Available literature demonstrates that leadership has been observed in nearly all civilizations of the world, from prehistoric era to contemporary times. As a matter of fact, a number of researchers and psychology theorists progress the notion that leadership is one of the most observed and practiced phenomena on earth since it happens even in the absence of proper structures and frameworks for sustenance.
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Social psychological research, according to Vugt (2006), demonstrates that a leader-follower relationship develops spontaneously even when groups are formed without leaders. This has led various leaders to project a widely held perception that leadership is intrinsically a universal human behavior. This paper purposes to critically analyze the art of leadership with a view to understand how leaders are able to achieve allegiance among followers even when force or threat of force is not used to effect allegiance.
Leadership has been defined and described in numerous ways in the existing psychological literature. Broadly, however, leadership can be defined as a process of influence that is largely aimed at fulfilling or attaining mutual goals (Vugt, 2006; Frey et al., 2009).
The concept is often regarded as the result of a social process in which interacting individuals or groups of individuals synchronize their actions towards the attainment of shared objectives. In this respect, good leaders must always first examine the needs and expectations of followers and put them at heart by developing mechanisms through which such needs can be achieved voluntarily (Dollarhide & Gibson, 2008).
A wealth of psychological literature have concentrated on not only the personality correlates of leadership, called the trait approach to leadership, but also on the leader’s functions and styles in the light of task demands and the expectations of followers, called the situational approach to leadership (Vugt, 2006). In the trait approach, traits such as power, ambition, focus, intelligent, forward-looking, competent, inspiring, and extraversion are used by leaders to achieve allegiance from followers towards supporting a common objective.
Coerciveness, compulsiveness, and irrational traits have also been used by such leaders as Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, and the disgraced Mobutu Sese Seko, but they have proved to be largely ineffectual and unpopular among followers (Maxwell, 1998). In the situational approach, good leaders are known to work hard to enhance the capacity of followers to meet the needs and expectations of a given situation, while unpopular leaders may not bear such an interest at heart.
Leadership is at times perceived and described in terms of a quantitative trait, that is, everyone has the capacity to lead to some degree, but there exist comprehensible divergences in the propensity to lead (Vugt, 2006). This perspective projects the view that leadership is first and foremost a function of the situation, and every individual can be a leader in the right conditions.
While this may be true, the perspective falls back to the trait and situational perspectives, discussed earlier, since a leader must have some distinguishable traits, not mentioning the fact that he or she cannot lead in a vacuum – there must be an existing condition or situation that obliges the services of a leader (Dollarhide & Gibson, 2008).
Leaders such as President Barrack Obama and Martin Luther King have been known for their oratory prowess. Using the social coordination theory, it can be demonstrated how the two leaders have used their oratory prowess to rally followers towards achieving their needs and expectations through initiating group action while concurrently maintaining group cohesion (Vugt, 2006; Frey et al., 2009).
As such, it can be argued that they utilize the social coordination theory to achieve good outcomes, and have been able to draw a large following due to their intelligence, ambition, competence, and their forward-looking nature, not because of coercive or self-assertive nature.
On the other hand, leaders such as Hitler and Saddam Hussein preferred to utilize the bossy and controlling byproduct dominance theory, and failed in their attempts to lead and unify their followers though they may have been popular in some quarters (Maxwell, 1998).
All in all, the fact that leadership depends on both trait and situational perspectives have been well demonstrated in this paper. The paper has also highlighted the distinct advantages involved in leading people for social coordination as opposed to leading for domination and control.
Still, it has been revealed that although leaders may have some innate characteristics of leadership (Scharf & Mayseless, 2009), how they endear themselves to the followers through the development of certain attributes of leadership is of critical importance in determining their effectiveness as leaders.
Dollarhide, C.T., & Gibson, D.M. (2008). Individual psychology in school counselor leadership: Implications for practice. Journal of Individual Psychology, 64(4), 468-479. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier Database
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Frey, M., Kern, R.M., Snow, J., & Curlette, W.L. (2009). Lifestyle and transformational leadership style. Journal of Individual Psychology, 25(3), 212-240. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier Database
Maxwell, J.C. (1998). The 21 irrefutable laws of leadership: Follow them and people will follow you. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc
Scharf, M., & Mayseless, O. (2009). Socio-emotional characteristics of elementary school children identified as exhibiting social leadership qualities. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 70(1), 73-96. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier
Vugt, M. (2006). Evolutionary origins of leadership and followership. Personality & Social Psychology Review, 10(4), 354-371. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier Database