Week eight was one of the most interesting weeks I’ve done so far. In this week, I looked at the concept of leadership, what makes a leader, and what skills are required in order to be a leader.
The idea of leadership is a very difficult one to define, and there is some crossover between being an effective manager and being an effective leader, but I think I understand the difference.
I looked at several theories of leadership, including trait theories (which assume that leaders are born, not made), style theories (which try to identify the most effective way for leaders to behave towards the people they lead), and contingency theories (also known as ‘fit’ theories, which propose that what constitutes effective leadership depends on the context of the situation).
An interesting idea that I covered was what Seth Godin calls ‘leading from the bottom’. This of course is not how the OU describe it – they simply point out that it is possible to be a leader without having formal authority. It’s an idea I’m already familiar with, but it’s nice to discover it has academic recognition, too.
I also looked at how to develop leadership skills, assuming that leadership involves skills and capabilities which can be learned and improved (which I believe they can). One way of approaching this is to consider the core leadership functions, including developing a sense of direction in the group, defining the tasks necessary to achieve the group’s goals and making sure they are carried out effectively, and maintaining the morale, cohesion and commitment of the group.
Yukl (2004) has a similar approach which breaks leadership activities down into three different behaviours, including task behaviour, relations behaviour, and change behaviour.
The core leadership skills and behaviours are:
- Be a role model
- Do as you say
- Communicate openly and honestly
- Keep a sense of proportion
- Set and manage expectations
- Admit to mistakes
- Be an ambassador
I really enjoyed the last activitie for week seven, which involved looking at a problem which was caused by my own lack of leadership skills, and how to resolve it by developing an action plan to improve those skills. Very useful, and definitely a roadmap for my management career for the next eighteen months to two years!