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Theories of leadership

This summer I met an old school chum over lunch that I had not seen in many years. As we chatted about current and past situations, we went down memory lane to our days of English Literature classes and poetry. We even reminisced about our secret plays about Romeo and Juliette that we use to performed during lunch time. Of course we only got as far as “O’ Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo” after which we would swoon and play dead.

Then we turned our attention to current events like management and leadership styles political and otherwise, we even discussed church leadership and compared notes. Coming towards the end of the conversation we both stood there and said in unison “I wonder”.

Those two words brought smiles to our faces and we then revisited our beloved English poet John Keats. After a verse of his poetry, I could not help but relate Keats’ poem to leadership in the organisation and politics. Maybe Keats was taking a satirical view of the current events of his day. Here is the verse we remembered -“There was a naughty boy a naughty boy was he; he ran away to Scotland the people for to see; there he found that the ground was as hard that a yard was as long that a song was as merry; that a cherry was as red ; that a door was as hard … as in England and he stood in his shoes and he wondered, he wondered; he stood in his shoes and he wondered, he wondered, he stood in his shoes and he wondered…” (John Keats).

The article this week is leadership inaction. Many times I overhear people either in the media or on the street make comments that suggest that some of the focus of our education is not suited to our particular culture/ situation. A columnist in one of our local newspapers even went as far as to say that some PhDs and MScs use quotes from sources that cannot be applied to Barbados.

Obviously the individual appears to have no idea about application of concepts and they are not alone in this situation. Let me explain further, most leaders/ managers have attained these positions because they have achieved some level of educational status. Since there is a dearth of educational authors in and around the Caribbean, we have to depend on text books that are written and printed elsewhere. Therefore, when quotations are used we have to credit the foreign authors with the idea. If this is not done we can be accused of plagiarism or cheating (which we would be doing).

Now you may be wondering what all of this has to do with leadership or even John Keats’ poem. Most of our educated leaders have been exposed (should have been exposed) to the different theories of leadership. These theories include (but are not limited to) traits theories, behavioural theories, contingency theories and contemporary theories. Let me explain further for those who are still not making the connection.

The earlier views of leadership suggest that a good leader must have the necessary traits to lead his people. So let us assume that such a person has the drive, desire, self-confidence, intellect, job-relevant knowledge and extroversion traits necessary to lead. But it was found that these traits alone do not always equate to an effective leader, because variables like group members and situations were ignored. Therefore, theorists decided to look at the behaviour of the leader to see if this provided more insight into being an effective leader.

The University of Iowa introduced three leadership behaviours such as autocratic, democratic and laissez-faire. On the other hand, a different University introduced behaviours like initiating structure, consideration and managerial grid etc (Robbins & Coulter, 2012).

Now I do not want to bore readers with the myriads of leadership styles that abound, but the point that I am making is, most theories suggest that an effective leader acts according to the situation he/she finds himself/herself in at the time. They in turn would utilise the style of leadership that would be effective for the people they are leading and the existing situation. So for instance if a head teacher/manager is assigned to a school/organisation and finds that the teachers and students/employees are recording high levels of absenteeism, lack discipline/integrity, low motivation, reduced organisational citizenship behaviour to name a few maladies. Those heads of organisations/ managers have to develop a leadership style that will bring about change.

I would be the first to admit that I believe that every situation does not merit one particular style of leadership so the manager or head must utilise several aspects of the various styles in order to achieve success. They cannot afford to sit on the fence and claim that such and such theory is not suited to our particular circumstance. If I may rearrange Keats words and say ‘stare at a file’ for fear of acting or of the reaction that may come from members/employees.

In order to be effective, a leader must lead and be prepared to change the style of leadership as the situation or membership merit. Either way some action must be taken before the organisation/ government / school collapses under the weight of inaction and he/she (the manager) goes down in history as the one who ” stood in his shoes and he wondered, he wondered”. Until next time ….

*Daren Greaves is a Management and Organisational Psychology Consultant. Email:

Phone: 436-4215.

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