Leadership with several variables and components, therefore meaning different

Leadership has been a topic of interest and a subject of contention in history and literature for decades, attracting much attention from both academics and theorists alike (Xu, 2017). A plethora of definitions exist, offering several interpretations yet, despite several attempts, no definitive definitions have emerged (Daft & Pirola-Merlo, 2009). Evidence suggests that this may be due to leadership being viewed as a complex process with several variables and components, therefore meaning different things to different people (Hunt, 2004) and often defined according to subjective perspectives (Yukl, 2010). Stewart (1996, as cited in Barr & Dowding, 2016) identifies leadership as “discovering the way ahead and encouraging and inspiring others to follow” (p.6). Similarly, Northouse (2012) views leadership as “a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal” (p.5). Arguably, most definitions encompass four key themes, that leadership is a process, involves a person’s ability to intentionally influence, takes place in groups and involves individuals following a set direction towards a shared vision (Northouse, 2012). Though, Gopee and Galloway (2017) highlight that the emphasis is more on the relationship processes, interactive practices, behaviours and the ability to persuade others to elicit effective performance; rather than inferring control or dictating objectives by the virtue of authority.

 

The works of Barker (1997); Davidson, Elliott and Daly (2006) and Kirkpatrick and Locke (1991) put forth the view that leaders are habitually equated with authority or the right to give orders and enforce obedience. Although, Gill (2011) and Maccoby and Scudder (2011) posit that authority is typically legitimised by a hierarchical position or title held and by people in subordinate rolls following the orders and processes of the figures exerting this authority, for example, a manager. Whereas, leaders have no appointed authority to act but are able to encourage followers or participants out of free will and this can be demonstrated by staff at all levels (Gopee and Galloway, 2015).Thus, leadership is not so much authority or position rather influence, persuasion and motivation of others (Gill, 2011).

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As a matter of fact, the difficulty distinguishing between leadership and management has a long and renowned history, confirmed by the vast body of literature that exists REF. Though two common schools of thought largely contribute to the debate, the first advocates the notion that both constructs significantly overlap making the differences difficult to discern, often resulting in the terms being used interchangeably (Nicol, 2012 & Rost,1991). Contemporary literature in this area also centres on the premise that leadership is a fundamental subset of management and vice versa, and that there are certain, common qualities and competencies that would support effective performance across both roles (Gardner, 2003 & McCaffery, 2004).The second school of thought strongly argues the importance of delineating leadership from management and the need for both concepts to be understood as distinct processes; characterised by the difference in functions, tasks undertaken, approaches used, and the outcomes achieved (REF).  Kotter’s (DATE) seminal work advocates this view stating that despite the concepts being diametrically opposed, both are equally important and by viewing both concepts synonymously ignores the different purposes served by each process. This perspective is also consistent with Zaleznik’s (1977) writings in which the concepts were differentiated on the principle that management focuses more on systems and structure, managing people and activities whilst providing order, consistency and maintaining status quo. Whereas leadership is more about change and movement, creating vision, empowering, and inspiring others. Nevertheless, Yukl (2010) would argue that ambiguity persists as empirical research has failed to support the mutual exclusivity of both concepts and that this stereotypical stance simply idealizes one and devalues the other.

 

In essence, Cooke (1996); Locke (1999) and Hooper and Potter’s (2000)                                                  synthesis from the literature describes management as an occupation, and a manager as the person who oversees the accomplishment of tasks/activities, has decision making powers and is expected to carry out specific duties. Whereas leadership encompasses interactions and social processes and leaders emerge spontaneously in response to events, adapt to reflect the demands of the situation, challenge the norm, inspire and engage; it also touches on the notion that leaders possess and demonstrate a myriad of unquantifiable abilities, behaviours and attributes that vary from person to person and are exemplified through the impact that the individual has on the thinking and behaviours of others and the culture created as a result (Hooper and Potter, 2000).

 

Historically, there is widespread recognition of the value of leadership as a key component in performance in most organisations, commercial or otherwise (Currie, Lockett & Suhomlinova, 2009).