What Makes a Person a Leader?

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What Makes a Person a Leader?

What Makes a Person a Leader?
What Makes a Person a Leader?

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Leadership Theories There are many different ideas about how a person becomes a good leader. Despite years of research on this subject, no one idea has emerged as the clear

winner. The reason for this may be that different qualities and behaviors are most important in dif- ferent situations. In nursing, for example, some situations require quick thinking and fast action. Others require time to figure out the best solution to a complicated problem. Different leadership qualities and behaviors are needed in these two instances. The result is that there is not yet a single best answer to the question, “What makes a person a leader?”

Consider some of the best-known leadership theories and the many qualities and behaviors that have been identified as those of the effective nurse leader (Pavitt, 1999; Tappen, 2001):

Trait Theories At one time or another, you have probably heard someone say, “She’s a born leader.” Many believe that some people are natural leaders, while others are not. It is true that leadership may come more easily to some than to others, but everyone can be a leader, given the necessary knowledge and skill.

An important 5-year study of 90 outstanding leaders by Warren Bennis published in 1984 identi- fied four common traits. These traits hold true today:

1. Management of attention. These leaders communicated a sense of goal direction that attracted followers.

2. Management of meaning. These leaders created and communicated meaning and purpose.

3. Management of trust. These leaders demonstrated reliability and consistency.

4. Management of self. These leaders knew themselves well and worked within their strengths and weaknesses (Bennis, 1984).

Behavioral Theories The behavioral theories focus on what the leader does. One of the most influential behavioral theo- ries is concerned with leadership style (White & Lippitt, 1960) (Table 1-1).

The three styles are:

1. Autocratic leadership (also called directive, controlling, or authoritarian). The autocratic leader gives orders and makes decisions for the group. For example, when a decision needs to be made, an autocratic leader says, “I’ve decided that this is the way we’re going to solve our

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problem.” Although this is an efficient way to run things, it squelches creativity and may reduce team member motivation.

2. Democratic leadership (also called participative). Democratic leaders share leadership. Important plans and decisions are made with the team (Chrispeels, 2004). Although this appears to be a less efficient way to run things, it is more flexible and usually increases motivation and creativity. In fact, involving team members, giving them “permission to think, speak and act” brings out the best in them and makes them more productive, not less (Wiseman & McKeown, 2010, p. 3). Decisions may take longer to make, but once made everyone supports them (Buchanan, 2011).

3. Laissez-faire leadership (also called permissive or nondirective). The laissez-faire (“let someone do”) leader does very little planning or decision making and fails to encourage others to do it. It is really a lack of leadership. For example, when a decision needs to be made, a laissez- faire leader may postpone making the decision or never make the decision at all. In most instances, the laissez-faire leader leaves people feeling confused and frustrated because there is no goal, no guidance, and no direction. Some mature, self-motivated individuals thrive under laissez-faire leadership because they need little direction. Most people, however, flounder under this kind of leadership.

Pavitt summed up the differences among these three styles: a democratic leader tries to move the group toward its goals; an autocratic leader tries to move the group toward the leader’s goals; and a

laissez-faire leader makes no attempt to move the group (1999, pp. 330ff ).

Task Versus Relationship Another important distinction is between a task focus and a relationship focus (Blake, Mouton, & Tapper, 1981). Some nurses emphasize the tasks (e.g., administering medication, completing patient records) and fail to recognize that interpersonal relationships (e.g., attitude of physicians toward nursing staff, treatment of housekeeping staff by nurses) affect the morale and productivity of employees. Others focus on the interpersonal aspects and ignore the quality of the job being done as long as people get along with each other. The most effective leader is able to balance the two, attending to both the task and the relationship aspects of working together.

Motivation Theories The concept of motivation seems simple: we will act to get what we want but avoid whatever we don’t want to do. However, motivation is still sur- rounded in mystery. The study of motivation as a focus of leadership began in the 1920s with the historic Hawthorne studies. Several experi- ments were conducted to see if increasing light and, later, improving other working conditions would increase the productivity of workers in the Haw- thorne, Illinois, electrical plant. This proved to be true, but then something curious happened: when the improvements were taken away, the workers continued to show increased productivity. The researchers concluded that the explanation was found not in the conditions of the experiments but in the attention given to the workers by the experimenters.