Leadership: What Is It?
Mention the term leadership and to most people it is likely to suggest an image of action and power. Leaders of social movements, political leaders, military commanders, and corporate and union heads may readily spring to mind. They usually are highly visible and often have compelling personalities. Not all leaders are like that, of course, nor does leadership require it.
Compared to the high-intensity extreme, a good deal of leadership is not especially noted for power or drama. However, its effects are generally felt more directly. This is leadership in which managers and supervisors direct activities within organizations and groups. Their mode of operation involves personal influence, often from a base of organizational authority.
Whether in the affairs of nations or in the many components of a society, the quality of leadership does matter. Leaders who can guide ventures successfully clearly have an impact. But in order to know about effective leadership it is necessary to look at the leader -- follower relationship, and not just at the leader alone. A fuller view of leadership needs to include followers and their responses to the leader.
Leadership Is An Influence Process
The theme of this book is that leadership is a process of influence between a leader and those who are followers. While the leader may have power, influence depends more on persuasion than on coercion. A leadership process usually involves a two-way influence relationship aimed primarily at attaining mutual goals, such as those of a group, organization, or society. Therefore, leadership is not just the job of the leader but also requires the cooperative efforts of others.
Followers need to be alert to leaders, and leaders to followers, if goals are to be gained effectively and with satisfaction. Furthermore, in many organizational activities being a leader can also mean being a follower. When a person is not a leader, he or she can still be a good follower.
Leaders are usually initiators of action. However, their initiatives can be accepted or not by followers. Much depends upon the qualities of the leader, including the power of office, personal appeal to followers, and the meshing of the leader's ideas and programs with group and organizational needs.
The essential point is that followers are responsive to leaders and what they say and do. In other words, leaders usually hold the attention of followers, and the leader's behavior often is taken as a positive or negative sign by followers. Similarly, the successful leader is alert to the positive or negative reactions of followers.
Leadership affects all of us. It generates a great deal of interest due to the day-to-day experiences we have in situations where we may serve as leaders or be faced with others who are leaders. Because leaders usually are at the center of activity, their qualities are often the focus of attention. But looking at leadership as a process means that many questions must be considered about how and why some people become leaders, who they are, and how well they perform relative to followers' expectations. All of these questions will be dealt with here in some way.
There are many traditional ideas about leadership that have proved questionable. Perhaps the most common one is the notion that "leaders are born, not made" -- which is a concept that few organizations could live with in practice. In actuality, the behaviors recognized as "leadership" must include the reactions of followers. Therefore, leadership is not confined to a single person in a group but depends upon other members as well. Yet, the terms leadership and leader are still used as if they were the same. For instance, the statement "We need new leadership" usually means that another leader, with different characteristics, is needed.
Although leadership is not just one person, it is easier, of course, to see it embodied in an individual. This is because leaders are usually more active, and their actions command attention and make things happen. In general, the leader is often the most influential member of his or her group. History is full of accounts of the attainments of leaders and of their personal qualities. The game of "might have been" is loaded with this element: Would the American Colonies have successfully won their freedom without George Washington? Would the British have been able to rally as quickly and enthusiastically, against great odds in the 1940 Battle of Britain, without Winston Churchill? It is not entirely possible to say, but the conventional wisdom is that these leaders mattered a great deal.
Varieties of Leadership
* The Scope of Leadership Is Very Wide. Almost any task related to organized activity involves leadership, or at least is associated with it. There is nothing so central to the functioning of groups or organizations, whether in government, industry, or any other place in society.
Leadership exists as authority over others in the case of organizations and nations, and as dominance among less organized groups such as animals and children. The presence of some form of leadership is widespread, however, whether it depends upon tradition or the changing demands of new circumstances.
The various functions of leadership include organizing, directing, and coordinating efforts. There are also such functions as maintaining the group, defining the situation, and setting goals. Leadership also involves internal and external relationships, including conflicts. This means negotiating and settling disputes with other social units, in organizations, and with other agencies and nations in the government and world arenas.
* Ideas about Leadership Come from both the Giving and the Receiving End. Anyone who has had the experience of chairing a meeting, organizing a group effort, or observing a political figure in action has developed some sense of what leadership is about. That sense is a mental picture of factors making for effective, or ineffective, leadership. It is one's own ideas about how leaders act and get things done. For instance, some leaders have the idea that they must "lean on people" or "be remote," if they are to be successful. The basis for these ideas comes from subjective impressions, and there are many impressions that give an opposite view.
Not only can we be leaders ourselves, we cannot avoid being affected by those who are leaders. Because it compels interest, people are never entirely neutral about leadership, and there are wide variations in how leadership is viewed. Different aspects of leadership may be given major attention, but almost always there is attention to the qualities of "the leader."
Leadership and the Leader
* Leadership Is a Process, Not a Person, Although It Depends on a Leader's Legitimacy. Certainly, the leader is the central and often the vital part of the leadership process. However, the followers are also important in the picture. Without responsive followers there is no leadership, because the concept of leadership is relational. It involves someone who exerts influence, and those who are influenced. However, influence can flow both ways. People other than the leader, and the nature of the social setting in which they relate to one another, are also necessary parts of leadership.
Being a leader is not a fixed condition. As with many roles in life, who the leader is can be a changeable matter. Furthermore, the route by which the leader achieved that role can vary considerably among leaders.
Some leaders are "put in charge" by outside authority. The leader's "legitimacy" in this case comes from appointment. This is a typical condition in organizational structures. On the other hand, the leader may be someone who has secured a willing following in the group, through election or a less formal process of emergence, as in sociable groups or gangs. These kinds of legitimacy depend much more on followers and can be withdrawn by them, too.
* A Leadership Structure Provides a Framework for the Process of Leadership. Whenever people get involved in a joint activity, a leadership structure develops. A structure's main purpose is to organize and direct the activity toward achieving a particular goal set by the group task. Rules and traditions are examples of such structures. There are many daily person-to-person relationships involving influence between parent and child, teacher and student, and husband and wife. These relationships certainly show features of leadership. However, there is a special character to leadership in groups, large organizations, and nations -- and that is greater structure.
Every group or organization has a leadership structure. Broadly speaking, it includes the pattern of' influence and status, the network of communication, and work procedures. Ideally, the structure is supposed to contribute to the group's function or major activity. But at times the structure can get in the way, particularly when rules operate to limit larger objectives, including satisfaction. Indeed, we all have experienced organizations ensnarled by rules which are contradictory. These put people in "Catch 22" situations where they are "damned if they do and damned if they don't."
A positive contribution of structure is to indicate the roles to be filled. A role is a set of behaviors expected of a person in a given position. The main role filled by the organizational leader is that of executive or manager or supervisor. All of these terms refer to directing the activities of others, and this is unquestionably important. However, there are other leadership roles, such as problem solver, arbitrator, and advocate. These are not necessarily inconsistent with the executive role, but dedication to the directive function alone can overshadow the unique requirements of other roles, requiring different qualities.
The structure of a group should help in achieving both good performance and member satisfaction. These two points deal with getting the job done, and how the job is done. Leadership involves both considerations. To an important extent, the feeling of satisfaction within the group, its cohesiveness and sense of morale, are all affected by structure.
Leaders and Followers
* Being a Leader and Being a Follower Are Not Inconsistent with Each Other. The common notion that the leader and followers fit into sharp categories overlooks the facts. All leaders, some of the time and to some degree, are followers. And followers are not necessarily lost in nonleader roles. They may, and sometimes do, become leaders. Even though only some can be appointed to the status of leader, in a particular time and place, the qualities needed to be a leader are not possessed only by those persons.
One of the main misconceptions is that a few members of a group have these "leadership qualities" and only they will be the "leaders." This is the "pyramid model," with the chosen few at the top and everyone else below. Followers are essentially viewed as a leftover category of "nonleaders." But followership is not so passive. Two studies using nominations by peers of most desired leaders and most desired followers have shown a high relationship between these choices. In fact, those desired most as leaders and those desired most as followers tended to be the same individuals.
It is not so surprising that responding well as a follower may be associated with being seen also as a leader. Leaders and followers are both expected to be responsive in organizations. No one can be totally unresponsive without detracting from the organizational effort. Also, being recognized as an effective follower is probably quite desirable for a would-be leader. Much lip service is given to the importance of showing "leadership qualities" to be tapped as a leader. Yet, it may be "followership qualities" which are noted first.
* The Leader Is Most Likely to Have the Greatest Influence in the Group. There are nonetheless real distinctions between what is expected of leaders and what is expected of followers. The fundamental distinction is that leaders are more central in influence. They are more likely to attempt to direct others' activities and also to have those attempts accepted. This characteristic has been called "initiation of structure," and it is found in leaders across a whole range of activity.
Organizing and directing the activities of the group members is a commonly used definition of the leader role. However, this definition may refer to an office as much as to the person holding it. The leader may not be the most able person, nor the best liked, but usually he or she fills this influence role. There are various ways of identifying leaders by observation. These include their amount of talkativeness and signs of dominance, as well as their control over key information. They also may be rated by others in the group as the leader.
Influence involves persuasion. It is not the same as power which leaves little choice. Even then, unless there is total control, a person usually cannot be forced to do something -- although he or she can be made to "feel sorry for not doing it." The real "power" of a leader lies in his or her ability to influence followers without resorting to threats. This is one basis for distinguishing true leadership from the most basic level of supervision.
In extreme conditions of absolute power, of course, it is no trick to be influential. In prisons or other "total institutions" the power of those in authority prevails. As Robert Bierstedt has put it: "Influence may convert a friend, but power coerces friend and foe alike." The distinct emphasis in this book is on the more desired kind of leadership, which is not coercive. That is, it deals with leadership without the exercise of force or threats of force. It looks upon leadership as a transaction between leaders and followers.
The Leader-Follower Transaction
* The Process of Leadership Involves a Social Exchange between the Leader and Followers. When leaders are effective, they give something and get something in return. This social exchange, or transactional approach to leadership, involves a trading of benefits. The leader provides a benefit in directing the group, hopefully toward desirable results. Therefore, a person who fulfills the role of leader well is normally valued.
In return, the group members provide the leader with status and the privileges of authority that go with it. The leader has greater influence and prestige. However, influence is not all one way. As part of the exchange, the followers may assert influence and make demands on the leader. The soundness of the relationship depends upon some yielding to influence on both sides.
Social exchange applies to situations of appointed leadership as well as to those of elected leadership. When a leader is not performing satisfactorily, followers may not be as willing to respond favorably. In organizations there is only so much power that the leader can command in dealings with followers before it becomes evident as a problem to others in higher positions.
* Social Exchange in Leadership Involves the Leader, the Followers, and Their Situation. The transactional approach to leadership involves the relationship of three elements, each complex within itself. These are the "leader," with his or her personality, perceptions, and resources relevant to goal attainment; the "followers" with their personalities, perceptions, and relevant resources; and the situation within which all these persons function.
These three elements are shown in Figure 1. The area where they overlap represents the "locus of leadership." This is where the leader and the followers are bound together in a relationship within a situation. The leader and followers each contribute something and receive something in the relationship, as shown. None is entirely self-sufficient. They are in a system which can be viewed as if it were closed, although it actually is at least partly open to effects from the outside world.
The leader and followers are placed in the figure mainly within the situation, but not entirely so. This is supposed to show that their involvement is one of partial inclusion, because they do have other roles. Furthermore, the leader does not stand apart from the followers but is represented as being related to them in the area of leadership.
In social exchange terms, the leader is expected to live up to commitments and obligations to the group. For instance, he or she is expected to be the one to express the standards and values of the group's tradition, or of the newly faced situation. This definition of the situation is an expected part of the leader role. In fulfilling role requirements, leaders provide benefits to followers. No less than others and usually more, they are looked to for appropriate actions and statements which fit the needs and expectations of others in the group.
Many situations have ambiguous elements. Clarity of goals and of procedure is the exception rather than the rule. Direction from the leader is especially sought when clarity is lacking about what is to be done and how. Then there is the greatest need for a definition of the situation and for direction. For example, a strong external threat from a hostile source is almost certain to increase demands for leader direction. However, another element that enters in, especially at such times, is trust.
* Trust and the Perception of Fairness Are Essential to the Leader-Follower Relationship. A fair amount of trust is required in any interdependent relationship. This is particularly so in leadership. With trust, the leader and followers are more willing to take risks and to tolerate the costs involved in the relationship. Without trust, the leader must resort to assertions of authority. Similarly, followers may feel that they must make demands for their rights in confrontations with the leader. The presence of trust, which grows out of experience and takes time to develop, is a powerful force in reducing the need for these tactics.
Another element in social exchange is the notion of fairness. Even if a leader is successful in influencing others without threats and in getting them to produce, he or she may not necessarily be effective. There may be a failure in that part of leadership which deals with their satisfaction and sense of fair play. One cause of this failure may be a person's sense of being exploited in not receiving equity in the benefits returned for contributions made.
Even complaining may not be so important when there are rewards of recognition. For instance, Fred Friendly, former head of CBS News, wrote about his tendency to drive people. One of them said to him, "Friendly, you'll never have a nervous breakdown, but you sure are a carrier." Yet, on the day Friendly resigned from CBS on the issue of control over news coverage, the same person said with regret, "...you believed in us so much that we believed in ourselves."
It is easy to assume, however, that the leader directly controls or dispenses all rewards for the followers. In turn, the followers are supposed to react to these rewards, or to their withdrawal, by producing appropriate outcomes. This point may seem true enough, but two other sources of reward need to be recognized. They are the self-starting motivation of individuals, and the kind of situation they are in.
Although the leader most often is a dispenser of rewards, individual followers vary in how they react to these rewards -- or whether they even see them as rewards. Indeed, the evidence shows that one's own intrinsic motivation is vital :in initiating and maintaining action. If a person relied only on the external rewards others control, he or she would be little more than a puppet. Rewards which are important to an individual are determined by personal inclinations that can be more significant to the person than external dictates.
* Uncertainty Reduction Is an Important Benefit the Leader Provides. More important than rewards to the individual as such are the benefits the leader can offer to the group. A significant need in most human activity is to limit, or at least to minimize, uncertainty. The feeling of uncertainty is usually unpleasant. Where it is present it often acts to immobilize people, whether individually or collectively. Prolonged uncertainty, especially about a matter of importance, can produce anxiety which causes a breakdown in normal functioning, such as the capacity to concentrate.
A leader's task often is one of reducing uncertainty, or helping the group to deal with uncertainty when it is unavoidable. In a highly unstable environment, where there are conflicting demands, the leader's task is made harder. Then :it becomes necessary to share enough information to point out the alternatives the leader considers to be likely, but with a minimum of threat. There also needs to be an assurance that as more hard information becomes available -- not rumor or speculation -- the leader will pass it along.
Sharing Leadership Activities
* Leadership Involves Various Relationships, Not Just One Person Directing Others. The leader cannot do everything, though he or she might try. In any group or organization, there are different leadership roles, including those mentioned earlier -- such as executive, problem solver, arbitrator, and advocate. Being a leader is therefore a complex role, and these roles often must be delegated among several people. David Ogilvy, the founder and long-time head of a major advertising agency, expresses some of this complexity in saying:
ardRunning an agency takes vitality, and sufficient resilience to pick oneself up after defeats. Affection for one's henchmen, and tolerance for their foibles. A genius for composing sibling rivalries. An unerring eye for the main chance. And morality -- people who work in advertising agencies can suffer serious blows to their esprit de corps if they catch their leader in acts of unprincipled opportunism. Above all, the head of an agency must know how to delegate. This is easier said than done.
* Leadership in Groups Almost Always Has Some Kind of a Hierarchy. Some group members usually have more status and influence than others. A big factor in influence is to be close to the leader. This association provides the lever for greater influence, which is a major function of the leadership structure. For instance, leaders usually have "lieutenants," who derive influence which they can and do exercise.
In larger groups also, subgroups or cliques may exist. The members of these are ordinarily more responsive to someone inside their circle than to those outside it. Obviously, there are limitations to how much a leader can be involved in influencing activities across these subgroups.
Two or more people may share in the key leadership roles. There are interesting instances of dual leadership, where leader roles are separated by ceremonial and activity roles. In Japan, until the last century, the Emperor was entirely a ceremonial leader. This is still mainly true today for him and most other monarchs. However, the Japanese Emperor had a very powerful figure, called the Shogun, who actually directed the nation's day-to-day functioning as a kind of prime minister with almost absolute power. Among the ancient Khazars, living near the Black Sea, there was a king called the Kagan, who was mainly a symbolic leader. He had a Kagan-bek who was like a modern-day prime minister, but who also had strong military powers.
In many modern organizations, too, the top person may represent the institutional authority to the outer world while the second in command executes authority inside. Corporations commonly have a chairman of the board, and a president who is chief executive officer. This distinction also exists in externally versus internally oriented leadership roles at a university, where the chancellor or president may be primarily directed toward the community and other external affairs. The management of the university may then fall primarily to an executive vice-president or provost, particularly regarding academic matters. In some operations, then, one position of dual leadership requires more outside activity, while the other requires more attention to internal affairs.
* Leadership Requires Looking Outward as Well as Inward. The dual leader roles just discussed point up the need to deal with external as well as internal conditions. Sometimes leaders can operate as if they and their followers were bound together almost exclusively in an internal system. They may fail to take note of external conditions, even when these become of obvious importance. This is a poor basis on which to operate, and followers learn about it at the leader's expense.
The disregard of the external system, even if only in a limited way, can create an unrealistic attitude. One classic example is a failure to recognize new product development by competitors in the marketplace. Years ago, carriage builders were slow to recognize how the automobile would revolutionize transportation. For a time, many saw it as just a passing fad that would not prove a threat, and so they eventually went out of business. However, Studebaker -- the world's largest producer of horse-drawn vehicles -- decided to give up producing carriages. It began experimenting with automobiles in 1897; by 1902 it had built electric cars. In 1904, it moved into the production of gasoline-powered automobiles, with initially good results. Attentiveness to what is going on "out there" is therefore a vital feature of leadership. More than just a useful thing to do, it is essential for reestablishing a position to achieve long-range objectives.
* Leadership Also Involves both Task and Socioemotional Factors. Several studies have shown that group members are able to make a distinction between those they see as competent in a major group task and those they like personally. The relationship between perceived competence and liking also depends on the kinds of activities in which the group is involved. For example, in children's groups, centered around play, these factors are highly related. In adult work groups, where personal feelings can be underplayed, they are not very highly related. Although both of these aspects of the leader role may be bound together in a single person, they may be distributed among two or more members. One is recognized for high task competence, and the other for skill in dealing with people.
Alex Bavelas says that the organizational leader is often less involved in interpersonal relations than in being a decision maker contributing to the effective flow of information to reduce uncertainty. In many cases, those who are executives may lead less directly and more indirectly by this means and also by giving structure to the system. Other executives may be successful mainly for the way they help the flow of information to higher levels of authority, as followers. There is good reason to believe that such a two-way information flow is one of the more significant aspects of effectiveness in organizational leadership.This emphasizes the earlier point that at every level of organizations leaders are also required to be good followers.
Responsibility and Accountability
All problems are not of the leader's making, and all solutions do not depend upon the leader's wisdom or initiative. Yet, the leader's position is such that he or she is more often seen to be the source of problems which arise, and as the source of their solutions. Leaders do, in fact, have a greater responsibility for those activities over which they are supposed to preside.
* The Leader Is a Primary Source of Social Reality for Followers. The term social reality is used to indicate the shared definition of the situation, including aspects of structure, which group members come to accept and take for granted. Once these take hold, the group may find it difficult to break away and to do things differently. When a change does occur, it is often due to the influence of an innovating leader, sometimes one who is new.
Here the concept of "definition of the situation" is relevant. The follower acts within the features of the situation which he or she sees as major, and these are usually defined by leaders. In short, in determining "the way things are," the individual relies upon other people's view of reality, especially the leader's.
* The Two-Way Sharing of Information Is Vital in Leader-Follower Relations. The nature of the transaction between leaders and followers in organizations should involve a sharing of information about the nature of the situation. However, sensitive or unpleasant news may be kept from the workers. The reverse applies, too. Information may be biased by workers who hold back things they think will interfere with the boss's program. Top executives in organizations may be sheltered by staff members and subordinates on the line from learning of unpleasant problems or divergent views. George Reedy, a former press secretary to President Lyndon B. Johnson, has commented on this as an especially critical problem in the presidency.
The environment of deference [fosters] a belief that the president and a few of his most trusted advisors are possessed of a special knowledge which...is thought to be endangered in geometrical proportion to the number of other men to whom it is passed....The steps that led to the bombing of North Vietnam were all discussed by a small group of men....But no matter how fine the intelligence or how thoroughgoing the information available, the fact remained that none of these men were put to the test of defending his position in public debate....White House councils are not debating matches in which ideas emerge from the heated exchanges of participants. The council centers around the president him- self....The first strong observations to attract the favor of the president become subconsciously the thoughts of everyone in the room.
In the diplomatic service, as another example, information is bound to be filtered, first because it tends to represent the particular viewpoints held by contacts in a host country, including other diplomats. Then, in integrating and reporting the information to the home government, there is likely to be further filtering. Diplomats may unwittingly tailor their reports to fit certain conceptions they have of what the senior officials at home wish to hear. Sometimes this can be a calculated attempt to remain in their superiors' good graces. In general, this practice is not unusual among those who wish to retain their positions in organizations.
* Leaders Are Expected to Provide Followers with a Stable Environment, to the Extent Possible. Dealing with instability is a significant function of leadership within groups, organizations, and nations. In "buffering" followers, the leader does what is necessary to keep them from becoming too vulnerable to an unstable environment. This may seem to contradict other ideas about sharing information and defining the situation. Yet the practical justification of buffering is to maintain enough stability and continuity to sustain optimism and hope, which are powerful motivators. In fact, this stability may be more an appearance than a reality, but it is the effect which matters in the first place.
The other side of this process of encouraging hope is the occasional but real possibility that raised expectations can breed disappointment if they are not met. This possibility is part of the human predicament and requires sensitive attention by leaders in what they say and do.
* Leadership Requires Attention to Reconciling Conflicts over Goals. There are multiple goals in group and organizational activity, even though it may be convenient to speak as if they were one. The internal system of a group usually has mixed motivations at work, as in any human effort. For example, quantity of production is often set as a main goal. However, it cannot be entirely at the expense of quality. This comparison also reveals the different goal orientations of the external versus the internal system.
When goals are clear, and largely agreed to, the leader's job is made easier. But despite great individual effort, the nature of social systems does not allow a person removed from the top echelon to have much leverage in realigning goals. Middle managers especially are likely to be caught in conflicting expectations about goals.
Furthermore, even with the best-defined procedures, a group will probably fail in some of its goals unless its structure meshes well with its activities. In short, the way activities are organized will affect their success. The leader may have to deal with the problem of a structure which is accepted too readily, even though it is not properly adapted to the function required.
* Leaders More Than Others Are Likely to Be Held Accountable, despite Circumstances. A leader cannot evade the consequences of the common understanding that being a leader gives a person more influence over others and the prospect of having more control over events. Being a leader also means having greater visibility and recognition as a person of higher status. All of this comes at a price, a vital part of which is represented in the idea of accountability.
There are often good reasons why leaders should be held to account for failures, misplaced efforts, or inaction in the face of an evident threat to the group's well-being. Although this notion of accountability has great appeal and plausibility, leaders may find devices to avoid it in practice.
Among these devices is a resort to the appearance of collective responsibility vested in a committee or board. There are of course real situations of shared authority, and it is often a good thing in principle. What provokes annoyance is the manipulation of such committees to make them nothing more than a sham.
Another device or tactic used by leaders to avoid accountability is to pose as an unjustly accused party. If followers raise questions, they are supposedly showing a lack of trust in the leader, whatever the legitimate basis for the questions. Some followers fear an ugly confrontation, especially about the loaded issue of "trust," so they back off and effectively withdraw their questions.
However, the nature of the leader-follower transaction requires that there be at least the sense of a "fair exchange." This issue involves openness and accountability, and is taken up more fully in chapter 4. A follower is not a disciple who must accept the master's view uncritically. More appropriately, the follower needs to be able to know and use his or her own critical ability in deciding some matters. As a general pattern, mutual accommodation between the leader and followers is more likely to produce positive results.
Leadership is a process of influence which involves an ongoing transaction between a leader and followers. The key to effective leadership is in this relationship. Although most attention is given to the leader, leadership depends upon more than a single person to achieve group goals. Therefore, the followers as well as the leader are vital to understanding leadership as a process. Followers support the leadership activities and the leader's position.
Copyright © 1978 by The Free Press