Effective Leadership

"Good leaders manage the dream, embrace error, encourage reflective back talk, foster dissent, see the long view, and create strategic alliances and partnerships," wrote Warren Bennis in his seminal 1990 work "On Becoming a Leader." Effective leadership revolves around vision, direction and change. Many authorities agree leaders are made not born, and most people have the capacity for leadership, according to Dr. Christopher S. Frings. Frings, writing in the Medical Laboratory Observer (April, 2001), stated that traits of high achievers include the ability to develop expertise in a particular area; managing time well; being persistent; finding something they love to do; staying focused; recognizing the role of mentors; continuing to learn, and managing change well. Good leaders are also trusting, open-minded, reactive, good role models, supportive, competitive, resilient, daring, inquisitive, influential, attentive and opportunistic.

Frings, an internationally known consultant and speaker on leadership, highlighted other general personality traits associated with effectiveness, including being a good manager; thinking "outside the box";" encouraging people to think creatively; committing to a vision and exercising self-control. Other characteristics include independence and self-assurance; a desire to take calculated risks; a focus on winning; adaptability, optimism, decisiveness and receptivity; an ethical attitude, and finally trustworthiness. The work of Alton B. Sturtevant is also cited by Frings: "Know good leaders and your own capabilities. Knowing good leaders means learning from them directly or through their teachings. Take leadership and related courses, read about leadership and observe other leaders in your organization and profession."

Two other leading advocates of effective leadership are Terry Jo Gile and John P. Kotter. Gile states: "Today's leaders must be flexible enough to make spur-of-the-moment changes. In this high-tech, fast-paced world, the successful leader must take some risk." Meanwhile, Kotter believes: "Good leaders create a vision of what the organization can become and the key function of the manager is to implement that." In "Gurus on Leadership" (2006) Mark A. Thomas discusses the influential work in this field of of Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus, who reported more than 300 definitions of leadership in their widely-acclaimed book "Leaders" (1985). Bennis and Nanus stress the importance of personal values and being able to inspire others. In "On Becoming a Leader," Bennis also put forward the idea that most people "are shaped more by negative experiences than by positive ones." He believes that the essential ingredient of leadership is trust and that the stepping stones to building up this trust involve constancy, congruity, reliability and integrity.

Meanwhile, in "Geeks and Geezers," which Bennis co-authored with Bob Thomas, he compares the attitudes of leaders under the age of 35 (geeks) with those over 70 (geezers). One common factor which unites the groups is the ‘crucible' test, a life-changing experience. For the geezers this was often the trauma of war. For the geeks, brought up in post-war prosperity, the ‘crucible' tends to be less dramatic. Bennis and Thomas examine some other core traits. These include having an ‘adaptive capacity', whereby leaders can survive and adapt to adversity; the ability to create a ‘shared vision' and having strong principles about behaviour.

Effective leadership is one of the key factors of how the success of organizations will be measured in the 21st century, according to John A. Vardallas, founder of business website TheAmericanBoomeR. In "The Traits Shared by Effective Leadership," published in the Credit Union Journal (February, 2006), he states: "With the events unfolding in the international arena, there is a good deal of uncertainty from a business and economic standpoint. One of the key areas of concern is the competency of our leaders. Our religious, political, corporate business and even cultural social scions have come into question by us Americans of late."

The subject of effective leadership has sparked interesting discussions around questions such as ‘what makes for an effective leader' or ‘are leaders born with innate qualities or can effective leadership be learned?' Vardallas declares that this "is a very important business issue since recent American employee surveys indicate that two-thirds of workers are unhappy because of ‘not being valued' due to weak leadership. "

Some traits or characteristics of effective leadership identified by Vardallas include: a powerful business and people acumen; an embracing of diversity; the ability to inspire (rather than motivate) people to achieve; a clear vision of seeing the possibilities and the preferred future for their organization; the ability to build partnerships and alliances; being servant leaders to their clients and a facilitator for change, and having a curiosity of the world.

Effective Leadership: Selected full-text books and articles

The Psychology of Leadership: New Perspectives and Research By David M. Messick; Roderick M. Kramer Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2005
Librarian's tip: Part II "Effectiveness of Leadership"
Appreciative Leadership: Defining Effective Leadership Methods By Lewis, Darlene; Medland, Jacqueline; Malone, Sarah; Murphy, Michael; et al Organization Development Journal, Vol. 24, No. 1, Spring 2006
Diversity and Effective Leadership in Multicultural Workplaces. (Learning from Experience) By Parvis, Leo Journal of Environmental Health, Vol. 65, No. 7, March 2003
Influence: An Important Tool for Successful Leadership By Agezo, Clement Kwadzo Ife Psychologia, Vol. 16, No. 2, September 2008
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