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Home » Blog » The Secrets of Effective Leadership That Are Radically Challenging Conventional Wisdom

The Secrets of Effective Leadership That Are Radically Challenging Conventional Wisdom

Today I have a great guest post to share with you all! All about Effective Leadership.

Trishna Patnaik has a BSc (in Life Sciences) and MBA (in Marketing) by qualification but is an artist by choice. A self-taught artist based in Mumbai, Trishna has been practising art for over 14 years. After she had a professional stint in various reputed corporates, she realised that she wanted to do something more meaningful. She found her true calling in her passion which is painting. Trishna is now a full-time professional painter pursuing her passion to create and explore to the fullest. She says, “It’s a road less travelled but a journey that I look forward to every day.” Trishna also conducts painting workshops across Mumbai and other metropolitan cities in India. 

Effective Leadership

Trishna is an art therapist and healer. She works with clients on a one-on-one basis in Mumbai.

Trishna fancies the art of creative writing and is dappling her hands in that too, to soak in the experience and an engagement with readers, wanderers and thinkers. 

Quick note: Some of the links contained on this page are affiliate links and if you go through them to make a purchase, I will earn a commission. I only recommend products I use myself and think would be useful for other people.

INTRODUCTION

In the past, it was always the leading scholars that did consider charisma, intelligence and other personality traits to be the key towards Effective Leadership. The thought that good leaders used their inborn talents to totally dominate followers and tell them what to do, with the goal either of injecting them with enthusiasm and willpower that they would otherwise lack or of enforcing compliance. Such theories do go on to suggest that leaders with sufficient character will triumph over whatever reality they do confront.

In recent years, a new picture of leadership has totally emerged, one that better accounts for overall leadership performance. In this alternative view, all effective leaders must work to understand the values and opinions of their followers rather than assuming absolute authority to enable a productive dialogue with followers about what the group embodies and stands for and thus how it should finally act. By leadership, we do mean the ability to shape what followers actually want to do, not the act of enforcing compliance using rewards and punishments.

Given that Effective Leadership depends on constituent cooperation and support, this new psychology of leadership negates the notion that leadership is exclusively a top-down process. In fact, it does suggest that to gain credibility among followers, leaders must try to position themselves among the group rather than move above it. 

According to this given new approach, no fixed set of personality traits can even assure good leadership. Because the most desirable traits depend on the nature of the group being led congruently. Leaders can even select the traits they want to project towards their followers.  So, far from simply adopting a group’s identity, influential presidents or chief executives who do employ this approach work to shape that identity for their own ends. By establishing this fact, he invoked a sense of a united nation that required his leadership.

From Charisma to Consensus

Let us look at say nearly 100 years ago the renowned German political and social theorist Max Weber introduced the notion of “charismatic leadership”. As an antidote to his grim prognosis for industrial society. Without such leadership, one does forecast, “not summer’s bloom that lies ahead of us, but rather a polar night of icy darkness and hardness.” 

The notion of charisma has endured, alternatively attracting and repelling us as a function of events in the world at large. Amidst the chaos following World War I, many scholars continued to see strong leaders as saviours. In the aftermath of fascism, Nazism and World War II, many turned against the notion that character determines the effectiveness of leaders.

Effective Leadership

So instead scholars began to favour “contingency models,” which does focus on the context in which the leaders operate. Work in the 1960s and 1970s by the influential social psychologist Fred Fiedler of the University of Washington, for example, suggested that the secret of good leadership lies in discovering the “perfect match” between the individual and the leadership challenge he or she confronts. 

For every would-be leader, there is an optimal leadership context; for every leadership challenge, there is a definitely perfect candidate. This idea has proved to be a big money maker; it underlies a multitude of best-selling business books and the tactics of corporate head hunters who promote themselves as the matchmakers extraordinaire.

In fact, such models have delivered mixed results, contributing to a partial resurgence of charismatic models of leadership in recent decades. In particular, James MacGregor Burns’s work on transformational leadership in the late 1970s rekindled the view that only a figure with a specific and rare set of attributes is able to bring about necessary transformations in the structure of organizations and society.

THE Seven QUALITIES OF LEADERSHIP

The greatest and most powerful leaders hold visions larger than themselves. Leaders leverage the power of their position to positively influence others and to create real lasting change and impact in helping others to achieve more, become more and give more.

Learn how you can develop and increase your own potential to become a more effective leader through the top 7 Qualities of Effective Leadership:

ENERGY

Real leaders do tap into their own personal power (their very energy) to shift the emotional tone of those around them, so they can help re-focus the very group’s energy in order to accomplish goals.

EMOTIONAL MASTERY

Leaders know to master their own emotions before trying to change those around them. Leverage certainty, humour, decisiveness, playfulness and more so compassion to overcome stress and then provide strength to others.

RELATIONSHIP MASTERY

To truly influence someone, a leader must first understand and appreciate the uniqueness of others towards individual experiences. Develop and cultivate authentic personal connections, then leverage insights to help others meet their very needs and achieve real breakthroughs.

CELEBRATE VICTORY

When people are consistently rewarded for the wins, they develop a driving hunger to become better. It is important to note that great leaders are correct in private and praised in public. Acknowledging success effectively strengthens bonds and does trust to build stronger teams and results.

TIME MASTERY

One of the most vital skills set by the leader’s practice is called time management. Understand the inputs to each project, and identify inefficiencies. Once you have successfully mastered your own time teach others to compound the effects and free up your calendar.

OWNERSHIP OF PURPOSE

Great leaders are always purpose-driven. They begin with the why behind the project and ensure each team member connects to it. Helping others to tap into why they think, feel, behave and act the way they do is a core quality of leadership.

FINANCIAL MASTERY

Powerful leaders understand the actual cost of time. That is certainly the most important to take into account. Rather than going to exchange time for money. Leaders increase their skill sets in finance and wealth management to further empower their use of resources, time and people.

Six Ways Psychology Can Help You: Become a Better Leader

‘Leadership’ has become such a buzzword in recent years that nowadays it almost does not mean anything. Programs intending to develop “leadership skills” can often mean nothing more than networking, and the “leadership development” books can boil down to an individual puffing themselves up in order to market their personal brand.

At the same time as this surge of “pop leadership”, it is psychology researchers that have increased their efforts to cut through the clutter and aggregate real data on the science of leadership.

Here are six psychological ideas that you can implement in Effective Leadership:

There Is No One Way to Be a Leader

The first thing you can learn from immersing yourself in the psychology of leadership is that there are as many ways to be an effective leader as there are leadership positions, and there are as many effective ways to inspire people as there are people.

The current wisdom amongst psychological theorists is an integration of two separate approaches: Situational Theory and Trait Theory. 

What this means is that there is not one universal psychological profile that makes you an effective leader, and there is not one perfect situation that can “thrust leadership upon you.” Instead, it is always a combination of the two.

Being a good leader is both being in the right place at the right time, but also about being the right person for your place and time.

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Leaders Never Go on to “Turn it Off”

Just as leadership is not just about having the right traits, and not just about being in the right situation, it is also not something that one can turn on and off. Psychological theorists study leadership holistically, finding patterns both inside and outside of the formal leadership role.

Leadership proposes that the most effective leaders exert an influence on three levels: public, private, and personal. The most effective leaders are able to effect change on a public level, in groups of more than two, and on a private level, in one-on-one interactions. Critically, though, leaders do not “turn it off” outside of their role, and also do maintain their leadership mindset on a personal level, living out the beliefs and attitudes that they do infuse into their leadership role.

Effective Leadership Starts completely with Your Posture and Body Language

The important thing about realizing that there is no magic formula to leadership and that leadership happens on multiple levels simultaneously is that it gives one a framework for how to learn about leadership. Psychology teaches that the way leaders develop leadership skills involves a slow, steady process of observation, trial and error, interpersonal connection, and experience.

In this case, the first place to start observing is your own body. One does demonstrate that even something as simple as assuming a powerful body posture, with chest open and limbs expanded, can significantly impact how a leader is received by their peers or subordinates.

Relationships Are the Fundamental Unit of Leadership

After establishing a healthy awareness of one’s own bodily presence in a leadership role, the next step outward is at the level of interpersonal relationships. Another recent theoretical development in the psychological understanding of leadership is called the leader–member exchange (LMX) theory.

While many of us can fall prey to the stereotype that leaders exert their influence in front of huge crowds, giving rousing, cinematic speeches, LMX theory instructs us that the fundamental unit of leadership is the one-on-one relationship and that without building an interpersonal network based on trust and respect, no leader can be effective even if they have charisma and brilliant ideas.

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Effective Leadership Often Tends to Look Like Followership

In placing the focus on interpersonal relationships, the psychology of leadership also introduces a useful concept for leaders: that is the idea of followership.

When leaders begin to understand the importance of building trust and respect in their co-workers and subordinates, it lends humility and collegiality that keeps them from the prideful pitfalls of so many leaders. The best leaders understand that their leadership is totally impossible without the dedication, trust, and belief of their followers, and so they focus in turn on empowering these people.

Leaders Do See Through the Us versus Them, Ingroup versus Outgroup Mentality

Once leaders have followed this outwardly spiralling path of growth. Moving from an awareness of themselves to an awareness of their place in a relationship. To an awareness of the other person’s place in the relationship. The next step in the maturation of a leader is to understand the very dynamics of larger groups.

An easy marker of poor leadership (and something we sadly see too often in today’s political leaders) is a tendency to separate groups into “Us versus Them.” When leaders focus their reward structures on things like loyalty or intellectual conformity and reject the “Outgroup” that fails to meet these expectations, it indicates self-absorption and fear of losing power.

The best leaders, instead of directing focus at the “Outgroup,” become interested in serving both “Ingroup” and “Outgroup” individuals. They lose interest in themselves and instead turn their attention to enacting their ideals, honouring their relationships, and achieving the collective vision of the group. When a leader has achieved this level of maturation, they welcome challenges to their leadership, nonconformist ideas, and divergent solutions, rather than being threatened by them.

Personality and Leadership: Definitions and Historical Overview

Personality Defined

The term personality has two different meanings, and it is important to keep them separate. On the one hand, it refers to an individual’s social reputation and to the manner in which he or she is perceived by others. This is personality from the observer’s perspective, and it concerns the amount of esteem, regard, or status that the person has within his or her reference groups. Personality in this sense is public, relatively objective, and clearly linked to judgments of leadership.

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From this perspective, leadership judgments concern interpersonal performances, and these judgments are what is meant by a personality from the observer’s perspective. Furthermore, because reputations represent a person’s past behaviour and because many psychologists believe that past performance is the best predictor of future performance, perceptions of an individual’s leadership may be useful in predicting trends in leadership. On the other hand, personality may refer to intrapersonal structures, dynamics, processes, and propensities that explain why a person behaves in a certain way.

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Thus, there are at least two levels of meanings of personality. The first refers to a person’s social reputation: It is public and verifiable. The second refers to the person’s inner nature: It is private and inferable. Epistemologically, the status of these two meanings is quite different. The effectiveness of a leader depends on how he or she is perceived by others; that is, the reputation he or she achieves. This is the empirical phenomenon that we want to explain or predict.

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A theory of inner processes, their functions and interrelations, is needed to explain or predict that reputation or effectiveness. Corresponding to these two meanings of personality are two senses of the word trait. On the one hand, trait refers to recurring regularities or trends in a person’s behaviour; to say that a person is masterful means that he or she tends to exert control over, influence, or direct other people or things in his or her environment. In this sense, the word trait is theoretically neutral and purely descriptive. It tells us what we may expect a person to do, but not why he or she would do it.

The term trait has also been used to denote psychological features that exist inside a person and that explain the recurring tendencies in that person’s behaviour. This second use of the term describes what we may expect a person to do and explains why we should expect the person to behave that way. In this article, the word trait is used to denote stylistic consistencies in an individual’s social behaviour; the causes or explanations for this consistency have yet to be illuminated by research and theory. The word trait will not be used in this article to denote structures or systems inside individuals.

Irrational and Unconscious Processes of Explaining the Psychology of Leadership

Achieving a psychologically coherent understanding of a leadership style requires knowledge of irrational meanings and causes—that is, psychological experiences and behaviours that do not, on the surface, follow logical tenets. These factors reflect needs or drives at the motivational core of the mind. Often called the dynamic unconscious, this area of mental activity is postulated to comprise wishful and defensive motives in a conflictual but active configuration. The impulsive and defensive aims of such a configuration influence conscious experience and motoric action. Yet, important elements in this configuration remain beyond the conscious recognition of the individual. These deeply unconscious processes involve more than the nonconscious processing of perceptual and other information.

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Unconscious dynamic factors lead to conflict and, sometimes, psychopathology. From a structural perspective, for example, lack of self-confidence is merely a symptom of the deeply rooted conflict centred on an individual’s repressed infantile wishes, fears, and motives. Executives who are unable to master career disappointments may subsequently fail because they founder on unresolved conflicts at the centre of their experience with disappointment (Zaleznik, 1984). Unconscious dynamic factors often underlie the difficulty many executives have in dealing with their own and others’ anger (Kets de Vries, 1984). Efforts to appease feelings of guilt and the denial of anger may lead to irrational decisions. These irrational interactions can have ruinous consequences for a business or workgroup, such as the excessive dependency of superiors and subordinates on each other (Levinson, 1984).

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Most empirical approaches to leadership, however, do not account for irrational and unconscious motivational factors. Conscious thought is often seen as simple and obvious activity, resulting from a state of full self-awareness and full self-control. Less rational, frequently pathological and antisocial sides of behaviour, such as neurosis, narcissism, exploitation of others, and sexuality, are minimized or ignored.

A central issue is how one conceptualizes the structural psychological dimensions that produce that flexible balance between stability and change, a balance necessary to engender and sustain effective leadership. An answer lies in the theory of active coping developed by Joel Shanan (1967, 1985, 1990). In general, this theory derives from the ideas of David Rapaport (1957), Carl Rogers (1961), and other “ego” and “self” psychologists.

The ego or the equivalent in these theories to the central organizing agency of the personality must fulfil the following functions:

  • 1)Deal with (suppress or express, directly or indirectly) the biological and basic drives and needs of the person, such as sexuality and aggression;
  • 2)Deal with (cultivate, change, tolerate, or defend against) external environmental challenges and threats;
  • 3)Deal with the individualized desires, skills, and needs of the self—those aspects of motivation that extend beyond biological gratification and physical survival;

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  • 4)Coordinate the means of achieving the first dim functions in a manner that creates a relatively stable identity with an adequate sense of esteem and accomplishment.
  • 5) Conceptually, active coping is a characteristic of a psychologically healthy personality structure. Such a structure has the capacity to tolerate the tension inherent in openly perceiving internal and external events that may be threatening, challenging, or conflict-arousing. Moreover, this healthy structure maintains the ability to formulate and carry out strategies to meet, overcome, or resolve the threats, challenges, and conflicts it encounters. These strategies, whether conscious or unconscious, are designed to optimize the adaptive balance between environmental demands, regulations, and constraints, on the one hand, and a person’s psychological aspirations, needs, and morals, on the other hand.

Active coping is manifested in the individual’s propensity to strive to achieve personal aims and overcome difficulties, rather than passively retreat or be overwhelmed by frustration, whether the problem originates in the self or the external environment.

Openness to synthesizing complexity

The dimension of active coping relates to the capacity to integrate internal and external sources of cognitive and affective information. An effective leader is able to identify a set of goals that he or she is interested in, as well as the goals and interests of key individuals and groups who may help or hinder planned projects and programs.

 Failure to perceive and absorb the complex matrix of incoming information would limit greatly any leader’s facility to anticipate, consider, and respond to changing circumstances or new stressors. The wider the sweep of the leader’s grasp of the situation, the greater the likelihood of finding successful solutions. Major corporate leaders in particular must continually search for a means to draw into a pattern the myriad events that constitute the day-to-day life of a company.

Managers who display the capacity to perceive, tolerate, and comprehend intricate patterns of stimulation are more likely than those who do not find workable solutions to conflicts arising from discrepancies between their personal goals and those of the groups they lead. This openness must be accompanied by a readiness to synthesize information from many different sources, so that group and personal goals can be integrated. The process of absorption and synthesis is a requisite condition for developing novel behaviours and creative solutions that allow a manager to become a leader.

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Readiness to overcome internal and external obstacles to long-term goals. This dimension of active coping relates to the goal structure of personality. The ability to overcome the difficulties inherent in leading an organization requires the capacity to delay gratification while continuing to strive for psychologically distant goals. This process implies a personality structure that is sufficiently complex to tolerate tension when confronted by internal conflicts or external obstacles and find new strategies for reaching sought-after goals.

Passive coping may serve the manager who is satisfied with maintaining an image or playing a role. This mode of response, however, is the antithesis of leadership. Leadership requires going beyond conventional wisdom and established practices to forge new social processes. For this, psychological autonomy, resourcefulness, and tenacity made possible by active coping are needed.

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As a structural characteristic, active coping transcends specific leadership behaviours, styles, and traits. The potential validity of a structural approach lies in its power to explain and predict phenomena that are hard to account for in other ways. Chief among these is the prediction of leadership over time and across widely varying conditions. Propositions toward such a model are presented in the following section.

Let us move towards The Assessment of Coping Style

Selection for executive leadership requires more than exposure to stressful stimuli. To predict how an individual will cope with the demands of the leading job over time, we should assess how unconscious phenomena relate to more conscious, experiential, and observable psychological phenomena (such as behaviours, values, thoughts, and feelings). This process calls for a variety of tests to tap both surface and underlying aspects of personality. Traditionally, such a battery consists of an array of assessment techniques along two separate but related dimensions, ranging from structured to unstructured, and from objective to projective.

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Projective techniques, in contrast to objective assessment techniques, present relatively vague and ambiguous stimuli for eliciting underlying personality characteristics. One technique asks the respondent to make up stories that describe a series of pictures. Another asks him or her to complete several incomplete sentences (e.g., “He was happiest when____”). The key to projective techniques is that, like the unstructured tests, the stimuli provide little structure to guide the response. They thereby reveal aspects of individual functioning related to underlying structural dimensions inaccessible with objective tests. Projective techniques are especially well suited to assess active coping because the demand of partial ambiguity in the situation requires the mobilization of energy and orientation of attention in active coping.

Directions for New Research

The perfectly stable and consistent active-coping personality structure is an idealized type. Most people, however, are not perfect. Thus, the structural approach we propose suggests several new areas of inquiry. Three, in particular, are important:

  • (1) Longitudinal research: Information on the psychological characteristics of successful leaders has been growing steadily over the last two decades, but knowledge based on longitudinal studies is still limited. Research on the analysis of stability and change in personality structure is equally rare. Longitudinal research, however, is best suited to uncover the personality characteristics that enable durable and effective leadership. Such research has important implications for corporations that need to select and develop managers who possess the stability and resourcefulness to lead.

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  • (2) Person-organization fit: In principle, small task groups and organizations may be characterized in terms of their active-coping tendencies. Therefore, we may refer to the organization’s coping style and examine the congruence between the coping style of the individual and that of the organization. Active-coping organizations are characterized by the willingness to identify problems openly and clearly and by the readiness to accept responsibility for solving these problems. In passive-coping organizations, by contrast, scapegoating is a deeply entrenched mode of coping. Active copers may not be effective leaders in passive-coping systems. Indeed, active copers may choose to leave organizations with passive coping tendencies, because they recognize the intractability of the passive-coping style. Conversely, active-coping organizations may attract and select active coping managers.

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  • Do active-coping leaders attract active-coping followers and do such leaders lead active-coping organizations? Are teams that include active copers more effective than teams that include a combination of active and passive copers? To be effective, what proportion of passive-to-active copers may a team tolerate? Do other factors compensate for a passive-coping leader? If a passive-coping leader possesses a particularly valued competency, peers and subordinates may try to compensate for the leader’s functional deficits. When passive copers attain formal authority, does their leadership frustrate and drive away active copers?
  • (3) Cross-situational relevance: What are the implications of active coping in different kinds of organizations? The issue is whether active coping predicts leadership across different settings and structures. Is it differentially correlated with leadership in hierarchical versus flat organizations? Does it predict leadership in the church and the military? Is it as necessary for the effectiveness of small task-group leadership as it may be for leadership at the top tiers of organizations?

 Conclusion

Continuation of this work is particularly pressing, given the dramatic instability and reshaping characterizing the contemporary business world. The trend in academic psychology, as in most corporate settings, has been to focus on fragmented behaviours, traits, and decision styles.

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In this article, we illustrate the promise inherent in reversing this trend. The model we have outlined offers a more effective, more integrative framework for conceptualizing the leader as a complex, conflicted, and real individual. As evidence that supports the validity of this model accumulates, organizations may be able to ensure that the leaders in the most demanding positions are equipped with the psychological stability and resourcefulness required to perform effectively.

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Organizations need leaders who can change with the unpredictable flow of events and who can also change the direction of that flow. To promote the growth and welfare of their organizations and of the economy as a whole. We look forward to a major breakthrough in the scope and effectiveness of leadership assessment when organizations will move beyond short-term, situational models to adopt a dynamic, developmental approach. We believe that the returns on the investment required to reap the benefits of selecting leaders with the capacity to grow and add value to their organizations will become evident when the expenditures necessary for the process of careful selection are compared with the costs of severance and rehiring or with the costs associated with the need to provide support for managers who are unable to perform at the expected levels.

2 Comments

  1. May 15, 2023 / 7:36 PM

    This was such an interesting blog post. Thank you for sharing all this knowledge on the area of leadership etc. I am sure many will be enlightened by this post.

    Lauren – bournemouthgirl

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