Updated: Jul 24
Leaders come in various forms and have different leadership styles. Throughout history, individuals have emerged from the crowd to distinguish themselves as effective leaders. It is little wonder that so much attention has been paid to understanding such leaders, because they have made history time and again. In recent years, much research has been focused on identifying what makes these individuals different from their peers and what qualities contribute to their effective leadership. To help answer this question, this paper will provide a review of the relevant literature to examine the elements that contribute to the development and mastery of leadership, define principle-centered leadership, and discuss how technology-driven changes in communication and information sharing might affect leadership development over the next decade.
When great leaders of the past and present are considered, names such as Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi, and Mother Teresa emerge. Understanding the characteristics that made these individuals invaluable leaders, the attributes they have in common, and the elements that enabled them to represent their followers successfully is the key to future greatness. “Leadership is a long standing and widespread topic of concern. It has received much attention in schools,
business, organizations, and political institutions” (Adesina, 1988, p. 73). According to Gardner (1990), “Interests in leadership styles are stressed every day. It is such a gripping subject that once it is given center stage, it draws attention away from everything else”
(p. 2). Differing opinions on the nature of leadership lie at the root of this diverted attention. Adesina defines a leader as someone who accomplishes tasks by enlisting the efforts of others: “In any situation, [the leader] must have both social and psychological attributes in order to succeed on the job” (p. 73). Gardner defines leadership as “the process of persuasion or example by which an individual [or leadership team] induces a group to pursue objectives held by the leader or shared by the leader and his or her followers” (p. 1).
Development of Leadership Characteristics
Are the characteristics of leaders born or acquired? No doubt, leadership competence has its roots partly in genetics, partly in early childhood development, and partly in adult experience (McCauley et al., 1998). Generally, most of the elements of leadership can be developed or taught. Gardner (1990) discusses leadership characteristics as follows:
The notion that all the attributes of a leader are innate is demonstrably false. No doubt certain characteristics are genetically determined—level of energy, for example. But the individual’s hereditary gifts, however notable, leave the issue of future leadership performance undecided, to be settled by later events and influences. Most of the capabilities that enable an outstanding leader to lead are learned: Ronald Reagan’s extraordinary communication skills were the product of many decades of professional experience. Douglas MacArthur’s strategic and tactical brilliance in World War II was the product of a lifetime of study and action. (p. 157)
According to Lynham (2000), leadership development occurs in early childhood and adolescence, and observation of early childhood and adolescent behavior shows that early life experience has an impact on adult leadership potential. Bass (1990) writes that many scholars believe a liberal arts education is the best for preparing young leaders, as it provides the broad educational experience considered essential to leadership. Lynham adds challenging jobs to the mix: “Many authors in the field have also pointed to the important of challenging job opportunities as a source for learning leadership skills, as well as to learn from the people one works with and from the task one does” (p. 12).
McCauley et al. (1998) also state that specialized leadership education programs and training have been shown to have a positive impact on leadership development. Bass discusses specialized training as follows:
The purpose and content of leadership training appears to focus on three areas: namely, improving a leader’s attitudes, skills and knowledge, training in success and effectiveness as a leader, and training and education on leadership styles (p. 6).
Gardner (1990), however, declares that certain leadership traits are genetic, but most people with these gifts often fail to achieve leadership because they are not developed. So, as leadership can be taught, it is important to develop what is natural but in need of cultivation.
McCauley et al. (1998) define leader development as “the expansion of a person’s capacity to be effective in leadership roles and processes.” They also note, “Leadership roles and processes are those that facilitate setting direction, creating alignment, and maintaining commitment in groups of people who share common work” (p. 2). One of the key assumptions in leadership development is that people can learn, grow, and change to enhance individual effectiveness. Leaders learn primarily through experience, both in early childhood and in adulthood. When adult use their experience and existing talents to develop their capabilities and grow in their weaker areas, they significantly enhance their overall effectiveness and become better leaders.
According to McCauley et al., “Assessment, challenge, and support are the three elements that combine to make developmental experiences more powerful” (p.3). These elements contribute to the development and mastery of the leadership process. They provide raw material for learning—the information, observations, and reactions that lead to a more complex and sometimes quite different understanding of the world. In addition, assessment, challenge, and support help to motivate people to focus their attention and efforts on learning, growth, and change.
Assessment or evaluation of the leadership development process through collection and interpretation of data can be either formal or informal. Peers, bosses, employees, customers, counselors, or organization consultants can be sources of assessment. Assessment is important because it gives the leader an understanding of his/her current strengths, performance, and leadership effectiveness. As reported by McCauley et al. (1998), good assessments clarify what to learn, improve, or change. Challenge
The experiences that can be the most potent are the ones that stretch or challenge people to force them out of their comfort zones. Challenging experiences demand that leaders learn new skills and abilities, set difficult goals, compete, and deal with possible failure and disappointment. Again, McCauley et al. (1998) describe challenging situations as follows:
The element of challenge serves the dual purpose of motivation development and provoking the opportunity to develop. Challenging situations motivate by causing disequilibrium and then capitalizing on people’s need for mastery. When the outcomes of the situation matter to people, they are motivated to work toward meeting the challenge. This means becoming competent in new areas, achieving difficult goals, managing conflicts, and easing the pain of loss and failure. Mastering challenges requires putting energy into developing skills and abilities, understanding complex situation, and reshaping how one thinks.
Hence, through hardship, leaders can recognize their limits and learn how to master their stress levels.
Support contributes to the development and mastery of leadership by helping leaders manage the struggle and pain of developing. It allows them to bear the weight of experience and to view themselves as capable, worthy, and valuable. Support is a key factor in motivating leaders; it helps engender a sense of self-efficacy about learning, a belief that one can learn, grow, and change. By talking to others about current struggles, openly examining mistakes, and receiving positive feedback, leaders can determine whether they are on the right track, thus making them more effective in their work (McCauley et al., 1998). In this way, “leaders are empowered to increase their performance capability in order to achieve worthwhile purposes through understanding and living principle-centered leadership” (Covey, 1991, p. 1).
Principle-Centered Leadership: A Close Look
Principle-centered leadership is “an inside-out approach to significantly improving quality, leadership, innovation, trust, teamwork, customer-focused service, organizational alignment and many other strategic corporate initiatives” (Covey, 1991, p. 1). According to Covey, this approach to building and sustaining high-trust cultures uniquely focuses on the synergistic relationship among all four levels of organization:
personal relationships, relationships and interactions with others, managerial ability, and organization skills.
In leadership roles, the ability to develop positive relationships with many different types of people is particularly important. The foundation of this ability is the capacity to respect people from varying backgrounds and understand their individual perspectives.
People in leadership roles must not only develop their own relationships with others, but also facilitate the development of positive relationships among their employees. Effective leaders help create synergy, motivation, and a sense of empowerment in work groups.
Managers must be effective communicators; to direct people, they should be able to communicate information, opinions, and ideas plainly using different media. People with effective communication skills are able to listen carefully and understand what others are saying, thinking, and feeling.
Leadership roles frequently call for the ability to hire, guide, and develop others in ways that allow people to work together in increasingly productive and meaningful ways. This includes the ability to help others diagnose their development needs, to provide appropriate feedback and other learning opportunities, to coach and promote changes in their behavior, and to identify and reward improvements. Trust is the key principle that successful leaders must develop to create and maintain long-lasting relationships, as will be discussed in the next section.
Building Interpersonal Relationships
Since the relationship with oneself is the closest and most important, the kinds of relationships leaders have with themselves (judging, coaching, fearful, or loving) determine how they will relate to their followers. Every interpersonal relationship is built on giving and receiving; he who always gives acts against this principle just as much as he who only takes. This basic truth is valid without exception wherever people deal with people.
Ricketts and Rudd (2002) state that human relations prepare leaders to look inward and to work with others in the most optimum ways possible. Scherer (1992) declares that in developing a leader, conflict resolution training should be a top priority. Deen (2000) opines that many researchers believe conflict has the potential to be a productive and necessary part of positive interpersonal relationships, creative problem- solving, and group cohesiveness. Chapman and O’Neil (1999) also emphasize the importance of getting along with others, managing conflict effectively, communication, restoring relationships, and maintaining relationships.
Ricketts and Rudd (2002) describe the importance of interpersonal relationships in this manner:
The human relation skills to handle conflict in a constructive matter, avoid conflict if necessary, or perpetuate success in an adolescent leader constituents can be validated in the model by looking at the leadership constructs of Kouzes and Posner (1995). Their research revealed that top leaders exhibit the following fundamental practices of exemplary leadership: challenge the process, inspire a shared vision and enable others to act, model the way and encourage the heart. (p. 9)
Characteristics of Principle-Centered Leaders
Covey (1991) declares that principle-centered leaders are continually learning and looking for ways to improve their knowledge; they are good listeners and always ready to ask questions. The read different books, from Shakespeare to academic journals in different fields, to broaden their knowledge and stay current. They do not see life as a struggle for the survival of the fittest, but as a mission. They are people with a self-driven purpose who are ready to take on difficult challenges at any time in their careers.
Principle-centered leaders are enthusiastic and they believe in other people; their human relations skills are excellent. Additionally, Covey describes principle-centered leaders as energetic people who are happy and exercise regularly. They meditate, pray, fast, and study the scripture for self-renewal. These practices allow them to lead balanced lives and stay focused on their jobs to solve difficult problems.
Technology Changes and Development of Leadership Styles
Gardner (1990) opines that in the development of leaders, the most important tool is communication. Communication skills, both oral and written, allow people to share knowledge, interests, attitudes, opinions, feelings, and ideas in order to influence and ultimately lead others (Ricketts & Rudd, 2002).
McCauley et al. (1998) define technology as “human innovation in action that involves the generation of knowledge and process to develop systems that solve problems and extend human capabilities.” However, they define educational technology as “using multimedia technologies or audiovisual aids as a tool to enhance the teaching and learning process” (p. 11).
Sharing information is a leadership trait. Leaders’ ability to efficiently use technology (such as e-mail, the Internet, phones, text messaging, live broadcast, and computers) to share information will improve their performance and boost their relationships with followers. Leaders bring knowledge, people, and technology together. Leaders empower people to seek knowledge and to share that knowledge with the global community. Khosrow-Pour (2003) reports that the use of technology not only permits the gathering of information, but also empowers the user to construct new knowledge to improve the global community.
As leaders increase the quantity and quality of their communication and collaboration activities using technology, they also develop their leadership skills. Over the years, with the continued use of information-sharing technology, the preferred leadership style will expand beyond traditional oral communication; competency in the use of technology tools to share knowledge and information will be required to assume leadership. New technology demands a new type of leader: the transformational leader. Leaders must understand that situations can vary dramatically, and this significantly affects the type of leadership necessary in a technology-driven environment.
However, new technology can have negative effects as well. With the emerging new technology, many corporations have replaced their employees with robots or computers, thereby losing the tacit knowledge these people gained over their years in the organization.The loss of tacit knowledge due to technology leaves managers and employees with fewer options and erodes the values and sense of community that sustain organizational excellence, according to Lampl et al. (2004). Tacit knowledge can also be lost to downsizing and retirement.
In a recent study reported by Owen and Ada (2004) on the dynamics associated with an institution-wide effort to integrate technology into teaching and learning, they found that the leader’s key role in the initial stage was to establish incentives to help faculty employees overcome their anxiety and skepticism and cross the “chasm.” Several support systems were initiated by campus leadership to steady faculty preparing to cross the still-wobbly bridge over the chasm: they included funding faculty travel to conferences, changes in budgeting and resource allocation to favor technology projects, compensation for overload, and support for summer staff and faculty institutes. Owen and Ada further stated that the type of leadership style associated with this technology change (i.e., transformational) was more disruptive for faculty than change without technology.
Organizational change stemming from changes in core technologies affects people in both personal and professional spheres. Owen and Ada declare: As a minimum, technology is foreign to many…the unsettled nature of transformational change … challenges assumptions, roles, values, and norms, participants experience a disturbing lack of control, and the result is a situation full of both personal and institutional tension. (p. 658)
Unpredictable changes in the availability and capability of new technology generate anxiety for leaders (decision-makers) who are trying to select effective technology options. Owen and Ada concluded that the factors that might affect the development of leadership style based on technological changes include turbulence, tension, planning, implementation, barriers, and cultural change.
Turbulence characterizes an environment where change is rapid and outcomes are unpredictable. Tension grows from simultaneous, opposing forces related to specific issues. Planning is essential, but it is difficult to predict all the nuances and complexities associated with a new level of technology. Implementation of technology efforts sometimes exposes unanticipated issues, which can exacerbate tensions related to funding and support and reveal the inherent inability of planners to anticipate the consequences of innovation. Barriers to change include the difficulty of overcoming the unwillingness of those affected to participate in the change and the high cost of technology. Cultural change represents the guided or provoked emergence of new norms, practices, and ways of thinking. All these factors might affect leadership style in the near future.
In conclusion, leaders are made via step-by-step guidance through the developmental stages. Some leadership traits may be genetic, but they will fail if not effectively developed; to help leaders master their skills, the focus must be on assessment, support, and challenge. Organizations can achieve strategic corporate initiatives by adopting principle-centered leadership. Positive interpersonal relationships are a necessity if leaders want to succeed in sharing information and knowledge with followers; without good human relations, sharing information in a hostile environment will hinder leadership effectiveness. In addition to following these basic principles, today’s leaders should also develop their technology skills to train, build teams, and move organizations forward in the new century.
Dr. Dumah is an incredible leader and entrepreneur based in Houston, he frequently travels the world mostly to Africa, as an international businessman he has extensive experience dealing with very difficult negotiations, particularly since he deals in the world of 5G communication. He is a friend that is willing to mentor our youth believing that we as African Americans stand on the shoulders of might men and women, Kings and Queens that came before us.
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