University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
What Makes an Effective Leader
What makes an effective leader? Is a leader born, or can they be made? This paper will attempt to answer these questions and explain what it takes to become a truly effective leader. First we will discuss what an effective leader is exactly, and then move on to describing what it takes to become someone like that.
What makes a truly effective leader? Are effective leaders only found on the battlefield or the sports arena? No, leaders are found everywhere. Teachers, welders, students, laborers, managers, the list can go on and on. Leaders are found everywhere. According to Lussier & Achua (2013), “Leadership is the influencing process of leaders and followers to achieve organizational objectives through change.” So, in essence, you are already a leader if you influence a follower. A parent is leader to their child, a teacher to their pupil. So, now we know what a leader is, but what makes a leader effective? Hourston (2013) and Drucker (2006), as well as DeKlein & Penstone (1997) have plenty to say on this subject. Drucker (2006) tells us, in his first paragraph, that in order to become an effective executive, “…the executive is…expected to get the right things done.” But what does that mean? It means that effective executives take responsibility for their actions. That they asked, “What needs to be done, & What is right for the organization?” That they develop action plans and focus on opportunities, rather than problems. That they worked as a team, rather than on their own. And, finally, that they run productive meetings. (Drucker 2006) But, can these practices help turn your average executive into a truly effective executive? Well, there is much more than these eight simple practices. Drucker (2006) lead off with telling us that we are not effective unless we get the right things done.
A person can look really busy, working hard all day, but unless they are accomplishing the right things, they really are not all that effective, are they? Hourston (2013) gives us seven steps we can follow to become truly effective: Be bold. Be strengths savvy. Stretch your leadership style. Be “going somewhere.” Be follower-focused. Be balanced. And, be true to you. What does Hourston mean? Let us take a closer look. Be bold. Do not be timid. Show those around you that you have courage, courage to speak up, courage to apologize, courage to go your own way. Be strengths-savvy. Figure out what areas you are strongest in, what areas your personality and temperament support best and work to expand that. Keirsey & Bates’ book, Please Understand Me (1984), can help you to understand your character and temperament type and how to better use it to help you get ahead. The book starts out with a questionnaire to determine your particular personality style and then goes on to explain the different types of personality traits and how they all fit together to form different personality types. Keirsey & Bates go on to help a person see what they should, but not necessarily are, good at and where their strengths should lie. This book can also help you to understand how different temperament types view rewards and punishment, which helps to better understand your different types of followers. Stretch your leadership style. Work at using leadership styles that do not come naturally, styles that you find difficult. By becoming a well-rounded leader, it is easier to adapt your leadership technique for different situations. Leading laborers in a task will likely take a different leadership style than leading a group of accountants in completing a task. Learn different styles and when and how to apply them to different situations. Be “Going Somewhere.” All truly effective leaders have a vision, something they want to see done or some change they want to make. Think about it, this vision is what propels them to push further forward, to work to achieve something new, something different. In addition to having a vision, you still have to be able to effectively communicate this vision to others so that they can follow you on your quest to achieve it. Be follower-focused. Be sure to recognize the contributions of others, giving credit to the team instead of hogging the spotlight. Sure, you may be the leader, but you did not do the work alone. Be aware of your followers needs as well. A truly effective leader cares for his followers. Be balanced. Work towards “…sustainable thought and action.” (Hourston 2013) Know how your actions will affect those around you before following through with them. You can only burn a bridge once. Be true to you. Do not try to fool yourself into thinking that only one leadership style is truly effective or that you cannot use certain styles. A certain style may not be a complete perfect fit, but there are always parts of a style than can be mastered by anyone willing to work at it. Have confidence in your abilities, do not stop learning, and be willing to learn and try new things.
Peter Economy’s article in Inc. magazine, “7 Traits of Highly Effective Leaders” (2013) lists several similar traits and a few new ones. According to Economy, highly effective leaders inspire action, are optimistic, have integrity, are confident, communicate effectively, are decisive, and support their followers. These go right along with Hourston (2013), adding optimism and integrity. “We all want to work with and for people who lift us up into the clouds instead of dragging us down into the mud.” Hourston (2103). No one wants to follow a naysayer. Keep a positive outlook in all that you do. Few people want to climb aboard what seems like a sinking ship, most people want to grab onto a shooting star, reaching high into the sky. The other trait is integrity. Be honest and forthright with your followers. All lies catch up with you eventually. And it is much harder to regain lost trust, than to just tell the truth in the first place. Integrity falls under the Golden Rule: Treat others as you want to be treated. Integrity should be the number one trait in becoming a truly effective executive.
Are leaders born, or can they be made? That is the question I asked at the beginning. The answer is both. Some leaders are just born that way. Charismatic visionaries, able to embody everything we want to be, and everything we think a good leader should have. For the other 99.99% of leaders, work is required. DeKlein & Penstone, authors of the Canadian factsheet, “How You Can Be an Effective Leader” (1994), have something to say on the subject of building yourself into an effective leader. Everyone has leadership potential, just like having the potential to sing or dance. Some people have a natural ability to sing, such as Celine Dion, but we can all crank out “Happy Birthday” with some semblance of ability, no matter how lousy the tune may sound, it is still ability. The same is true with natural leadership. Martin Luther King, jr. was, for the most part, a natural leader. I do not think he took leadership classes, nor had a leadership coach. He could just lead. He was born with these qualities and skills. Adolf Hitler had to work at becoming a leader. He was a social outcast that failed in many early endeavors. He may have used his influence for evil purposes, but no one can deny his oratory skills or leadership abilities later on in his life. (Lussier & Achua 2013) Before I continue, let us look briefly at charisma. Webster’s dictionary defines charisma as:
1. A personal magic of leadership arousing special popular loyalty or enthusiasm.
2. A special magnetic charm or appeal. Most spectacular leaders, the ones we think of when someone says “Effective Leadership” have a high dose of charisma. Martin Luther King, jr., Adolf Hitler, John F. Kennedy, to name a few, were very charismatic leaders. With charisma, other shortcomings can be ignored. And charisma, at least in part, can be learned. According to Lussier & Achua (2013), charisma can be taught by following a few steps: Working on speech and public speaking skills by using a speaking coach. By educating yourself to better develop visionary skills. Practice being candid and open, while maintaining a level of sensitivity to others’ feelings and needs. And, developing “…an enthusiastic, optimistic, and energetic personality.”
Now, back to DeKlein & Penstone’s Factsheet. A leader should be well organized have their thoughts and ideas well-thought out. A leader should know what skills they possess, what skills they are lacking and what skills they need to work on to become a better leader. “A successful leader makes an effort to learn and practice new skills.” (DeKlein & Penstone 1997). A successful leader should have a profound knowledge of the organization that they are attempting to lead. It is rather difficult to lead an organization that you nothing about. Not impossible, but very difficult. A good working knowledge of the areas that you are involved in will go a long way, while a lack of knowledge may turn your followers away, no matter how good your leadership skills. Team work is another essential part of being an effective leader. When Drucker first published The Effective Executive in 1967, team-based leadership theories were just a dream. Today, most companies use some form of team-based leadership style somewhere in their organization. (Lussier & Achua 2013) The thought of the leader as the top man is long gone, even today’s CEOs consider themselves part of a larger mechanism. Without their teammates, leaders are just people standing alone. Considering the office politics that have such an influence on whether a project gets funding and support, having the support of a team, whether it be a work team or just a coalition of office supporters, help to make the wheels on the organizational bus go round. An effective leader is a risk taker. I am not saying that they take unnecessary risks but a willingness to go out on a limb in order to make what they see as a necessary change. An effective leader is an innovator. This goes hand in hand with taking risks. Look at the Wright brothers. They were willing to take a risk on a new innovation, flight. They became the leaders in flight innovations and are seen as visionaries today. An effective leader must be willing to roll the dice and learn from his successes and failures. An effective leader should always recognize the work and achievement of others. This is a partially covered under integrity, the not taking of other people’s credit, but here, I am talking about giving kudos to those that have achieved. Whether it is a pat on the back, a handshake, a “Job well done,” or a promotion; never fail to recognize the achievements of your followers and offer encouragement to those that need it. “Showing a genuine concern and respect for your work, your people, and your community may be the best strategy in reaching your goal of outstanding leadership.” (DeKlein & Penstone 1997)
So, what makes an effective leader? Is a leader born, or can they be made? I think these questions have been answered. A leader can be born, but they can be made. Through hard work, a willingness to learn, and a willingness to try new things it is possible to enhance your innate abilities to lead. We all have some leadership ability, just like we all have some ability to sing. To some it comes naturally, and to others, it is something that must be worked at. What makes an effective leader? An effective leader is someone that influences others, that has a vision, that pushes us to be better. An effective leader effectively communicates, not only is vision, but recognition to those that have achieved under him. An effective leader knows what needs to be done, and then does that which needs doing, all the
while influencing those around him to be better and to accomplish more.
DeKlein, K., & Penstone, M. (November 1997). How You Can Be an Effective Leader. Factsheet. Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food. Retrieved from http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/rural/facts/94-081.htm DeKlein & Penstone give us a generalized snapshot in the form of a factsheet article that tells us some of the basics to becoming a more effective leader. The article begins by telling the reader about everyone’s innate ability to lead. DeKlein & Penstone agree with Economy and Drucker in many of their points on leadership, such as leadership traits. The authors go on to give us four situational leadership styles and their possible uses and situations: the “Directing/Telling” leader, for when group members are unwilling and unable to do a particular task; the “Coaching/Selling” leader, for when group members are willing but lack the skills to complete a task.; the “Participating/Supportive” leader, for when group members are unwilling but have the skills to complete the task; and the “Delegating/Trusting” leader, for when group members have the skills and are willing to complete the task. The article provides some very interesting leadership quotes, such as, “The future will require those of us in such positions to keep our eyes, ears and minds open. It will require us to listen and to involve, to coach and to develop, to enrich and to motivate, to risk and to credit, to care and to express concern, and to laugh – especially at ourselves.” (John H. Anthony, Therapeutic Leadership, 1989)
Drucker, P. (2006). The Effective Executive. New York, NY. HarperCollins Drucker provides a plethora of knowledge covering what makes an effective executive. Regardless of what type of organization, “…the executive is… expected to get the right things done.” Drucker’s first paragraph of the measure of an effective executive sums it up nicely. Drucker goes on to explain that effective leaders, while rarely born, can in fact be made; by learning the necessary acquired habits that make an executive very effective. Drucker covers these traits and habits and how best to acquire these necessary skills to become more effective, habits such as running meetings more productively, getting the most from them, and knowing when too many meetings are a waste of time. The downside to Drucker is that this book was written in the 60’s, before team-lead leadership styles were popular. However, Drucker is recognized as having an enormous impact on modern leadership style and his advice and theory is still very relevant today.
Economy, P. (August 27, 2013). 7 Traits of Highly Effective Leaders. Inc. Retrieved from http://www.inc.com/peter-economy/7-traits-highly-effective-leaders.html Mr. Economy gives us a summarized view of what it takes to become a highly effective leader. His article runs parallel to Peter Drucker’s The Effective Executive in its brief wisdom of what it takes to become an effective leader. Mr. Economy lists several key traits as the seven traits necessary to becoming an effective leader. A highly effective leader should try to inspire action in his followers, pushing them to do what is necessary to succeed. A leader should be optimistic, as no one wants to achieve for a naysayer. A leader should show integrity, being honest and fair, treating others as you would like to be treated. A leader should support and facilitate his team by making followers feel safe in taking risks and speaking up, without allowing them to worry about being punished for doing so. A leader should be confident, making his team as though they can accomplish anything. And, a highly effective leader should communicate with his team, as knowledge is power; empower your followers with up-to-date information about what is going on.
Hourston, R. (April 4, 2013). 7 Steps to a Truly Effective Leadership Style. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/womensmedia/2013/04/24/7-steps-to-a-truly-effective-leadership-style/ Hourston shows us seven steps that she thinks will help to form a person into a truly effective leader. Her approach mirrors Lussier, Drucker, Economy, and DeKlein. She leads off with three types of leaders that person does not want to be: the Mushroom, that keeps everyone in the dark; the Seagull, that swoops in and dumps; and the Kipper, two-faced and gutless. Hourston goes on to remind us that leadership traits and habits can be learned. That all a person needs to become a successful and effective leader is to have the desire and pursue the knowledge that would make it possible. Hourston then touches on those traits and offers tips on how they can be acquired, using quotes from some up-and-coming leaders in today’s markets. After each step, Hourston offers questions to the reader, mainly to get you thinking of ways to implement what was just read.
Keirsey, D. & Bates, M. (5th Ed.). (1984). Please Understand Me: Character & Temperament Type. Del Mar, CA. Prometheus Nemesis Book Company. Keirsey & Bates show us that we really are all different and that different personalities lead in different ways. The book starts out with a questionnaire to determine your particular personality style and then goes on to explain the different types of personality traits and how they all fit together to form different personality types. Keirsey & Bates go on to help a person see what they should, but not necessarily are, good at and where their strengths should lie. This book is a compliment to those previously listed, which all tell a person that leadership skills can be learned. In that sense, knowing your personality type can help a person to decide which skills are better suited to their personality, making it easier to develop your personal leadership skills. Knowledge of personality types and their descriptions is also very helpful in learning how to lead these different personality types. While the text is thirty years old, plenty can still be learned from Keirsey & Bates.
Lussier, R.N. & Achua, C. F. (5th Ed.) (2013) Leadership: Theory Application, & Skill Development. Mason, OH. South-Western, Cengage Learning. Lussier & Achua delve deeply into the theory behind leadership skills, the application of a wide variety of different leadership skills, and how leaders can develop their skills. They echo DeKlein & Penstone in their types of Path-Goal leadership styles and description, though Lussier & Achua take a much more in-depth look at what makes up these styles and how best to implement them. Lussier & Achua echo parts of Drucker as to the make-up of an effective executive. That rarely are leaders born.