Fundamental skills or qualities of a leader in the past and at present

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Fundamental skills or qualities of a leader in the past and at present


1.1    Review of the Leadership evolution model (Daft & Lane 2008)


Leadership does evolve along with the time passes. Daft and Lane (2008, p.21) proposed a model of leadership evolution that summarizes four eras of leadership thinking that had once dominate the business and the academic world but become less useful and applicable in today’s business environment as demonstrated in the table below.


Table 1 Leadership evolution model

Source: Daft & Lane 2008, p.22


From the table above we can see that there are two dimensions that differentiate the four leadership eras: individual and organization scope and stable and turbulent business environments.


1.1.1            The first leadership era – Great person leadership


The first leadership ear could be dated back to the pre-industrial time when firms were small in scale simple in organization, and the external environment is stable. The trait theories and the Great man leadership were popular at that time by focusing on the personal traits of leaders, and believed that a leader is a born individual hero with certain traits that saw the big picture of the company.


1.1.2            The second leadership era – Rational management


In the second era, the behavior theories and contingency theory became to grow in the hierarchical and bureaucratic organizations and the external business environment was still stable. And in this stage, organizations focused on enacting company policies and rules and standard operation procedures (SOPs) to ensure that the companies were working in efficiency and decisions were made according to the rules. And accordingly leaders at this period were required to posses the ability to control and guide the employees closely through enacting rules to keep the employees working hard for the companies. In speak of the two fundamental leadership behaviors that we discussed above which are leadership orientation behaviors and task orientation behaviors, in the second leadership era, obviously the use of the task orientation was the only leadership behavior that was required of the leaders. And in this stage, the leaders were no longer focusing on the big picture of the organizations in a stable business environment and they were more caring about the work flow, procedures and control and making them working in an individual scope. And the management and leadership in this stage was also known as rational management which involved little interpersonal contents.


1.1.3            The third leadership era – Team or lateral leadership


The appearance of the third leadership era was largely contributed by the raising of the Japanese companies in global business which was featured by team management and superb quality they had managed to achieve through changed production procedures. And the external business environment became unstable. In this era, as inspired by the Japanese business practice, organizations begun to adopt techniques such as team oriented measures, business process re-engineering (BPR), empowerment, open communication and horizontal collaboration to get adapted to the changing environments. And from the view of the leaders, they changed from exerting control on the employees to ensure efficiency to using empowerment to share the power with the other leaders and employees. There are two benefits of empowerment: firstly it helps motivate employees to work harder and increase the team cohesiveness; secondly, because of fast changing of the external business environment, using empowerment could better utilize the employees’ knowledge and experience in the decision making process.


1.1.4            The fourth leadership era – Learning leadership


The fourth leadership ear happens in the recent two decades in the fast changing information era in which new knowledge led innovations rather than accumulated experience create more value to the companies. Under such disruptive environments, changes also happen to shape the new leadership behaviors needed to lead in the new environments. Because new knowledge and innovative ideas are usually in the hand of the individual employees, control from the leaders is no longer useful and leaders shift emphasis more on relationships and network building. And to motivate the followers, they tend to promote the vision and core values and make the followers to believe on the vision and values. What’s more leaders have to keep learning and new knowledge in the management science and experience different ideas and concepts all the time such as the management of change.


1.2    Contrasting and comparing old and new leadership


Leadership does evolve and the differences actually do not actually exist only between leaders in the past and leader in today in term of leadership skills and qualities, but the differences also exist among leaders from different organizations even in today as not all the organizations have enter the fourth era in leadership evolution. For example, in China and many other developing economies, leaders are still working under the guidance of the second leadership thinkings due to the underdevelopment of the management idea and economic conditions. Below we will check some differences in leadership qualities and skills between a typical leadership in the second leadership era which is still applicable in many developing economies and one in the fourth era which is the most dominant in today’s management practices.


1.2.1            Differences in leadership qualities


According my observation with one of my relatives, Zhang, who is currently working as the team leader in a mobile phone accessories manufacturing company in China, he is performing a typical leadership with rational management features. Zhang is as the team leader with more than 50 subordinates working under him keeps emotional distance from the subordinates and according to him, by keeping a distance with the subordinates he makes the employees respect him and obey his directions. He likes talking to employees how to do the job but rarely asks the employees to give any advices to him and he expects conformity from the subordinates. And in employees’ words, Zhang is the boss of them and they respect him very much because he is always focusing on getting the jobs done. The leadership qualities that Zhang has exhibited such as emotional distance, conformity and top-to-down way of communication are typical features of the leadership in the past but now such features have been gradually replaced by emotional connections, two-way communication, passion and courage.


1.2.2            Differences in employee alignment


In the past, leaders simply used direction and strict control system to align the employees to do the jobs that were required of them. But in nowadays, leaders are more and more preferable to align the followers by creating shared culture and values that persuade them to accept such values and cultures. And this difference is also very significant as we can see from the raise of popularity of the corporate culture in the last two decades.


1.2.3            Differences in the source of power


As mentioned above, traditional leaders tend to keep an emotional distance from the employees to make them respect and even afraid of them to make the directions from the leaders more effective, so we can see that the leaders in the past majorly account on the position power to make the subordinates work as the leaders demand. But in the nowadays, leaders are more based on the personal power rather than position power. To use the personal power, leaders have to act as a coach, facilitator and also use their charisma to communicate with the employees the vision that the leaders create for the figure and make them accepts by heart. For example, the current U.S president, Barack Obama, shows great charisma in the public occasions and gives the audience hope and makes them believe that together they can create a better future. From him, we can see that in nowadays, leaders’ source of power not only from the position power but they are more and more based on the personal power.



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