Leadership skills are a useful and important skill set that can be applied to all aspects of life. Among many benefits, leadership skills could help you to build the confidence you need to reach your potential at work, in the home and in your relationships.
On this page
- Would you benefit from leadership coaching?
- Leadership: a global phenomenon
- Leadership as an academic subject
- What does leadership really mean?
- The origins of leadership
Would you benefit from leadership coaching?
Take a moment to consider your current leadership abilities by asking yourself the following questions:
- Do you feel like you're not reaching your potential at work?
- Are you part of a team but often wish you could be leading it?
- Do you find it difficult to assert yourself or state your opinions to the rest of your team?
- Do you ever feel like you are not a 'natural born leader'?
- Are you in a position of leadership but feel like your team doesn't listen to you or respect your authority and want to know how to be a better manager?
- Do you think some management training/coaching would benefit you?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may find it beneficial to consult a life coach. Often drawing on years of leadership experience, life coaches specialising in leadership coaching and professional development aim to help clients to reach their full potential.
Leadership and management coaching from a life coach could help you, as an aspiring leader, in a number of ways. Whether you're currently part of a team and wish to move higher, or if you already have a leadership role and wish to improve your methods, consulting a life coach about methods such as management training could help you to fulfil your leadership goals.
Some people do seem to naturally possess qualities that automatically set them out as 'leaders'. People often flock to particularly confident, charismatic, knowledgeable or inspiring individuals for support and guidance.
Everybody has the potential to become a successful leader. Certain research dismisses the idea that leaders need to be heroic or bold, or to stand out from the crowd and that the true value of leadership lies in subtlety. Leadership isn't about taking centre stage or delivering awe-inspiring, history-writing speeches, it's about acting responsibly and influencing others with a passion to do something good.
Life coaches do not aim to completely transform their clients, they aim to help individuals understand their own personal qualities and to utilize these in the best possible way. Leadership is about understanding yourself and trusting yourself, which can be significantly aided with professional development coaching. Developing the mindset of a leader is often the most important and most difficult stage in leadership development. A life coach will provide the support and guidance you need at this time.
If you're not sure whether or not a life coach is for you, you may wish to have a browse through the following factsheet. Here you will find out what leadership is, how it developed throughout history and what it means for society today.
Leadership: a global phenomenon
The concept and study of 'leadership' has, in recent years, become something of a global phenomenon. According to research the word 'leadership' is googled over 6 million times across the world every month and 10,000 academic articles are published about leadership every year. 20 years ago that number was a mere 250.
All across the globe, large private corporations and even governments have leapt on the leadership bandwagon. Officials know that by investing their money in leadership courses and research programmes now, they are preparing for a future led by appropriately appointed and highly skilled individuals.
Leadership as an academic subject
The popularity of 'leadership theory' has increased steadily over the years. Universities now offer hundreds of courses on leadership styles and techniques, with whole academic departments and research units dedicated to the subject. One such department, the University of Exeter's Centre for Leadership Studies, argues that high quality leadership is more important than ever in the current changing political and economic climate. The success of whole corporations, and even of whole nations, often depends entirely on the quality of those in control.
What does leadership really mean?
Leadership, once seen as a subject of 'empowering' American self-help books, has suddenly become something of a corporate goldmine. There is always something new to learn, with countless professional development courses to help advance your leadership skills, as well as other professional development areas such as management training, team working and industry specific qualifications. As long as scientists continue to study human behaviour, theories of good leadership will continue to change and expand. But with glossy corporate names like 'produce or perish leadership', or 'country club leadership', what does it really mean to be a leader?
The definition of leadership is, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, 'the action of leading a group of people or an organisation'.
Leadership can be seen across every area of life, from family life and the school classroom, right up to the work place and parliament. So why is it that one member of a group gets accepted as 'leader' over all of the others?
The origins of leadership
Humans are social creatures. We have lived together in groups since the start of the Paleolithic era (the stone age) over two million years ago. Research suggests that it was during this period that early man began to form hunter-gatherer 'bands' (groups or families) of no more than 100 individuals. Early man found many benefits to working in groups instead of individually. It offered greater protection against predators, it enabled the sharing of labour, (nursing offspring, building etc) and increased the efficiency of hunting techniques. All of these factors increased early man's chances of survival, and explains why we are still here today.
Social animals (such as wolves, lions, chimps etc.) tend to naturally appoint group leaders according to physical factors like strength, size and fertility. The dominant animals are, quite simply, the ones with the greatest ability to fight off rivals. Human leadership, on the other hand, has become rather more complex than this.
Some believe that leadership has developed throughout history in a cycle of 2 main phases:
Early humans had a uniquely egalitarian ('believing in or based on the principle that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities'- OED)
method of appointing group leaders.
This unique method was based on a 'prestige-based hierarchy'. This essentially meant that leaders were cast according to popular vote. Individuals could not fight their way to dominance with strength or size because their status depended on the preference of the rest of the group. This was essentially the beginning of democracy.
Humanity's second phase of leadership developed with the introduction of agriculture. This began approximately 13,000 years ago, when the hunter-gatherer groups began to settle. Groups would cultivate land or farm animals and then exchange these goods with other settlements. One settlement growing corn might exchange goods with another growing wheat, for example. This new form of exchange increased the conflict between settlements. With conflict came the need for protection, which leaders were expected to provide. With new power came the temptation for leaders to abuse their authority for personal gain. Leaders could siphon wealth out to a new 'cultural elite'- a small group of individuals who would defend the leader against the less powerful masses. This gave rise to the idea of authoritarian chiefs and kings.
The third phase of leadership harks back to the egalitarian ways of the Paleolithic tribes. This phase began during the Industrial Revolution about 250 years ago. At the beginning, workers were little more than slaves. As the era went on and conditions in factories worsened, citizens began to fight for their rights and freedom. Eventually the balance of power shifted away from the authoritarian leaders and towards the freedom of the masses. Modern leadership focuses on the distribution of power in business and politics, with special emphasis on ethics.
The importance of leadership skills today
Today there are about 7 billion humans in the world distributed across thousands of different cultures and societies. Each society can have different religious or spiritual beliefs, different legal systems, different politics, different morals and different philosophies. The more societal frameworks there are, the more leadership methods there will be to regulate them.
Organising everybody under the same method of leadership would be near enough impossible. Due to the conflicting beliefs and customs across the globe, life has been, and still is, rife with political and religious war.
According to a recent study the west is currently suffering from a leadership crisis. Current senior leaders are reaching retirement age and organisations are only just beginning to fill their places.
The talent-pool is seriously diminishing and leadership positions are emptying faster than they can be filled.
Results from the study show that the number of 25-44 year olds has shrunk by a significant 6%, preempting a decrease in numbers of aspiring young leaders ready to take corporate reins.
It is for this reason (the pure importance of leadership) that organisations today can justify the millions they spend on new leadership programmes across the world.
Leadership and management in the workplace are just as important as political leadership. A lot of power and influence lies within private organisations as well as within governments.
Of course, with power and influence comes the need for responsible leadership, and this is why scientists, academics and business professionals have devoted the best part of a century (and a lot of money) in order to produce the next generation of leaders.
Businesses looking for management advice for the professional development of their staff can find a wealth of information online or send their employees on management coaching/leadership coaching sessions and workshops, often run by life coaches.
Different leadership theories
There have been hundreds of anthropological, psychological and sociological experiments conducted in recent years exploring everything from the most desirable leadership traits, to the difference between leadership and management.
For this reason, there are a lot of different leadership theories.
Behavioural Leadership Theories
Behavioural leadership theories focus on how leaders behave. Do they take charge and make decisions alone? Do they guide and encourage the team to make their own choices? Or do they sit back and let the team do all the hard work?
One of the first leadership theories was established by Kurt Lewin in the 1930s. Lewin believed that there were 3 main types of leadership, all based on a leader's decision making behaviour:
- Autocratic leadership- an autocratic leader is egocentric and will make decisions without consulting the rest of the team. Autocratic leadership is appropriate in fast-paced and stressful situations where it may be unproductive to waste time deliberating over a decision.
- Democratic leadership- a democratic leader will ask a team before making a decision, however, democracy can be difficult to manage when there is a great number of conflicting opinions.
- Laissez-faire leadership- a laissez-faire leader will adopt a laid-back attitude and leave a team to their own devices. This form of leadership works when the team is very highly motivated to achieve a common goal. It can lead to failure if the laissez-faire attitude is developed out of laziness or lack of care.
Autocratic, democratic and laissez-faire leadership all have their advantages and disadvantages but how do you decide which approach to take?
Blake and Mouton
In the 60s, two men, one named Blake and the other named Mouton, developed a new model of behavioural leadership. The new model allowed leaders to assess their leadership behaviour according to two factors:
1. Production- companies want to get tasks done as quickly and efficiently as possible in order to increase their rate of production. The idea being that productive workers tend to result in an increase in company profits. If workers spend too long relaxing, chatting or procrastinating, production rates will lag.
2. Happiness- if leaders work their team too hard, they risk neglecting individual happiness. If employees feel undervalued and negative about their job, they will inevitably lack the motivation to succeed.
It is difficult for leaders to get this balance just right. Blake and Mouton devised a grid to help professionals decide how best to lead, depending on their concern for people versus their concern for production. The grid features 5 different types of leadership:
- Country club leadership- a low level of production to a high level of employee happiness. A country-club leader is more concerned about a team's feelings and needs than they are about reaching the end goal. They assume that as long as employees are happy, they will work hard. This can result in a fun, relaxed and happy work environment but workers are not driven and production suffers due to a lack of direction.
- Produce or perish leadership- a high level of production to a low level of employee happiness. Leaders see workers as a means to an end. Happiness and worker's needs are sacrificed for the success of production. Leaders are autocratic with strict policies and procedures. Punishments for mistakes are preferred over rewards for successes. Employees work in fear of failing rather than incentive to succeed.
- Impoverished leadership- a low level of production to a low level of employee happiness. This is the most ineffective form of leadership. The leader has little interest either in keeping workers happy or getting the task completed. This results in an unorganised workplace full of dissatisfied workers.
- Middle of the road leadership- a medium level of production to a medium level of employee happiness. This is the most balanced leadership style; however, without making any kind of sacrifice, leaders end up compromising both. This results in a mediocre performance with average employee happiness and average production rates.
- Team leadership- a high production rate to a high employee happiness rate. This is the epitome of successful management. It works on the premise that employees are united in their desire to reach a common business goal. When employees are committed to a task that is both enjoyable and well directed, they will put their all into it. If their worth is highly valued, they will be more likely to respect their leader. As a result of this, production levels should improve.
As a leader, how do you choose which strategy to take? Many experts believe that deciding which leadership approach to take should depend entirely on the nature of the situation.
It is ineffective to apply one leadership theory to every situation. Contingency theories try to predict which leadership style would be best for future possible situations.
A good leader should be able to match their leadership style to the person they are managing. If they don't, things can go wrong. For example, giving a young inexperienced person the same amount of responsibility as an experienced employee could prove detrimental.
If you find yourself in a leadership role but you're not quite sure how to handle the situation, you might find it helpful to consider the following questions:
What situation am I in?
Who am I dealing with?
How experienced is my team?
How much responsibility should I give them?
Experts Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard devised a way in which leaders could match their leadership style to particular situations.
This contingency theory is based on the premise that good leaders should be able to adopt a number of different leadership styles depending on the maturity of their charge and the nature of the task at hand.
Hursey and Blanchard's four main leadership approaches are:
Leaders tell their team what to do and how to do it.
Telling is used for individuals who lack the knowledge, skills and confidence to work alone. They need encouragement to want to take on a task.
Leaders provide information and direction. They tend to communicate more with the team. Instead of preaching, the leader has to appeal to the team and sell their message to get them on board.
Selling is used for employees who are willing to work on a task but lack the ability to do it to the desired standard.
Leaders place more emphasis on team relations and less on decisions. The leader works within the team and shares responsibilities.
Used for staff who are willing to work on tasks, have the right skills but are still not confident in their own abilities.
The leader will monitor the progress of the team but pass most of the responsibility to other members of the group. They will be less involved in decision making, just interested in the end point. They will tend to step in if this is not being reached successfully.
These team members are able to work alone, have a high level of confidence, strong skills and a personal commitment to the task.
Desirable leadership qualities
Since the 1930s, leadership theory has developed rapidly. Today, Mouten and Blake's 'team leadership' approach is now more commonly referred to as 'transformational leadership'. Transformational leadership is widely considered as the most effective leadership style to this date.
A transformational leader displays the following qualities:
- integrity and fairness
- able to set clear goals
- maintains high expectations
- encouraging towards employees
- willing to provide support, recognition and reward
- stirs people's emotions
- encourages people to look beyond their self-interest
- inspires people to reach for the improbable.
Management Training/Coaching - Tips for becoming a successful leader
If you want to improve your leadership skills you can follow these common attributes found in successful leaders:
1. Be a good listener- support your team and give constructive criticism
2. Clarify problems- tackle problems by admitting to them, informing the team about them and making logical decisions to rectify them.
3. Delegate logically- delegate tasks to workers with the appropriate skill set and abilities to tackle them successfully.
4. Be assertive- if you appear confident in your decision making you are more likely to build trust and get the whole team on board.
5. Show humility- don't deny your mistakes. Accept them and learn from them.
6. Persevere- don't give up when things go wrong. As a leader, you will be relied upon to set an example. If you give up, so will your team.
7. Be flexible- situations can change. It's important to be able to adapt accordingly.
8. Be motivational- because you are in a position of authority, team members may look to you when they need a boost. Even when you feel unmotivated or downhearted, it is important to make an effort to remind the team of the end goal and to make them feel like their efforts are valued.
There are many different ways to be a good leader. If you think you don't 'fit the mould' this doesn't mean you can't develop the appropriate qualities. Consulting a Life Coach or perhaps getting some specific management training/coaching could help you to understand more about what it takes to be a leader. There are so many different leadership styles and techniques, hundreds of conflicting opinions and thousands of published journals offering differing advice.
The most important thing is to find the style that fits you personally.
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