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Leadership in OB: Nature, Qualities, Style, Emerging Approaches, Issues

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Concept and Definition of Leadership in Organizational Behavior (OB)

Leadership is the special influential quality of individual. It is the ability to influence people towards accomplishment of the goals. Leadership builds up confidence and zeal among the people and to create the urge in them to lead. Such influential ability can be governed by formal organizational structure as well as informal. All managers with formal positional authority may not lead the group successfully but person even having no formal authority can influence and inspire the group of people in organization. Thus, leadership emerging within group, with individual abilities is also important in the organization.

Where there is an organized group of people working together to attain the common goals, leadership becomes essential. Without leaders, members of the group become direction less and aimless. They need to be properly guided and motivated for common goal which is done by managerial leaders. A manager must build up confidence in the subordinates and he must have influencing behavior, controlling power, organizing and convincing ability, trust worthy and positive attitude. But this is not possible in all managers. All the managers may not necessarily lead the group properly. A leader may or may not be manager, but a successful manager must be a leader.


For optimal effectiveness, there must be strong leadership as well as strong management. To be a successful leader, a manager must possess qualities of foresight, initiative, drive, self confident, positive attitude and personal integrity. Such organizations which have balanced the leadership with managers can challenge the status quo, create visions for future, and inspire employees to attain organizational goals. For this, organizational structure should be clear and efficient so that detailed plans and strategies can be formulated.

Also read: Organizational Behavior (OB): Motivation Theories

Thus, leadership is process of influencing behavior of organizational members for attaining common organizational goals. Leadership is specialized role as well as social influence process. As a specialized role, managers or leaders operationalize their formal authority to operate functions of organization while as social influence process, they need to inspire group members to devote their optimal efforts to accomplish the goals. The effectiveness of leadership is the key factor for the success of organization as it empowers members to take action to reach to destination.

Nature of Leadership in OB

1. Leader and Followers

Leadership is composed with three important components. In absence of one, it cannot be complete and effective. Leader is the person who unites and inspires others. Leader is either formally appointed in organizational structure or emerged by group. Followers are the people or members of group who willingly follow or obey the instruction or guidance of leader and direct their effort in accordance to the order or direction of leader. No leader can be assumed without followers. Success or failure of leader largely depends on the followers.

2. Influence

Leadership is an influence process in which leader influences the activities of followers. Their behaviors are positively affected as leaders try to encourage and inspire. Leaders influence followers through power, reason, inspiration, assertiveness, friendliness, bargaining and motivation.

3. Situation specific

Leadership is situation specific phenomenon as it is affected by the situation. The influence process and degree of influence can be changed with external as well as internal factors. Leaders should understand the situation and take appropriate action.

4. Goal oriented

Leadership is goal oriented phenomenon in which common organizational goal is shared among leaders and followers. Leaders influence followers to accept these. Leadership thus, fully concentrates to attain the common goals.

5. Unidirectional

Leadership is unidirectional in practice. Leaders possess authority to influence followers through commanding or directing but followers do not. Followers are only supposed to obey the instruction given by leaders.

Leadership Qualities in OB

Leadership is an important function of management which ensures desirable actions from a group of followers willingly. Leadership is individual quality of a person governed by authority relationship or personal ability which helps in personal influence on subordinates. To be an effective leader, leader must possess following different qualities:

1. Self confidence

A leader must be self confident. Confidence on own ability to influence the followers, to predict future, and to handle the situation helps leader to faces different situations and attain predetermined goals. In the lack of self confidence, managers often fail to adopt appropriate leadership style. Followers easily believe the leaders with higher self confidence.

2. Controlling power

Controlling is the process of keeping activities in track so that predetermined goals can be easily attained. Controlling takes the necessary corrective action timely so that scarce resource be utilized properly for the purpose. Leadership holds the controlling power to control the people and process. But, leadership essentially have good controlling capability otherwise, followers do not trust their leaders.

3. Convincing ability

A leader must possess convincing ability. He must have ability to convince followers as well as other parties to control the situation. To convince means to make the people or subordinates understanding and favorable. Convinced followers accept the leadership style and direction positively so that vision of the leaders can be materialized.

4. Trustworthy

A leader must be trustworthy. It means he must have a good faith of followers. He must speak truth all the time and try best for attaining the declared objectives or target. Leader should be guardian of followers. Leader should set attainable and realistic goals in coordination of followers.

5. Knowledge and Intelligence

An effective leader must have knowledge regarding group behavior of people, human relation at work place, technical and processional skills associate to related job, conflict management, grievance handling and dispute settlement, environmental scanning and strategy formulation, etc. He must have intelligent on perception of human psychology.

6. Decisiveness

Decision making is a necessary task of every leader. A leader often has to take initiation and exercise mature judgment while making decision. Besides, he has to have foresight, imagination and creative ideas. Being open minded is year another essential quality for the purpose.

7. Organizing

Leadership must be good organizer. It should be able to coordinate all necessary factors i.e. men, machine, material, money etc. required to attain goals. Followers do not trust to the leadership if its cannot properly organize such essentials factors at right time.

8. Sense of Purpose and Responsibility

A leader must have clarity of purpose and responsibility. This condition only, leader can inspire his subordinates to achieve specific goal of an organization.

9. Situational

Leader must act according to the situation. If he cannot cope with the situation, every effort may take place in wrong direction. Followers may frustrate in failing to attain goals. Therefore, leader must work in accordance with the situation and scan the deviating factors. Leaders must be able to handle the critical situation tactfully.

10. Communication Skills

The skill of effective communication is extremely desirable in leadership. To achieve desired result, coordination in effort is most essential. For this leader should use both verbal and written communication. So, leader must have good communication skill to transmit objectives, work ethics and procedures, progress reports etc. effectively. In absence of good communication skills, followers get confusion and may frustrate.

11. Mental and Physical Health

To be able to bear pressure of leadership, it is essential for leader to have sound health, both physical and mental. Without balanced and sound health, a manager cannot become an effective leader.

Manager Versus Leader

Though the words 'manager' and 'leader' and understood differently in politics and management, field, they are used interchangeably in management field. Manager and leader have some inherent differences. Many scholars believe that they have the differences because of their functions. Managers normally administer, maintain, control, intimate and accept the status quo. They do not initiate change in the organization. But, leaders innovate, develop, inspire, originate and change the status quo as per necessity.

Manager and leaders have following differences. 

Category
Management
Leadership
Thinking Process
Initiates, focuses on things, looks inward, accepts reality
Originates, focuses on people, looks outward, investigates reality
Direction Setting
Operational plans, improve the present, immediate financials, sees trees
Vision, create the future, new markets, sees forest
Employee Relations
Tight control, subordinates, instructs, directs and coordinates
Empower, associates, learns, trusts and develops
Decisions Methods
Policies, rules and procedures; relies on process and system, achieves what's expected, serves top managers
Values and principles, relies on ideas and people, strives to excel, serves clients and customers

Leadership Style in OB

Leadership style indicates the behavior of the leader used to influence others. It is the related with the philosophy and personality experiences of leader. There are different types of leadership style. They are as follows:

  • Autocratic or Authoritarian Leadership
  • Democratic or Participative Leadership 
  • Laissez Faire or Free Leadership

1. Autocratic or Authoritarian Leadership

Under this leadership style, decision making authority and power are centralized within the leader. Leader controls full authority and responsibility and determines policies and makes plans for the group without consulting the subordinates. Leader orders the group what to do and how to do and believes on strict obedience and relies on power. An autocratic leader is in fact, no managerial leader. This leadership style may be practiced to those subordinates who feel comfortable to depend completely on the leader. Autocratic leaders are of two types:

a. Strict autocrat

Strict autocratic leader is one who relies on negative influence such as penalty, criticizing subordinates etc. to followers and thinks that followers must obey orders without any question.

b. Benevolent autocrat

Benevolent autocratic leader is one who uses a positive motivation style and provides rewards on desired output to followers. But, the decision making process, still remains autocratic. 

Features of an autocratic leadership/leaders:

  • Autocratic leader makes the entire plan and policies by self and issues order to followers. 
  • Leader gets supports of positional authority to lead. 
  • Leader provides rewards to subordinates for better performance. 
  • He describes each job in detail and imposes rigid work standards on his employees. 
  • It follows one way communication. 

Advantages of Autocratic Leadership Style

  • It provides strong motivation and reward to the leader. 
  • It permits prompt decision as the single person decides for whole group. 

Disadvantages of Autocratic Leadership Style

  • The followers dislike leader due to strictness and negative motivation. 
  • Due to lack of motivation, employee's morale will below and they feel insecurity. It will have adverse effect on efficiency of organization. 
Autocratic leadership is appropriate when subordinates are uneducated, unskilled and submissive because subordinates in such cases cannot take decision. Some leaders prefer this type of leadership, as they feel comfortable under condition of strong dependence on them. However this type of leadership is unpopular nowadays. 

2. Democratic or Participative Leadership

Democratic leaders are those who take decisions in advice with the subordinates. This type of leadership believes in participation of employees in decision making. In order to make decision, he conducts meeting in which employees share ideas with open conversation. Democratic leaders never undermine the ideas, views and suggestions of the followers. They seek confidence, cooperation and contribution from the subordinates to make the final decision. Nowadays, democratic leadership is being more popular. 

Features of democratic leadership/leader

  • The democratic leader always makes the decision in participation and suggestion of followers. 
  • Leadership never undermines the ideas and views of subordinates. 
  • leadership always believes in creativity and productivity through joint effort. 

Advantages of Democratic Leadership Style

  • Employees are more satisfied as they participate in management and get involved in decision making process. 
  • It increases cooperation among the followers in order to attain organizational goals. 
  • Creativity and productivity of followers can be increased as they are involved in the decision making process. 

Disadvantages of Democratic Leadership Style

  • Decision takes time as they are made with consultation of subordinates. 
  • Decision may not be effective because of participation of inexperienced followers. 
  • Secrecy cannot be maintained. 
  • There might be conflict in making final decision. 

3. Laissez Faire or Free Rein Leadership

Laissez faire leadership is that type of leadership in which decision making authority is given to followers. In other words, leader delegates the decision making power to followers. In this sense, leader is just like a nominal leader. All the activities like planning, organizing, staffing, leading, controlling, etc. are made by followers in which leader only facilitates in decision making. The subordinates are self directed, self controlled and self motivated for best decision. This type of leadership is good only in the organization where the followers are skilled, professional, trained, educated and creative. 

Features of Laissez faire leadership/leader

  • The laissez faire leadership gives complete freedom for a group or individual followers to make decision. 
  • The role of leader is to provide information, material and other necessary facilities for decision making. 
  • Leadership does not participate in decision making process. 

Advantages of Laissez Faire/Free Rein Leadership/Style

  • The laissez faire leadership brings creativity and decision making power in followers. 
  • This leadership boosts up the morale of followers. 
  • This leadership style increases job satisfaction. 

Disadvantages of Laissez Faire/Free Rein Leadership Style

  • This style ignores the potentialities, qualities and contribution of the leader. 
  • In laissez faire leadership style, the followers do not get any guidance from the leader because of which there is great chance of making wrong decisions. 

Emerging Approaches to Leadership in OB

1. Charismatic Leadership and Transormational Leadership

Charismatic Leadership

Charisma is defined as "a set of certain quality of an individual personality by virtue of which he or she is set apart from ordinary people and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman or at least specially exceptional powers or qualities". 
Charismatic leaders influence to the followers with four step-process containing following steps:

a. Setting appealing vision

Such leaders formulate long term strategy for attaining goals with linking present and future state of organization. Such vision must be challenging but yet attainable so that followers can easily believe on. 

b. Articulating an appealing vision statement

Leaders communicate visions to their followers formally. Such vision statements are based upon times and circumstances to prove the uniqueness. Such statement helps to impress followers an overarching the goal and purpose. They communicate the high performance expectations and belief that follower communicate the high performance expectations and belief that follower can attain such goals. They increase the self-esteem and confidence of followers. Leaders ensure their cooperation and mutual support. 

c. Conveying new set of values

Leader set a pattern of leadership act and behave it with followers. Followers identify that set of values and try to imitate. Leaders become example to their followers. Leaders become more effective as their followers personally identify them. Followers start to imitate the values of leaders. Followers catch the emotion of leaders. 

d. Self sacrifice

Finally, charismatic leaders engages in emotion-inducing and often unconventional behavior to encourage their followers. Followers get influenced by their different and sacrificing act. 

Key characteristics of Charismatic leaders

Charismatic leaders possess following unique characteristics:

a. Vision and Articulation

Charismatic leaders have unique vision. They articulate vision into idealized goal with the strong belief of better future than status quo i.e. present. They posses special capacity to make others understanding and accepting their vision.

b. Personal Risk

Charismatic leaders can easily take high degree of personal risk, incur high costs, and engage in self sacrifice to achieve the vision.

c. Sensitivity to follower's needs

Charismatic leaders are more sensitive to follow's ability and needs. They respect the feeling of followers and responsive to their needs. They respect the feeling of followers and responsive to their needs. They take care about what their followers need to attain along with attainment of organizational goals.

d. Unconventional behavior

Such leaders set novel behavior different from routine and common set of norms. They can take risk for choosing such distinct behaviors. These behaviors of leaders encourage the followers, increase their self confidence and loyal.

Transformational Leadership

Transformational leaders are those who inspire their followers to change the existing interest for transcending or excelling their own interest. "Transactional leadership guides or motivates followers in the direction of established goals by clarifying role and task requirement." One step ahead, transformational leadership builds up transctional leadership with desired goals and direction of efforts of followers and produces a higher level of performance with self-effort and motivation. So, creating self interest of change in level of performance of followers from set direction and level of goal of transcend leadership is the transformational leadership. Transformational leadership is found, from various research, correlated with higher productivity, higher satisfaction and lower employee turnover. 

Characteristics of transformational leadership

a. Idealized influence

Transformational leadership provides special vision and sense of mission. It communicates high level of expectations and proves as the change agent. Thus, this leadership style gets special respect and trust. 

b. Inspirational motivation

Transformational leadership communicates the special vision of change and share expectations. It communicates importance of team efforts in very simple way. Such acts inspire followers to be a part of change. 

c. Intellectual stimulation

Transformational leader creates commitment towards the vision. Leader promotes intelligence and rationality in problem solving. Followers gain ability of solving any problems with care. 

d. Individualized consideration

Transformational leaders give personal attention on followers. Each follower gets special and individual treatment. This leadership style focuses on individual coaching, instruction and guidance.

2. Leader Member Exchange (LMX) Theory

Leader-Member Exchange (LMX) theory states that leaders exchange their ideas within a group of few followers. Followers of such small group (called in-group) are well trusted and hence get spcial privileges. Rest of others fall into out-group. LMX theory argues that leaders become more creative in in-group and followers of in-group status will have higher performance ratings, less turnover, and greater job satisfaction. Such special relationship with few members is because of the pressure of time. Leaders for interaction, always implicitly categorizes the followers as an 'in' and 'out'. Relationship in such groups remains relatively stable. "Leaders induce LMX by rewarding those employees with whom they want a closer linkage and punishing those with whom they do not". There are no clear evidence for the criteria of falling into in-group and out-group members but in general gender, attitude, geography and personality characteristics of followers lead for this. Followers of in-group status show greater 'citizenship' behavior at work and report higher degree of job satisfaction. 


Leaders, obviously invest their resource to those followers to whom they trust their best. They believe most to in-group members and hence they share each idea, vision and mission with them. They make their decisions only after getting feedback and suggestions from these members. But, there may be chances of behaving negative work attitude and higher withdrawal behavior if followers are treated as out-group members. Leader followers relationships have a stronger impact on employee performance and attitude. Thus, leaders must maintain appropriate relationship with all the followers to maintain their attitude, performance and zeal. 

3. Authentic Leadership: Ethics and Trust

"Leaders who know who they are, know what they believe in and value, and act on these values and beliefs openly and candidly. Their followers would consider them to be ethical people." Authentic leaders trust their followers on the basis of their quality and qualification. Followers of authentic leaders believe on their leaders as the leaders share information, encourage open communication and stick on their ideas. Though this concept is new in leadership, but it is promising as it focuses on moral aspects of being a leader. Authentic leaders, thus, is different from transformational or charismatic leaders as sometimes transformational or charismatic leaders share wrong ideas and visions and may be concerned with own needs, pleasure and satisfaction. 

a. Ethics and leadership

Leadership cannot be value free. Leaders set the moral tone for an organization. Leaders must set high ethical standards, demonstrate them through their own behavior, and encourage and reward integrity in others while avoiding abuses of power. Followers build the trust towards their leaders on the basis of leader's action and behavior in the group and organization. Followers, in many cases judge their judge and set their perception which ultimately forms the attitude and behavior of followers in the organization. Trust and ethics are learnt by the followers through action of leaders. So, it is most essential to establish ethical values by the leaders. 

b. Trust and leadership

Trust of fear-free psychological state in which followers do not expect leader acts opportunistically. "Followers who trust a leader are confident their rights and interests will not be abused." Leaders by generating higher level of trust in followers, create higher levels of team confidence and, ultimately, higher levels of team performance. Followers at the other side, also try to create trust in leader as by showing their best at work creativity and accomplishment of assigned task. Thus, trust is the two way  phenomenon in leadership. To create trust in the organization, managerial leaders need to establish the culture of recording of each work done by each employee. Trusted leaders only, in case of less documenting jobs, can get voluntary job done by employees.

Also read: Communication in OB: Functions, Process, Types, Network, Barriers, Overcoming, Issues

Evidences have identified three characteristics i.e.integrity, benevolence, and ability to be trustworthy. Integrity is the degree of honesty and trustfulness. Benevolence is the tendency of caring and supporting followers. And ability is the extent of technical and interpersonal knowledge and skills of leaders. It takes time to build trust in the followers. Trustworthiness of leaders are trust propensity of followers determine the effort and time require to form trust. 
Creating trust has many advantages as;

  • Trust encourages taking risks
  • Trust facilitates information sharing
  • Trusting groups are more effective
  • Trust enhances productivity
  • Trust increases the satisfaction and reduces turnover. 

Contemporary Issues in Leadership in OB

Though, leadership is one of the most researched areas, but many new issues have emerged in the filed. Researcher have raised such issues which are drawing attention of leaders and researchers. Here are some such contemporary issues:

Also read: Organizational Development in OB: Characteristics, Values, Objectives, Goals, Prerequisites, Process, Interventions

1. Cultural issues

Because of globalization, managerial leaders need to identify and address the expectation, needs and behaviors of different employees from different part of the world. But, the issue is 'can leaders chose separate leadership style as per the culture of follower's origin?' For instances, people from USA wish to work in individualism but people from Japan prefer team work. On the basis of this, they form different perception regarding reward management, leisure time management, power distance, uncertainty avoidance, respect and courtesy, etc. 

2. Gender Issue

Gender issues are being common globally in each sector. Number of female managers is increasing significantly over the years. Many organization even at critical situations. But, because of differences in leadership style (women prefer more democratic style while men prefer directive), an issue has been emerged as 'do males and females lead organizations equally?' Many research findings suggest that female leaders wish to be more people oriented, caring, cooperative, and emotional in their leadership roles while male leaders more likely to use directive style. They rely on formal authority. Evidences show that females are more successful in negation in comparison to male. Thus, the prominent issue is whether male and female significantly different in leadership style and if yes, who can be more effective?

3. Team leadership issue

Team work concept is growing noticeably. Because of complex business environment, organizations prefer project organization ground, leaders need to develop within the team. But, most of the leaders today are group leaders. They are not trained to handle the challenges of teams. Group leaders rely on control and command. But, team leaders need to be trouble-shooters, conflict managers, coaches and mentors, more interactive, open for communication, and liaison with external constituencies. The issue is 'whether group leaders can fit for team responsibilities?'

Also read: Conflict in OB: Outcomes or Consequences, Nature, Transitions, Process, Sources, Types, Dynamics, Approaches

4. Empowerment issue

Follower's empowerment is one of the most influential factor in performance. Empowerment is the philosophy making followers autonomous to make decisions regarding their job responsibility. For this, followers need to be trained, authority should be delegated and their efforts must be acknowledged. This means, leadership must be shared for its effectiveness. In this regards, the issue is 'to what extent followers need to be empowered?' being emerging issue. 

5. Emotional intelligence issue

"Emotional intelligence is set of abilities to perceive and express emotion, assimilate emotion in thought, understand and reason with emotion and regulate emotion in oneself and others." High emotional intelligence is found positively related with productivity and job performance. Thus, leaders need to improve the emotional intelligence by managing stress, being positive to manage crisis, being open minded, controlling self emotions and understanding others emotions, and maintaining interpersonal relationship. For this, leaders need to develop the components of emotional intelligence (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management) within them. In this regards, the issue 'should emotional intelligence be regarded as a trait of leadership?' is emerging.

Also read: Change in OB: Process, Planned and Unplanned, Magnitude, Forces, Resistance, Approaches to Managing

6. Ethical leadership issue

Leaders influence to followers by their values. Thus, managers need to have good behavior, stable mentality, fair treatment, and etc. Followers trust only such leaders who have set ethical behavior. The issue in this ground is that' should ethical implications be considered in leadership?'


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