Almost everyone can be an effective leader by finding the circumstances that suit him

1.Defining leadership.

Leadership is a subject both complex and often subjective. Since the beginning of the last century any number of theories have been developed and, to date, the research community have come up with numerous definitions.

In the past 50 years there have been as many as 65 different classification systems developed to define the dimensions of leadership (Fleishman et al, 1991). For this work the definition of leadership is:

Someone who is able to inspire others to accomplish a vision

How does a leader communicate the vision? Richard Branson, for instance, pushes his vision throughout his organisation, selecting those who share his values. Within ABB, Percy Bamevik has created an organisation that pulls the vision forward by delegating initiative.

Where is the scope of leadership? Is it acting with those that come into direct contact or is it influencing the wider environment of the organisation?

2. Scope of Leadership

In order to be effective, a leader has to choose the manner in which to transmit the vision, the scope, to his subordinate group or broader audience. According to Handy, a leader has to know himself to know how he works best:

  • His values
  • Subordinates confidence in him
  • His assessment of his own contribution
  • Need for certainly (can he relinquish control) tolerance of stress

3. Culture: National and Organisational

Many companies wanting to dominate in their industry or even compete have to establish global operations. As firms establish their presence in new countries one of the factors they must consider is culture.

Companies in the USA have been praised (e.g IBM, Hewlett Packard, GE, Microsoft to name a number of well known brand names) for their success and leadership capability. Successful leadership in running a company in the USA did not guarantee that the same “leader” would be effective in the organisation when it expanded to new national cultures.

Geert Hofstede was the first to undertake a study in order to establish the impact of cultural differences on management with the first studies beginning in the late 1960s involving 6,000 IBM employees in 40 different countries. The study asked for the preference of management style and work environment. Hofstede identified four “value” dimensions on which the countries observed differed: power distance, uncertainty avoidance, individualism/collectivism and masculinity/femininity (see appendix I for definitions).

Given the differences in value orientations, Hofstede questioned whether American theories could be applied abroad and discussed the consequences of cultural differences in terms of motivation, leadership and organisation, Hofstede argued the following about countries found to cluster in one of the “value” dimensions (see also appendix 2):

  • Power distance culture is attuned to hierarchical structures and authoritarian style.
  • High uncertainty avoidance cultures place emphasis on written rules and procedure. In these countries emphasis on job specialisation is apparent.
  • In high collectivist orientation cultures, the group is the central focal point. Co-operation is more valued than individual work and the leader facilitates teamwork and tries to create a supportive atmosphere.
  • In countries with high masculinity orientation the leaders are more concerned with the accomplishment of the task. Such Organisation place great emphasis on bottom-line results. On the other hand high femininity cultures demonstrate concern for social responsibility.
  • For example a leader from a low power distance culture moving to a high distance culture many be perceived as ineffective as subordinates are used to a different approach.

Further to Hostede’s work organisational culture influences what leadership style is effective. From an organisational point of view Handy puts forward the following four organisational cultures:

  • Role culture: procedures laid down (equating to high uncertainty national culture)
  • Power culture: frequently found in small enterpreneurial organisations. Everything revolves around a personality
  • Task culture: The job or project dominates. Leadership is about facilitating.
  • Person culture: Minimal structure and often spontaneous forming of groups to achieve specific needs. Today’s western family is seen as exemplifying without clear roles and known expertise and authority.
  • Essentially this means that culture should not be seen as an inhibitor to leadership but as an arbiter as to what style is effective.

4. What is the Task

A number of variables act when a task or situation is being perceived. Where there are constraints, of time, subordinate understanding or unclear objectives, a style of directive leadership is often effective.

In contrast when there are few constraints open, delegating style can be appropriate.

  • Telling: subordinates unable or unwilling to take responsibility. The leader “tells” eliminating risk of misunderstanding.
  • Selling: The leader knows people are willing but unable to take events forward. He directs and motivates the subordinates.
  • Participating: The leader supports and motivates subordinates.
  • Delegating: Leadership empowers subordinates to complete the task.

In all cases the leader has to have a clear vision of the goals he is looking to achieve. If he is capable of changing styles then he will be able to manage in a variety of situations. Or, if he is able to assess situations then he can select the opportunity to his leadership style.

In certain circumstances the task allows a number of people to share the functions of “leadership”. Increasingly matrix structured organisations require style where leadership has to suit the goal as perceived by those working on a particular task. This often translates into interpreting higher-level goals for the lower level requiring different “leadership” skills.

5. Subordinate/Followers

One challenge comes from the common observation that effective leadership is a function of the relationship between a leader and a group of followers. The leader’s behaviour will depend on the stage of development of the group being led as well as the maturity of the leader/followers relationship. For example, a new group with a new task may require more guidance and autocratic behaviour from the leader than a team which has worked together for a long time and could almost make its own decisions without a defined leader.

When we analyse a leadership situation, we must consider:

  • How long subordinates have worked with each other
  • The climate which has developed within the group
  • The length of time the leader has been in the job
  • The kind of relationship the leader has developed with subordinates

The same issues can be addressed in broader terms within an organization wide context:

  • Organisations that have entered turbulent environments and must revitalise their mission or goals (turn around) require different leadership behaviour, especially from the top of the organisation, from those with clear goals and existing in stable environments.
  • Organisations in decline in terms of performance needed different leadership from those in the growth stages.

In each case, the key to defining the effective leadership style will be:

  • The basic nature of the organisation’s developmental stage, and
  • The form of involvement that is need from the subordinates.

6. Conclusion

New theories and models continue to be developed in an attempt to better define leadership. Throughout this work emphasis has been placed on vision, self-knowledge, culture, and environment (within the organisation and wider, national, traits). Schein’s work (appendix 4) attempts to show these interrelations. Johnson’s work provides a mnemonic to summarise.


Where L is the leader and his self-awareness

S is the working situation in which he is operating

O is the organisation

A equates to the activities

R represents results achieved through the interaction indicated by the affows

V depicts the vision developed to give purpose

Leadership is an intangible and the qualities of what makes an effective leader will continue to be debated as long as we have need for leadership. If we have the competence to assess the environment and ourselves we all have opportunity to be an effective leader.

So returning to our thesis: almost everyone can be an effective leader by finding the circumstances that suit him.

We believe there is some truth in the statement made by Handy. But there are a myriad of variables needing to be defined; the leader, effectiveness and circumstances. Variables that have given thoughts to many authors in the past and presumably also in the future.

Appendix I

Hofstede’s definition of:

Power distance indicates the extent to which a society accepts the unequal distribution of power in institutions and organisations.

Uncertainly avoidance refers to a society’s discomfort with uncertainly, preferring predictability and stability.

Individualism/collectivisms refers to the extent to which people prefer to take care of themselves and their immediate families, remaining unemotionally independent from groups, organisations and other collectives.

Masculinity/Femininity dimensions reveal the bias towards either “masculine” values of assertiveness, competitiveness, competitiveness and materialism, or towards “feminine” values of nurturing and the quality of life and relationships.

Appendix 2 Figure I




Actual Leadership Characteristics

Actual Situational Characteristics

Perceptions of Self

Perceptions of Subordinates

Perceptions of Task/Situation

Diagnosis of Leadership Situation

Actual Leader’s Behaviour



Appendix 3 Figure 2 Situational Leadership


Participating Low task High relationshipSelling High task High relationship

Delegating Low task Low relationship

Telling High task Low relationship


Low Initiating Structure High