Leadership has been prevalent as long as the existence of mankind. Taoism highlights leadership qualities as cultivating and directing followers. Nevertheless, traditional styles of leadership that were practiced in the earlier days in the form of dictatorial control are rarely relevant and carried out due to the changing mindsets of the workforce in the 21st century (Saee, 2005).
What is the real definition of leadership? What are the best ways to evaluate a great leader? Are there different approaches to leadership in various cultures? These questions are imperative and have had many in-depth researches by scholars but the debate is ongoing. Uhl bien et al (2007) advocates that the theories from the 20th century are reliable for economies established on physical manufacturing and not for knowledge based ones.
Scholarly theories and arguments
In the early days, the trait theory was considered relevant as it assumed that leaders are born and not trained (Colbert, 2012:1) which can be argued as there is no clarity on who is said to be a ‘successful’ leader or even if there are certain qualities which are inherited, these innate talents require nurturing and encouragement (Mullins, 2016:314). On the other hand, Adair strongly believes that leadership can be instilled by the needs (task, team maintenance & individual) that a particular task requires its members to do (Adair, 1973). This seems more practical as it understands what motivates individuals and their inner needs rather than just qualities they are born with.
During a terror attack at Taj Hotel in Mumbai, a 22 year old lady guided a few people to safety even though she was not a trained leader but the way she managed to respond to the situation portrays a lesson that with the right mind set, you can lead in the moment (Mullins, 2016: 317). In a horrific situation like this, no theory comes into play. It is usually the quick and smart reflexes that determine leadership.
Tannenbaum and Schmidt’s theory of leadership depicts the correlation between the degree of freedom given to its employees and the authority shown by the manager (Harvard Business Review, 1973:5). It identifies tells, sells, consults and joins as four major styles of leadership demonstrated by the manager and suggests that forces of manager, subordinates and situations all decide the type of leadership qualities desired to be used as managers understand themselves and the individuals present in the group (Mullins, 2016: 318).
In today’s world
Even after fifty years of independence, Africa still faces development challenges like poverty, corruption, weak infrastructure etc. and this is primarily due to cruel leadership and trying to replicate western based models which possibly don’t fit its economy. The society has been destroyed by its own leaders and their autocratic rule where the citizens were made to be passive and major control was in their own hands. Poverty was given more significance than development along with ego which was placed high above the worries of the people (Poncian J, Mgaya E 2015). The most common factor that relates all leaders is said to be that they all have followers and without them they are nothing (Bennis 2007:3). Seeing the dominant rule in the African continent, leaders must try and build rapport with its people and work towards their empowerment. As the saying, “with great power, comes great responsibility” is true and should be obeyed across all types of knowledge or production based economies.
The rise of Vogue-ism
There has always been a minimum discussion of women and their actions when the topic of leadership has arisen (Eklund, Barry, Grunberg 2017).
Anna Wintour has been one of fashion industry’s acknowledged entities as the artistic director acquiring the possessions of Conde Naste including the ever so famous Vogue. Her key management styles were being decisive and following her instinct. She would delegate work and never show her insecurities in her course of action. Always learning from mistakes and being inspired from failure taught her the importance of her own actions as a leader and helped in growth of herself and her employees (Feloni, 2016).
Burberry and its rise
Leadership in Burberry has changed over the years in great response to business needs. Cultural demand has made its Asian and Middle Eastern allocation departments to be led by their respective host nations. In 2013, Angela appointed Christopher Bailey as a the global creative director as there were different products being designed in various parts of the world and she as a leader wanted creativity to be compressed and led single handedly. This helped in streamlining the company (HBR 2013).
I believe leadership strongly revolves around one self. If a manager has a clear sense of self and a vision, they will give the employees or followers the respect and confidence to take decisions and challenge opinions on their own. Using Cutler’s leadership jigsaw which helps in the measurement and development of leadership qualities, every manager can undergo training and use self observation to bring out the best in others.(Mullins 2016: 338). In the modern times, theories should be converted to practical sessions and leaders must be given workshops based on the environment the business operates in. As we observed with Angela, she was clear that Burberry needed an entity to handle the creative aspect across all borders. Clarity is utmost important and future theories should be developed on how the employees would want their leader to perform and behave.
I believe leadership theories should take a more holistic approach. Many researchers scrutinize leadership and its dynamism. Integrating psychology and strategy with leadership can help in determining how the process of leading can take place and its effect on various individuals. As we can see in our day to day world, intense competition has led to greater research on this topic and organizations are seeking ways to speed up positive leadership expansion to be ahead in the global market (AVOLIO, B.J., WALUMBWA, F.O. and WEBER, T.J., 2009). I also think that theories from the 20th century are not appropriate as times have changed and the future requires to look at this topic on a different and fresh perspective.
- John Saee (2005) Effecitve leadership for the global economy in the 21ST century, Journal of Business Economics and Management, 6:1, 3-11
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- AVOLIO, B.J., WALUMBWA, F.O. and WEBER, T.J., 2009. Leadership: Current Theories, Research, and Future Directions. Annual review of psychology, 60, pp.421-449.
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