Leadership is a topic that has been discussedand debated over the years. Generally, leadership appears to be continually evolving:from the 1920s belief of ‘impressing the will of the leader on those led’ to believing’Leadership is an influence relationship between leaders and followers’ in the1990s (Ciulla, 2004). However, these extremes are still debated.
There are numerous theories of leadership and its application; fromtransformational/transactional to trait, and situational – to name a few. Different individuals conform to differingtheories leading to a broad approach to leadership (Ciulla, 2004). Within theworld of HR there is no exception. HR Managers should aspire to be good leaders,as without these HR leaders, HR teams will be unable to produce the output theydo (Longenecker and Fink, 2015). This is further reinforced by Ziskin (2016),who states ‘It is virtually impossible to investin and build capable leaders without first investing in and developingourselves as HR leaders’.
Both of theseare important in contributing to businesses succeeding by providingLeadership-Driven HR (Weiss, 2012). In this essay, I will be initially discussingtwo theories generally: the Situational theory and the Trait Leadership theory,before considering a professional skill that derives from leadership theories.Finally, I will demonstrate how this skill can be developed through use of a sectionof my skills portfolio. Situational Leadership theory involves theleader being able to adjust their skills output to match the current situation.This demands leadership flexibility; the leader must be able to adjust theirarmoury of styles to tackle the situation presented to them (Grint, 1997). Situationalleadership is widely known and has undergone refinement over the years(Thompson and Vecchio, 2009).
The second version of Situational Leadershipproposed by Blanchard (2007) works around the Leader-Follower relationship,that becomes adjusted depending upon the four followers’ developmental levels.The first of these levels is the ‘enthusiastic beginner’: an individual with highlevels of commitment, but low levels of competence. These individuals willrequire a more direct style of leadership. Second comes the ‘disillusionedlearner’, who is low in commitment and competence. These individuals respondbest to coaching. The third is ‘capable but cautious’, somebody in thiscategory would have high competence but varying commitment levels. Those inthis group value a supportive style of leadership.
Lastly is ‘Self-Reliantachiever’, these individuals are highly competent and committed, particularlysuited to task delegation (Thompson and Vecchio, 2009). This second version of Situational Leadershiplooks at 4 different situations, it considers the individuals they lead, and assuch 4 different leadership styles that must be appropriately adjusted. It ismy opinion that a fallout from this is that the leader must have both a flexibilityto adjust dependent on what is presented, and also collated a wide range ofleadership skills. This requires a leader with a good understanding of oneselfin order to critically assess where their skills lack so that they may be ableto adjust to the desired style should the situation require. However, it may be considered foolish tosolely concentrate on the leader alone in these situations and within thetheory as a whole.
The Situational Leadership theory, as stated above, is reliantupon follower development levels (Blanchard 2007), as such, the leaders enforcingthis theory should have good awareness and understanding of their followers.Kellerman (2007), describes different types of followers and what these mean tothe leader, namely: isolates, bystanders, participants and activists. It ispossible to link these followers to the commitment levels used in Blanchard’s(2007) Situational Leadership theory. Within the British Army, there are many leadershipstyles (Dunn, 2007), however, it is my opinion that one of two importantapproaches taken is that of Situational Leadership. In my time as an Officer inthe British Army I have seen many Officers, Senior Non-Commissioned Officers(NCOs) and Junior NCO’s, knowingly or unknowingly, utilise the Situational Leadershiptheory.
One of the reasons this works well is that soldiers and officers comefrom varied backgrounds, presenting a multitude of situations and variousfollower types. Ultimately, the British Army believes fully in mission command,which means that orders are given with a mission outcome. How the individualachieves that mission is up to them; a clear example of delegation, linkingdirectly to Blanchard’s (2007) description of followers. There is completetrust in subordinates training and ability, and this is generally due to theindividuals in these positions being that of ‘self-reliant achiever’.
Whensoldiers first complete training they are likely to be an ‘enthusiasticbeginner’, where leadership is direct, and all moral orders are followed. Asthe individuals develop, through experience and training, they evolve intodesired ‘self-reliant achievers’, a progression that is rewarded by promotioninto junior leaders. The ability to adapt leadership style in the British Armyis further required when we consider various roles. A unit can find itself in barracksone day, but be deployed on peace operations, humanitarian missions or combatoperations the next. All of these require a wholly different leadershipdeliverance approach. Situational Leadership is therefore ultimately a versatileapproach taken in order to tackle a range of tasks and individual levels withinthe British Army. Situational Leadership is used more widely inorganisations with case studies conducted by Blanchard on companies including thenon-exhaustive list of British Telecom, Adobe and WD40 (Spahr, 2015). Othercase studies include the banking sector in Norway (Thompson and Vecchio, 2009).
Although Situational Leadership theory is widely known and discussed, it seemsto receive criticism due to lack of empirical data from research that cansubstantiate the theory (Northouse, 2007). Additionally, it has also come under fire forissues with internal consistency, contradictions and continuity. Trait Leadership Theory states that one can be’born a leader’, that traits you have bred into you decide whether you have theability to lead. In essence individuals either have ‘it’ or don’t.
The followon from this would be that a leader is always a leader, irrespective ofcircumstance (Grint, 1997). Trait assessment can be used as a measure of innateleadership ability, these comprise physical features, personality and othercharacteristics such as intelligence (Northouse, 2015). Northouse (2015) also critiquesthe Trait Leadership theory; notably that due to the innate traits anindividual possesses, the leader in one situation will not be as effective whenfaced with a different situation. This is in stark comparison to theSituational Leadership Theory previously discussed.
Another criticism lies inthe fact that there are numerous ‘Leadership Traits’ and limiting these canprove to be difficult. However, over the years the ‘Big fivepersonality factors’ have emerged after research was conducted by Judge et al.(2002). These are Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness, Agreeableness and Conscientiousness;with Extraversion being considered to have particular importance (Northouse,2015). Trait Leadership Theory can be seen in its application today,particularly during organizational selection processes. Graduate schemeapplications begin by an initial CV screening stage before moving on to ask thecandidate an extensive set of questions aimed at understanding traits such as personality,leadership style, emotional strength and initiative. Trait leadership is still fully utilizedwithin the British Army, particularly when it comes to selection, bothinitially and for promotions.
The Officer selection process consists of twoevents, one that is three days long and the other four days. The tasks look at candidatepersonality, aimed at identifying key traits. An advantage of holdingassessment over multiple days is that it increases chance of seeing an individual’s’true character’. Over the duration of selection, assessments may consist of mentalaptitude tests, planning exercises, presentations and command tasks. Eachassessment is aimed at recognizing particular traits: intelligence, reaction tostress, communication and confidence skills as well as ability to motivate andplan. Furthermore, fitness and medical health must be considered as withinsufficient fitness levels and poor medical condition, then the candidate isnot considered as suitable to lead as an Officer in the British Army.
Theoutcome of the first stage is a grading of 1 through 4, where 1 is given tothose with highest potential, and then the second stage is pass/fail. Theassessors are not judging whether the individuals are at a standard to lead aplatoon, but if they have the potentialto be trained. Outcome is subsequently based upon two contrasting situations;you either have potential or you do not. This is further reinforced by thegrading of categories in the first stage of selection – where Category 4 gradesrelate to failure to demonstrate standards necessary for Commission into theBritish Army. Highlighted in the selection process is thatwhile you may or may not ‘have it’, admission depends solely upon whether thereis potential to develop into a leader given the traits an individual possesses.
A result of category 2 in the first stage does not mean it is the end of theroad for potential recruits, instead it gives a time delay before one mayattempt the second stage. Category 2 assignment may be given to improve fitness,build on intellect or gain ‘life experience’. This has been more recentlyexploited with an introduction of a new course at the Royal Military AcademySandhurst, the home of Army Officer Training in the UK. This course takes ‘RiskPass’ individuals from the second stage of Officer selection and develops theirleadership skills, working to improve the traits that are required to undertakethe full commissioning course. Prior to the introduction to this course,individuals that fell under Category 2 would have failed, being unable to jointhe British Army as a commissioned Officer. It may be argued that basing selection onindividual traits is not wholly impartial, as it is privy to cognitive andconfirmatory bias where an assessor may have skewed views, or a placeirrational stress on certain traits. The Army aims to mitigate this by usingmultiple assessors, one of which is with the syndicate throughout, but has noprior information on anybody within the group, not even names, so everythingthey learn is based on observations – effectively assessing ‘blind’.
A second assessorwho has seen the candidate’s CVs and references monitors half of two groups.The process ends with a board with multiple members who spend a lengthy amountof time discussing findings. Starting with the most junior Officer presentinghis views, as to avoid pressure of conforming to higher ranked individuals’beliefs. Having considered various leadership styles,how they work and the skillsets required within each, I believe that theoverall skill of ‘providing direction’ is worth my time to develop further.
Development of this area of my skill profile will provide immediate impact inmy current role but also allow for better professional positioning as Itransition further into a role of HR. Within the HR world, it is important tobe able to provide direction, particularly if we consider Ulrich’s (1997) modelof the four roles of HR; specifically, the roles of Strategic Partner andChange Agent. By further developing ability to provide direction, I am able to positionmyself where I may potentially work within one of these roles. It is importantto be able to give direction through multiple channels, i.
e. not only tosubordinates but also by briefing ideas and plans to superiors and developingdirection with peers. The ability to plan further ahead, and scan the horizonwill allow for planning of events, targets or goals. Having a strong personalunderstanding of the outlook should therefore lead to a better position whereone is able to successfully provide assistance and route to those that require.This leads to something I consider to be a component skill within the abilityto ‘provide direction’, communication, encompassing both verbal and non-verbalcommunication, with stress on non-verbal. More specifically, I have recentlyidentified that it is essential to communicate more often, particularly tosuperiors. Having worked almost autonomously, due to the leadership style of aprevious Officer Commanding (OC), I had a long period of not having to providemy direction and intentions. By providing regular updates to my OC, I will beable to form a stronger working relationship, and have a stronger direction dueto this.
Communication is important for providing the information and directionto subordinates (Den Hartog et al, 2013). Indeed, ensuring that there is strongcommunication of updates on policy, direction etc., will lead to a greater understandingof why they are receiving task delegation or new directions. This is likely tolead to a stronger leader-follower relationship and for mutual goals to alignto that of the task. (Bass, 1985). When considering how to go about thisdevelopment, I had to develop a skills portfolio from the Personal DevelopmentPlan.
I have selected the relevant row, that looks at the communication skill,and it is shown below in Table 1. Which skill are you working on? How have you practised this skill in the workplace? Reflection Feedback How will you develop your proficiency in this skill in the future? Communication I am working on early and concise communication, to superiors, peers and subordinates. One area I need to particularly improve is when something isn’t going quite right, either personal or work.
Have introduced weekly ‘check-ins’ with the OC, discussing last 7 days, and next days, and allows time to bring up any issues. Looking back over the last few weeks of this change being introduced, there is certainly positive gains. Particularly a development of mutual trust and understanding, allowing for more efficient progress with work. OC is appreciative of the suggestion of the weekly meetings, and welcomes the openness it brings, we are now able to communicate about everything more easily. Ultimately, I would like to be in a position of comfort where I can approach the people in positions about problems, both work and personal, without having to have time set aside to always keep up to date.
Table 1. Skills Portfolio Extract. In summary, this essay has touched upon two verydifferent leadership styles: both of which are used to varying extents in organisationsand within my own organisation, the British Army. Both the SituationalLeadership theory and Trait Leadership theory have advantages and disadvantagesas can be seen in their organisational application. As an individual, it ismore suitable to associate with a Situational style of leadership. This may bedue to my natural ‘traits’, but it is clear that through the training I have received,I have developed the skills and abilities to be able to adjust my style dependingon the environment, the situation and the individuals concerned. Onconsideration of my own skills using reflection-on-action (Schön, 1983) and further deliberation ofthe two theories discussed above,I have been able to identify personal skills which I believe can be improved. Inturn, I anticipate in the short term this will improve my leadership abilitythus and further guiding me to a position where I can achieve long term goals.
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