A major role in the continuation of modern society is our leaders and the roles they play. They are the ones who will show us the way, so to speak. But who will these people, these leaders, be? What qualities and characteristics do leaders possess? And why is it we the people follow these leaders?
But first, what is leadership? Leadership is a process whereby one group member influences and coordinates the behavior of other members in pursuit of the group’s goals. This specific group member, the leader, provides guidance, specialized skills, and environmental s that help obtain the goals of the group. Some activities, or responsibilities, of the leader are planning, organizing, and controlling group activity (DeLamater and Michener 373). More specific responsibilities will be discussed later in the paper.
Now that we know what leadership is and some of what a leader’s responsibilities are, let’s find out what it takes to be a leader. Think about someone you know who’s in a leadership position. What are some characteristics they possess that make them a leader? There are many qualities that make a good leader, but there are four main ones: the leader has a goal and knows what to do to achieve it, the leader is a good decision-maker, the leader is honest, trustworthy, and respectful, and the leader is confident with what s/he does. Let’s look at these one at a time.
First, the leader has a goal and knows what to do to achieve it. This should be almost self-explanatory and go without saying, because what are you going to do if you have nothing to strive for? There as to be a goal to keeping working for, that way the group continuously moves forward. So say we have a goal. Great!! Now what? What are you going to do to achieve it? Every goal has to have a plan, or blueprint, as to how to accomplish it. A goal without a plan is like trying to cross the ocean without a boat. It doesn’t work.
Second, the leader is a good decision-maker. A good decision-maker is one who’ll make decisions for the benefit of the group. An individual is elected or chosen because it is believed s/he can help the group. In order to help the group, the individual has to be a good decision-maker.
Third, the leader is honest, trustworthy, and respectful. Who wants a leader that is going to abuse his position by doing things for his/her own self-interest? A leader should be someone you respect and can trust to do the right thing to the best of their ability. After all, s/he’s the main representative of the group, and the way s/he acts directly reflects on the group.
Lastly, the leader is confident with what s/he does. By having confidence, it gives the group a form of self-assurance that they are going to be okay because their leader knows what they’re doing. It also helps the leader do a better job because then their not worried about whether or not they are doing it correctly: they know they are.
So how does an individual become a leader? Two general criteria for picking a leader are the extent to which the group achieves their goals, and the level of consideration s/he shows towards other members (DeLamater and Michener 353). There are multiple ways to become a leader, but the two most popular ways are being voted into position and a person’s level of experience. These two ways are related in some ways, but completely separate at others. To be voted into a leader role requires no experience (some helps though). And it is possible to work your way to leadership positions without a vote being taken. But usually, to be voted into leader positions requires experience; and regardless of how long one has worked or how much experience s/he has, a vote is usually taken (amongst fellow leaders, amongst other people, etc.) before the individual is given a leadership role. Other ways include being born into it (i.e. kings), an individuals level of education (to become a supervisor usually, but not always, requires more education than an entry level job does), and even due to a persons age (older people are more likely to receive leadership positions than younger people are).
So now we have our leaders, but what are their responsibilities? As mentioned earlier, some are planning, organizing, and controlling group behavior (DeLamater and Michener 373). John D. DeLamater and H. Andrew Michener highlight ten main responsibilities. These ten are to formulate a clear conception of the group’s goals and objectives, and communicate this to the group members; develop specific strategies for the attainment of the groups goals; specify role assignments and standards of productivity for members; establish and maintain channels of communication among members; recruit and train new members.
Interact and react personally with members to maintain good relations; influence task activities of group members by means of persuasion, rewards, and punishments; monitor the groups process towards its goals and take corrective steps if off track; resolve conflict among members to reduce tension and maintain harmony; and to serve as a representative of the group to outside agencies and organizations. So more or less, the leader tries to strengthen group productivity by changing the way members’ view the group, its opportunities, and its mission. But how is this done?
Leaders fulfill their responsibility through the way they lead. Two forms of leadership are transactional and transformational. Transactional leadership is based on an exchange between the group and the leader, whereas transformational leadership creates new ways of thinking, creates structural changes, and institutionalizes new practices within the group which strengthens group productivity (DeLamater and Michener 373). Other types and styles are instrumental and expressive, and authoritative, democratic, and laissez faire.
Instrumental leadership is group direction that emphasizes the completion of tasks. The instrumental leader wants to “get things done.” S/He also has a formal, secondary relationship with the members, gives orders, punishments, and rewards according to contribution, and usually receives respect (Macionis 174). An authoritarian-style leader is a prime example of instrumental leadership. The authoritarian leader personally takes charge of decision-making, and demands strict compliance. Because of this, the authoritarian is usually appreciated in a crisis (Macionis 175).
In contrast too instrumental leadership is expressive leadership. Expressive leadership focuses on collective well being, maintaining group moral, and minimizing tension and conflict (Macionis 174). Expressive leaders have personal, primary relationships with members, offer sympathy to a troubled member, keeps the group united, lightens serious moments, and usually receives affection. The democratic style of leadership is a primary example of expressive leadership. The democratic leader charges every group member with decision-making, and draws ideas from all creating from them creative solutions (Macionis 175).
There is a third style of leadership that doesn’t fit into a specific category of leadership. This style is called laissez faire. In this style, the leader steps back and assumes the role of the overseer letting the group more or less run itself (Macionis 175).
So why do people follow someone? Usually it’s because they have elected/chosen, or wanted the individual as their leader. So they follow because they share the same ideals and/or goals. Other reasons people follow are because they are told to, out of fear (itself or of punishment), or just because they have no other choice. Now, not all of these reasons are good, but they are none-the-less real reasons why some people follow certain leaders.
Probably the most influential reason people follow leaders is the effectiveness of the leader. “A leader’s effectiveness in directing a group depends both on his or her style and on the circumstances of the situation” (DeLamater and Michener 374). The situational characteristics referred to are the leaders’ personal relations with the group members (good or bad), the degree of structure in the groups tasks (structured or unstructured), and the leaders power position in the group (strong or weak) (DeLamater and Michener 376). Based on these three characteristics and the style of leadership used, an individual decides whether or not s/he will follow the leader.
Portrayals of leaders can be found everywhere from movies to real life. Although, it is these real life leaders that matter most to us. They are the ones who will take us to the 21st century and beyond.
DeLamater, John D. and Michener, H. Andrew. Social
Psychology. Orlando, Fl: Harcourt Brace and Co., 1999.
Macionis, John J. Sociology. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1999.
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