Leadership at the Core of Leadership Is Term Paper

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At the core of leadership is the interaction between the leader and the follower. Much of leadership theory can be understood in terms of how leaders and followers interact and what the underlying assumptions are with respect to the roles and nature of leadership. Because of the many different types of leaders, and successful examples thereof, leadership scholarship has developed multiple branches that seek to explain leadership, but no one branch has yet proved definitive. Instead of understanding leadership through a single paradigm, and it better to understand it in terms of multiple paradigms, and different leadership theories can be applied to the same situation, and any given leader might apply multiple leadership styles at the same time.

Part of the appeal of leadership scholarship is that it encompasses so many unique academic disciplines. Leadership scholarship began life as in business schools but has been studied in the psychological and sociological contexts as well as the intercultural context, all of which lends breadth and depth to our understanding of leadership. This paper will synthesize the existing thought with regards to leadership, and seek to determine common relationships that are foundational to understanding what leadership is and how leadership works in the organizational context. Once these relationships are understood, it will be much easier for leaders to change outcomes by changing critical input elements or the underlying nature of relationships with a given organization.

Leadership Theories Overview

There are several different ongoing threads in current leadership scholarship. Avolio, Walumbwa and Weber (2009) outline several of these. They argue that authenticity is a critical component of leadership. Authentic leadership is a concept that can be applied to many otherwise disparate leadership styles, but authenticity is required by all. The theory of authentic leadership is that a good leader will exhibit a pattern of behavior "that encourages openness in sharing information needed to make decisions while accepting follower's inputs" (Avolio, Walumbwa & Weber, 2009). The underlying logic is that freer flow of information and more openness with respect to decision-making is an essential component to getting the best ideas on the table, and therefore should result in long-run outperformance for the organization, as the aggregated effects of superior information flow and decision-making are realized.

This concept can be applied, however, to most modern forms of leadership. Consider the transactional-transformational axis, wherein a transactional leader is expert in maintaining systems and making incremental changes to improve organizational performance. The transformational leader is one who can guide an organization through a process of change, providing the vision and inspiration needed to overcome the barriers inherent in any change process (Avolio, Walumbwa & Weber, 2009). This understanding perhaps shortchanges the transaction manager -- at least that is the impression one might get from reading pop literature on the subject. The reality is that authenticity is required in both cases, and that the transactional leader faces a difficult task in motivating charges to perform routine tasks well and to expend effort in the pursuit of incremental gains. Transactional leadership might actually be harder, but the underlying reality is that authenticity is a common thread for all leaders, and the transformational-transactional axis is primarily a differentiation of leadership style by task.

There are times when more than one leadership style is required. If we consider the transformational-transactional axis, and assume for a minute that there are two leaders at opposite extreme ends of the axis, an organization that needs to undergo radical change will surely need a transformational leader. However, if it needs to undergo this change while maintaining a high level of daily performance, there will also be a role for a transactional leader. This is the concept of shared leadership, which is a more open philosophy of leadership, but one that allows companies to leverage the comparative advantages of different people placed into leadership roles ("Shared Leadership," no date).

The concept of shared leadership is not entirely novel. It actually reflects one of the underlying realities of leadership -- in all but the smallest teams the leadership role is shared. There may only be one formal leader, but within the team there will be other leaders at various levels. They may derive their leadership from experiential authority, from their subject matter authority, or simply on the basis of the strength of their personality. Implementing shared leadership has become something of a challenge, in part because many practitioners see implementing shared leadership as
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necessarily formalizing an essentially informal process. Kocolowski (2010) notes that there are barriers in many industries to formal adoption of shared leadership. There are risks, too, well-embodied in the employee with 8 different bosses in the movie Office Space. Shared leadership, when implemented properly, should be a recognition of the fact that there are many different types of leadership within an organization, and that these different leadership types should all be understood and respected within the organization -- it is certainly not good practice to have multiple different formal leaders. As Kocolowski notes, in some industries there might be room for two at best, but anything beyond that is probably unlikely to deliver incremental value to the organization.

A running theme in modern literature on the subject of leadership is complexity (Schwandt & Szabla, n.d.). The leadership systems prior to the latter 20th century tended to focus on pathways of formal leadership, and the assumed division of people into "leaders" and "followers," while today scholars realize that leadership is much more subtle and complex, and have attempted to build that subtlety and complexity into their models. Part of the complexity comes from more complex models of the organization -- the matrix structures and convoluted hierarchies of the modern global conglomerate. The increased complexity of organizations has experienced a co-evolution with the increased complexity of leadership (Schwandt & Szabla, n.d.). Part of the complexity arises from globalization, and the diversity of people and cultures. But most of it comes from employees with greater knowledge than in the past, sometimes highly specialized knowledge, and the dissemination of authority throughout the organization based on the democratization of knowledge. Younger employees today expect this in their organizations -- that there will be low barriers between them and supervisors with respect to communication and as a consequence ideas can be expressed freely and authority comes from expertise and experience more than from formal titles. Authentic leadership emerged from this milieu, as did the idea of servant leadership, where the leader places emphasis on making sure the employees have what they need to perform to a high level.

After authenticity and shared leadership, a third critical concept in leadership is that of sustainability -- not the buzzword version but in an organization being able to foster a leadership development system such that its leadership throughout the organization is always sustainable. Leadership is often stronger today that it once was for two reasons. The first is that it is much more merit-based than it once was in the days when formal leadership and trait theory predominated. Today, leadership is something that anybody throughout the organization can show, and when they do there is often room to grow. So leadership is more a meritocracy than before. The second reason why leadership has improved is diversity. Organizations are tapping into the leadership talents of many people who previously may not have had access to leadership roles it the past. Tapping into this vast talent pool, and recognizing the value of different leadership perspectives, is something that has driven the evolution of how we conceive of leadership (Boyatzis, Smith & Blaize, 2006).

A final thread on leadership scholarship is that there is still less focus on what makes a bad leader. Bad leadership is often defined in terms of output measures, rather than input measures. Seven inputs have been identified that might define toxic leadership, or least contribute to it: incompetent, rigid, intemperate, callous, corrupt, insular and evil (Ludwig, 2014). For all of the relationships that define good leadership, it should at least be understood that the absence of bad leadership is important. Yet, it is strange that bad leadership scholarship has not evolved in the same way that the scholarship of good leadership has - it still relies on output measures, and traits. Bad leaders are not identified as such during hiring, or they would not be hired. So they must have some traits of good leaders, or have adopted a leadership style that made them seem suitable. I would argue that more scholarship should be dedicated towards bad leadership, because bad leaders can create toxic environments. In some cases, the leader might not be inherently bad, just a bad fit (a transformational leader in a transactional role, whose boredom with routine manifests in the aforementioned negative traits would be one example).

Thus, the foundational concepts in leadership of complexity, shared leaders and authenticity all reflect the different structural elements of the organization. First, they reflect the communications pathways within the organization. Second, they recognize the relationship between formal and informal leadership…

Sources Used in Documents:


Avolio, B., Walumbwa, F. & Weber, T. (2009). Leadership: Current theories, research and future directions. Annual Review of Psychology. Vol. 60 (2009) 421-449.

Boyatzis, R., Smith, M., & Blaize, N. (2006). Developing sustainable leaders through coaching and compassion. Academy of Management Learning & Education. Vol. 5 (1) 8-24.

Falk, S. & Rogers, S. (2011). Junior military officer retention: Challenges & opportunities. Harvard University. In possession of the author.

Kocolowski, M. (2010). Shared leadership: Is it time for a change? Emerging Leadership Journeys. Vol. 3 (1) 22-32.

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