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What is Leadership and why are Leaders Important?

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One of the most important issues in business today is the question of what it means to be a true leader, and how to find creative solutions to business.

According to William Taylor, leadership is not something that you get to your office or in importance within the company. Leadership is what makes the way you are acting; it is the energy and enthusiasm that you exude from yourself. And in many organizations, the most effective leaders are deep in organizations above. (Boston Research Group survey, 2011)

Speaking of situational leadership, in particular about the decisions that should be mentioned, there are some approaches to situational leadership differing in the selection of criteria that define a management situation. For example, F. Fiedler proposed an approach in which the most important situational factor is the relationship between the leader and followers, structured work (i.e. clarity as to how and what to do) and domineering leader's position in the organization (Fiedler, 1967). In the model of the "path – goal," R. House and T. Mitchell focus on the characteristics of the leader and the followers of organizational factors, such as organizational culture, content and structure of the system of formal relations of power (House & Mitchell, 1974). Yet, most popularity in recent years is acquired by a theory of situational leadership proposed by Americans P. Hersey and K. Blanchard. Their work on the situational leadership (Hersey & Blanchard, 1977) is based on the belief that people can and want to develop, and that there is no unified, the best management style to encourage this development. Leadership style should adjust to the situation. When making decisions, it is especially important.

To achieve the efficiency in the application of the model “Situational Leadership,” it is necessary to master three skills: diagnosis, flexibility and partnership.

One of the most advanced in explanation of situational leadership is the model proposed by Victor Vroom and Philip Yetton that was later substantially amended by Arthur Jago (Vroom & Yetton, 1973).

Similarly to the model of “path - goal,” the model proposes to determine an effective leadership style depending on the situation. It is also assumed that the same leader can use different styles. The main difference of this model is its focus on the only one aspect of leadership behavior - to attract subordinates to participate in decision making. Accordingly, leaders are offered to focus on the problem to be solved and the situation in which the problem arose.

Interestingly, the premise of the model is the idea that the allotted time to address the situation is critical. The situation in which time limit is irrelevant determines the rate at zero.

Obviously, important decisions need to be taken with the consent of all members. Proposals are developed collectively, and the main goal is to develop a general agreement on the main goal. Management by consensus is usually considered an alternative for situations where decision making is the chain of “top-down,” which is the normal situation for hierarchically constructed organizations.

As everyone can participate in the decision, any person may give his/her veto and stop any decision. As a result, only solutions that are secure and support the status quo are approved. Difficult decisions - those that for someone would be “against the grain” – are quietly relegated.

Decisions by consensus often lead to what is called “the Abilene paradox,” when the group agrees on a course (course of action), which does not fit to any member of the group, because nobody wants to go against the will of the whole group (Harvey, 1974). Abilene paradox is also known as the “Deceptive success of the unanimous decision in the team.”

Management by consensus can be compared with a dip in the pool with quicksand. Due to the fact that important decisions are never made, the entire organization is floundering in trying to find support. It should be mentioned that the control system on the basis of consensus sometimes arises accidentally when groups have managers who are afraid to make decisions as someone who works with them would be offended (on these decisions).

“Often the person who disagrees with a certain course of action, does not express an opinion, if fears that he will be in the singular. Such people are silent. From this an interesting consequence follows. We find out that someone does not agree, but only in the case, when he talks about it. And if he is silent, we are inclined to think that he agrees! Therefore, it often happens that we are silent because we think that all the other opinion is "yes", when in fact many are silent but for the same wrong reason!” - Freek Vermeulen says. (Vermeulen, 2009).

Thus, it happens that people make decisions based not on what they want, but on what they think others want. The result is that everyone is doing something that for no one really is necessary.

Members of the team and the project manager can easily fall into the trap of over-agreement. People united in groups have a tendency to “roll” to the patterns of thought that defines the unwritten group norms that dictate how work should be done and how to address various issues. Often these unwritten norms of behavior (in this case, the need to agree with the manager of the project as a way to show their support) are established and reinforced by the fact that team members are equal to the leader of the project.

For example, at the beginning of the “life” of any team, its members both consciously and unconsciously are equal to the leader of the team, while his behavior is seen as an example of the “appropriate” behavior in the team regardless of its nature or purpose.

If the team leader is a model of behavior, which, in fact, called “Let's work together, trying not to conflict!” team members can understand it in a way that this will reduce the invigorating glow of healthy intellectual competition and exchange of views without which it is impossible to create a high quality product. Such restraint in expressing their true feelings and opinions is particularly common in virtual teams. Electronic media can inhibit open discussion because of feeling tremendous interpersonal distance and the uncertainty associated with the lack of personal acquaintance with members of the team.

In such circumstances, members of the team, due to their conscious and unconscious desire to “settle,” cannot express their point of view, if it is fundamentally at odds with the general point of view, out of fear that they will find bad team players. When the trend toward silencing alternative view reaches a certain level, the group is immersed in an intellectual stupor. Team members are disengaged and without motivation and innovative solutions. The need to “agree” allows the project to move forward, but it is often the case due to the quality and complexity of the project work, which are reduced.

As a vivid example of rational choice in favor of conflict in the situations of need to make critical decisions, we can present those decision making situation that are described in the book of memoirs of the former U.S. President George W. Bush Decision Points.

In this frank and fascinating book, President George W. Bush describes the crucial decisions that influenced his life and politics. Decisions he took had an impact on people around the world and defined the essence of the times in which we live.

The book Decision Points takes readers into the governor's mansion in Texas on the election night in 2000, on board number 1 in the first hours after the September 11 attacks, in a meeting room on the eve of the war in Iraq, and behind the scenes of the White House at the time of adoption of many other historical presidential decisions.

Bush discusses in his book his decision to send troops to Iraq, both initially and again in 2007, presenting arguments that Saddam Hussein's refusal to collaborate with the United Nations needed to be finished and also arguing that failure in send additional troops to Iraq in 2007 could result in a situation similar and even worse to the Vietnam War.

Bush describes how he was forced by the situation to have long conversations with some members of Congress from Republicans, who were reluctant to support the bailout during 2008 financial crisis. Bush expressed to them his negative attitude to the fact that the government had to take such a drastic measure but noticed that he supports the bailout as he understand that a risk of an economic depression was not worth taking.

“The shrill debate never affected my decisions. I read a lot of history, and I was struck by how many presidents had endured harsh criticism. The measure of their character, and often their success, was how they responded. Those who based decisions on principle, not some snapshot of public opinion, were often vindicated over time” – he wrote.

George Washington once wrote that leading by conviction gave him “a consolation within that no earthly efforts can deprive me of.” He continued, “The arrows of malevolence, however barbed and well pointed, never can reach the most vulnerable part of me.” (Bush, 2010)

When people lack the courage to express their true feelings, high probability of the Abilene paradox exists. If someone has the courage to openly express their concerns, others may also be surprised to discover that they share the same feelings. Such open expression can break the vicious cycle of the Abilene paradox.

Agreement management is perhaps one of the most complex human problems faced by leaders. After all, few managers want to have them in the team, and it is often a natural tendency for a manager even of the best teams to consider “consent” in the team as the main indicator of a successful, well-functioning team. The real art of managing people is the ability to read between the lines and see where consent becomes less productive state of the team than conflict.

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