Leadership is a topic that is high on the agenda for most organizations. It’s difficult to pick up a respectable magazine or journal and not find in it some reference.
The one thing we are not short of is leadership models and advice. There is a huge choice available and more emerge almost weekly.
All the models have appeal and most seem to contribute something to our understanding of leadership. This is particularly true of behavioral models. But there is very little solid objective evidence to support any one particular picture of leadership style and behavior.
Another issue is that many of the models appear to overlap or look at the same aspect of leadership from a different perspective. The connections between models are rarely made.
Small wonder then that Augier and Teece said in 2005 “as a scientific concept, leadership is a mess”. Provoked by a discussion with the Institute of Leadership and Management searching for a leadership measure, AQR International launched a major study to examine these issues.
Carried out under the supervision of Professor Peter Clough the study examined the main leadership models (academic and practitioner models) from around the world.
A key element was to analyze these models by stripping them down to their bare components. The analysis showed that all the models examined had their roots in one or more of 6 common themes.
The results were extremely interesting.
The analysis showed that there is no particular combination of style which correlated uniquely with high performance. The indication is that leadership style is situational and it is adopted. Different profiles might work better in different situations.
Usefully ILM72 profiles can be aggregated to form a picture of the leadership style of a group.
|GOAL ORIENTATION||How important achieving goals is to the leader||The Means v. The End|
|MOTIVATION||What the leader believes is the prime path to motivation||The Task v. The Person|
|ENGAGEMENT||How leaders will engage with others||Flexible v. Dogmatic|
|CONTROL||The extent to which leaders need to be in control||De-Centralised v. Centralised|
|RECOGNITION||The leaders preferred approach to recognition||Reward v. Punishment|
|STRUCTURE||How important structure is to the leader||Structured v. Organic|
Examining each scale in more detail:
Task v. Person
This reflects and measures the extent to which the individual is orientated towards meeting the needs of the task or is concerned with the needs of individuals. It’s a central theme in most models and reflects how the leader believes that people are motivated to perform more effectively.
At one extreme the leader believes that success breeds success and that people will work more enthusiastically for a successful organisation. At the other extreme the leader believes that they must focus on the individual’s needs in order to motivate them to greater performance. A balanced leader will deploy both approaches as appropriate.
Flexible v. Dogmatic
Sometimes referred to as a measure of autocracy. Someone at the Dogmatic or Rigid end of the scale would have a strong belief that they know how things should be done around here. At the extreme one might see “there is only one way to achieve something …. and its my way!”. At the other end of the scale, a Flexible style is one where the individual is open to ideas and suggestions, understanding that they don’t have a monopoly on ideas and “there is more than one way to solve a problem”.
De-Centralised v. Centralised
Someone who adopts a Centralised style is someone who prefers that everything goes through them. They may have a strong need to control or they may have a less mature group to work with and there is a greater need for strong guidance. Someone with a De-centralised style is happy to delegate to others and to work through others. Their ethos is one of empowerment.
Reward v. Punishment
High Reward indicates that the leader is prepared to reward and recognize acceptable and high performance. This can be monetary or in the form of a tangible benefit or it could be “praise”.
Focus on Punishment means that the prevailing style is to accept good or high performance as the norm (“that’s what I pay the person for already”) and to find it acceptable in some way to punish a shortcoming in performance.
The Means v. The End
A Leader whose style is focused on the End is someone for whom the result matters more than anything. Everything can be sacrificed for that goal. This does not necessarily mean that they are immoral or amoral – they are likely to be very focused.
Someone who is focused on the Means is someone who is concerned about how the goal is achieved and will adopt standards & values to ensure that it is done properly. They will also take into account the implications of what they do – and will typically tend to be visionary, concerned about environment and development capability in people and process.
Structured v. Organic
The Organic style is one where leadership seems to come naturally in some way – these individuals do not seem to force it and they are often described as natural leaders. They learn about leadership in a casual manner by observing others’ behaviors and selecting what they feel works. In some instances, this might be related to “charismatic” or having “style” but not always.
The Structured style is one where leadership is learned more formally. It is drawn from education, textbooks, models, or training. This is not a natural style, the leader following detailed plans & processes to achieve things through others.
The clear implication here is that leadership is learned one way or the other.
If one examines most popular leadership models they will have their roots in one or more of these six specific scales which appear to define leadership style.
Defining Leadership and how it differs from Management
Literally thousands of definitions exist. Most definitions focus on two themes. Leadership is about performance (particularly improving performance) and about achieving this through followers.
There is obvious value in looking at leadership in this way.
Firstly, this macro view focuses on what is important about leadership and helps to keep thinking about leadership in perspective.
Secondly, it helps us to understand what is unique about leadership and how it differs from most people’s view of management. What is becoming apparent is that more and more organisations are beginning to understand its value in developing the business.
As Professor Linda Holbeche notes “one key theme … is that managers are being encouraged to act as leaders…
Straightforward managerial activity is usually about being provided with a set of resources (including people), organising and directing those resources such that an acceptable level of performance is achieved. The level of engagement with employees can be highly structured and formal.
Leadership is very much about engaging employees in such a way that it produces from them their discretionary effort which translates into better and improving organisational performance – exceeding expectations.
The question is “Can an organisation appoint a leader?” Who decides who is a leader and who isn’t? It is likely to be the follower who decides they will follow someone’s lead. The organisation cannot normally require that an employee produces a special effort.
So the business of engaging with the follower is a core activity for someone who aspires to be a leader.
Leadership – Core Requirements – Global Factors
Once the data analysis to confirm the aspects of leadership style had been completed, further analysis revealed that there were 3 over-arching (second-order) relationships emerging:
These are shown below:
|Determination||This describes a single-minded determination to achieve. Most satisfaction – the individuals and the followers – is derived from this.|
|Engagement with Individuals||This describes enhancing the capability, confidence and commitment of individuals to enable them to perform and to fulfil themselves.|
|Engagement with Teams||The emphasis is on cross functional team working – a leader knows and supports how people work together across the organisation|
Determination to Deliver
The extent to which there is a single minded determination to achieve – in the short and long term. Leaders who scored high appear to see delivering what is promised is an over-riding requirement which leads to success and the feeling of success. Employees often like to follow a leader who provides purpose.
They will often demonstrate
- Commitment to deliver and a belief in their own ability to do this
- A willingness to discomfort people when necessary in order to hit the target with an awareness of how far you can push people
- An interest in efficiency and effectiveness – particularly in use of time
- A concern with the long term as well as the short term – likely to have a vision which is capable of being communicated to others.
Engaging with Individuals
The extent to which there is focus on enhancing the capability, confidence and commitment of individuals to enable them to contribute to the organisation and to fulfil themselves. The emphasis here is on ensuring the people have the skills, knowledge and behaviours to carry out their roles in the organisation and to providing the environment to enable staff to fulfil their potential.
Skills and knowledge gaps can threaten achieving the task … so this person will want to ensure that everyone is motivated to succeed. They appear to be strongly associated with:-
- Concern with capability of employees
- A belief that a contented and satisfied employee is likely to be a productive employee
- Formation of meaningful relationships
- Being emotional intelligent but won’t be driven by it – they will be aware of the significance of feeling but will probably be logical and calculating about dealing with that.
Engaging with Team Working
The extent to which there is focus on and attention given to harnessing all the potential in an organisation so that problem solving and decision making can occur more efficiently and more effectively and at the right level.
The emphasis here is on enabling groups of people to gather their knowledge, experience and skills and apply these to managing the day to day operation within the organisation. A further objective here is to enable ideas and creativity from the whole organisation to be expressed and to be available.
There is a firm understanding of the value that team working and synergy can bring to a business and good awareness of how it can be developed. Typically they:-
- Believe there is value in sharing ideas & getting others points of view
- Maximise the use of the skills and capabilities within the work force
- Avoid feeling that they are the center of everything – they are not irreplaceable. You don’t have to like each other, but you do have to listen to one another and work together.
These resonate strongly with the view that leadership is about performance and about engaging with others in some way to deliver that performance
The three global factors emerge as independent factors. Moreover one of the factors, Determination to Deliver, emerges as possibly more significant than the other two. It is here that another important concept – Mental Toughness – has a big role to play. To show Determination to Deliver, leadership needs resilience and a positive frame of mind.
There is also some indication that these factors are related to leadership effectiveness.
This has some implications. Firstly, effective leadership appears always to need focus on performance. It may even be possible for leaders to demonstrate this kind of commitment or vision to create some level of followership. Although doing only this may only be effective in the short term.
Engaging with individuals or with teams or the organisation may enable more effective leadership. Doing both may enable highly effective leadership.
Assessing Leadership Style
An important and valuable by-product of the work carried out has led to the development of a normative questionnaire (ILM72) which can measures individuals (and organizations) in terms of the six specific scales (style) and the 3 global scales.
The challenge for business is to grasp more effectively what is leadership and what it can do for the organization. Then to assess where they are and to introduce interventions that develop leadership style and behaviour in a predictable way.
The objective here is not to identify a new leadership model. It was primarily focused on tidying up what we already know and to create an accessible coherent picture for those involved in leadership development.
Developing leadership skills in organizations is critical for our economic development. What we see is that leadership itself has not changed as a concept. It was and still is about improving performance and engaging with people in one way or another to do this.
Similarly leadership style is capable of being defined in a way that can also be assessed (and it too has probably remained constant over many years).
The challenge for HR and for Senior Executives is to grasp more effectively what leadership and what it can do the organization. Then to assess where they are and to introduce interventions that develop leadership style and behavior in a predictable way.
Then the last 20 years have seen a plethora of attractive leadership models and programs. Some do work. They will work better if the users have a better understanding of their context and they can measure what they are trying to develop.
Points to Ponder
How effective is your organization at measuring and developing leadership?
Is there a common understanding at all levels of what leadership means?
What are the factors affecting your organization and what does this mean for a preferred leadership style and behaviour.?
The Integrated leadership Model is described more fully in “Leadership Coaching” Ed Jonathan Passmore.