Leadership Styles and Personality Traits: The Nexus for Good Leadership
Leaders come from every walk of life. Good leaders think of the wellbeing of their teams by putting of the team members over themselves. Good leaders help their teams to perform exemplarily through motivation and ensuring there is job satisfaction among the employees. However, not everyone has excellent leadership tendencies. Some individuals possess poor leadership qualities, while others may be ineffective in managing their leadership qualities to portray exemplary leadership. Businesses whose management has poor leadership qualities experience a decrease in employee satisfaction, loss of morale, and an increase in workforce turnover rates among others. Some individuals perform poorly as leaders not because they lack its traits, but because they do not put in effort in practicing leadership. Undoubtedly, personal and leadership traits alone do not make a good leader. On the contrary, worthy leaders are situational and dynamic enough to adapt their leadership styles to the characteristics of the followers and the situations at hand.
Leaders are in place to guide, maintain, implement, and develop individuals within a company. They create their trademark by setting themselves apart from other leaders by how they perform roles. Furthermore, they can make themselves or break themselves by their actions within a company. The concept of leadership styles explains how leaders can use different approaches to ensure effective following. Fiaz, Su, Amir& Saqib (2017) claim that the type of leadership style that a leader applies determines the interpersonal, incentive, and punishment approaches, which shape employee behavior, motivation, and attitude towards an organization. Using variations in leadership styles as the premise for explaining the differences in employee behaviors and subsequently organizational performance, Fiaz et al. (2017) describe the different approaches to leadership. These include autocratic, democratic and laissez faire leadership styles.
The autocratic leadership style is based on a task oriented approach to performance evaluation. The approach is commonly used in the military settings and government institutions. For instance, Adolf Hitler led through an autocratic leadership style. Organizational achievements are described through the degree and efficiency of task completion without emphasis on the people tasked with completing the task. Such a leadership style is most suited for a context within which operations are routinely planned.
The democratic leadership style is whereby individuals are free to participate in the organizational setting. The style is applicable in all organizations. Democratic leadership fosters employee engagement and ensures that their morale remains high (Fisher, weir & Phillips, 2014). Furthermore, it enables the recognition and reward of creativity among employees and other stake holders. Democratic leadership also runs parallel to the contemporary perception of organizations where the freedom of speech is practiced extensively.
The Laissez faire leadership style is a free reign leadership approach in which a leader is minimally involved in the workings of a work group. This type of leadership is effective where the followers are highly skilled and effective in their roles. In such an environment, the style can result in an outstanding organizational performance. The highly skilled work environment favors the implementation of laissez faire leadership in many companies across the world.
Indeed, each of the leadership styles has strengths. However, the efficiencies of these leadership styles do not make the difference between good and poor leaders. While one leadership style may be effective in one situation, it may not be an indicator of the good leadership of an individual. Autocratic leadership, for instance, may work well due to the presence of clear communication structures and routines, yet deviations from the norm would result in leadership failure. Therefore a leader in the autocratic environment, such as the military, must be flexible enough to adjust to the situational challenges. Additionally, a style that is suitable in one instance may not be suitable in the next one if situation change. The autocratic leadership style usually faces efficiency challenges where there is a skilled and efficient team that may desire to be innovative, such as in a product development work environment. In such a case, the autocratic leaders may place greater importance on performance of tasks without concern for the input of the workforce and subsequently hinder their creativity and innovation. Once the employees’ morale is deflated, their performance automatically reduces, resulting in the consideration of an autocrat as a poor leader. In like scenario, an autocratic leader who may otherwise be considered perfect in ensuring people follow their instructions can be considered a poor leader in other circumstances. The autocratic leader may also be perceived in other circumstances as self-oriented and focused on owning the excellence of their employees (Fisher et al., 2014).
The democratic leadership style may be suitable across a range of contexts yet fail due to the inability of a leader to adjust to the work place situations. Unlike the autocratic leadership style, the democratic one encourages motivation and creativity among employees. At the same time, it gives the followers the freedom to give their inputs in organizational decision making processes, and makes it part of their work environment. The challenge comes in cases whereby there is strong need for fast decision-making and delays arise as a result of the leader’s lack of adept decision-making skills or reverence for democracy. Prolonged decision making durations can result in a business’ failure to create an impact in the market, loss of competitive advantage and failure of projects. When any of these happens, the leader is held liable and considered to have failed in his or her role. Even when a leader uses a style that has been proven versatile, he/ she can still be considered a poor leader due to organizational failure. The poor performance is linked directly to the leader’s inability to adapt to the situations at hand. Laissez faire leadership also encourages employees to explore by affirming the leader’s trust on them as in the case of the democratic leadership style (Fiaz et al., 2017). However, the style can result in the consideration of a leader as being detached from a process. In some cases, it may be effective in developing decision making skills among employees yet in others, it could be the basis of a leader’s lack of organizational awareness, vision, and direction. An example is a big organization with several employees, each qualified in their roles and with several leaders. Its employees may be more likely to seek assistance from leader who engages with them than those who practices laissez faire leadership because they perceive the latter to be distant from the organizational goals and objectives. In such a scenario, the laissez faire leader is regarded as a poorer leader compared to the one who engages with the employees. The best leaders in such a context would be the one who implements democratic, autocratic and laissez faire leadership in equal measure depending on the demands of the situation at hand.
Although people want leaders who give them definite instructions and are reliable in adhering to routines, they do not want a dictator who has no consideration or does not assess situations before giving orders (Fisher et al., 2014). They want leaders who give them autonomy over their jobs since usually individuals do not like to feel like they are caged when they work. The scrutiny that comes from the autocratic form of leadership is ridiculous. Autocratic leadership has a ready formed conclusion, considering their subordinates as unfit to execute the roles associated with their jobs hence the need to constantly micromanage them (Fiaz et al., 2013). People tend to dislike micromanagement thus consider the leaders who micromanage them to be ineffective. According to a study conducted by Schoel, Bluemke, Mueller & Stahlberg (2011), some workers begin to revile the abusive nature of the autocratic leaders as time goes by thus begin to reduce their performance as a retaliation measure against the leadership strategy. They desire a leader who gives them the opportunity to be creative and innovative without losing out to competitors and subsequently causing the organization to lose market shares due to delayed decision-making. Additionally, they want individuals who trust them enough to allow them do their jobs without interference yet engage with the organization and the employees directly. All these require flexibility not only in personality but also in the leadership style to be implemented. As such, the notion that a leadership style can make one a good leader is false. Undoubtedly, one form of leadership style cannot be expected to produce beneficial result to a group of minorities.
The Trait Theory as the Basis of Good Leadership
Understanding the trait theory of leadership can help in exploring the extent to which personal traits function as indicators of effective leadership. The approach defines people as either born leaders or not based on their personality traits. According to the theory, individuals that possess certain personality traits are automatically considered as good leaders whereas those who do not possess the attributed to excellent leadership are regarded otherwise. Leaders set the tone for a workplace. The teams value them because of what they bring to the table in terms of organizational development. Their personal abilities should be able to cause the employees to thrive in the workplace. According to Northouse (2012), leaders should be neither abrasive nor overbearing. On the contrary, they should be affirmative yet charismatic, visionary and courageous, intelligent, persistent, and have a high level of self-confidence. Each of these characteristics is intrinsic, and suitable in ensuring effective leadership.
Some individuals are born to thrive in whatever they do. Some people possess work ethics naturally thus decent work performance comes naturally whether they are highly ranked or poor leaders. Employees with strong ambition, drive, and will in the performance of their roles are able to work effectively under a leader with a strong sense of confidence, vision, and self-leadership. Poor leaders would find it challenging to supervise strong willed followers. Similarly, good leaders may find it frustrating to supervise weak or underperforming workers. Therefore, the leader has to adjust his/ her style to match the organizational needs. In some cases, employees may be recruited to an organization when they do not have sufficient skills for their tasks if they have a strong resolve and the passion for what they intend to do in the organization.
In such circumstances, a strong leader who utilizes an autocratic style can take charge of the individuals and assembly and teach them the ins and outs of the company, assigning tasks for them to complete, while holding them accountable until they are able to navigate on their own. With such training and clarity everyone in the organization is likely to feel that their contribution within the company will be beneficial.
The trait theory of leadership is suitable for the exploring the consistent patterns in leadership practice. The perception is that certain traits in a leader result in certain behavior patterns. This thus means that the behaviors of leaders can be predicted based on their personality traits. These behaviors are also expected to be consistent across different situations of leadership. This can be challenging to understand in the context of a dynamic work environment with multiple leadership challenges and situations, where flexibility is required for effective performance.
While it has been established that certain traits are required of good leaders, the efficiency of the trait theory is only limited to a leader. Essentially, those traits enable the leaders to work effectively with their followers. However, it is also clear that the theory is leader-centric and does not look to the larger organizational setting. An organization is comprised of multiple facets and stakeholders. The leader may have the requisite traits but his or her capacity to perform effectively may be founded on their interactions with the different attributes of the organizational space, including the people, resources, and the circumstances surrounding their work. The perception that the mentioned personality traits are what constitute a good leader are, therefore, misguided in the sense that leaders need to support the growth of others and modify their actions and decision making processes subject to the circumstances at hand. The personality trait eliminates the essence of flexibility, which is a core function of leadership efficiency. An example of the limitation of the trait theory as a premise of good leadership is whereby a leader innately possesses all the requisite traits yet is unable to fine tune them to specific situations in his leadership role.
The principle of consistency in leadership behavior following the trait theory can also be questioned on the basis of relevance. The major concern is not whether the leaders act consistently but whether their perceived consistent behaviors are effective for diverse situations. Would the same behaviors that yield positive outcomes in a stressful situation yield the same outcomes in a work environment characterized by complacent practices? Finding a satisfactory answer to this question can help to understand that leaders should be all rounded and capable of efficiency in all circumstances. This can only be achieved through behavioral variety and not consistency.
Northouse (2013) also suggested that the trait theory is an unusual premise for leadership training since most of the traits are innate, which implies that leadership cannot be trained and that one is either born a good leader or not. In the light of the realist business environment, this argument can only be fallacious. The proof that the personality traits theory does not hold water as an indication of good leadership is in the character of Steve Jobs. After his first stint at Apple Inc, Steve Jobs left to another company without being recognized as one of the best leaders at Apple. However, the company later took him in again as the CEO and he performed exemplarily and took the company to heights no other CEO had managed to before. Job’s story is an indication that at some point he learnt and adopted certain leadership skills that he had not been born with. His story goes contrary to the expectations of the personality traits theory and is thus a confirmation that effective leadership is drawn from flexibility both in practice and in the choice of leadership style.
Conclusion and Recommendations
Leaders should choose their leadership style by the characteristics of their followers and group or organizational environment. They should not settle on one form of leadership as their style as choosing one form makes them seem like poor leaders when situational factors change the leadership environment. Instead, they should study the context within which they can apply their leadership styles and select the best approach for leadership in that context. When leaders adhere to their leadership styles without regard to their followers or group environment, resentment or failure may occur (Fisher et al., 2014). That is, one could have a good leadership style yet without concern for the situation under which to apply his or her leadership style, he or she may have a poor leadership practice. So, it is possible that leaders who are presented as poor leaders are good but portray an image of poor leadership due to lack of flexibility in their style. Schoel et al. (2011) states that all have a default leadership style, but one must learn the other methods to be most useful as a manager. Leaders have to know whether their style is appropriate for a particular situation or not and choose the right approach to leadership. To figure out which authority style fits a given circumstance, a leader should first consider what his/ her group requirements are for the task that needs to be performed.
To improve performance in leadership and the organizational context, leaders should be aware of the qualities of the group and the personality traits of the leader with whom they are working. Therefore, being aware of both one’s style as a pioneer and those of one’s employees can be essential in keeping one’s association in decent shape. Although focusing on a form of leadership style can be beneficial to a group of people, it is highly likely to choose the right method and personality but the wrong approach or lack of flexibility. All styles of leadership have strengths and limitations, and good leaders are flexible enough to leverage the strengths of different leadership styles in distinct contexts (Northouse, 2012). Effective leadership requires an understanding of the nature and changes in the organizational environment, the people within the environment and the circumstances surrounding decision making at the time in consideration. The trait theory states the innate personality traits of leaders without emphasizing the roles of the personality traits on leadership performance factors such as productivity and employee satisfaction. Therefore, even when a leader has all the traits associated with leadership, he or she must combine the traits with the best leadership approach at all times to be considered an effective leader based his or her their impacts on leadership outcomes. Doing so requires flexibility and situational analysis since the relevance of leadership styles to a given context depends on the characteristics of a situation and not the style or personality traits of a leader.
Fiaz, M., Su, Q., Amir, I. & Saqib, A. (2017). Leadership styles and employees motivation: Perspectives from an emerging economy. The Journal of Developing Areas 51(4), 143-156. Retrieved from muse.jhu.edu/article/662834/pdf
Fisher, A., Weir, D. & Phillips, J. (2014). Beyond transactional and transformational leadership into the double helix: A case study of blended leadership in police work. Review of Enterprise and Management Studies, 1(2), 16- 28. Retrieved from www.uos.ac.uk/sites/default/files/basic_file/Beyond-Transactional-and-transformational-leadership-into-the-Double-Helix.pdf
Northouse, P.G. (2012). Leadership: Theory and practice. Sage Publications. Print.
Schoel, C., Bluemke, M., Mueller, P. & Stahlberg, P. (2011). When autocratic leaders become an option-uncertainty and self-esteem predict implicit leadership preferences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101(3), 521- 540. Retrieved from www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21534703