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How to Be an Effective Leader in Todays World, Essay Example

Pages: 1

Words: 1757

Essay

This course has taught me a great deal about leadership, both theory and practice, and about myself. I would describe my own leadership style as a combination of both task and relationship styles. On the task side, I like to plan out things in advance before starting a task, and I believe very strongly in seeing a task through to completion. On the relationship side, I do believe in engaging with employees, helping them to master the skills they need to operate effectively, and treating them with dignity and respect. However, I don’t believe it is necessary for a leader in a workplace environment to be friends with their employees, particularly because this could get in the way of the effective exercise of their authority.

From my experience as a manager tasked with leading a hundred and eight employees, I also believe in leading by example. I am a very patient leader, and this was something that served me very well in my managerial position. I’m very good at providing structure, though I have some problems with listening to others and with clarifying norms. I don’t believe in asking one’s employees to do anything that one myself won’t or can’t do. When I was a manager, my employees certainly noticed this about my leadership style, and it definitely improved their morale and performance.

As Northouse (2011) explained, task behaviors are important for leaders to display in order to ensure the successful completion of work (p. 5). Without task behaviors, leaders would be poorly equipped to actually lead their organizations through the routines of their work (p. 5). This is something that I know from firsthand experience, since as stated this is something of a strength of mine: I am very good at establishing what needs to get done and by whom. Thus, task behaviors are very important for leadership to work, and work well.

Of course, process behaviors are also important too. Process behaviors are the ‘softer’ side of leadership, the side that has to do with followers’ attitudes about each other, the group, and their leaders (Northouse, 2011, p. 5). Specifically, process behaviors are how leaders help their followers to feel a certain unity within the group, such that they are comfortable and willing to work with each other (p. 5).

There are other ways to look at leadership, and again drawing on personal experience, I have seen them in action. Leadership can be thought of as a relationship between the leader and their followers, a relationship defined by communication and collaboration (Northouse, 2011, p. 5). What this means, of course, is that communication and collaboration skills are essential for effective leadership following this model. This is a much more interactive view of leadership, one that envisions a much more important and active role for the followers in the organization than is envisioned by the traditional, more hierarchical model of leadership (pp. 5-6).

Although such a relationship between leader and followers can certainly take many forms, one of the more interesting models is that of ‘servant leadership’: the idea of the leader as one who leads by an example of self-sacrifice, humility, and putting the interests of their followers and of the group overall above the leader’s own personal interests (Gill, 2011, pp. 69-70). According to Gill, examples of servant leaders in recent times include “Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama” (p. 70). In their own ways, I see much of this in Eleanor Roosevelt and Winston Churchill (Northouse, 2011, pp. 20-22).

Personally, I have a lot of admiration for the servant leadership model, but to be honest, I don’t think it is well suited to my personality and disposition. That said, I acknowledge its importance, which is manifest in the remarkable achievements of the above leaders. The servant leadership model is also a good example of how leaders can lead by example, gaining moral authority and legitimacy.

Actually, I think Palestini (2009) may have the best approach to this: he argues that the measure of a leader’s success may be taken by looking at the performance of their followers (p. 22). In particular, whether or not the followers are reaching their potential, learning new things, resolving conflict effectively and the like, all of these things determine whether or not the leader is leading successfully (p. 22). Regarding servant leadership, Palestini writes: “The leader owes something to the institution he or she leads. The leader is seen in this context as steward rather than owner or proprietor” (pp. 22-23).

I can definitely relate to this. When I was a manager, I wanted my employees to remember me as helpful, fair, effective, and encouraging. Following Palestini (2009), I wanted that to be my legacy, the first important aspect of how a leader should think about good stewardship (p. 23). Leaders who pursue short-term, self-centered goals that advance only their own careers harm the effectiveness of the organization, not least by squandering the potential of their human capital—the employees—to be creative and contribute more to the overall welfare of the organization (p. 23). On the other hand, Palestini argues, good leaders pursue long-term goals, and in particular, they pursue long-term goals that are good for everyone (p. 23). Leaders such as this leave great legacies of service to others.

Leaders also need to have sound values, which they must then be capable of communicating to their followers (Palestini, 2009, p. 23). This gets back to the crucial concept of leading by example: leaders need to communicate their values not only with words, but with their own deeds (p. 23). This reminds me of Gandhi, and also of Martin Luther King, Jr.: both men accomplished great things by non-violent means, and they did it by leading with example. Speaking from personal experience here, although I repeatedly told my employees “The customer has to come first”, I know that my employees would not have taken this to heart if it was not for the fact that they always saw me putting the customer first. Whenever I spoke with customers I was always extremely friendly, helpful, and efficient, and because of this I was able to expect the same from my employees. It wouldn’t have worked, though, if my actions had not matched my words.

Understanding others is an especially useful skill for a leader to have (Owen, 2006, p. 10). For one thing, people are different, and it’s important for the leader of a large team or organization to know how their people differ from each other, and therefore who would be best doing what. Just as leadership encompasses task and process styles, people in general have some mix of these styles, or else an overwhelming predilection for one or the other (p. 10). As Owen explains, one can (roughly) divide people into two categories, “thinkers” and “feelers”: the former are all about tasks, information, and the actions required to complete the work, while the latter are all about people, and will often speak of little else (p. 10).

It is especially important for a leader to know how to allocate their people according to followers’ skills because people often perform very poorly if they are forced to be someone else (Owen, 2006, p. 10). An introverted “thinker”, for example, would probably be a poor choice for many customer service positions, and if thrust into such a role unprepared would most likely perform very poorly. A good leader understands how each of their followers’ respective personality styles differ from each other, and respects this by not trying to change them (p. 10). Instead, a good leader looks at this diversity as a potential source of strength: after all, that introspective thinker might be outstanding if given a role in the organization that involves technically challenging tasks, while a social butterfly might be perfect for that customer service role. Good leaders know how to spot talent, and they also know how to cultivate it: there is a time and a place for encouraging employees to get out of their comfort zones and expand their skills, and a good leader will know how to spot such times and places (p. 10).

On the subject of diversity, these skills also work very well for managing demographically diverse teams, speaking in terms of gender, sexual orientation, and ethnicity. Personally, I’ve found that perspective-taking is important: being able to understand the perspective of someone with a different demographic profile than one’s own. For this to work, one must be receptive to, and positive about, diversity: willing to see it as a source of creative synergy and strength, in other words (Lumby & Coleman, 2007, p. 43). It’s also important, however, to focus on each individual, rather than thinking in terms of diversity check-lists: indeed, in dealing with diversity, the first thing to remember is that diversity is only important because all people are important, and people are diverse (p. 43).

This course has certainly helped me to learn a great deal about leadership, especially with regard to some of the areas that I still have to improve. Personally, I intend to go to some effort to become a better listener, in order to become better at understanding where people are coming from. I’m not terrible at this now, but it’s something I’ve realized I could definitely stand to improve. I also realized that I sometimes have problems communicating, and I’m not always as friendly as I could be, as I would like to be. Accordingly, I’ll take this into account going forward, and I’ll work on being much more friendly and amiable.

And although I think I’m a good problem-solver, I could also stand to be more decisive. I’ll work on this, too, by building up my confidence and my ability to assess situations. I’ll also learn to not be afraid of failing sometimes, since this too is a part of life, and it’s essential to learning as one goes. By doing this and by building on my strengths, which include organizational skills and people skills, I am confident that I will go far.

References

Gill, R. (2011). Theory and practice of leadership (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Lumby, J., & Coleman, M. (2007). Leadership and diversity: Challenging theory and practice in education. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Northouse, P. (2011). Introduction to leadership: Concepts and practice (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Owen, J. (2006). The leadership skills handbook: 50 key skills from 1000 real leaders. Philadelphia, PA: Kogan Page, Ltd.

Palestini, R. (2009). From leadership theory to practice: A game plan for success as a leader. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Education.

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