PhD Progress & Thoughts

A Primer on Leadership

When it comes to abstract concepts like ‘Leadership’, a great many non-management types (like the clinicians I work with) simply don’t understand what I’m talking about.

Leadership is, in essence, the ability to influence and inspire people.

Due to this definition Leadership can commonly be confused with Power and Control, yet Leadership is both of these things – and neither of these things. This is because Leadership can create power and control for the Leader; yet, without Leadership skills, the Power and Control wielded by the person is not due to influence or inspiration, but fear.

A great leader does not lead through fear but admiration and respect.

As a result, academic authors have outlined some common leadership ‘styles’ that have been displayed in the workplace.

Expert Leadership – the style of leadership from someone who falls into the ‘expert’ category influences and inspires others through their expertise. Expert Leaders are people such as Bill Gates – who displays a working knowledge of his products and services because the origin of his company was from products he developed personally.

Transformational Leadership – Unlike an Expert leader, Transformational leaders don’t need to be an expert to inspire and influence people. These leaders communicate, motivate, and encourage others to succeed. A Transformational Leader is charismatic, morale-boosting and positive. Transformational Leaders are people like RuPaul, Steve Jobs, and Martin Luther King, who inspire people to contribute to the success of their project as opposed to dictating how success will be achieved.

Authoritarian Leadership – Authoritarian Leadership is most often associated with ‘poor’ leadership due to the fact that many inexperienced managers fall back on this style in an inappropriate setting. There are occasions where Authoritarian Leadership is required – such as in the case of an emergency, where rescue personnel display Authoritarian Leadership to get others to safety. However, outside a situation where orders must be followed for safety reasons, Authoritarian leadership is not always positive. Directing young employees in a fast food restaurant may call for Authoritarian leadership by an older manager or employee, but using the same style of direction in a hospital would not be met with the same adherence.

Transactional Leadership – Most simply described as ‘reward/punishment’, Transactional leaders influence others with a promise of an outcome for activities performed. “Work 5 hours overtime this week, and you’ll get next Monday off,” and “If you don’t achieve $1000 in sales by the end of the day, nobody gets a bonus” are familiar phrases to Transactional leaders. While effective for goal-driven employees (such as a young intern, or an employee motivated by profit), Transactional Leadership can quickly become an unpopular approach among intrinsically-motivated employees and in organisations where a transaction is not a strong element of the workplace culture.

Laissez-Faire Leadership – Given a leadership position without leading anyone, essentially. Most frequently witnessed in victims of the ‘Peter Principle’, managers who were promoted based on their performance in a lower-ranking role may fail dismally at the task of inspiring and influencing others.

A highly-skilled manager is able to understand the motivations of their employees, and adjust their style of management as needed. For example, one of the best managers I had ever met changed and blended their management styles based on the needs of the individual employees at work that day. They started their position with Laissez-Faire style, using a lack of guidance to witness which employees ‘stepped up’ and which took the lack of guidance as an opportunity to stop working.

After witnessing the different types of employees in their store the manager then changed to a mix of Authoritarian and Transactional; setting rules for those who ‘slacked off’ without guidance, and offering favours to those they had witnessed working hard in their absence (hard working employees were offered holiday shifts which provided higher pay rates, etc). Once a status quo had been established by their personal leadership style, the manager introduced an assistant manager who had a Transformational leadership style to complement their own – the two working together to bring out the best in their staff. As a highly motivated worker who also appreciated results-based performance, I appreciated the dynamic between a Transformational and a Transactional leader, especially when both were in attendance at once. I knew that I would be encouraged by the assistant manager, and that if I worked hard I would be guaranteed my lunch break at a reasonable hour. In this particular workplace a Transformational leader on their own was not effective, as coaching and motivating did nothing to alleviate the stresses of fast-paced customer ‘rush’ periods. Staff were motivated to put in a little extra effort as needed, but when lunch breaks were elapsed due to the store not being able to spare a pair of hands for 30 minutes, the positive effect of a Transformational leader was lost. Thus, the Authoritarian and Transactional leader needed to be present as well for maximum benefit because of their inflexibility – regardless of the customer rush, employment laws had to be obeyed and thus everyone received their break.

It is important to keep in mind that most leadership styles are personality-based, and thus not every leadership style can be combined by the one person. A mix of management styles by a handful of leaders is usually the most effective. This is because a manager attempting to be both Transformational and Authoritarian may confuse employees – what does this leader want? How is the leader going to react if I take initiative? – the lack of certainty can detract from any potential benefit of one approach in isolation.
Furthermore, the personality aspect of Leadership can’t always be ignored. Many people are naturally one type of leader over another – those who are inclined to study and apply their knowledge to the workplace are more likely to be Expert leaders than Transformational leaders. An extroverted, energetic and creative person is less likely to succeed at being Authoritarian and more likely to succeed as a Transformational leader. While different styles of leadership can be practised and trained the fast majority of leaders I have witnessed are ones that lead in accordance to their ‘fall back’ personality traits – the parts of their personality that inspire and influence. People who are not open to debate and are uncomfortable with having their decisions challenged usually ‘fall back’ on to being Authoritarian leaders, regardless of how much training they have received on another style.

Have you experienced any of these leadership styles in your workplace? Let me know! Or, more interestingly, what kind of Leader are you?





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