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Leadership Perspectives and Theories

Discussion about two fundamentally different perspectives toward leadership development – ‘Leaders are born’ and ‘Leadership skills can be developed’.

Leadership is seen as an important component of any organisation’s structure because at all levels in an organisation there tend to be positions of authority. In every organisation there will be people under the control of people with higher job titles and status, for example, employees under the power of team leader, i.e., precisely stating “…subordinates under the control of super ordinates (Finchman, R. et al, 2003).”

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Though there is a wide range of definitions of leadership, it can be generally be defined as the ability to motivate and influence other people to perform tasks and achieve objectives which otherwise they wouldn’t be willing to do. Moreover, leadership depends upon the context in which it occurs along with an understanding of the needs and opinions of its followers. But, still there has been a lot of argument and debate concerning the difference between management and leadership. It is true that differences between the two terms can be put neatly on paper, but still it is suggested that the distinctions between the two are vague, with the two qualities usually overlapping each other in business context. This is because it is believed that every manager is bound to possess leadership qualities to be able to work effectively towards the success of an organisation.

As literature states, there have been different perspectives relating to leadership development. They basically are the Trait Approaches, Behavioural Approaches, Contingency theories and the Transformational theories of leadership. The trait theory believes that leaders are born and possess certain personality traits beforehand which ultimately lead them to take on a powerful dominant position. Behavioural approaches look for certain ideal behavioural patterns in the leaders and contingency theories state that there is no one idealistic leadership quality and that leaders should modify their qualities and skills according to the situational demands as well as relating to the cultural and organisational context of the organisation. Finally, the transformational theories introduce the emergence of the new leader with qualities such as being visionary, inspirational and participative along with encouraging change.

According to theories and researches conducted, it is pointed out that a good leader would be the one who understands himself, his fellow and group members with whom he interacts and the company along with the broader social environment in which he works to be able to choose wisely his skills. Also, he is able to behave appropriately in times of perceptions that are very importantly relevant to his behaviour, i.e., to be able to direct when called for direction and to be able to provide freedom when there is requirement of participative freedom. They are believed to establish direction and are expected to encourage people to come into their strategies and plans. Also, there are some leadership skills which are considered indispensable. These generally include an ability to have an intuition and judgement, the intelligence factor, motivation, assertiveness, risk- taking ability, smart enough to analyse situations and take actions, relevant knowledge and many more.

Now, here we are concerned with the two fundamentally different perspectives of whether ‘Leaders are born’ or ‘Leadership skills can be developed’ towards the development of leadership qualities and their respective implications on the development of management in an organisation. However, choosing one perspective can sometimes be difficult. This is due to fact that leadership being such a subjective topic, it is impossible to believe in a single perspective. Both the perspectives are right to an extent of their own.

It is indeed a true fact that there are born Leaders. Moreover, the old age saying that ‘Leaders are born and not made’ even gets stronger by looking at all the examples of great and historic leaders, like Hitler, Mother Teresa, etc. These leaders gained their status and respect because of their strong personalities or some in-born attributes which are difficult to come through training and development. It is an elusive charisma in some people which ultimately makes them World leaders and the followers look up to them. And these certain qualities looked in a leader are generally the ones that are the in-grown traits of one’s personality, for instance the ability to have an intuition and vision, motivation factor and the natural intelligence. These are all characteristics which differ from person to person. Also, by birth certain kind of talent is already embedded in a few people because of which they stand apart and go on to the path of becoming a leader. For example: A person who is an average basketball player will never be able to achieve the skills which Michael Jordan excels at in spite of getting the best training, putting in all his efforts and practising to the fullest. Though, his skills would improve but never to that extent. And hence, we see that the concept of born leaders is existent. But then to what extent can this be seen to be true? Should we believe that the skills by birth are just the skills to be possessed to become leaders, i.e., there can be no self-development for a person lacking the so called necessary skills to become a leader.

Here comes a noteworthy point that, by just being born with talent, it isn’t necessary that one becomes a leader. Unless and until one works on the pursuit of perfection and improvement, he/she will not be able to able to become a Leader. In fact, all the great leaders who reached their status today did so due to their hard work and maybe went through some sort of learning process. It was necessary for them also to hone and develop their skills and learn from their predecessors. For example : It was seen that President John.F.Kennedy though made a great leader, maybe for some people, due to his charm persona but the fact was that he also had some learning from London School of Economics and he also undertook a Leadership training program in the military services during World War II.

Moreover, there is a problem associated with identifying what kinds of leadership skills are apt. When it comes to choosing Leadership positions in organisations, the organisations generally look out for expertise, work experience and the respective seniority levels. They look for people with strong or charismatic personalities, who are commanding and can manage other people well by mesmerizing them with their stage presence. However, these are usually wrong indicators of choosing great leaders. This is seen from the fact that even the extraordinary organisations having the most intelligent, experiences and insightful board of directors have made the errors of choosing the wrong leaders. In California, when there was a rapid-change in the technology sector due to the growth of internet IPOs, HP realised that they needed a leadership change with a leader with a freshly new business perspective to help control its languishing stock prices and stalling growth. For this they hired a leader who had won quite a lot of business titles and had had an impressing background. But, in the hands of the new leader, the company suffered its first loss, lost many jobs and saw a decrease in their stock prices. But, contrastingly, in the hands of the former down-to-earth CEO, HP’s annual sales increased. This showed that leadership plays an important role in the success or failure of an organisation, yet still many companies do not have effective Leadership Development programmes in place and they indulge and invest in it only in terms of emergencies.

A research conducted by the Institute of Leadership Management showed that a significant proportion of business leaders today must owe the credit to the gaining of their leadership skills from experiences learnt outside the school, as 12 percent left school before the age of 16 and only one-third of them (31 percent) had a University degree on leaving full time education. These statistics, therefore, state that in order to achieve success, academic qualifications might not be a pre-requisite and leadership skills can be developed through coaching and formal training also with an effective development programme in place. Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart, showed traits of becoming a future leader from childhood. But since he didn’t have an academic degree he was not seen to be fit for the description of a classic leader. When he joined JC Penny as a management trainee, he always worked hard but then his paperwork wasn’t up to the mark because of which his boss always told him that he wasn’t fit for retail industry. At last, he resigned, not to sit back but to open his own firm which gave competition to JC Penny and surpassed it in retail dominance. This example suggests that in spite of not having academic qualification, Sam Walton would have been a great leader for JC Penny, if it had an effective system to tap the leadership potential in him.

Hence, the above points suggest that leadership skills can definitely be developed not only through leadership training development programmes but also from real-life learning experiences arising on the job front. Hence, the perspective ‘Leadership skills can be developed’ holds more importance than the perspective ‘Leaders were born’.

However, no amount of teaching can ever fully help a person to know about leadership. Leadership is a phenomenon which can always be learnt through practical application. Leadership skills can be developed by watching other leaders, i.e., role models and emulating their behaviour. Leaders also enhance their skills by realising the fact that one can never get stuck in a situation. Even if one fails in a task, one needs to use that lesson to enhance his performance in future. This shows that the only failure they see is the failure to not learn from a mistake. They also improve by using the feedback from their supervisors, peers and junior colleagues to get better results. Moreover they learn by trying out new things and then review their performance critically. The best thing about the development of leadership skills and not assuming the notion of born leaders is that, leadership training helps to bring out certain behavioural aspects like character, passion and vision in people not having them and builds them to develop skills which can be used in future for becoming effective leaders.

Furthermore, according to an article written by James Brava, teaching leadership skills to front-line managers through the support of the organisation as well as senior leaders can help lead to an improvement in an organisation’s flexibility to change and productivity. This is due to the fact that if front-line managers become leaders they can make decisions, can then use their own judgement and implement improvement. These techniques will assist in increasing employee engagement and employee motivation and thereby have a positive impact on management development in terms of an organisation’s performance level.

A contrary point to note here is that, certain leadership skills even though believed to be associated with a person’s character only, can still be developed among people to a great extent and affect the development of management of an organisation in a worth notable point. This means that if a person does not have skills to lead, he should not fall for the development of non-leadership aspects as there are a number of places to demonstrate one’s leadership abilities.

There are a lot many number of qualities looked in a person to become a leader which have already been mentioned relating to ability, motivation and sociability. But, the recent developments in the field of leadership show that it is not the just the old-age qualities of authority and intelligence that are enough to become a leader. No doubt, Intelligence is needed but rather than IQ and relevant knowledge, emotional intelligence is the pre-requisite to become a great leader. Emotional intelligence is the key factor which distinguishes star-leaders form the average leaders. Here we see a number of leadership skills that can be developed and how it might affect the development and learning of skills by managers for their own good as well as for their organisations.

Emotional intelligence, a quality associated with leadership can definitely be learned, but it requires time and commitment. Hence, it is not believed that a person should have this trait by birth. Although, sometimes genetics do not play an important part in this as our parents’ qualities of empathy can be imbibed into us by birth. Self awareness is an aspect of emotional intelligence which tends to work for the organisation resulting in increasing its and its employee’s performance by being aware of the fact that how their feelings will affect themselves as well as of their colleagues.

Also, motivation is an indispensable virtual quality of leadership which aims at achieving for the sake of achieving and not for external rewards. Even though, this can be seen as a personality trait to be associated with the concept of ‘born’ leaders, still it can be developed with course while learning in an organisation when one introspects about his passion for work, doesn’t get disappointed with failures and has an urge for commitment towards his organisation. Therefore, it isn’t difficult to see the outcomes of motivation for organisational management development. This can be seen from the fact that people with such qualities can always lead to the building of a team with managers sharing the same qualities. Also, as one sets a high performance bar for oneself, so will he for his employing organisation leading to the latter’s success.

‘Born or classic’ leaders are often seen as the ones having fiery temperaments because their outbursts are often associated with their respective style marks of charisma and power. And hence self-regulation is generally not seen as a good trait of leaders. But self-regulation is a quality which is necessary to be developed among leaders because it leads to the creation of a fair and trusted environment reducing politics and infighting and hence an increase in productivity. More so, it has a positive effect on managing development as employees want to be level-headed instead of hot-heads considering their leaders being calm and less moody. As a consequence, talent flocks to the organisation. In terms of environment changes, management development needs arise which can be taken care of effectively if managers are in control of their emotions. This is because in such a scenario they do not panic and tend to accept the challenges in a positive way.

Empathy is another quality which is rarely seen to exist in the concept of ‘leaders are born’. This is because according to this concept, they usually have attributes which are seen as being autocratic and exploitive. And hence, the perspective regarding born leaders might seem to fail here. Empathy or consideration skill is strongly recommended as a component of leadership due to it being effective while dealing with teams, diversification in organisations and for retaining talent in today’s competitive market-world. It is usually developed while working in a team where there can be a mismatch and misunderstanding among the viewpoints of the members. This helps leaders develop their skills of understanding and recognising the emotional makeup of the team leading to collaboration among employees which can ultimately lead to higher job market for the organisation. Also, in order to keep good talent within their organisation coaching and mentoring is necessary for which empathy skills are needed. Therefore, a leader having these skills will effectively provide good coaching which leads to an increase in job performance along with job satisfaction and less attrition rate.

Another fact which proves that Leadership skills can be developed can be seen during situations when a person’s leadership skills might come under a test. This can seem to happen in terms of a crisis as was in the case of Intel Israel. During the First Gulf War when Iraq was resorting to its Scub missile attacks, the operation of the Intel’s firm unit in Israel was at stake because the civil defence directive had ordered organisational units to close down ensuring safety. But Dov Frohman continued the normal operations as he was concerned about the company’s survival and success as he considered that a core aspect of leadership. Also, according to his belief during such situations there are three major points a leader should develop – focus on the survival of the organisation in the long-term giving it the highest priority, going against what everyone says and expects to do and finally trusting one’s instinct. As a result of following these qualities, commitments to Intel were met for the future of Israel’s high tech economy as well as for Intel Israel, because of which it today is “the headquarters for the company’s global R&D and product development in wireless technology as well as a major centre for chip fabrication (Harvard Business Review, December 2006)”. Also, following these three rules not only help deal with the situation aptly but also thinks about the organisation’s success which is the basic rule of leadership and management development. Moreover, this can be seen as a time for managers to be able to learn and develop skills not only for their own good but even for their organisation.

In all organisations it is seen that management generally means conducting, controlling, directing and linking. But an article by Henry Mintzberg who has studied a lot of managers and management in a symphony orchestra, states that Covert Leadership, an aspect which can seem to develop might be better than overtly display of leadership. This is because in today’s world knowledge and trained workers respond to inspiration and not supervision because they know what to do. According to him, management in a symphony orchestra can be seen as a good deal of what managing in today’s world is all about. The article throws light on the fact that though the conductor manages all its musicians, but he does so in a covert way be it controlling, directing or developing culture. It showed that what is generally seen as conventional leading is seen as operations doing in the context of an orchestra because the conductor got involved directly and personally in all the tasks getting done. Also it was seen that extreme supervision isn’t necessary today and that the coordination can occur independently, but however certain amount of power is necessary. Lastly it is noted that though the conductor managed all the inside operations, he was also concerned with the external networking for his orchestra. Hence, a positive outcome of covert leadership on management development is that it not only satisfies employees but in the end it also tends to give a feeling of satisfaction to the leader. And if managers accept this trait of leadership and follow all the six qualities of internal controlling, leading and doing along with external communication, linking and dealing, they can raise the organisation to a high level.

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Furthermore, it is evident that in today’s modern world every manager or leader is faced with the dilemma of being torn between which leadership style to use and when – democratic or authoritative. According to the earlier times, leaders were just seen as ones possessing the required intelligence, vision and the ability to empower others. But today’s scenario sees the fact that leadership skills tend to be developed and be used according to the demand of the situation. A continuum developed by Tannenbaum and Schmidt concerning the authoritative versus democratic choice of leadership style, shows that any one of these extremes (either emphasis on manager or on the subordinate centred behaviour) isn’t apt and that there are a range of behaviours which are best to use when necessary. The decision of what leadership style to use is highly influenced by factors which concern manager’s behaviour, non-managers or subordinates behaviour’s and the situational aspects. If a manager understands his personality traits effectively, he is likely to know clearly which style to use. The situational factors such as organisation type (might approve certain behaviours and not others), group effectiveness (how well people coordinate together to resolve issues), nature of problem (depends on whether subordinates have relevant knowledge about the problem) and time constraints (depends upon the criticalness of the situation) also affect the way a manager thinks in decision-making situation). Similarly, a clear understanding about the employees behaviour and their expectations or demands from him, can help him decide to be permissive or coercive. This can ultimately lead to the development of good and flexible communicative relationships among organisation members leading to the creation of good work teams, i.e. the development of management which ultimately can affect an organisation’s success rate. Therefore, whatever is the case, the implications would always be in the favour of the organisation with the manager being flexible and insightful so as not to face the issue of leadership dilemma.

Finally, in the end we’d like to discuss two main important points. Firstly, how companies can create leadership development programmes in order to tap the talent of people showing the capabilities of becoming future leaders. In regard to this, companies ought to create a development profile needed for identifying strong leader including qualities they think should be suitable for their particular company or the industry. On completion of the creation of profile, the company can use a number of effective assessment tools like psychometric tests, employee surveys, feedback reviews etc. to identify these characteristics in their employees.

Secondly, we need to discuss critically as to what we need – whether it is the image of a heroic leader with a vision, inspiration and charisma or the image of a manager who can organise, plan and control issues in an organisation. In the beginning, it was mentioned that there are differences between management and leadership but they usually overlap. However, arguably it is seen that now there has been a widening gap between managers and leaders. According to studies in the twenty-first century, it was seen that a new perspective of transformational leaders came into being. These transformational super leaders had all the characteristics which were suitable during a hostile and a rapidly changing environment. This new leader had the ability to create visions of what can happen in future and was able to communicate them. These traits indicated the difference between management and leadership according to some writers. But a more recent study of leadership trends stated that such views could be dangerous and that what is more importantly required is the capabilities of change management. According to a lot of writers the concept of visionary leaders is not good as they can destabilize the organisation. For instance, in the opinion of Jim Collins, leaders who are seen to be world class are generally not effective, and it is the senior ordinary managers or executive which actually handle work well by combining both humility and persistence. Moreover, it is believed that the efforts of these middle managers should be appreciated because in spite of them not being top managers they still are implemental in starting and aiming change. Finally these repercussions against the concept of new leaders, leads back to the argument between the distinction of management and leadership suggesting that now leadership destabilises while management drives change.

To sum it all, it can be said that though leadership skills are developed but still in-born traits are sometimes necessary and that in reality organisational change occurs due to the help of competent managers and not because of the concept of leaders possessing charismatic visionaries and personalities. (3898 words excluding references)

Works Cited

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Britain’s Bosses Learn to Lead at an Early Age. (n.d.). Available: http://www.i-l-m.com/research-and-comment/1449.aspx. Last accessed January, 2010.

Buchanan, D., & Huczynski, A. (2004). Organizational Behaviour: An Introductory Text, 5th Edition, London: FT Prentice Hall.

Donaldson, D., (n.d.) Can Leadership Training Make Great Leaders?. Available: http://www.articlesnatch.com/Article/Can-Leadership-Training-Make-Great-Leaders-/509240. Last accessed January, 2010.

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Hurst, R. (September 10th, 2007). Is a leader born or made?. Available: http://leadershiptrainingdevelopment.com/is-a-leader-born-or-made. Last accessed January, 2010.

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MacDoanld, D. (December 8th, 2009), Why is it so hard for companies to find great leaders?. Available: http://learnthis.ca/2009/12/the-problem-with-leadership/. Last accessed January, 2010.

Mintzberg, H. (1998). ‘Covert Leadership: Notes on Managing Professionals’, Harvard Business Review, Vol. 76, No. 6, pp. 140-147.

Tannenbaum, R. and Schmidt, W. (1973). ‘How to Choose a Leadership Pattern’, Harvard Business Review , 51(3), 162-180.


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