Leadership refers “to the process of social influence in which one person can procure the aid, and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task”. Leadership is concerned with an individual’s ability to incorporate, and maximize the resources that can be obtained from within the organization and the external environment in order to achieve the goals of the organization. Thus, leadership can be conceptualized as a fundamental process that seeks to achieve three objectives. First, it shapes the goals of the organization by setting achievable targets. Second, leadership induces organizational behavior in order to enhance achievement of goals and objectives. Finally, effective leadership provides a framework for defining organizational culture. Leadership can only be exercised in the presence of followers such as employees. In this case, it defines the relationship between the leaders and their subordinates. Besides, leadership is characterized by unequal sharing of power between the subordinates and their leaders. The effectiveness of leadership is determined by the leader’s ability to manage his interpersonal behavior, and to motivate his colleagues. Effective communication also determines the effectiveness of leadership. Three leadership styles, namely, skills approach, situational approach, and style approach will be compared and contrasted in this paper.
Approaches to Leadership
The skills approach asserts that knowledge and abilities are the main determinants of effective leadership. The skills approach is, thus, based on the belief that leaders can be made (Dereli, 2010). An individual can learn specific skills that enable him or her to become a remarkable leader. In order to be an effective leader, an individual should possess three skill types namely, technical, human, as well as, conceptual skills. The relevance of these skill areas in leadership can be described as follows.
Technical skills are concerned with the leader’s knowledge about a specific task or type of work, and his or her proficiency in completing that work. The leader must be able to understand the skills that are needed to drive the organization to the next level. Examples of skills needed by leaders include computer skills, financial management skills, and decision making skills. Once identified, the leader must make an attempt to acquire such skills. Effective application of job specific skills helps in enhancing the leader’s proficiency in his various roles. In a typical organization, the amount of technical skills needed should be equivalent to the number of technical tasks that need to be done. In the context of leadership, technical skills are essential in supervisory roles. For example, computer skills can help the leader to assess the performance of their subordinates. However, technical skills tend to be less significant as one ascends the organizational hierarchy.
Human skills are those that enable the leaders to get along with or work with their subordinates. Consequently, human skills are also referred to as people skills. In order to possess effective human skills, an individual should be conscious of his or her ‘self’ and that of his colleagues. This involves developing awareness of one’s own perception on issues, as well as, understanding other people’s perception on such issues. A leader who possesses strong human skills should be sensitive to the needs of the people he works with. Besides, he should be able to motivate others, and enhance a positive attitude towards work. Thus, a leader should take into account the needs, as well as, the motivations of his subordinates when making decisions that have far reaching impacts on the organization. Human skills are very instrumental in enhancing cooperation and team work. The members of the team or group are likely to cooperate with each other and the team leader if they believe that their needs and motivations are valued by the leader.
Conceptual skills are those that enable the leader to understand situations, and identify the appropriate action to take in response to the situation at hand. Conceptual skills are concerned with the leader’s ability to effectively utilize the concepts and ideas at his disposal. Consequently, conceptual skills can be described as the visionary aspect of leadership or the ability to “think about the long term and larger picture”. A leader who has strong conceptual skills should be able to work accordingly with abstract, as well as, hypothetical ideas. This requirement is fundamental in the process of formulating a vision statement that other members of the organization can believe in. Thus, conceptual skills are the most important at the peak of the organizational hierarchy.
The individual characteristics that may affect the quality of skills leadership include motivation, cognitive ability, and personality of the leader. The effectiveness of the skills approach is also influenced by the leader’s career experience and environmental factors which might not be in his control.
The skills approach is associated with the following strengths. First, it acknowledges the fact that leaders need certain skills in order to be effective. Second, application of the skills approach is easy since anyone can acquire skills through learning, and thus, become a good leader. Finally, it provides a framework for developing leadership training programs. However, the weakness of this approach is that it places greater emphasis on skills rather than leadership. Besides, it does not specify how the various skill areas impact performance.
Leadership style refers to “the combination of traits, skills, and behaviors that leaders use as they interact with followers”. Even though this definition highlights the importance of traits and skills, the leader’s behavior is the most important factor in style leadership approach. Thus, a leader is defined by the consistency of his behavior. The style approach to leadership is exclusively concerned with what leaders do, as well as, how they behave.
The style leadership approach is associated with two types of behaviors namely, task and relationship behaviors. Task behaviors are meant to enhance achievement of organizational goals and objectives. Relationship behaviors are meant to help the followers to be comfortable with themselves, with their colleagues, and with the circumstances in which they may find themselves.
The style approach focuses on how leaders can combine the aforementioned behaviors in order to enhance the success of the organization. A good leader should be in a position to initiate structure, and task behaviors. He should then be able to nurture followers’ actions in order to realize his full potential. The best combination of the two behavior types help in maximizing the productivity of the leader and the followers. Leaders using the style approach are aware of the fact that their actions occur at both task and relationship levels. In some cases, the leader has to focus on either task or process. However, he must strike a balance between the two behavior types in order to improve his effectiveness.
The strengths of the style approach include the following. First, it gives the leader an opportunity to evaluate the organization’s goals, and then adopt the appropriate behavior in order to realize the goals. Second, the style approach provides a framework for planning inline with the goals to be achieved. Finally, the style approach helps leaders to obtain feedback on how the followers are performing. The weakness of the style approach is that it does not identify the skills needed by the leaders in order to be effective. Besides, leadership is not entirely based on the behavior of the leader.
The situational approach is based on the view that a single best leadership approach can not be realized. The situational approach asserts that leadership is task oriented. Thus, a successful leader is one who is able to adapt his leadership to the task or situation at hand. Hersey and Blanchard explained leadership styles in terms of “the amount of task behavior and relationship behavior that the leader provides to their followers”. According to the situational approach, task behaviors refer to the leader’s level of involvement in defining the duties and responsibilities of the followers. Relationship behavior refers to the degree to which the leader is involved in two-way or multi-way systems of communications. Hersey and Blanchard identified four behavior types, S1 to S4. S1 behavior type is referred to as telling. In this case, a one-way communication approach is used in the organization. The leader determines the roles of the followers, the targets to be achieved, and the means to achieve the set targets. S2 behavior type is referred to as selling. It is characterized by a two-way communication approach, but the leader is still responsible for providing direction. Additionally, the leader provides socio-emotional support so that followers can approve his leadership. The S3 type of behavior is known as participating. In this case, the duty of making decisions on how tasks should be accomplished is shared between the leader and the followers. The leader provides less task behaviors, and more relationship behaviors. Finally, the S4 behavior type is referred to as delegating. The responsibility of making decisions now rests with the followers. However, the leaders are also involved in the decision making process in order to monitor the progress of the process.
According to the situational leadership style, the effectiveness of leadership depends on the maturity of the followers. Maturity refers to the readiness and ability of an individual to demonstrate responsibility for his behavior. Hersey and Blanchard identified four maturity levels, M1 to M4. M1 followers lack the skills needed to accomplish the task at hand. Besides, they are “unable and unwilling to take responsibility” for the task at hand. At M2 level of maturity, the followers are willing to tackle the task to be done. However, they lack ability to take responsibility for such tasks. At M3, the followers have relevant experience, and are able to execute the task. However, they are not confident enough to take responsibility. M4 is the highest level of maturity. At this level, the followers have experience, and are able to handle the tasks assigned to them. Besides, they are willing and able to take responsibility for the task.
A good leader helps the followers to develop competence and commitment instead of depending on others to provide direction and guidance. The leader can help his followers to realize high performance by setting high, but, realistic expectations. Various combinations of competence and commitment are associated with four development levels, usually ranked from D1 to D4. D1 is characterized by low levels of competence. However, the commitment level is high. At D2, both commitment and competence levels are low. D3 is characterized by high competence among the followers. However, the commitment level is low or variable. At D4, both competence and commitment levels are high.
The above leadership styles are fundamentally different in approach. Consequently, each style is associated with certain strengths and weaknesses. Despite their differences, there are common features in the leadership styles discussed above. The skills approach and style approach are similar because in both cases, the leader’s traits, skills, as well as, behavior are central to his effectiveness. The difference between the two approaches is found in the fact that the style approach places great emphasis on the leader’s behavior, while the skills approach focuses on skills and knowledge. The skills approach and the situational approach are similar since both of them are task-oriented. The skills approach aims at developing skills that are specific to the task, while the situational approach adapts the whole leadership process to the task at hand. The difference between the two is that the skills approach is based on the notion that acquiring adequate skills and knowledge is the best leadership strategy. The situational approach on the other hand is based on the notion that there is no single best leadership strategy. The situational approach is also similar to the style approach since they both focus on nurturing appropriate organizational behavior. However, the later focuses exclusively on behavior while the former incorporates other determinants of leadership such as competence and commitment.
The application of the style approach is limited by the fact that it only emphasizes the need to develop appropriate behavior among leaders. The application of the skills approach is also limited since it places great emphasis on skills development rather than leadership. The situational approach is, thus, the best approach since it provides a holistic approach to leadership. The merits of situational approach include the following. First, adapting the leadership approach to the needs of the subordinates helps in motivating them. Thus, better results are likely to be achieved through the situational approach. Second, the situational approach promotes development of commitment and competence among the followers. This leads to better relationships between the leader and the followers. It also enhances cooperation which enables the followers to achieve their targets. Third, the situational approach recognizes the need to blend appropriate leadership training with behavior development. Hence, the leaders will be able to handle challenges in varying situations. Fourth, situational leadership is based on simplicity. It is easy to understand and implement. Besides, it provides a simplified approach to management by allowing managers, as well as, leaders to assess the effectiveness of their strategies, given the context. Finally, situational approach encourages flexibility in the leadership process. Situational approach is based on the notion that one leadership approach can not be used in all situations. Consequently, the leaders can try different methods to handle the situation at hand.
My experience in using situational leadership in the aviation industry can illustrate the effectiveness of the approach. Ensuring customer satisfaction is one of the major problems in the industry. In order to address this challenge, the employees (followers) are often trained on how to offer excellent customer services. Mentorship programs have been developed to enable managers (leaders) to develop the highest level of competence and commitment. This leads to high performance, and ability to utilize a verity of skills in response to the situation at hand.
Leadership refers to the process of influencing the behavior of others, and winning their support in order to accomplish a given task. Effective leadership is determined by the behavior of the leader, the skills and knowledge of the leader, the leader’s personality, and the environment in which the organization operates. The leadership style adopted by a leader depends on his or her perception of the most important determinant of leadership. There are various leadership styles which include situational approach, style approach, and skills approach. The above discussion reveals that situational approach is the best leadership style