FOCUS – Leadership and decision-making
by Bob Gregg –
Before we examine the theories of leadership I want to revisit the issue of decision-making. Last time, we said it’s a primary responsibility of leaders. Although there are times when the leader(s) will have to make the tough, even courageous decisions, this is not in and of itself leadership. It is the way these decisions are made that give us a glimpse of the leadership quality—or not.
In fact, true leaders don’t have to make a lot of decisions. When they have the right people in the right slots they can keep their eye on the real work of leadership, the big picture.
As a summary on the theories of leadership, we’ll review 10 that James O’Toole lists in his book, Leadership A to Z. Some duplicate those we’ve discussed but offer a somewhat different slant.
(Note: Numbers 1 – 5 below are about leaders who help followers achieve their needs; numbers 6–10 are about leaders who self-centeredly get followers to serve them. Where does your leadership fit? Where does the leadership of those with whom you serve fit? Save this list. Much of what we will cover in the future will reference these 10 theories.)
10. Biology is destiny. The leader is the alpha male with the most testosterone.
9. It’s all about power. Might makes right.
8. Paternalism. The leader should be the brightest and most virtuous.
7. Contingency. It all depends on the situation.
6. Charisma. Leadership is embedded in the personalities of Great Men.
5. Historical Determinism. The times create the leader.
4. Transaction based. Followers act in their own self-interest.
3. Reason-based. Leaders lead by ideas.
2. Consensus-based. Leaders encourage followers to buy into a common program.
1. Values-based. Leaders are moral agents and enablers of followers.
There are four principal theories that tend to explain how people in leadership positions act. The first is the Trait theory. It states that men and women are either born leaders or not. Some of the traits include a strong, extroverted personality, personal charisma, good looks, power and authority based on lineage. While there may be some traits that predispose one to learn leadership more easily, research shows that there is no coherent pattern of traits that predict success in leadership.
Are there some elements of truth in this theory? Certainly. But Peter Drucker, that great business and management guru of the 20th century, comments that, while it’s possible some natural born traits may predispose individuals for “natural” leadership, there are not nearly enough of these individuals to fill the growing need for leadership in the changing environment. Besides, the qualities and skills needed for effective leadership are also tied to spiritual gifting and the type of leadership required for the situation: business acumen for corporate responsibilities; musicianship for music groups; athletic ability for sports teams; pastoral competence for corps officers, etc.
The Army is blessed with many in leadership who might be described as natural leaders. But, is this enough for The Salvation Army in the Western Territory? No! Our need for leadership extends to all levels. Everyone must develop and use leadership skills, right through to the social worker and Sunday school teacher.
We’re familiar with the relative value of personal looks. Good looking, tall, slender people seem to have the upper hand in our society, at least initially. However, God is very clear that he never looks at the exterior. Let’s consider St. Paul, the primary leader of the new Christian church. Many Bible scholars suggest he was not physically attractive, probably of small stature, somewhat stocky, maybe even with a protruding nose and a “thorn in the flesh” that may have had an external manifestation. On the other side of the equation, Isaiah 14 refers to Lucifer — God’s greatest, most beautiful creation — as the morning star, and we see what he did with all of this attractiveness.
In our next visit we will explore the Great Man, Transactional and Transformational theories, and compare the elements of, and differences between, management and leadership.