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The Nature Of Successful Leadership


Guest articles > The Nature Of Successful Leadership


by: Jonathan Farrington


People have been debating the nature of leadership for as long as records have been kept – certainly as far back as Homer and his peers. The topic continues to fascinate and enthrall us today, but the way in which we assess leadership roles is changing.

Where once we looked to military and political leaders for inspiration and insight, now it is increasingly business leaders who hold our attention and provide role models.

Ask someone to name a leader whom they have admired and they are just as likely to name Richard Branson as Tony Blai, Anita Roddick as Margaret Thatcher. This focus is reflected in the growing number of books and articles about business and the main players.

Most writing on good management - and what it takes to get to the top - focus on leadership. It is regarded as one of the most important areas of personal development. This also explains the growing interest in leadership courses.

Defining just what makes a leader effective, however, remains as difficult today as it ever was. But that does not prevent us from seeking to distil their secrets – quite the reverse.

Of course, there must be almost as many theories on leadership as there are leaders themselves and models for the best kind of leadership change with the times.

In the 15th century, Niccolo Machiavelli advocated a combination of cunning and intimidation as a way to more effective leadership. His philosophy, if not his practices, became unfashionable some time ago.

“Great Man” theories, popular in the 19th century and early this century, are based on the notion of the ‘born leader’ who has innate talents that cannot be taught. An alternative approach that is still in vogue is based on trying to identify the key traits of effective leaders.

Behaviorist theory prefers to see leadership in terms of what leaders do, rather than their individual characteristics, and it tries to identify the different roles they fulfill. More recently, attention has moved away from the individual in the leadership role, to embrace a more holistic view and investing less in what some commentators refer to as the ‘myth of the heroic leader’.

Much recent work in this area has concentrated on trying to understand why some leaders are more effective than others by looking at their environment and the context in which their acts have been carried out. Situational theory views leadership as specific to the situation, for example, rather than to the personality of the leader. It is based on the idea that different situations require a different style of leader.

The basis of Situational Leadership is to provide a means of effective leadership by adopting different leadership styles, in different situations, with different people.

Situational Leadership is a model - not a theory. The difference is that a theory attempts to explain why things happen, whereas a model is a pattern of existing events which can be learnt and therefore repeated.

Requirements of a Leader

An effective leader needs to be:

  • A good diagnostician who can sense and appreciate differences in people and situations
  • Adaptable - have the ability to adapt the leadership style to circumstances

A leader must realize there is no one best way to influence people.

The Basis of Situational Leadership

Situational Leadership is a way of describing and analyzing leadership styles. It is a combination of directive and supportive behaviors.

Directive behavior involves telling people what to do, how to do it, where to do it, when to do it and then closely supervising this performance.

Supportive behavior involves listening to people, providing support and encouragement for their efforts and then facilitating their involvement in problem solving and decision-making.

There are four leadership styles: Directing, Coaching, Supporting and Delegating.

Each style is appropriate in certain circumstances. They can be shown as follows:

  • Delegating - i.e. Low Supportive & Low Directive
  • Directing - i.e. Low Supportive & High Directive
  • Supporting - i.e. High Supportive & High Directive
  • Coaching - i.e. High Supportive & Low Directive

In Summary

To those who would suggest that great leaders are born, not made, I would say this: We can examine all of the great leaders in history and identify some common characteristics, but we cannot say they were “Born Leaders”. They all developed into their leadership roles over a period of time, learning the skills along the way. I do believe that leaders can be developed – I have to believe that because currently we have far too few of them in the world.


Jonathan Farrington is Chairman of The JF Corporation and CEO of Top Sales Associates, based in London and Paris. He is also the creator and CEO of Top Sales World and the man behind the Annual Top Sales Awards. More about Jonathan:

Contributor: Jonathan Farrington

Published here on: 20-Feb-11

Classification: Leadership


MSWord: The Nature of Successful Leadership

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