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One of the most crucial elements of a successful group work is the leadership ability of the group head. Above anyone else in a group, the leader is the person with the vision; a person whose vision transcends beyond the limits of time, age, race, resources, and any other barriers.
Clark (2007) clearly had it: Good leaders are made not born. If you have the desire and willpower, you can become an effective leader and good leaders develop through a never ending process of self-study, education, training, and experience. This suggests that in every individual, there lies leadership ability. It just needs honing. Further Clark (2007) added that in order for a leader to inspire his/her workers into higher levels of teamwork, there are certain things he/she must be, know, and, do. “These do not come naturally, but are acquired through continual work and study. Good leaders are continually working and studying to improve their leadership skills; they are NOT resting on their laurels,” said Clark (2007). Indeed, of what meaning would laurels be if the individual is not continuously updating his/her knowledge and skills to become an effective leader?
Leadership, being a broad topic as it is, could not be defined by just a single author. Leadership is a dynamic field. One culture may see leadership differently compared with another culture. In any event, it all depends upon each culture’s situation; set of most abiding beliefs and attendant values; and needs.
There is a myriad of concepts of what constitutes an effective leadership. First, this paper aimed to discuss the three general forms of leadership: (1) democratic, (2) laissez-faire, and (3) autocratic. Second, this paper offered a critique on the best form of leadership to adopt. The data supporting the author’s concept were gathered through the author’s leadership history and through various published works on leadership.
Forms of Leadership
There are different forms of leadership. For purpose of simplicity, this paper adopts the categorization proposed by Kurt Lewin (1939).
Democratic Style. Also called the participative style, the democratic style of leadership encourages members to be a part of the decision making process. The leader keeps his or her members informed about everything that affects their work and participates decision making and problem solving responsibilities. This style requires the leader to be a coach who has the final say, but gathers information from staff members before making a decision. This is opposed to autocratic style of leadership where all the decisions come from the leader and the members do not participate in the decision-making process.
Laissez-faire Style. This French term means “leave it be.” True to it, the laissez-faire leadership style is also referred to as the “hands-off¨ style. In this form of leadership, the leader provides little or no direction and gives the members as much freedom as possible. All authority or power is given to the employees and they must determine goals, make decisions, and resolve problems on their own.
Autocratic Style. This is often considered the classical approach. It is one in which the manager retains as much power and decision-making authority as possible. The leader does not consult his or her constituents nor are the constituents allowed to express any idea or input. The constituents are expected to obey orders without receiving any explanations. The motivation environment is produced by creating a structured set of rewards and punishments. Those who obey the leader get rewards while those who do not get punished.
Authoritarian leaders provide clear expectations for what needs to be done, when it should be done, and how it should be done.
Critique: What is the best form of leadership to adopt?
Ideally, the form of leadership that one should adopt must depend of the needs and goals of the organization.
But democratic style is gaining popularity because of its participative nature. Let us critique each style of leadership.
Autocratic leadership, as its nature suggests, is undermining the capabilities of its members to create, think, decide, and suggest. This form of leadership relies on punishments and threats to influence the members. Since the leader does not allow the members to suggest ideas, essentially, he does not trust the intellectual faculty of its members.
But do not get the impression that autocratic style of leadership is evil and restrictive and ineffective. It may work somehow on certain situations like having new members in a group who are inexperienced and do not know what tasks to execute and procedures to follow. In this case the leader dictates and usually makes the decision. Time can also influence the form of leadership that one adopts. If there is limited time, the leader may actually decide without consulting its members. Of course this is a case-to-case basis. That is why it is very important for a leader to know how to PROPERLY use this type to achieve the goal of the organization.
Laissez-faire type of leadership may be effective when the members of the group are highly educated, highly skilled, and highly experienced. In such case, the role of the leader is limited to being the mediator in the group.
Of all the leadership style, the democratic style is gaining popularity because it is participative in nature. They say two brains are better than one. Indeed! Problems are easier solved when many brains search for the solution. A more polished plan is produced if many brains would constructively critique the plan. And most importantly, history would tell that many of human successes were born out of collective action rather than by an individual enterprise.
So therefore, what is the most effective style of leadership to adopt? It all depends on the leader’s experience and personal background, the members, and the vision and mission of the organization. At some point, the leader may be autocratic or democratic or a combination of different types. That is why it is very important the leader should be dynamic, intelligent, quick-thinker, flexible, respectful, trustworthy, and all those positive attitudes.
However, Lewin’s research in 1939 discovered that democratic leadership is generally the most effective leadership style. Not only do democratic leaders offer guidance to group members, but also enable participation in the group and allow input from other group members. In Lewin’s 1939 study, children in this group were less productive than the members of the authoritarian group, but their contributions were of a much higher quality.
There is no restriction to human imagination and creativity. Surely, the leader knows the best form of leadership to adopt in order to achieve the goal of the group.
The different types of leadership according to Kurt Lewin (1939) have been discussed. There are no hard and fast criteria as to what makes up an effective leadership. The style of leadership that a leader assume depends on many factors such as, but not limited to, the experience of the leader, the characteristics of the members, and the mission and vision of the organization.
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