We have looked at different components of leadership up to now, and we now know that there are certain traits and behaviors that leaders display. We will now look at the components of leadership.
Four Components of Effective Leadership
We have emphasized that personal traits alone do not account for effective leadership, although common components of effective leaders have been identified. Research has also identified general strategies for producing more effective leadership in physical education, sport, and exercise settings, including manipulating situational factors and promoting certain group member characteristics. Four general components that we discuss in this section are a leader’s qualities, leadership styles, situational factors, and the followers’ qualities.
The four components of effective leadership are a composite of many different approaches to the study of leadership. No one approach is best—they all contribute to understanding what makes leadership effective. Consistent with the interactional model, the four components together show that behavior is best understood as an interaction between personal and situational factors.
Although there isn’t one distinct set of essential core personality traits that will ensure that a person will become a leader, successful leaders appear to have some qualities in common. Transformational leadership theory, for example, suggests that leaders must serve as strong role models for followers demonstrating key group values. Researchers have identified several other characteristics of successful leaders, including above-average ability, intelligence, optimism, intrinsic motivation, and empathy. These are requisite qualities that someone needs in order to become a leader, but still, they are not sufficient—that is, the presence of all these qualities doesn’t guarantee a leader. And these qualities will be needed in greater or lesser amounts depending on the preferences of group members and the specific situation.
We have talked about democratic and autocratic coaching styles. As you might expect, the coach with a democratic style is typically athlete cantered, cooperative, and relationship-oriented. Conversely, the coach with the autocratic style is usually win oriented, tightly structured, and task-oriented. A coach need not act entirely one way or the other. Coaches can effectively integrate and blend democratic and autocratic leadership styles (Blake & Moulton, 1969). Different leadership behaviors are more optimal in certain situations, as you have seen through the multidimensional model of sport leadership and the LSS. The challenge is determining which style best suits the circumstances and whether individuals are flexible enough to adapt their dominant style to a particular leadership situation. The appropriate coaching style depends most on situational factors and member characteristics.
One aspect of style that has been researched is how coaches make decisions. Coaching effectiveness largely depends on making good decisions and the degree to which athletes accept those decisions. Chelladurai and Trail (2001) have developed a model of decision making that applies in sport. Five primary styles of decision making are used in sport:
Autocratic style. The coach solves the problem herself using the information available at the time.
Autocratic–consultative style. The coach obtains the necessary information from relevant players and then comes to a decision.
Consultative–individual style. The coach consults the players individually and then makes a decision. The decision may or may not reflect the players’ input.
Consultative–group style. The coach consults the players as a group and then makes a decision. The decision may or may not reflect the players’ input.
Group style. The coach shares the problem with the players; then the players jointly make the decision without influence from the coach.
Although most coaches prefer the autocratic and consultative–group decision styles, the choice of the most effective decision style depends on the coach and her particular situation.
A leader should be sensitive to the specific situation and environment. Leaders need to consider several situational factors that are relevant to planning for effective leadership in sport (Martens, 2004):
Is it a team sport or an individual sport? Team-sport athletes typically prefer more autocratic leaders than do individual-sport athletes.
Is it an interactive (e.g., basketball) or coactive (e.g., bowling) sport? Interactive-team athletes prefer more task-oriented leaders than do coactive-team athletes.
What is the size of the team? As group size increases, it becomes more difficult to effectively use a democratic leadership style.
How much time is available? When little time is available, a task-oriented leader is more desirable.
Does the group have a particular leadership tradition? A group that has a tradition with one style of leadership will typically have difficulty changing to another style of leadership.
The Art of Leadership
After reviewing the literature in the area, Hackman and Wageman (2007) indicated that “leadership training must both bring to the surface the trainee’s own preferred leadership strategies and then explore the conditions under which those strategies are and are not appropriate” (p. 46). Are you doing this? In an interesting study of leaders in the field of recreation (e.g., coaches, recreation leaders, fitness specialists), Little and Watkins (2004) found that factors such as years of experience, age, and qualifications were not sufficient predictors of leader performance. Effectiveness was determined by the leader’s capacity to experience more complex ways of leading. Becoming an effective leader takes hard work, continued efforts to improve one’s self, and the ability to learn from leadership experiences.
Finally, although there is a great deal of science behind effective leadership, top researchers (Bennis, 2007) indicate that effective leadership is also an art that is influenced by factors such as wisdom, intelligence (intellectual and practical), and creativity (Sternberg, 2007). Hence, make a commitment to read about and observe effective leaders. Focus not only on attributes and characteristics that make a leader effective but also on how those attributes work together and interact with situational factors to influence leader effectiveness.