There are vast of approaches to leadership that organizations and any context requiring leadership apply. Often, good leadership practice involves integrating the different approaches, and for this reason, scholars have come up with more than eight leadership approaches or theories that a leader can apply. Some of the notable leadership theories are; trait, behavior, situational, relational, visionary, transformational, spiritual, and servant theories. The essay aims to describe the approaches and analyze an organization that has had a problem in its leadership role. By applying the ideas, the leadership problem will be solved, and lastly, a reflection of biblical or spiritual principles as they relate to the theories will be discussed.
Keywords: leadership theories/approaches, followers,
The trait leadership approach or theory, also called the “great man” theory, focuses on the innate characteristics that great leaders possess. According to Northouse (2018), leadership is a trait, and every individual has an inherited quality that distinguishes them from one another. The theory posits that each leader has unique characteristics that they bring to the table and influence how they lead. The distinctive trait depicts a unique gift that a leader possesses. For instance, some leaders are very decisive; others are social, hostile, and confident. One of the traits that have gained favor in leadership practice is emotional intelligence. The attribute started gaining acceptance in the 1990s, as Northouse notes, and has been associated with wise leading. Therefore, the trait theory has it that each leader has a unique trait that influences how they lead. It is, therefore, vital for leaders to note the innate leadership traits they possess.
The second theory is the behavioral approach. It emerged around the 1930s when leadership research started focusing on a leader’s behavior, mainly, what leaders do and how they act. Northouse says that leadership is a behavior, and it counts through what a leader does and how they do it. Contrary to traits, behaviors are observable, and thus, when a leader leads, their leadership behaviors can be seen. There are two kinds of actions that leaders primarily engage in. The first type is task behaviors, in which a leader does something that will prompt a job done—for instance, Preparing for a meeting for a discussion. The other type of behavior is process behaviors. Leaders use process behaviors to create comfort among their followers or teams. Also, they use the actions to reduce tension by making the teams feel at ease in any situation. Additionally, leaders’ behaviors can be acquired through learned skills, and they need technical, human, and conceptual skills for effective leadership.
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Thirdly, the situational theory of leadership posits that different situations demand different kinds of leaders. In other words, context influences the type of a leader. According to the theory, no leadership approach is superior because leadership depends on the situation at hand. Leaders are expected to adjust their mode of leading depending on the situation, such as the kind of followers they are teaching, the task, and many other factors. Hersey & Blanchard classified this theory into two key constituents; the leader’s leadership style and followers’ maturity level (CFI, 2015). The maturity level is also divided into four levels. The first level is members with neither the motivation nor tactical skills to do a job. The second level is members with the ambition to do something, but they lack skills and ability. The third level is team members with the skills to perform but is not holding themselves accountable. Lastly, level four are the members who have the skills and talents and are motivated to complete a task. Therefore, situational theory calls for leaders to discern the leadership style to apply according to the level of followers they lead.
Relational leadership theory examines the relationship between leaders and followers. It is more concerned about the leader-member exchange and posits that high-quality relations are likely to produce more significant and positive results than low-quality connections. Northouse explains that leadership can also be viewed as a relationship between the leader and the followers. He suggests that leadership is the communication between a leader and the follower. Rost (1991) adds that it is a process of collaboration between leaders and their followers. In this theory, the followers are affected by the leader, and likewise, a leader is affected by the followers. Therefore, leadership is a two-way process that should be interactive. Thus, leaders should be innovative and come up with ways of communicating with their followers for effective collaboration. The relationship between the two parties matters and affects whether projects are done successfully or not. Furthermore, when leadership is defined relatively, it becomes that everyone is a leader, no matter whether they are followers or designated leaders. Hence, the relationship should depict high-quality leadership.
Visionary leadership is a new leadership approach that has emerged. Visionary leadership centers on a leader motivating and inspiring followers to pursue the group’s long-term vision (Choi, 2006). Every group with a leader often has a picture that they wish to achieve; the leader’s purpose is to help the team reach the vision by motivating them. Visionary leaders who are inspired by the group they lead can become and possess several other qualities (Status.net, n.d.). Firstly, visionary leaders are favorable towards innovations. They are comfortable with failure and usher in new projects that can see the group performing better. Secondly, they are strategic thinkers. They must have a plan of what the group will be and think of strategies to achieve the goal. Other attributes a visionary leader should have include; intelligence and a risk-taker, experts in organizing, effective communicators, focused, and enthusiasm.
Transformational is another new leadership theory that has emerged. The approach is similar to servant leadership theory, although each of the two has a different focus. Northouse describes this theory as a leadership approach that changes people and organizations. This theory suggests that a leader focuses on the group’s needs rather than their own needs. The focus is to transform the organization through a commitment to the organizational objectives. One vital aspect of this approach is that a leader tries to change a group’s culture to develop a new one that can drive improvement and performance. There are characteristics that this theory has o leaders. Firstly, a transformational leader should be charismatic and have idealized influence. It means a leader must possess leadership behaviors to act as a role model to the rest team members. Secondly, should inspire and motivate members for development. Lastly, it should stimulate team members to put the organizations and others’ needs before their own or be empathetic to drive transformation.
Lastly, there is spiritual leadership theory, which is also a contemporary theory. This theory asserts that leadership motivates and inspires others through faith, love, and hope to produce a committed, motivated and productive workforce (International Institute of Spiritual Leadership, 2020). According to the theory, leadership is a calling. Every leader can make a difference; the ultimate of spiritual leadership is to lead people who know God and glorify him in all they do. There are two primary essentials of spiritual leadership theory. Firstly, the group’s vision should be framed in such a way that leaders experience a sense of calling towards working on the vision. Secondly, establishing a love culture in a group or organization. The approach assumes that God calls a leader to accomplish His objectives.
Leadership Role and the Organization
When businesses fail, it is mainly due to poor leadership. Whether an organization has issues or not speaks volumes of the leadership approaches being used. According to an article, Peterson (2015) explains some problems that USA Walmart CEO, Greg Foran, identified at the organization. Some of the issues identified were; lack of cleanliness and tidiness at the store and stores not restocking shelves fast enough. Thirdly, the stores’ arrangement and designs confusing customers while shopping. Fourthly, a problem with digital services where customers cannot order online and pick products offline. Lastly, low-quality customer service and high prices conflicting with those of competitors. The problems were evident in nearly all Walmart’s stores in the US, meaning the problem is not about the individual stores. Depending on the issues identified, it is evident that the company had a leadership problem, and mainly, the senior leadership.
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If I were to serve as a Walmart leader, I would serve the CEO leadership role because the problems are distributed nearly in all stores, meaning the top management issue arises. A CEO is a leader who ought to show exemplary leadership skills because the entire organization’s success depends on them. According to Northouse, besides choosing the best leadership approach, other factors come into play. The elements centers on the various leadership theories discussed. One approach may not be practical, and because an organization constitutes different kinds of people, it is vital to employ several approaches. All the approaches work together to come up with a developing group or organization.
In Walmart’s case, I would solve the issues by integrating several leadership theories particularly, behavioral, situational, relational, visionary, and transformational. All the approaches have an aspect that makes leadership effective, and therefore, integrating them produces high-quality leadership. The behavioral theory would help identify the best way to lead and what I should do as a leader. A situational approach would help lead according to the situation of a given store. For instance, all stores should not be handled the same way because they are located in different places. A store that is located in Oklahoma has other customers from the one found in New York. Hence, while making decisions for the two stores, I must consider their contexts. Probably the issue of restocking the stores will depend on the situation of a particular store. Hence, I can solve that problem by applying situational theory. Integrating the approaches will lead to; attending to tasks at the right time, good customer service by encouraging followers to put customers’ needs before their own. Lack of cleanliness in the stores will be solved through leading by example, establishing a good relationship with workers, and inspiring and motivating them.
Biblical/Spiritual Principles Related to Leadership
Leadership and spiritual principles have been identified relative to each other. Values such as love, integrity, humility, and honesty that have been long considered spiritual have also been linked to successful leadership. Practices such as respecting others, fair treatment, expressing concern over others, listening to others, and recognizing other people’s contributions are biblical as well as practices of exemplary leadership (Reave, 2005). All the leadership theories discussed are connected to biblical values. Firstly, Mathew 20:26 says that leaders are servants first (Michael, 2019). Like in the transformational approach, the bible urges leaders to serve people and put others’ needs before their own. Secondly, Philippians 2:3 says that leaders see strength in their followers. This is the same as visionary leadership that sees potential in followers and inspires them to unlock it.
Also, proverbs 29:11 says leaders are tactful, meaning they should engage in healthy relationships with their followers, just like in relational leadership theory. Proverbs 11:14 also asserts that influential leaders are always willing to take advice. In relational theory, both leaders and followers are expected to share knowledge because of their collaboration, which connects with leaders listening to followers’ advice. Philippians 2:3 also urges leaders to uplift others, which is in relation to transformational leadership. Nearly all the leadership theories are in one or another connected to biblical teachings. In the book of Luke, leaders are urged to emulate Jesus’s teachings on leadership. Spiritual leadership theory also asserts that leadership is God-given, and leaders should lead with love.
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