“Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand.” (Colin Powell)
In our previous article on the series leadership 4.0 and digital transformation, we have seen how leadership, as a set of skills, would represent the ability of an individual, group, or organization to “lead” and “influence” others. In addition, the trait theory of leadership has been explored to detect different personality traits that are usually associated with successful leaders while coping in different situations. Previously, we looked at the nature of effective leadership as an inherited trait or learned set of skills. Moreover, Lewin’s leadership styles  were discussed with more recent transformational, transactional, and situational leadership approaches.
To continue our leadership 4.0 journey toward discovering the “why” of greatness, in today’s article, we will discuss a few leadership theories developed in the last century and integrated with more recent research. This article will highlight the role of leaders in guiding transformative changes inside organizations and communities, along with five key elements. Lastly, an innovative approach to leadership from Brian Tracy will follow to unlock those top qualities and behaviors necessary to evolve a good leader into a great one! A preview of what to expect from our next article on leadership 4.0 and digital transformation.
Let’s move on!
Theories are needed to explain the “why” of greatness
Over the last century, leadership theories were developed to understand why certain people become successful leaders.
- “Great man” theories support the idea that leaders were born with outstanding leading characteristics (e.g., charisma, high confidence, intelligence, social skills), leading them to be indisputable leaders. Considering leadership as inherited, people cannot simply learn to become great leaders.
- Trait theories consider that people inherit specific traits making them more suitable for developing a leading behavior. These qualities can also be recurrent and shared among leaders (e.g., self-confidence, extroversion, courage). However, this theory cannot explain how certain people possess these special traits are not in leading positions.
- According to the situation, contingency theories focus on identifying variables found in the environment that would influence a specific leadership style. Hence, a balance between behavior, needs, and environment is considered when becoming effective leaders .
- Situational theories assume that leaders tend to adopt the proper action based on a specific situation and context; indeed, different styles appear more appropriate than others according to certain situations and decisions .
- Behavioral theories, contrary to the inheritance view, support the belief that leaders are made. Focusing on action instead of inherited/mental traits, individuals can learn to become leaders.
- Participative theories consider the importance of others’ points of view, relevant when leading while encouraging participation, contribution, and collaboration from group members into the decision-making process.
- Management or transactional theories evaluate the role of supervision, organization, and group performance based on a system in which reward and punishment are given, an approach that is mainly applied in business.
- Relationship theories or transformational theories focus on connecting leaders with followers to motivate and inspire group members toward achieving a common goal. This approach evaluated performance, although each member can enhance their potential, and where high ethical and moral standards are the key aspects of a great leader .
Leadership: stop managing, start leading
We have seen how complex leadership can be and how influential leaders are in determining changes and transformations inside organizations or communities. More recently, five key elements of leadership were identified , including:
- Followers are influenced by the leaders, although followers' input may also influence the leader’s opinion/action.
- Influence: the process of communicating, motivating, and inspiring followers toward accepting and actuating changes.
- Organizational objectives: the creation of a shared vision to achieve organizational goals.
- People: essential elements for leaders, guided and collaborating with the leaders.
- Changes: influencing and setting goals to achieve an organization’s change and evolution rapidly.
Moreover, managerial leadership skills were also proposed . Among these, interpersonal (to understand, communicate and collaborate with groups and individuals), technical (methods and skills to perform tasks efficiently), and decision-making skills (problem-solving, conceptualization, re-frame alternatives to achieve opportunities). Finally, theories on leadership were developed to predict, control, and understand the way of becoming a successful leader; particularly, when considering the interaction between the leader and the followers at the individual (one-to-one) or the group (one-to-many) level.
Future-oriented, positive, responsible, and strong communicators
Throughout history, we have seen the birth of several different leaders, each with outstanding special qualities. But what differentiates a good from a bad leader?
Based on Brian Tracy, there are seven main good qualities that a leader should have to be great, although these qualities can be achieved and improved through learning, practice, and repetition.
- Vision: Great leaders are visionaries, and they have lots of ideas. With clarity and excitement, they aim to achieve their goals based on strategic planning. A transformational approach in which leaders are capable of emotionally connecting with the group.
- Courage: Great leaders are courageous and willing to take risks toward achieving goals, even though success is not guaranteed. Leaders take active actions and are enterprising.
- Integrity: great leaders appreciate trust and honesty inside and outside the organization. Integrity and truthfulness are true, the core aspects of a successful business.
- Humility: Great leaders are active and strong but also humble. They value self-confidence, self-awareness to themself and others.
- Strategic planning: great leaders foresee industry, market trends, or events, and for this reason, they plan the next move always in advance. Competition is viewed as an advantage to accurately anticipate and move forward with the best action.
- Focus: great leaders understand the needs and the circumstances. Focusing on the strengths and resources of an organization and the potential of every member allows the leader and the entire organization to achieve goals while responding to customers’ needs against a competitive market.
- Cooperation: great leaders can create cohesive and collaborative teams capable of achieving any results. Leaders are very attentive and able to select people to enhance an organization’s functionality.
Moreover, Brian Tracy strongly highlights the relevance of pervasive and effective communication while transforming a good leader into a great one; indeed, practicing public speaking is suggested to overcome the fear of showing up and talking in front of many people. Finally, acknowledging good leadership qualities and decisively applying them identifies good leaders who lead by example.
Entrepreneurs, business builders, top salespeople, artists, and creators. What do they have in common? First, they have a future-oriented approach tuned toward new opportunities. Second, through the practice of “idealization,” they engage long-term thinking in each aspect of daily life to plan and achieve goals.
Every day is a new day, full of chances, ideas, and things to do. With a positive mindset, good goal-directed leaders think where they aim to be in a few years and strive to achieve it. They see failures as opportunities to learn, focusing on positive instead of negative aspects of this experience. And lastly, good leaders who are problem-solving, action-oriented, and have integrity overcome any difficulty with a great dose of responsibility.
Leaders 4.0: online, offline, and the digital age
Having analyzed and discussed several theories, approaches, and leadership styles, in the following article of this series, we will examine behavioral leadership facing our 21st-century exponential transformations and Industry 4.0. A novel methodological leadership style matrix  will be investigated and how this approach would be capable of satisfying the major key aspects of Industry 4.0, based on Kagerman et al. (2013): standardization, complex systems management, comprehensive communication, safety, and security, resources efficiency, regulatory frameworks, work organization, and design, training and professional development. Giving more autonomy and responsibility to workers while managing, leading, supervising, and supporting transformative changes, in Industry 4.0, leaders acquire a new role in which the development of innovative skills, qualities, and knowledge is necessary .
“Leadership is unlocking people’s potential to become better.” (Bill Bradley)
- Lewin K, Lippitt R, White K. Patterns of aggressive behavior in experimentally created “social climates.” J Soc Psychol. 1939;10(2):271-301.
- Hodgson P, White R. Leadership, Learning, Ambiguity and Uncertainty and Their Significance to Dynamic Organisations. In: Peterson R, Mannix E, eds. Leading and Managing People in the Dynamic Organisation. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum; 2003.
- Blanchard KH, Zigarmi P, Drea Zigarmi. Leadership and the One Minute Manager: Increasing Effectiveness Through Situational Leadership. William Morrow, An Imprint Of HarperCollins; 2013.
- Groves KS, LaRocca MA. An empirical study of leader ethical values, transformational and transactional leadership, and follower attitudes toward corporate social responsibility. J Bus Ethics.2011;103: 511. doi:10.1007/s10551-011-0877-y
- Oberer, B. & Erkollar, A. (2018). Leadership 4.0: Digital Leaders in the Age of Industry 4.0. International Journal of Organizational Leadership, 7, 4, 404-412. DOI: 10.33844/ijol.2018.60332
- Promsri, C. (2019). Developing Model of Digital Leadership for Successful Digital Transformations. International Journal of Business Management, Volume 02, Issue 08. DOI: HTTP://WWW.GPHJOURNAL.ORG/INDEX.PHP/BM Available at: http://gphjournal.org/index.php/bm/article/view/249/113
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