Throughout the ages much has been written about leadership: rules, pointers, styles, and biographies. How do we distil this wealth of information into a handful of simple truths? Are there underlying principles that describe the behaviour of all leaders? This article attempts to answer these questions by summarising research in the field of leadership.
You will probably encounter many different types of leader in your lifetime.
Both types of leader practice a combination of leadership styles which have been classified in various ways:
Although certain individuals appear to be born with innate leadership qualities, without the right environment and exposure, they may fail to develop their full potential. Like learning how to ride a bicycle, you can also learn how to become a leader and thereby hone your leadership abilities. Knowledge on leadership theories and skills may be formally gained by enrolling in leadership seminars, workshops, and conferences. Daily social interactions provide ample opportunity to observe and practice leadership theories. Together, formal and informal learning will help you gain leadership attitudes and insights. Life-long learning is important in becoming a good leader, for each day brings new experiences that will put your acumen to the test.
The best way to develop leadership qualities is to apply them in your own life, this entails placing yourself in the limelight. Bear in mind that your credibility as a leader depends very much on your own actions. These include your interaction with others (family, friends, and co-workers), your way of managing your personal and organizational responsibilities, and even the way you interact with the newspaper seller across the street. Repeated actions become habits, which in turn form a person’s stable character. Steven Covey’s book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People provides excellent insights on how you can form the right habits.
Rather than being the sole responsibility of one person, leadership roles should be shared among members of an emerging team. A leader belongs to a group. Each member has responsibilities to fulfil. Formal leadership positions are merely added responsibilities which stand in addition to an individual’s responsibility as a member of the 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 the leaders and members of an emerging team. It is important to emphasise that this trust is cultivated through actions and mutual respect, not merely words.
Why do autocratic leadership styles typically work well in Singapore but not in the United States or the United Kingdom? There are key culturally-held attitudes, beliefs, and value systems which direct the way leadership is received. However, in truth, there is no single style which is effective at all times. In fact, most leaders employ a combination of styles contingent upon the situation. The imperative of a military situation, for example, dictate the autocratic style of leadership which prevails. In an organisational setting, we must consider the attitudes and compliance of the team members. For example, in a highly-motivated and compliant environment, a delegative and democratic style is favoured.
In this article, we have emphasised that, despite its complexities, different leadership styles can operate according to elementary principles. Accordingly, this simple perspective is the best one to employ when first considering the efficacy of your own leadership.