Leadership Essay Example
Leadership a most sought after and one of the best-rewarded skills in the business, politics, as well as other spheres of life. The ability of true leaders to cope in dynamic strategic environments remains an important factor for the success and even survival of organizations, countries, political parties, churches and other entities. Even most importantly, I find that leadership exists and is required in numerous spheres of life, and while some leaders are lucky enough that they are rewarded handsomely for their work, millions more of equally talented leaders practice their craft away from the public attention and admiration. I met Jeremy Clay five years ago, when I was volunteering at a homeless shelter. Clay is a social worker who helped set up the home using his own resources and has steered it through difficult times. My experience with Clay has opened my eyes multiple leadership traits and abilities that I did not think existed before. He has shown just how dynamic, complex and deeply leadership is, as a concept. This paper includes a personal assessment of Clay’s leadership style, skills and abilities and interview on the same, a reflection on lessons learnt and areas of personal improvement as a leader.
Section 1: Leader Observation
Perhaps the strongest leadership trait that Clay exhibited is the enthusiasm, belief and commitment to his work. While it is easy for corporate chiefs and national politicians to be leaders because their jobs carry immense prestige and attracts great compensation packages, for millions more, their work demands a genuine love for their work. Clay was active, expressive, energetic and charismatic. He drew inspiration from just about anything and projected the same to other people that he worked with. There were occasions when the centre was grossly understaffed and short of supplies, with some of the homeless people that go to freshen up and get a warm meal often being violent and distrustful of the staff whenever they are turned away or requested to wait. On multiple occasions, the centre was unmanageable because of the high emotions, chaos, huge demand for services and a small team of permanent employees. However, Clay’s attitude throughout many crises was collected, exuding of quiet confidence and optimism even when I found it was impossible to.
While I found him impractical and dreamy in his optimism and confidence, I found it quite helpful to cope with difficult situations. Clay thought me that even if the odds are stacked up against one, you need someone else to give hope, however, false and unrealistic. The ability to inspire confidence even in the face of extreme uncertainty is the very essence of leadership, which, in fact, marks out great leaders from poor ones. Winston Churchill, Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan would never have been great leaders without World War II, the Great Depression and the Cold War respectively. It is the difficult circumstances and deep uncertainty that leadership is desired most, and great leaders thrive by meeting the need for leadership capably.
Further Clay is very bold, self-assured and tough-minded when confronting different social situations, but he was able to exercise these qualities while at once being adaptable and respectful. These qualities came through in his communication, which he was forceful but accommodating to different opinions. This is impressive, especially since it allows one to make their point without necessarily alienating parties that are opposed to a point of view. Herold, Fedor, Liu, & Caldwell (2008) and Herzig & Jimmieson (2006) address the need for leadership in the context of change management, which is characterized by uncertainty, resistance, and necessity to involve multiple stakeholders, arguing that great leadership lies in the ability to include many stakeholders in the decision-making process, including through clear communication of the goals and strategies and clear role definition. Excellent and skilful communication allowed Clay to persuade others and creating a productive environment because it made all parties feel included in the working of the centre. This is not least because the facility was heavily dependent on volunteers, who were similarly driven by charity, which is why it was crucial that there was an environment that made them feel at home. Other important traits and skills included an excellent sense of humour, intuition, creativity, compulsiveness and proactivity (Zaleznik, 1977; MacPhee, Skelton-Green, Bouthillette, & Suryaprakash, 2012).
Clay’s leadership style is an easy blend of affiliative and democratic. The affiliative style lays emphasis on the importance of teamwork and a harmonious relationship necessary for a team to deliver excellent results. In a centre that is heavily dependent on volunteer teams, the key to their continued support lies in the ability of the leaders to make them part of the team; otherwise they would simply keep off. It was important for members of the community, including myself, to feel a sense of ownership and belonging to the centre. Charity is heavily dependent on the sense of satisfaction out of helping other people, and in order to get this feeling, it is important that the volunteers get a positive experience and feedback for their work. Clay attained this by creating an inclusive working environment. This was facilitated his tendency to allow a democratic decision-making process in complex and divisive situations. There were frequent meetings with volunteers to decide on everything from schedules, menus, budget, opening times and the house rules. While many decisions were simple, some were divisive and in order to avoid alienating some people, Clay always called for consensus-building and quick open votes to decide on different choices (Appelbaum, Habashy, Malo, & Shafiq, 2012; Northhouse, 2007).
Section II: Interview
Clay describes his leadership style as down-to-earth and people-driven. He believes that understanding other people’s needs and articulating them or seeking to meet them, is the single-most important driver that gets him out of bed daily. He said that the song/poem called “desiderata” is his personal mantra as a person and a leader. It is, above all, servant leadership. He believes that the community has confidence in him and the centre because of the commitment and belief that he put in it, as well as the fact that he leads by example. He argues that the nature of his job is such that there is no coercive or legitimate power, but to be able to deliver on the expected goals, leaders derive power from the respect, mutual beliefs, values, ethics and ideals. Given a choice of six leadership styles, Clay believes that while he is not autocratic of visionary (perhaps out of modesty), he thinks that his work at the centre involves teamwork (affiliative), coaching of youthful volunteers and homeless people and delegated decision-making (democratic). He argues that in leadership, one size does not fit all. It is about adapting different conditions to contrive an acceptable outcome even in difficult times, whether it is on the war front or in a K1 classroom.
Clay believes he is an effective leader because of his ability to connect with people at an emotional level. He argues that people have different fronts, but deep down, they are perfectly the same, because they mostly want the same thing. People mainly disagree on the means, but they have the same goals and as a leader, it is critical to ensure that the means are always aligned with the ends. He sets great store by effective communication, commitment, conscientiousness, intuitiveness, open-mindedness, honesty, enthusiasm, emotional stability, initiative, self-confidence and people management. He also believes that trust in other people, ability to marshal other people’s support (persuasion), delegation, consistency in one’s actions, resourcefulness, team-orientation, respect and empathy as equally critical leadership traits.
Clay asserts that leaders do not have to possess these traits, but their respective environments should lead them to develop them in order to best cope with the dynamic leadership environments. He believes that he has had his finest moments as a leader when dealing with mundane difficulties, and he cannot exactly choose what skills helped him do well. He argues that managing the centre through times when it faced financial, and capacity difficulties were easily the hardest, during which time he struggled against community opposition, the municipal authorities, neighbours and the homeless people. He argues that his approach was to keep an open mind, communicate calmly and effectively, and then listen to others, build a consensus around things that all parties agree on and run with them. He argues leaders do not have to solve problems; they are supposed to facilitate the problem-solving process, which is why understanding people’s needs and addressing them is easily the most important leadership goal.
Clay is a transformational leader, in part because his role is mainly built on his effective communication, high emotional intelligence and integrity. He draws his power from his ability to inspire people into rallying behind shared visions, ideals and values. He appears to be aware of himself and his abilities, genuine, humble and empathetic. He tends to exude the inspiration to the volunteers, the staff and the homeless population that patronizes the centre, because of his belief in other people and the expectation of the very best them. This expectation in turn makes people responsible for their own actions in working towards achieving the set goals. Even most critically, Clay asserts that leadership means different things to many people, but it must be able to adapt to the different needs. This means that what matters in any leadership situation is ability to influence others to attain acceptable goals, and the best leadership traits and abilities are dependent on the specific problems, stakeholders, interests and other factors.
Clay exhibits many qualities that are consistent with excellent leadership, and the interview reveals even more traits that I escaped my notice during the observation. According to Herold, Fedor, Liu, & Caldwell (2008) and Herzig & Jimmieson (2006), great leaders must be inspirational, adaptable, inclusive, confident, persuasive, commitment, self-drive and effective communication. While Clay was modest throughout the interview, his approach to leadership has a powerful influence on me, and I believe many other people. His insistence on the emotional connection with people reveals his high emotional intelligence. According to Goleman (2004), emotional intelligence is central to effective leadership. It refers to the capacity to manage oneself and relationships with other people well, and comprises of four important capabilities i.e. self-management, social skill, social awareness and self-awareness.
Self-management comprises six abilities,m which include the ability control disruptive emotions, trustworthiness (honesty and integrity), conscioncentiouness, adaptability and initiative. Social awareness includes empathy for other people’s emotions and perspectives, organizational awareness (e.g. Clay’s appreciation of the lack of coercive power) and orientation towards service provision. On the other hand, social skills include visionary leadership, persuasiveness, tendency to strengthen or encourage others, effective communication, conflict management, collaboration, teamwork and catalyzing change. In addition, leaders must understand their own strengths and limitations, and work towards using their strengths as against covering up their problems. Self-awareness ensures that the leader is capable of understanding their own emotions and role of such emotions on their work, besides ensuring that they always remain realistic about their strengths. Emotional intelligence is easily the most important leadership trait that Clay possesses as evidence in understanding people’s needs and setting out to satisfy them (Northhouse, 2007; Bolden & Gosling, 2006).
Section 3: Reflection and Improvement
This exercise taught me that leadership exists in many spheres of life, away from the public eye. Leadership is in demand in many aspects of life, and it is important that leaders adapt to the varied contextual factors. This is in line with the social identity theory of leadership, which argues that the success of a leader is dependent on how well they fit the group identity, since followers want somebody that they can identify with. However, any leader can adapt to fit with the required social identity if they have the emotional intelligence. From what I have gathered, emotional intelligence acts a mediating ability that helps leaders to connect with the followers and successfully adapt to different environmental factors. It not only ensures that a leader is aware of their own strengths and limitations, understands the environment, creates power and leverages it to set and achieve goals.
I also learnt a lot about the nature of leadership. My observation and subsequent interview reveals that leadership is about shaping the will of other people, activities and change. Firstly, leaders need to possess or cultivate certain abilities and attributes, which help them to be effective. Common traits/attributes/abilities include communication skills, conflict management, self-confidence, commitment, emotional intelligence, belief, vision, social boldness, adaptable, enthusiasm, open-minded, consistent and proactive among others (Goleman, 2004; Northhouse, 2007; Byham, 2010; MacPhee, Skelton-Green, Bouthillette, & Suryaprakash, 2012).
One person influences others towards the attainment of a mutually desirable goal through a process. In turn, this means that it is actually a contextual phenomenon stemming out of interactions between leaders and the followers. It does not exist its own; leaders do not exist separate from followers. Leaders need multiple critical traits and behaviours such as self-confidence, inspiration, commitment, humility, honesty and belief, but these traits do not comprise leadership on their own account. These are like a plumber’s tools, which help one to be a great plumber, but they do not on their own make a great plumber. One must know how to use them effectively, along with other practical knowledge do as to be a great plumber. Leaders need to have these qualities because they facilitate the process of building trust/power and influencing other people to work towards the achievement of given goals. It includes influencing people to agree or understand what is required to be done, the manner and process of setting achieving the set goals by facilitating collective and individual efforts towards the same goals.
I believe the best areas of improvement include a greater focus on developing emotional intelligence and other traits of excellent leadership so that I am able to connect at an emotional level with other people. In addition, I realize that true leadership lies in the ability to use leadership skills correctly, which is why continued practice is important. This exercise is helpful in realizing the nature of leadership as a group process, geared to facilitating and creating value for the group. It opened my eyes to the need for leadership in many spheres of life, and rather than waiting for years to be the Pope or the UN secretary general, I need to take all opportunities as a leader at any time that these opportunities present.
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