Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Differing Leadership Styles

1.0 This aim of this essay is to examine differing styles of leadership and their effect on group performance and communication by defining each style and explaining the advantages and disadvantages of each. Due to word constraints this paper will only provide an overview of the topic and will focus on leaders of business task groups in particular.
1.1 Leadership style can be defined as “a pattern of emphases, indexed by the frequency or intensity of specific leadership behaviour or attitudes which a leader places on the different leadership functions” (Casimir, 2001). Alternatively, Anderson and McColl-Kennedy (2002, p. 546) suggest that leadership style is the way in which a leader mobilises and focuses the group members toward achieving organisational goals. Group performance relates to how effectively members achieve the overall tasks and functions set for the group (Lie et al, 2003), whilst communication is broadly defined by The Cambridge Dictionary of American English as successfully giving thoughts, feelings, ideas or information to others through speech, writing, bodily movements or signals.

2.0 Leadership styles can be described as either directive or supportive and can be further categorised as Authoritarian, Participative or Laissez-faire, although a number of alternative titles exist (Myczyk & Steel, 1998).
2.1 An authoritarian leader is one who, as the title suggests, runs their group very much as a dictatorship. They hold all of the authority for group and are personally responsible for the actions and tasks performed by group members and hold themselves accountable for the conclusions and recommendations formed by the group (Koene, Soeters & Vogelaar, 2002). It is not often that an authoritarian leader delegate’s responsibility, tasks or leadership responsibilities to other group members but instead remains the central control. Ehrhart & Klein (2001, p. 162) describes how a leader taking an authoritarian view will generally not ask for input from group members and does not encourage group members to think for themselves and become pro-active in meeting the group task. Communication not relating to the task on hand is not encouraged or rewarded within this leadership style and instead, the leader will communicate information to the group members in a one-way only communication stream (Norrgern & Schaller, 1999).
2.2 The tasks of a group being led by an authoritarian leader are quite often met faster than any other leadership style, as there is minimal time for discussion and debate of ideas and solutions. However, if this method is to be efficient in its recommendations then the group leader must be fully aware and conversant in the task at hand, the possible solutions and must also have the ability to investigate those solutions and make relevant choices and recommendations based on that information (Casimir, 2001). Given this, the task may not always be achieved as effectively as it could have been had there been more discussion regarding the alternatives.
2.3 Gans, Lape & Rutan (2002, p. 58) states that another symptom of the one-way communication channel adopted by authoritarian leaders is that members are often unaware of the progress or direction of the group. This can lead to poor motivation of members who have no desire to work on a project when they are unsure of its progress and receive little or no attention for their role. People in these groups are less likely to challenge the group leader as they are seen to hold little standing in comparison.
2.4 Muczyk & Steel 1998, suggests that it is in times of crises when directive, autocratic leadership behaviour is more acceptable. A real world illustration of this point can be found by looking at First Bank System of Minneapolis and the appointment of John Grundhofer in 1983, who was bought in to overhaul the organisation and better facilitate shareholders interests, which had lost nearly $11 million in the previous year. After six months of tough decisions, Grundhofer had increased the market value of the company by over $15 million as a result of his autocratic leadership style and cut throat decision-making.

3.0 In contrast to authoritarian leadership, participative leaders delegate authority, responsibility and leadership tasks to other group members. Members of the group are actively encouraged to contribute ideas and are involved in the decision making process (Anderson & McColl-Kennedy, 2002). Whilst the leader is still responsible for the outcomes of the group and the implementing of strategies, group members are responsible for the tasks that they have been delegated and are held accountable for their decisions.
3.1 The communication channel is two-way under this leadership style, flowing from the leader to group members and visa versa. Regular meetings and feedback from the leader to members support this channelling of information (Lie et al, 2003).
3.2 The role of a participative leader differs somewhat than that of an authoritative style. Emphasis shifts from investigating alternatives and decision-making to more of a management role, in co-ordinating the delegation of responsibilities to other group members. In this style Coene, Soeters & Vogelaar (2002, p. 202) suggests it is common for the leader to become a ‘referee’ of sorts to control the behaviour of members and to ensure that they are co-operating and facilitating teamwork for the best interests of accomplishing the common goal.
3.3 Whilst an authoritarian leader is only interested in the goals of the organisation, a participative leader will give some consideration to the interests of the group and how best to advance these, in addition to fulfilling the task (Myczyk & Steel, 1998).
3.4 One of the advantages of participative leadership is that the decisions made are often more effective than authoritarian styles. This is due to the more extensive research and discussion of alternatives, as well as the inclusion of multiple points of view (Gans, Lape & Rutan, 2002). Group members led by a participative leader are often more productive, effective, co-operative and efficient than members who are led by other leadership styles, as suggested by Casimir (2001, p. 265). Group motivation is also higher than in any other leadership style as members are acknowledged and praised for their role within the group.
3.5 In situations where there is only one alternative, this type of leadership may not be successful, as members could spend time looking for alternatives that do not exist. Whilst the time taken to reach group goals may be slightly higher than that of a group operating under an authoritarian leader, the benefit of more detailed investigation and recommendations will normally offset this (Anderson & McColl-Kennedy, 2002). This leadership style may also not be effective if there are pressing time constraints on the project. The time involved in the different stages of delegating, investigating and evaluating options as well as facilitating group members may be too great to the organisation if an immediate solution is required.

4.0 The third category of leadership technique is the Laissez-faire model, also known as the permissive style. Unlike the previous two styles, permissive leaders are generally not involved in the operations of the group and instead hold an almost silent role (Lie et al, 2003). This leadership style can be either extremely effective or not effective at all based on the communication flow within the group. If communication is unclear then this can lead to the frustration of group members and ultimately, poor performance. In its most efficient form the communication within the group is clear and purposeful which allows group members to have a sense of direction (Norrgern & Schaller, 1999). To be effective, communication channels must exist between the leader and the members and visa versa, as well between the group members themselves.
4.1 A common problem with permissive leadership is that the leader is so undefined that it often appears as if there is no leader at all. Eventually, group members will start to take on leadership responsibilities and characteristics of a leader. If more than one group member does this then there is the potential to cause great conflict.
4.2 Koene, Soeters & Vogelaar (2002, p. 200) details how the permissive leader often uses their delegation abilities to depart themselves from any responsibility or accountability of the group’s outcomes and as such the group members themselves may feel overwhelming pressure to perform too highly and take on too much responsibility.
4.3 Laissez-faire leadership did not work in favour of General Motors Corporation Chief Executive Officer, Robert Stemple, as the company lost market share and billions of dollars due to Stemple’s inability to make difficult decisions and the undefined roles or group members (Muczyk & Steel, 1998).

5.0 There is no right or wrong style of leadership, and indeed many leaders use a combination of styles. The success of a particular group and there ability to achieve the goals of an organisation lies initially in selecting which is the appropriate style of leadership behaviour to adopt in that particular situation (Ehrhart & Klein, 2001). This can depend on the time constraints, the group members, the task at hand and many other variables. There are advantages and disadvantages of each and these should be carefully considered when choosing a leadership style. Anderson & McColl-Kennedy (2002, p. 552) discusses how if a leader is only interested in self-promotion then leadership style will be irrelevant as each style can be manipulated for personal gain. Although leadership style can be accountable for some disconcertion, it is the leader who is carrying the style that will inevitably challenge its effectiveness.

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