Traditional literature usually defines leadership according to its 5 styles namely Autocratic, Democratic, Laissez- Faire, Transactional and Transformational Leadership. Some of the other prominent leadership styles that commonly appear in the literature are Charismatic leadership (House, R.J.1976), Servant leadership (Greenleaf, R.K.1991), and Authentic Leadership (George, B. 2003).
While the various theories of leadership often create ambiguity regarding its definition, the essence of character of leadership is grasped well through the VIA Institute’s definition:
“Encouraging a group of which one is a member to get things done and at the same time, to maintain time good relations within the group; organizing group activities and seeing that they happen”- VIA Institute
This definition divides leadership into two functions. First, to encourage the group to get things done and second to maintain good relations within the group. These two functions might overlap and both warrant equal attention. Leadership requires vision, inspiration and direction to perform the first function whilst the latter holds compassion, empathy, equality and love in high regard.
“To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
The Classification of Traditional Leadership Styles
Autocratic leadership, also referred to as authoritarian leadership, can be defined as the type of leadership when the decision making is controlled by the leader. In other words, leadership which has absolute, authoritarian control over the organization (Jago, 1982). Examples include Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini amongst others.
Second on the list of leadership styles is democratic leadership, also known as participative leadership, involves group members’ participation in decision making, thus insuring free flow of ideas (Jago,1982).
Laissez-faire is delegative leadership where the leaders transfer their responsibilities onto group members to make their decisions (Robbins, 2007, Goodnight, 2004). Considered as the leadership style with the lowest productivity, this type of leadership is often referred as absent leadership.
The Transactional/Transformational Leadership Paradigm
The Transactional/Transformational Leadership style paradigm first introduced by Bass (1985) forms the basis of the definition of leadership as considered as a character strength. The VIA institute catagorises transactional leadership according to 4 characteristics:
- Contingent reward: ‘give and take’ , promising rewards for good performance,
- Management by exception(active): to supervise and make corrective action.
- Management by exception (passive): intervene when necessary and
- Laissez-Faire: to avoid taking decision and responsibilities.
Transformational leadership however consists of :
- Charisma; to provide vision and a sense of mission, while instilling pride, and gaining respect and trust.
- Inspiration: to express important purposes, focus efforts and communicate high expectations.
- Intellectual Stimulation: to promote rationality, intelligence and problem solving.
- Individual consideration: treating each employee individually, coaching and giving personal attention
Charismatic, Servant and Authentic Leadership
The theory of Charismatic Leadership is based on the notion that ‘Charisma’ is a gift and as the leader having a charismatic effect on the follower which results in the leader being perceived as a visionary or a messiah which garners extraordinary commitment from the followers.
Servant leadership is the leadership style where it is the leader’s choice to serve others rather than to lead them, thus further inspiring the followers to aspire towards the same service (Greenleaf, 1977).
Authentic leadership proposed by Bill George (2003) defines this form of leadership style as leaders who acknowledge their shortcomings, lead with values and purpose and build enduring relationships with others.
Although, the science of leadership dates back to ancient civilization, pioneer perspectives continually emerge. The VIA Institute focuses on the transformational/transactional leadership theory in order to develop understanding and build leadership as an individual character strength.
The Character Strength of Leadership
One among the 24-character strengths presented in Character Strengths and Virtues, leadership falls under the virtue of Justice, which in a broader context refers to civic strength, a pivotal characteristic for a healthy and prosperous community (Peterson & Seligman, 2004).
The VIA survey distinguishes leadership as a social phenomenon based on two areas:
The practice of directing the follower’s action by defining, establishing and identifying the mission and facilitating such collective action to achieving this mission. The second area is personal quality; the motivational capacity to attain and carry out leadership roles.
In addition, recognition of the necessity of understanding an individual’s leadership strength is emphasized through positing that everyone has to step into the leader’s shoes once in a while.
This introduces the concept of ‘situational leadership’; refering to one group member voluntarily or otherwise stepping in to the lead the group towards an organizational goal. Often a temporary situation; this type of leadership role frequents our daily lives when we are directed to complete a task as a group.
Imagine a situation when you are grouped with fellow students/colleagues to perform a group project. One may often find the need to step up and bring the group together, willingly or for the purpose of completing the task. It is in these situations where understanding your leadership strength will come in handy.
An individual might frequently find himself/herself in situational leadership rather than positional leadership, which is defined as the leadership role that comes with high position in an organization.
The VIA measures the leadership capacity in every person i.e. the capacity to lead, organize and mobilize a group.
What makes a leader?
A common question in leadership circles, is what are the essential building blocks that make a leader.
The trait theory prospective suggests that an individual’s personality traits can predict whether the individual has leadership quality. Inconsistent results have been witnessed however a meta-analysis of various studies on the Big 5 (Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism) personality traits and leadership found that Extraversion, Agreeableness and Conscientiousness correlated highly with leadership i.e. Leaders ranked high in these three personality traits (Judge, et al., 2002).
Hence, if you possess high levels of extraversion, openness and conscientiousness you probably will make a good leader.
Conversely, strong arguments have been put forward regarding leadership as a dynamic process (Kerfoot, K. 1988). If viewed through the Nature vs. Nurture prospective, nature could account for the traits while nurture suggests leadership is learned and can be built through experience.
The path to being a good leader
Everyone likes to be a leader, or will find oneself in the leader’s shoes. So, being prepared for this is always an excellent idea. How does one prepare for such roles or rather how does one enhance their leadership strength?
The VIA survey points out leadership practices to enhance this strength in the individual:
- Mediate sharing of opinion when an argument is ongoing.
- Emphasize on problem solving
- Lead a group activity and solicit the opinions of members
- Read/Watch a biography of a leader who inspires you in practical ways.
About the Author
This article was written by one of our guest authors Arun Gurung. A positive psychology practitioner since being exposed to the positive world of happiness, compassion, gratitude while following Professor, Ed Diener’s work on Subjective well-being. He works with mindfulness interventions, resilience, compassion and well-being. He aims to bring positive psychology to his home country of Nepal in the future.
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George, B. (2003). Authentic leadership: Rediscovering the secrets to creating lasting value. John Wiley & Sons.
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Peterson, C., Seligman, M. E. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford University Press.
Robbins, S. P., Judge, T. A., Sanghi, S. (2007). Organizational Behavior. (12th ed.). India: Pearson: Prentice Hall.