Published 22 Aug 2016
Leadership can be defined as the process of influencing the behavior of a group of people, giving them a direction that is more cohesive and coherent in order to achieve a common goal. Organizational leaders must have the ability to influence employees to set goals, accomplish the set goals and direct an organization towards achieving its strategic objectives. For a leader to inspire people, he must articulate the vision and embody the values that create an enabling and conducive environment that facilitates accomplishment of the set goals and objectives. To carry out this process, good leaders must possess certain leadership skills and attributes which at times do not come naturally. Some of these attributes include values, ethics, knowledge, and skills, beliefs etc. Good leaders do not rest on their success; they have to continually work and study to enhance their leadership skills. A good leader, therefore, will aim at achieving high levels of leadership rather than bossing employees around.
According to Marques (2004), some people become renowned leaders when they are faced with a crisis in their times and thus the crisis demand that they take action, which in turn stimulates the leadership in them. Leaders come from all walks of life, cultures, backgrounds, from different gender, race and they come in all appearances. Leadership is not only determined by the leader’s traits and attributes but also by those who are lead. Otherwise, if there is no group to be lead, definitely there is no leader.
Leaders who take personal responsibility and work selflessly are likely to inspire employees. What counts in leadership, are leaders who are competent enough and who know how to do their stuff well. They must have excellent character traits such as commitment, courage, honesty, integrity etc. Successful leaders ought to listen to employees, understand their problems and give directions accordingly. They also need to convey their ideas and thoughts accurately. Similarly, the leader will have an opportunity to listen and learn from employees. To achieve this, they must possess good communication skills which they can effectively learn. When the communication between the leader and the employees is effective, employees can generate news ideas and give feedback that can be useful to an organization.
For leaders to be successful, they must learn proper tactics of motivating their employees other than the old fashioned method of intimidation and instilling fear. They need to devise methods which will create a competent workforce other than methods which will cause resentment among employees. For instance, instead of using fear tactics, good managers will devise a method that will add more excitement to employees. For instance, they may give them a new assignment, perhaps not within their range. Such a challenge will spawn creativity and generate more excitement as they try looking for approaches to getting a solution. And if they get stuck, the leader can coach them without offering the actual solution. This will leave them with an opportunity to discover a solution thereby increasing their motivation and eventually boosting their self-esteem.
Great leaders do not only teach their employees how to work together as a team, but they also work as part of that team. This creates a chance for the leaders to learn from employees and use the employee’s potential. They should realize that employees are also leaders outside the workplace; they also make decisions on the daily basis and so they need to be trusted to do more duties. Therefore, successful leaders do not manage each and every detail; instead, they can delegate some of their duties to the employees.
Of all the factors that influence the success of an organization, leadership is the most important factor. Leaders can change an organization by setting a strategic vision which clearly stipulates the long-term goals and the strategies for implementing those goals. What an organization achieves, in the long run, is a consequence of decisions that successful leaders make within the organization.
According to Bryant & Terborg (2008), leaders play a central role in effective knowledge management. They further argue that managing knowledge effectively and resourcefully is the only way to provide an organization with a sustainable competitive advantage. The process of managing knowledge involves three key processes namely, creating knowledge, sharing knowledge and exploiting the knowledge. Leaders who engage individuals and groups in the processes of creating and sharing knowledge are transformational leaders, while leaders who exploit that knowledge at an organizational level are transactional leaders. Transformational leadership, therefore, creates an opportunity to engage employees whereby leaders and their followers inspire and motivate each other as well as increase the level of morality. On the other hand, transactional leaders create structures which are clear on what is required of employees and the incentives they get. Transactional leaders assign duties to employees, give them autonomy and thus hold them responsible.
Good leadership demands that leaders be facilitators rather than problem solvers. Employees should be left to solve most of the problem they experience. This helps them build self-esteem and enhance their abilities to even do better if such situations arise again. To lead employees, leaders must be good teachers to their employees. They should share their skills, experiences and work closely with employees to help them become more creative and motivated. For an organization to boost its performance morale of it, employees, its leadership must be able to demonstrate trust and confidence in its employees by giving them a chance to make independent decisions.
Organizations may experience leaders from a broad spectrum of abilities, however, leadership with skills and temperament plays a major role in the success of the organization. Leadership requires leaders to talk to other leaders and get an opportunity to compare notes. Although they may not need educational certificates, they should visit educational institutions and other resource centers in search of more information on leadership. This way, they increase their leadership skills and keep up with the changing times (Curry, 2004).
Leaders are made
According to Cohen (1998), research has shown that a great leader depends on lesson natural or innate traits he/she is born with, and more on certain principles and attributes that any person can follow. This implies that people are not born leaders, managers or supervisors but they acquire managerial skills through formal training, self-study, and experience. Although it can be argued that some qualities like empathy and determination are innate, many other attributes that make a good leader can be acquired if there is the will, the drive and the desire.
According to Rayan (2008), leadership is not about a position or a rank, rather about accepting a challenge and taking ownership of work. He further asserts that leadership is a skill which can be acquired through learning. It involves developing traits through adopting a positive attitude and looking out for opportunities to exercise leadership abilities. Identifying your weaknesses and striving to collect them, either through formal training, self-reflection or learning from others helps achieve continual self-improvement. The most successful leaders rarely rely on the natural leadership abilities they were born with; instead, they advance their leadership skills through continual hard work, practice and also using trial and error method.
For instance, to overcome enormous demands and pressure at work, intellectual and physical fitness may be necessary for a leader. However, intellectual and physical fitness are enhanced through engaging in physical exercises. This is a clear indication that leadership can be made through continuous self-improvement and not only by relying on inborn leadership characteristics.
Jack Welch served as the CEO of General Electric from 1981 to 2001. He is regarded as one the most successful Chief executive in the history of corporate management. During his tenure as the CEO, the company’s market value grew from 12 billion US dollars to about 400 billion US dollars (Slater & Welch, 2004). General Electric became the United States business powerhouse. According to Slater & Welch, Welch was distinguished because of his business strategies but not what he was doing in his personal life. Perhaps, only the media that could have been interested in his personal life, especially after his retirement as the CEO of General Electric. Most of his admirers are more fascinated by his business ideas as well as his strategies.
To be successful at General Electric, Jack always embraced change. He loved change and he believed that change can transform a business as well as the business environment. In fact, he used to say that, “it was nonsense to fear change” (Slater & Welch, 2004 p. 3), arguing that change is meant to keep everyone alert. Through change, Welch was able to reinvent General Electric. His message to the managers was to begin every day as if it was their first day at work. He further urged them to make any necessary change that can make things better. And to refrain from falling back to the old routines, he told employees to constantly reexamine and reinvent their agenda. From Welch’s leadership style, we can learn that continuous change in leadership creates a great leader.
Jack Welch used to act like a leader and not a manager. At the factory, he urged workers to make decisions on their own and propose change whenever they were confident and right about an issue. In other words, he used to ensure that employees were never afraid of change and they could not let their boss avoid change. As a tomorrow driven leader, Welch brought revolutionary change at General Electric. Even though the company was doing well at the time he took over, he was still concerned that without some structural changes, the size of the company and its products would falter. He could sense that the business environment was becoming competitive and thus there was the need to adjust accordingly. He also acknowledged that quick fixes could not work and that the company needed to undertake far-reaching changes in order to succeed (Slater & Welch, 2004).
According to Welch, change may seem easy, but discarding the old ways may not be easy. His prescription for change at General electric was to treat change with a positive attitude and by so doing he could learn how to study the dynamic business environment. He also encouraged employees to believe that change can bring positive opportunities. For example, after the massive 1980s layoffs at the company, most employees were afraid of losing their jobs. Later in 1989, Welch realized that there is much that leaders can learn from employees. He, therefore, became enthusiastic to instill confidence in them. He strived to make the survivors more confident and satisfied with their jobs. In order to make the company more efficient in its operations, Welch launched a program that empowered employees to participate in the company’s business operations. General Electric was the first company to launch such a program in large scale. The change he brought about, worked for the company since by mid-90s general Electric had become the strongest company in the United States as well as the company with the highest market capitalization in the world (Slater & Welch).
The conventional wisdom of most people is that business leaders should monitor, control and supervise employees. This leaves employees talking only to themselves. Instead of giving their juniors an opportunity to be autonomous and entrepreneurial, they hold high profile meetings to ensure that a company operates smoothly. Such leaders would not like to have a direct contact with employees. According to Slater & Welch (2004), Welch considered such bureaucrats as remnants of the past. He did not believe in multiple layers of communication and confirmation. From the moment he took over as the CEO of General Electric, he abhorred the notion of management. In his view, the less the business is managed, the better off the business. Welch regarded a manager as someone who controls, complicates and governs instead of simplifying and facilitating the business process. But he believed that a leader is someone who has a clear vision of how things are going to be done and one who inspires employees.
To be a successful leader, Welch believed it was necessary to allocate resources and transfer ideas to the experts. He presumed that a leader may not know how to produce products in the company, but with the right people in place, the business can always be successful. A leader’s main priority is to look for ideas, and spread those ideas around the business and then allocate resources to support the ideas. Welch points out that for leaders to be successful, they must have their eyes on the ball and every time they must see like they are starting their careers. In fact, he used to say that, “a person who reaches the position of a chairman should not see it as the culmination of a career, rather the beginning of a career”, (Slater & Welch, 2004 pp. 14). This confirms that successful leaders are made but not born; they have to continuously learn through experience to acquire new business skills.
Good leadership is only achieved through the vision which is properly communicated to the employees to make sure that they run with the vision. Leaders should avoid over-managing so that they can get time to conceive new ideas by thinking big. They should also allow employees to carry out their activities with little or no interference thus instilling confidence in them. And in order for employees to have confidence in leadership, they should be treated with respect. Welch’s legacy has helped many leaders to end bureaucracies, decrease management levels, manage less, and give authority and respect to employees.
By the time Welch was retiring, he was perhaps the most renowned and the most successful chief executive of his times. The company’s sales had grown to 112 billion US dollars from 25 billion US dollars in 1981 when he took over the stewardship of the company. Within the same period, the profits grew from 1.5 billion US dollars to 11 billion US dollars. To achieve all this, he did not only have great ideas, but he also had mastered how to implement those ideas (Slater & Welch).
Leadership may be easy to explain but not to practice. It requires good qualities such as trust, humility, integrity, commitment, confidence etc and it also relies on organizational, planning and communication skills. Those who seek leadership positions must develop leadership abilities. As leaders seek leadership positions they must seek to grow effective leadership qualities such as self-confidence, charisma and continue to learn from experience. People who aspire to be good leaders have to adapt to various leadership styles which will be applicable to different situations since what is right for a certain situation is not necessarily right for another situation.
To overcome resistance, leaders must avoid being overly dominant to their followers. Leaders become successful by serving others but not leading. They should form teams which have a strong sense of self-esteem and self-control, teams that respond well without resistance. Good leaders are able to acknowledge employee’s contribution towards the company through incentives, rewards, encouragement and other forms of recognition. Jack Welch knew that employees were not just employees but they had a lot more to offer to the company. He strived to instill confidence in them, especially after the massive 1980s layoffs. This was one aspect of Welch’s leadership style which steered General Electric to greater heights. Besides, Welch ensured that General Electric employees were able to cope with change which enabled them to thrive.
Zenger (2002) observes that success is not caused by an absence of weakness. Although successful leaders may not have a severe weakness, they may not be very strong leaders. But the situation is no better if a leader has no major strength even with an absence of weakness. Employees will view him as average although they cannot point out any major weakness. Zenger concludes that self-evaluation of such leaders may be distorted. Simply because they do not have a major weakness, they may be feeling that they are good leaders. From Zenger’s context of view, we can infer that strong leadership is made through continuous self-evaluation.
Leaders who may feel they have innate leadership qualities may feel they are great leaders. But when leaders feel that they have great strength, the strength may become a weakness. Sometimes the quality of leadership possessed by employees may exceed that of the leaders at the top. Such leaders may have adverse effects on groups they are leading.
Finally, with the world becoming more transparent and connected today, ethical leaders are more important than ever before. Good ethics can be acquired through continuous self-improvement. Leaders may not be born with leadership abilities, but once they declare their expectations like Jack Welch, and know their stuff well, then they will always get it right.
- Bryant, S. E. & Terborg, J. R. (2008); Impact of Peer Mentor Training on Creating and Sharing Organizational Knowledge. Journal of Managerial Issues, Vol. 20
- Cohen, W. A., (1998); Great leaders are made, not born. Retrieved on 7th October 2008 from http://www.stuffofheroes.com/Great%20Leaders%20are%20Made,%20Not%20Born.htm
- Curry, M., (2004); LEADERSHIP – What Makes a Good Leader. Retrieved on 7th October 2008 from http://www.businesstrainingmedia.com/article-leaders.php
- Marques, J. F., (2004); Empower the Leader in You! An Analysis of the Most Important Factors That Distinguish a Great Leader from an Average One. ISBN 1418465925, 9781418465926, Joan Marques
- Rayan, J., (2008); Good leaders are made not born. Retrieved on 7th October 2008 from http://community.jobscentral.com.sg/node/419
- Slater, R. & Welch, J., (2004); Jack Welch on Leadership: Abridged from Jack Welch and the GE Way. ISBN 0071435271, 9780071435277, McGraw-Hill Professional
- Zenger, J. H. & Folkman, J., (2002); The Extraordinary Leader: Turning Good Managers into Great Leaders. ISBN 0071387471, 9780071387477, McGraw-Hill Professional