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Leadership Exposed: Things You Thought You Knew About Leadership

Layne McDonald. Ph.D.

Wise leaders generally have wise counselors because it takes an intelligent person to distinguish them. - Diogenes of Sinope

Much has been written about leadership: rules, pointers, styles, and biographies of inspiring leaders throughout history. But there are specific leadership ideas we do not recognize and realize while reading books. Here is a concise list of things you thought you knew about leadership.

1. Leaders come in assorted flavors.

There are diverse types of leaders, and you will meet more than one type in your lifetime. Both formal and informal leaders practice a combination of leadership styles. Traditional leaders are elected to positions or offices, such as the local clubs' senators, congresspeople, and presidents. Informal leaders or those we look up to by their wisdom and experience, such as in the case of the elders of a tribe or our grandparents; or by their ability and contribution to a given field, such as Albert Einstein in the field of Theoretical Physics and Leonardo da Vinci in the Arts. 

Lewin's three basic leadership styles are authoritative, participative, and delegation.

Likert's four leadership styles are exploitive authoritative, benevolent authoritative, consultative, and participative.

Goleman's six emotional leadership styles – are visionary, coaching, affiliative, democratic, pacesetting, and commanding.

2. Leadership is a process of becoming.

Although certain people are born with innate leadership qualities, they may fail to develop their full potential without the right environment and exposure. So, like learning how to ride a bicycle, you can also learn how to become a leader and hone your leadership abilities. Knowledge of leadership theories and skills may be formally gained by enrolling in leadership seminars, workshops, and conferences. Daily interactions with people supply the opportunity to see and practice leadership theories. Together, formal and informal learning will help you gain leadership attitudes and insights, thus furthering the learning cycle. You do not become a leader in one day and stop. Life-long learning is essential in becoming a good leader, for each day brings new experiences that evaluate your knowledge, skills, and attitude.

3. Leadership starts with you.

The best way to develop leadership qualities is to apply them to your life. As an adage goes, action speaks louder than words. Leaders are always in the limelight. Keep in mind that your credibility as a leader depends much on your actions: your interaction with your family, friends, and co-workers; your way of managing your personal and organizational responsibilities; and even the way you talk with the newspaper vendor across the street. Repeated actions become habits. Habits, in turn, form a person's character. Steven Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People supplies good insights on how you can achieve personal leadership.

4. Leadership is shared.

Leadership is not the sole responsibility of one person but a shared responsibility among members of an emerging team. A leader belongs to a group. Each member has responsibilities to fulfill. Formal leadership positions are merely added responsibilities aside from their duties as members of the team. Effective leadership requires members to do their share of work. Starting as a group of individuals, members and leaders work towards forming an effective team. In this light, social interaction plays a crucial role in leadership. Learning to work together requires trust between and among leaders and members of an emerging team. Trust is built upon actions and not merely on words. When mutual respect exists, trust is fostered, and confidence is built.

5. Leadership styles depend on the situation.

How come dictatorship works for Singapore but not in the United States of America? Aside from culture, beliefs, value system, and form of government, the current situation of a nation also affects the leadership styles used by its formal leaders. There is no rule that only one type can be used. Most of the time, leaders employ a combination of leadership styles depending on the situation. In emergencies such as periods of war and calamity, decision-making is a matter of life and death. Thus, the leader of a nation cannot afford to consult with all departments to arrive at crucial decisions. The case is different in times of peace and order---different sectors and other branches of government can freely interact and participate in governance. Another case in point is in leading organizations. When the staffs are initiative-taking and competent, a combination of high delegative and moderate participative leadership styles is most proper. But if the teams have low competence and low commitment, a variety of high coaching, high support, and high directing behavior from organizational leaders is required.

Now that you are reminded of these things keep in mind that there are always ideas that we think we already know, concepts we take for granted but are the most valuable insights on leadership.

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