Leadership has been around since the beginning of the human species. In the bible it’s Adam and Eve, but we ask ourselves, who was the real leader in the Garden of Eden? Adam for following the guidelines, or Eve for taking the risk at a possible better future, even after severe warnings from the top leader. Whenever two or more people get together, eventually someone emerges as the leader, but why? I believe that leadership does start from within, we all have a motive for wanting to lead others. But we need to lead ourselves first, in order to lead others better.
The basic leadership process, as defined in The Leadership Experience by Richard L. Draft, is “an influence relationship among leaders and followers who intend real changes and outcomes that reflect their shared purposes.” If we dig into that statement deeper, we can understand why on average, only about 30 percent of workers are engaged at work. The leader doesn’t take the energy required to develop relationships in order to find a shared purpose with their employees, so they use more authoritarian styles of leadership. Did you ever have someone tell you that you had to do something because “they signed your paycheck,” and for some that may be enough.
The understanding of different types of leadership has expanded drastically in just the past century. Before the preindustrial and pre-bureaucratic era was the Great Man Theory. Only men were viewed as great leaders, they held the positions of power so they were viewed as the leaders. Of course there are always those outliers, we can all think of great woman leaders in history, but most where born into those leadership roles.
During the 1920’s, Leadership Trait Theory research started to look at what traits leaders consistently have that separates them from non-leaders and contributed the most to their success? Leadership traits could be identified, but the researchers wanted to be able to predict leaders, or train individuals in those specific traits. The research couldn’t consistently identify specific traits between successful leaders, so ultimately the research failed. Traits alone do not make a great leader.
In the 1950’s researchers started to look at what leaders did, not who they are. Leadership Behavior Theory looked at the behavior of effective leaders to ineffective leaders, and how they behaved toward followers. The research showed that behaviors could be learned and practiced, even if it was unnatural for them, but with any type of behavior changes, we can always resort back to the more unproductive behavior or habit.
A personal insight for me, since I’ve been training leaders for over twenty years I see how some leaders adopt the appropriate leadership behaviors, but eventually resort back to more unproductive behaviors. Often I’ve wondered what I did wrong, why didn’t the training stick? I was even called into a Directors office once and asked what I’ve been teaching in the leadership classes because someone who went through a number of classes in the past, was struggling again as a leader. My answer was that when a leader adopts positive leadership behaviors they may resort back to their more natural leadership style, unless the positive behavior is consistently reinforced.
Leadership Contingency Theory looked at how leadership behaviors successfully impacted different situations, which is why it’s also called situational theory developed by Hersey and Blanchard (The Situational Leader). This theory emphasizes that leadership doesn’t happen in a vacuum, different situations in different organizations with different people may take different leadership behaviors to reach a successful outcome.
Researchers didn’t start looking at Leadership Influence Theory until the early 1970’s, and continued to be the main focus until the early 1990’s. This was a period of economic globalization, when economic powerhouses started changing from large corporations to individual internet start-ups. The study of charismatic leadership showed that someone didn’t need a leadership position to influence others. Charismatic leaders influence people to change by effectively communicating an inspiring vision. Individuals started to look for more reason to work then a paycheck, what was their passion? The charismatic leader can cast the vision to get followers buy-in. The ability to lead others wasn’t dependent on someone’s position, but how you influence people. The team leadership concept emerged during this period and the individual with the most knowledge or influence in a specific area would take the lead.
“Leadership Is Influence, Nothing More, Nothing Less.”
~John C. Maxwell
Leadership Relational Theories started emerging in the late 1970’s, and focused on how leaders and followers interact and influence each other? Leadership is viewed as a relational process that engages all participants and enables them to help achieve the vision. Interpersonal relationships are seen as being the most important facet of leadership effectiveness. Two common leadership styles that emerged from relational theory is Servant Leadership and Transformational Leadership, both focus on building positive relationships to better influence others.
With the recent focus on relational leadership, the research turns toward the traits and behaviors of those individuals who build better relationships, and it’s generally woman, who some scholars claim to be better leaders. The Harvard Business Review article, “Are Women Better Leaders than Men?” by Zenger and Folkman reported in a study they conducted on 7,280 leaders which showed that female leaders not only where more effective as leaders, but scored higher on 15 of the 16 leadership competencies.
What will emerge as the next leadership theory? If I was to guess, it would be self-leadership theory. Currently if you Google “self-aware leadership” you’ll get close to 2,000 results, not many when you think about it, especially compared to “Servant Leadership” at almost 500,000 results. You influence others the way you’ve been influenced by others in the past, it’s a behavior that we develop, and sometimes it’s a negative behavior, and we need to ask ourselves why, what are we trying to protect?
I believe it comes down to satisfying our own ego, some leaders find pleasure when they succeed themselves, no problem with that as long as it’s not at the expense of others. Some find fulfillment in helping others succeed, they’ve already achieved the level of success they want and now their passion comes from helping others achieve their success. That would be called significance, when you’ve helped so many people achieve their own success that they value the relationship, and in turn will help you achieve your goals. It reminds me of Zig Ziglar quote on how to achieve success, “Help enough people get what they want, and they’ll help you get what you want.”