Leadership Characteristics that Facilitate School Change
History of Leadership Research
Page ContentsTraits Model of Leadership: Leaders versus Followers
Situational Leadership: Impact of the Setting on Leaders
Effective Leaders: Two Dimensions
Contingency Models: More than the Situation
Nonleader Leadership: Many Leaders
Current Leadership Research
Leaders vs. Managers
Valuing Human Resources
Researchers have examined leadership skills from a variety of perspectives. Early analyses of leadership, from the 1900s to the 1950s, differentiated between leader and follower characteristics. Finding that no single trait or combination of traits fully explained leaders' abilities, researchers then began to examine the influence of the situation on leaders' skills and behaviors. Subsequent leadership studies attempted to distinguish effective from non-effective leaders. These studies attempted to determine which leadership behaviors were exemplified by effective leaders. To understand what contributed to making leaders effective, researchers used the contingency model in examining the connection between personal traits, situational variables, and leader effectiveness. Leadership studies of the 1970s and 1980s once again focused on the individual characteristics of leaders which influence their effectiveness and the success of their organizations. The investigations led to the conclusion that leaders and leadership are crucial but complex components of organizations.
Initial investigations of leadership considered leaders as individuals endowed with certain personality traits which constituted their abilities to lead. The studies investigated individual traits such as intelligence, birth order, socioeconomic status, and child-rearing practices (Bass, 1960; Bird, 1940; Stogdill, 1948, 1974). Stogdill (1974) identified six categories of personal factors associated with leadership: capacity, achievement, responsibility, participation, status, and situation but concluded that such a narrow characterization of leadership traits was insufficient: "A person does not become a leader by virtue of the possession of some combination of traits" (Stogdill, 1948, p. 64). The attempts to isolate specific individual traits led to the conclusion that no single characteristic can distinguish leaders from non-leaders.
These "trait" investigations were followed by examinations of the "situation" as the determinant of leadership abilities, leading to the concept of situational leadership. Studies attempted to identify "distinctive characteristics of the setting to which the leader's success could be attributed" (Hoy & Miskel, 1987, p. 273). Hencley (1973) reviewed leadership theories and noted that "the situation approach maintains that leadership is determined not so much by the characters of the individuals as by the requirements of social situation" (p. 38). According to this research focus, a person could be a follower or a leader depending upon circumstances. Attempts were made to identify specific characteristics of a situation that affected leaders' performance. Hoy and Miskel (1987) listed four areas of situational leadership: "structural properties of the organization, organizational climate, role characteristics, and subordinate characteristics" (p. 273). Situational leadership revealed the complexity of leadership but still proved to be insufficient because the theories could not predict which leadership skills would be more effective in certain situations.
Other attempts to examine leadership have yielded information about the types of behaviors leaders exhibited in order to determine what makes effective leaders effective. These behaviors have been categorized along two common dimensions: initiating structures (concern for organizational tasks) and consideration (concern for individuals and interpersonal relations). Initiating structures include activities such as planning, organizing, and defining the tasks and work of people: how work gets done in an organization. Consideration addresses the social, emotional needs of individuals -- their recognition, work satisfaction and self-esteem influencing their performance. Other researchers conceptualized these two dimensions as effectiveness and efficiency (Barnard, 1938), goal achievement and group maintenance (Cartwright & Zander, 1960), instrumental and expressive needs (Etzioni, 1961), and system- or person-oriented behaviors (Stogdill, 1963). Speculation about which dimension, initiating structures or consideration, was more important for various situations led to the assessment of leaders' skills along these two dimensions. Among the assessment instruments developed to measure leadership skills, the Leader Behavior Description Questionnaire (LBDQ) has been the most used. Halpin (1966) stated that one of the major findings resulting from the LBDQ data was that "effective leadership behavior tends most often to be associated with high performance on both dimensions" (p. 97). In summary, the situation approach to leadership supported the contention that effective leaders are able to address both the tasks and human aspects of their organizations.
Other research efforts to identify leadership characteristics focused on the fit between personality characteristics, leaders' behaviors, and situational variables. The "situational leadership" approach contains an underlying assumption that different situations require different types of leadership, while the contingency approach attempts to "specify the conditions or situational variable that moderate the relationship between leader traits or behaviors and performance criteria" (Hoy & Miskel, 1987, p. 274). Fiedler (1967), differentiating between leadership styles and behaviors, concluded that leadership styles indicate leaders' motivational system and that leadership behaviors are leaders' specific actions. He believed that group effectiveness was a result of the leaders' style and the situation's favorableness. House's (1971) Path-Goal Theory included the interaction of leadership behaviors with situation characteristics in determining the leaders' effectiveness. House identified four leadership behaviors: directive, achievement-oriented, supportive, and participative, and two situational variables (subordinates' personal characteristics and environmental demands such as the organization's rules and procedures) that most strongly contributed to leaders' effectiveness. The contingency models furthered the understanding of leadership but did not completely clarify what combination of personality characteristics, leaders' behaviors, and situational variables are most effective.
Similar to the contingency explanation of leadership is the notion of organizational leadership. Barnes and Kriger (1986) suggest that previous theories of leadership were insufficient because they "deal more with the single leader and multi-follower concept than with organizational leadership in a pluralistic sense" (p. 15). They contend that leadership is not found in one individual's traits or skills but is a characteristic of the entire organization, in which "leader roles overlapped, complemented each other, and shifted from time to time and from person to person. . . .[implying a] more inclusive concept of leadership" (p. 16). This concept of organizational leadership has not been examined as closely as the investigations of individual leadership traits and behaviors.
An extension of organizational leadership is the concept of shared leadership. Slater and Doig (1988) refute the assumption that leadership is a possession of one individual and state that such a supposition ignores the "possibility that leadership may also be exercised by a team of individuals" (p. 296). Murphy (1988) states that the hero-leader framework "ignores the invisible leadership of lower-level staff members throughout effective organizations" (p. 655).
The leadership literature of the 1970s and 1980s, with its focus on effective leaders, revisited personal traits as determinants of leadership abilities. It primarily contributed to understanding the impact of personal characteristics and individual behaviors of effective leaders and their role in making organizations successful. The studies differentiated between leaders and managers and introduced a new leadership characteristic -- vision -- and explored its importance. Along with having vision, effective leaders are said to facilitate the development of a shared vision and value the human resources of their organizations. In addition to these insights on leadership, a new theory emerged -- transformational leadership.
Leaders versus Managers.
"Managers are people who do things right and leaders are people who do the right thing" (Bennis & Nanus, 1985, p. 21). Burns (1978) describes managers as transactors and leaders as transformers. Managers concern themselves with the procurement, coordination, and distribution of human and material resources needed by an organization (Ubben & Hughes, 1987). The skills of a manager facilitate the work of an organization because they ensure that what is done is in accord with the organization's rules and regulations. The skills of a leader ensure that the work of the organization is what it needs to be. Leaders facilitate the identification of organizational goals. They initiate the development of a vision of what their organization is about. "Management controls, arranges, does things right; leadership unleashes energy, sets the vision so we do the right thing" (Bennis & Nanus, 1985, p. 21).
The central theme of the research is that those who find themselves supervising people in an organization should be both good managers and good leaders. As Duttweiler and Hord (1987) stated, "the research shows that in addition to being accomplished administrators who develop and implement sound policies, procedures, and practices, effective administrators are also leaders who shape the school's culture by creating and articulating a vision, winning support for it, and inspiring others to attain it" (p. 65).
"All leaders have the capacity to create a compelling vision, one that takes people to a new place, and the ability to translate that vision into reality" (Bennis, 1990, p. 46). Current leadership literature frequently characterizes the leader as the vision holder, the keeper of the dream, or the person who has a vision of the organization's purpose. In Leadership Is an Art (1989), De Pree asserts that "the first responsibility of a leader is to define reality" (p. 9). Bennis (1990) writes that leaders "manage the dream" (p. 46) . Vision is defined as "the force which molds meaning for the people of an organization" by Manasse (1986, p. 150).
According to Manasse, this aspect of leadership is "visionary leadership" and includes four different types of vision: organization, future, personal, and strategic. Organizational vision involves having a complete picture of a system's components as well as an understanding of their interrelationships. "Future vision is a comprehensive picture of how an organization will look at some point in the future, including how it will be positioned in its environment and how it will function internally" (Manasse, 1986, p. 157). Personal vision includes the leader's personal aspirations for the organization and acts as the impetus for the leader's actions that will link organizational and future vision. "Strategic vision involves connecting the reality of the present (organizational vision) to the possibilities of the future (future vision) in a unique way (personal vision) that is appropriate for the organization and its leader" (Manasse, 1986, p. 162). A leader's vision needs to be shared by those who will be involved in the realization of the vision.
An important aspect of vision is the notion of "shared vision." "Some studies indicate that it is the presence of this personal vision on the part of a leader, shared with members of the organization, that may differentiate true leaders from mere managers" (Manasse, 1986, p. 151, italics added). A leader's vision needs to be shared by those who will be involved in the realization of the vision. Murphy (1988) applied shared vision to previous studies of policy makers and policy implementation; he found that those studies identified gaps between policy development and its implementation and concluded that this gap also applies to current discussions of vision. He stressed the need for the development of a shared vision. "It is rare to see a clearly defined vision articulated by a leader at the top of the hierarchy and then installed by followers" (Murphy, 1988, p. 656). Whether the vision of an organization is developed collaboratively or initiated by the leader and agreed to by the followers, it becomes the common ground, the shared vision that compels all involved. "Vision comes alive only when it is shared" (Westley & Mintzberg, 1989, p. 21).
Valuing Human Resources.
Leaders go beyond the development of a common vision; they value the human resources of their organizations. They provide an environment that promotes individual contributions to the organization's work. Leaders develop and maintain collaborative relationships formed during the development and adoption of the shared vision. They form teams, support team efforts, develop the skills groups and individuals need, and provide the necessary resources, both human and material, to fulfill the shared vision.
Burns (1978) introduced the concept of transformational leadership, describing it as not a set of specific behaviors but rather a process by which "leaders and followers raise one another to higher levels of morality and motivation" (p. 20). He stated that transformational leaders are individuals that appeal to higher ideals and moral values such as justice and equality and can be found at various levels of an organization. Burns (1978) contrasted transformational leaders from transactional leaders which he described as leaders who motivated by appealing to followers' self interest. Working with Burns' (1978) definition of transformational leadership, Bass (1985) asserts that these leaders motivate followers by appealing to strong emotions regardless of the ultimate effects on the followers and do not necessary attend to positive moral values. The Reverend Jim Jones of the Jonestown massive suicide could be an example of Bass's definition of transformational leadership. Other researchers have described transformational leadership as going beyond individual needs, focusing on a common purpose, addressing intrinsic rewards and higher psychological needs such as self actualization, and developing commitment with and in the followers (AASA, 1986; Bass, 1985; Bennis & Nanus, 1985; Coleman & La Roque, 1990; Kirby, Paradise, & King, 1992; Leithwood, 1992; Leithwood & Jantzi, 1990; Leithwood & Steinbach, 1991; Sergiovanni, 1989; 1990).
In summary, the literature reveals that effective leadership in an organization is critical. Early examinations of leaders reported the differences between leaders and followers. Subsequent leadership studies differentiated effective from non-effective leaders. The comparison of effective and non-effective leaders led to the identification of two dimensions, initiating structures and consideration, and revealed that effective leaders were high performers in both. Leadership was recognized as a complex enterprise, and as recent studies assert, vision and collaboration are important characteristics of effective leadership. What is it about certain leaders that enables them to lead their organizations to change? There is a clear progression in the research literature from static to dynamic considerations. The evolution leads to the question addressed in the next section: What are the characteristics of leaders of change?
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