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Chapter 2, “Leadership: concepts and theories” discusses different styles and approaches in leader’s behavior and work coordination. The authors state that as for leadership development, today’s world includes much of the old and new ideas—and some that are new and truly exciting. Classrooms, business schools, and traveling gurus are still much in evidence. In recreation, parks, and leisure services leadership competencies are changed versions of dimensions and knowledge, skills, and abilities. In contrast, action learning combines the old and new by using a training setting to solve business problems, in essence moving experience into a systematic learning environment. Some current practices are altogether new—for example, using executive coaches, delivering training through interactive media, and including “world tours” (trips for participants to different countries) in development programs.
Leadership development today is expected to produce specific business results, an expectation that has both good and bad attributes. On the one hand, investments in and visibility of leadership development activities have dramatically increased; on the other, expectations may be too high—development alone cannot hope to solve the competitive challenges of the global marketplace. The authors explain that the content of current leadership development can be broken down into three broad areas: developing desired attributes in the leaders themselves, frequently called competencies; developing the individual’s capacity to solve business problems; and transmitting the organization’s strategy or values. The content of leadership development is most often shaped by a list of desired competencies. Competencies or a competency model are also the targets of the leadership development efforts in many organizations. These targets of development have changed enormously over twenty years. What was seen as a single dimension of management (only sometimes called leadership and sometimes not present at all) has evolved into multiple competencies. Advocates of competency models welcome the widespread use of explicit behavioral definitions of organizational leadership. The models have not, however, escaped criticisms such as these, which the authors have heard on several occasions: A more direct approach to relating development to business results is to base the content of development directly on a corporation’s strategic directions or its pressing problems. For example, if a company’s strategic thrust requires partnerships and joint ventures, the content of leadership development becomes performing effectively in creating and leading such organizational arrangements (Edginton et al 65).
My personal approach to leadership can be explained in following terms. Development content might be determined by identifying problems or opportunities, such as anticipating the needs of future customers in as-yet undeveloped international markets, and assigning them to trainees. In practice, the content of a business-focused approach to development varies widely, depending on the business needs of the organization. For example, one company’s strategy called for restructuring to give more autonomy to its business units. Consequently it created a leadership development program that began with a presentation on how a strategic business plan should look, followed by coaching business unit leadership teams in developing their own business plans. Presumably the participants both learned a new discipline for crafting strategic plans and created viable plans. Another organization needed its technical professionals to assume responsibility for leading a significant organizational transformation, including relationships with unions, customers, and nonprofessional employees. They created a development program to expose these new leaders, who until then had operated in narrow silos, to these critical constituencies, including presentations by satisfied and dissatisfied customers and by union presidents whose members were threatening to strike. Development content may be determined by individual needs rather than by organizational issues: a manager who has difficulty giving candid feedback may be assigned a project to develop and give detailed behavioral feedback to a problem subordinate; a manager having trouble managing upward might be assigned to develop a presentation for a senior executive. Such programs are usually conducted on-line, over time, and under the guidance of a coach, perhaps with a group of peers. In recreation, parks, and leisure services, business-centered thinking about the content of development opens up almost limitless possibilities. Still, it is not without limitations. In our experience, the projects chosen for development over time may become less significant; assigning important problems for development purposes may take responsibility away from the decision makers who should be solving them; putting business issues into the development setting may diminish their apparent importance; potential outcomes of the programs can be oversold; some business issues are not amenable to resolution in a program setting; and the approach can subject to a fault, with little logic to guide an individual’s cumulative development (Edginton et al 80).
The analysis shows that there is no one best leadership style as each style meets unique needs and environmental changes. In recreation, parks, and leisure services, the leader’s role in defining strategy, mission, and values has become explicit—shared purposes or values appear in both of our example lists of leadership competencies. And so has the recognition that corporate culture is a key element in organizational performance. The emphasis on leadership in contrast to management also brought into focus the personal side of leadership. Another approach to business-centered action learning focuses on individuals rather than on organizational issues.
The main factors that influence adaptations of leadership style are workforce environment, personal traits and business needs. The strengths of this approach include that the problems are relevant to the individual and that one-on-one coaching and feedback are provided. Its limitations spring from the same source: individuals may not choose the most important areas to work on, there may be little accountability for results, and even if individuals change, the unchanged context to which they return may not support that change over time. The more traditional form of action learning—based on contrived team challenges rather than on specific business problems— has evolved substantially over the last twenty years. These “outdoor” programs (which may not be specifically out of doors) use various kinds of mental and physical challenges as a vehicle for managers to focus on team process and personal development goals in a safe environment, theoretically allowing them to experiment, make mistakes, and receive honest feedback without risking their careers (Edginton et al 72).
In sum, after putting people in challenging assignments, organizations often step back to “see how they do” assuming that learning will occur on its own. It is rare to find organizations that enhance such seat-of-the-pants learning by coordinating on-the-job experience with systematic use of developmental feedback, coaching, specific development goals, and rewards for development. With the premium solely on performance, the incumbent of even a potentially developmental job may get results without changing or acquiring significant new leadership skills. Despite all of these problems, systematic use of on-the-job experience still holds the most promise as an approach to developing leadership talent. When combined with supportive goal setting, feedback, reward, and training practices, experience can be the most valuable teacher in the arsenal.
Edginton, Christopher. R., Hudson, Susan, D., Scholl, Kathleen. G. Leadership for recreation, parks, and leisure services. Third edition Sagamore Publishing, LLC, 2005.