Defining Leadership: What Makes a Good Leader

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I define Leadership as the ability of an individual in a position of power to motivate followers or employees to do things they may be reluctant to do, willingly.

In the present essay, I aim to evaluate 2 different theories of leadership, as what makes a good leader is a subject pondered by some of the greatest minds to exist; yet, still remains an open book that is yet to be closed. The main points I aim to address are: 

  1. An overview of each theory;
  2. What the practical use is for leaders;
  3. How the theory could be used in different situations. I shall go through these, point by point, and argue that theories of leadership are a useful tool and have a practical use in today’s business world.


The 2 theories I am going to distinguish between are The Path-goal theory, developed by Robert House, and the Situational leadership theory, developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard.

The path-goal theory states that workers are motivated by the actions of their leader and that it is the behaviour of the leader that influences the employees. An employer can use this by clarifying the path that subordinates can take to get the desired rewards or reach business targets such as bonus attainment. There are 4 main types.

A Boss could use the Directive approach to let subordinates know what’s expected, give guidance, schedules, definitive standards of performance. In a business setting, a receptionist would suit this leadership style as reception work is very much tailored to the boss they are the secretary for.

The Supportive approach could be used when subordinates are young, as their confidence hasn’t been built yet through experience and applicable skills within a business. These subordinates would be more susceptible to a friendly, more concerned approach and personable approach and enjoy their job more.

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A Participative approach could be used in a creative business such as marketing, as subtleties such as product design are very important for sales and all options should be exhausted.

Achievement approach should be used to challenge very competitive business such as sales. In sales employees are often set a target and left to their own devices on how to reach them, showing a high level of confidence from their boss.

However, If the Leader diagnoses the incorrect method, perhaps if they are recently promoted, and are looking to get on the good side of their subordinates, for example, chooses the supportive approach when the directive is the more fitting, employee productivity may be reduced. This may happen as a result of employees having their efforts diverted into time-wasting activities by their boss. This would cause frustration, reduce enthusiasm among the workers and lead to inefficiency in the long run. In this instance, the best would be recognition for employees performance and either monetary reward or promotion, depending on the level of credit. Doing this creates a competitive environment where all employees want to excel and gain the recognition of their leader and reward.

To contrast, the Situational leadership theory states that the characteristics of the subordinates are the most important and they are categorised by either a task focus or a relationship focus, which can be attributed to the level of skill the job requires and the competence of the employee. After the leader has evaluated the individual employee, they can find a suitable method of leadership. These can be put into 4 styles:

With the Telling style, similar to the directive approach of Path-goal theory, leaders have a high concern for task and low concern for the relationship. The leader will detail the objectives and give explicit instructions on how the task should be tackled. This could be used in construction jobs where the individual opinions of the labourers don’t matter to the job at hand.

The Selling style is when the leader has a high concern for both relationship and task. The leader provides instruction and personal support to subordinates. The leader will explain decisions and let employees ask questions to gain clarity on the job tasks. Smaller workgroups may benefit from this such as the launch of a new app where employees work very closely together and there is a lot of discussion over the processes involved with development.

The Participating style focuses on a high concern for relationships and low concern for the task. This style encourages worker participation and consultation over decision making. I could see this style being effective among medical businesses, where doctors don’t need direction on how to perform their task, but require regular updates on patients and communication from the administration on the running of the wards.

Delegating has a low concern for both task and relationship. It can be used when employees have very high levels of ability, self-accountability and confidence, such as lawyers, professors and experienced sportsmen.

To conclude, the information shows that leaders can use multiple styles, effectively due to the wide range of age, cultures and beliefs present within a business. However, I believe that whichever method of leadership is chosen, the most effective way is to be a stoic, in a leadership position. When a leader isn’t authoritative; where the chain of command isn’t clearly set out, the result is complete disorganization. ..”. I interpret this quote to mean that leaders must maintain emotional distance between themselves, and the employees, otherwise clarity of authority can become foggy.  

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