Quality of leadership has become a major focus of almost every business in America today. Extensive research and analysis of this aspect of management has led to many insightful books on effective leadership. One such book is C. A. O"Conner"s Successful Leadership. O"Conner discusses this complicated subject by breaking it up into seven major areas. These areas are developing awareness, understanding people, power and authority, communication, decision making, creating a vision, and taking charge. Through these seven areas, O"Conner gives valuable skills in becoming an effective leader.
Before an individual can begin incorporating the seven major areas of leadership he must first learn followership. Through following, he realizes not only the importance of a leader that looks after the needs of his supporters, but also the need for supporters that contribute to the leader"s success. In any group or team where leadership is present, these two aspects are complimentary. Like wise, the skills of leadership and followership are also complimentary. An individual cannot develop his leadership skills without having developed his followership skills first.
Followers learn the importance that teamwork, cohesiveness, and subordination have in the accomplishment of goals. Additionally, when an individual does obtain a leadership position, the experience he gains in following provides a basis to make better decisions. The first major area of leadership is developing self-awareness. In developing self-awareness, one must first obtain the assessment of others. A major source of this assessment is feedback. Careful attention to attitudes, comments and performance of subordinates offer great insight into the effectiveness of a leader.
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Listening to thoughts and opinions of fellow leaders is another major source. Honesty is the key to both sources of information in that the individual must not disregard negative aspects of his own leadership qualities. He must realize his own faults and shortcomings. The second step in self-awareness is to create a features list. A features list is done by the leader himself and is made up of at least five good leadership traits and at least five bad ones. A leader"s inability to come up with five or more traits in either category means a severe lack of self-awareness.
The purpose of the features list is to keep the leader aware of his own qualities. As the individual develops as a leader, he should continuously create new features lists to ensure his own self-awareness. Once the individual has accurately assessed his own qualities, it is then time to implement improvements. A plan of action is the basis of this implementation. The plan should include creating a list of goals that enhance good qualities and make changes to bad ones. The leader must then make strides in realizing these goals.
Like the features list, the individual"s plan of action should change as he develops as a leader. The next area of leadership is understanding people. It is essential that a leader understand that each of his subordinates is different, with different drives, dreams, and ambitions. To "classify" subordinates into a particular group is to deprive them of their individuality and ignore their particular needs. Understanding each subordinate"s needs is the key to motivating them. In assessing the needs of subordinates, a leader must be able to recognize what level each individual is on in Maslow"s hierarchy of needs.
The hierarchy of needs is divided into five levels: the need for food, clothing, and shelter; personal safety and a source of income; family, friends, and caring relationships; self-confidence, creativity and individual achievement; meaning and purpose. In determining the level at which an individual is on, the leader can then help that individual in ascending to the next. The outcome is improved performance on the part of the worker. While this is not the only form of motivating people, it is the most effective in long term motivation.
Put more practically, a leader can motivate an individual"s performance not only by explaining the advantages to the company, but also the advantages to that individual"s job security and advancement. By nature, humans seek to attain a better quality of life. For this reason, another effective form of motivation is rewarding. Individuals pay attention to doing a job well when they have personal interests as a result of the outcome. The job becomes beneficial to their own profits and not just the company"s. Balancing the use of rewards is very important.
Too many offers of rewards result in disappointment and lack of motivation when one is not offered. Leaders must realize that rewards are only temporary forms of motivation that are not successful in long term leadership. The difficult task of managing power and authority is the third area of successful leadership. While understanding the authority of his position, a leader must also be open to the thoughts and ideas of his subordinates. Disregard for opinions is a sign of a weak leader who is afraid of being undermined and therefor hides behind his power.
Leaders express leadership through three basic leadership styles: democratic, autocratic, and permissive. The democratic style of leadership is based on a mutual respect and treating everyone equal, regardless of seniority or position. The leader still maintains authority, but others are able to be active participants in finding solutions to problems. Autocratic leadership provides a strong, undisputed style of leadership that is effective when dealing with controversial issues. While clearly defining goals and expectations, the autocratic style of leadership often results in a leader overpowering subordinates which leads to dissension.
The permissive style of leadership is described as being a weak attempt at democratic leadership. Subordinates whose leaders have adopted this style of leadership end up with poor coordination, direction, and guidance. In delegating particular tasks, effective leaders will follow a basic format of assignment. Rather then just handing a subordinate a task with the words "do this" attached to it, a good leader will define the task, discussing in detail the aspects of it, show why it is important and clearly state any expectations. In doing this the worker has a personal commitment and clear understanding of the importance of the task.
Finally, the leader will evaluate and discuss the results of the task with that worker, providing feedback for that worker to improve himself. One of the most vital areas in successful leadership is communication. The most basic form of communication is listening and speaking. This involves not only the exchange of spoken words, but also close attention to body language and tone. This attention allows good listeners to sort of "read between the words" and fully understand the speaker"s message. Effective speakers take time to prepare what they intend to say, giving careful thought to what it is they are attempting to convey.
There are five main features to effective communication. These features are often referred to as social skills. The first involves having a purpose for communication. This aids in guiding the exchange of information and avoids useless or irrelevant communication. The next feature is a clear and logical exchange with directness and confidence. The third feature is appropriateness. The presentation of the information must match the needs of the situation. In other words, choosing the format of delivery (i. e. mail, telephone, person-to-person interaction, etc. that is appropriate to the nature of the information.
The forth feature is control. The leader must be able to exhibit self-discipline and restrain from over communicating. An example of this is allowing subordinates to learn tasks without intervention, creating an effective learning environment for the worker and not a micro-managed one. The last feature of communication is the ability to learn. Even the best communicators have room for improvement. Leaders must never be satisfied in their communication skills and continuously make efforts to improve them.
Decision making is the next area of successful leadership. Leaders can be forced to make several decisions at the same time, making them to prioritize these decisions based on two criteria: future importance and current urgency. Future importance refers to the long term decisions that may seem insignificant presently, but will greatly impact the company in the long run. Making future importance decisions usually requires a great deal of analysis and planning. Current urgency decisions may seem extremely important at the time, but in actuality are not terribly relevant to the success of the company.
In either case, future importance or current urgent, an effective leader makes these decisions with confidence and concern for his subordinates. The complications of decision making can often be made easier through good goal setting. In setting a challenging yet attainable goal, the leader gives solid direction to his department and sets clear objectives. From there, many decisions can be based on whether or not the consequences will help in realizing these goals. These goals offer basic guidance, eliminating irrelevant options. Even with the establishment of goals to guide in decision making, tackling a major decision can be very difficult.
It is best for the leader to approach these decisions methodically, using a systematic approach of dealing with it. First the leader must establish what the primary and secondary requirements of the decision are and prioritize them. From there, he begins to consider every possible solution and tries to find new ones. Finally, through assessment of the first two steps, the leader chooses the best alternative based what he has come up with. This process can be used by the individual leader or be opened up for use of the entire workgroup in a more democratic leadership environment.
The next area in successful leadership is creating a vision. A vision is an ultimate goal, usually rather universal, that gives overall direction to the company and its employees. The result is unified action that steers generally in the same direction. It is the difficult task of a leader to create and maintain this vision as a guiding light in day to day decisions. He must be aware of the sometimes ever changing "big picture" as seen by the interests of the company and ensure that the vision is in line with that picture. The final area in successful leadership is taking charge.
This involves utilizing all of the first six steps and fully applying them to personal leadership development. It also emphasizes the importance of taking charge of leadership qualities that are already there and maximizing their potential. The leader must draw on experience to guide in decisions on how to lead. People are not born leaders. They become leaders through implementing these seven areas into their lives. A good leader must be able to fail and bounce back, learn from experience, and admit their own limitations. This along with a desire to learn and a drive to complete goals create the leader.
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