with others can provide a huge boost to the productivity and behavior in the office. Leaders who engage with their employees and followers tend to build more trust than those who don't and it can help foster loyalty.13 By taking the time to engage with others in the business, you're giving yourself the chance to test out your skills, get feedback, and make real connections with the people you're leading.
- Be A Role Model-Leaders are role models for many people, whether they realize it or not. Employees will look at the example set by their superiors in order to improve themselves.14 You want to make sure that you are setting the best example possible with your actions, regardless if anyone is viewing you as a role model. Take the time to think about your actions and think about how the things you do would translate in that position of role model. That awareness of your actions can help you make improvements in your skills and abilities for the good of yourself and those you lead.