What is the difference between traditional and contemporary leadership?


by me

The importance of understanding the models and techniques of leaderships are increasing due to the increase of complexity, diversity and rapid changes in today’s organizations. Winston & Patterson (2006) presented a integrated definition for leadership as “A leader is one or more people who selects, equips, trains, and influences one or more follower(s) who have diverse gifts, abilities, and skills and focuses the follower(s) to the organization’s mission and objectives causing the follower(s) to willingly and enthusiastically expend spiritual, emotional, and physical energy in a concerted coordinated effort to achieve the organizational mission and objectives.” (Winston & Patterson, 2006) This emphasises the importance of leaders for organizations to achieve its goals and objectives. So it is important to understand, the different models of leadership styles since the leadership style which suits for one organization might not suitable for another organization. Many people in the past have tried to come up with theories and techniques to understand the styles of leadership. Those leadership styles or models have changed from time to time and currently we called emergent models for those models, which became more widespread and accepted within the last ten years time period. The purpose of this essay is to identify the differences between traditional leadership and contemporary leadership. For a clear understanding first it will review the literature of traditional leadership models. Secondly, it will explain the contemporary leadership models. Finally, it will analyse the contribution of emergent models of leadership and justify how those emergent models of leadership have enhanced the contemporary leader in a world of rapidly changing technology.

Examples for traditional leadership models mainly include trait model of leadership and behavioural model of leadership. The main feature of a traditional leadership model is, which “stresses on supervisory control over employees.” (Schnake, Dumler, & Cochran, 1993) The trait leadership models were determined by many theories such as “great man” theory where it tried to understand personal characteristics of great leaders who lived in the past. Those personal characteristics include the “innate qualities and characteristics possessed by great social, political and military leaders such as Ghandi, Lincoln and Bonaparte.” (Northhouse, 2010, p. 15) The fundamental principle of trait theory is that, a good leader was born as a leader and not made to be a leader. These leadership traits mainly comprise with individual’s physical characteristics, intellectual qualities and personality features. (Slack & Parent, 2006, p. 293) Similarly, Behavioural leadership model emphasise the behaviours of the leaders or according to differences in the level of the authority given to their followers or subordinates. Behavioural leadership have three styles called autocratic, democratic and laissez-faire. Autocratic style of leaders keeps all decision making and all other authorities to themselves and followers just do only what they were asked to do while democratic style of leaders encourage group participation and majority rule. Laissez-faire style of leaders give maximum level of authority to their followers and less involved in their works. It is argued that the most effective behavioural style is democratic. The ‘Leader behaviour description questionnaire’ (LBDQ) was introduced by Ohio State University to assess how a leader’s behaviour influenced on follower’s performance. (Manning & Curtis, 2003) Moreover, Situational leadership model is another traditional leadership approach. In situational model “the style of leadership will be matched to the level of readiness of the followers.” (Slocum & Hellriegel, 2007) Here, the readiness is the “follower’s ability to set high but attainable task related goals and a willingness to accept responsibility for reaching them.” (Slocum & Hellriegel, 2007) The readiness depends on the task, which means the readiness of same group of people would vary depending on the level of training they received, their previous experiences and their commitment to the organization. (Slocum & Hellriegel, 2007)

On the other hand, the contemporary leadership models argue that the “effective leaders are those who have the cognitive and behavioural capacity to recognize and react to paradox, contradiction, and complexity in their environments.” (Denison, Hooijberg, & Quinn, 1995) Most common contemporary leadership models include charismatic, transformational and transactional leadership. “Transactional leadership style is based on an exchange of service for various kinds of rewards that the leader controls, at least in part.” (Leithwood, 1992) Transactional leaders should be able to identify the rewards that would motivate their followers in orders to achieve their goals. In contrast, transformational leadership is defined as “the collective action that transforming leadership generate empowers those who participate in the process.” (Leithwood, 1992) Transformational leaders are capable to bring up with a significant change. That is “it facilitates the redefinition of a people’s mission and vision, a renewal of their commitments, and the restructuring of their systems for goal accomplishment.” (Leithwood, 1992) Charismatic leaders have supernatural powers over their followers. House & Baetz (cited in (Conger & Kanungo, 1987) ) defined charismatic leaders as the leaders who “by the force of their personal abilities are capable of having profound and extraordinary effects on followers”. The followers of charismatic leaders are loyal and trust the charismatic leader’s values, behaviours and vision. (Borkowski, 2005) Charismatic leaders use their own personal power instead of position power to influence followers in order to achieve their goals.

The emergent models of leadership turned up with the rapid increase of complexity, technological advancements and increasing demand for leaderful organizations and flexible firms. The main difference between traditional models and modern leadership models would be all traditional models of leadership emphasise characteristics or behaviours of only one leader within a particular group where as emergent models provide a space to have more than one leader at the same time. According to emergent models a leader at one instance can be a follower in another instance. Traditional models do not tell the kind of skills that the leaders should have. But emergent models more focus on the special skills or talents that the leaders must have to practice to face challenging situations.  For example Innovative thinking improve the decision making process of leaders by exposing better alternative options for current methods, techniques and solutions. Emergent leadership approach argues the importance of ‘systems thinking’ for more complex organizations, especially for flexible firms. ‘Systems thinking’ is defined as “an ability to think or analyse information and situations that leads to or causes effective or superior performance”. (Palaima & Skaržauskienė, 2010) “To engage in systems thinking means to start treating problems in an organization as problems of a system and to start looking for system-integrated solutions.” (Palaima & Skaržauskienė, 2010) It helps to improve contemporary leader in many ways. The holistic approach of systems thinking enables to enhance the working system by innovative thinking. And it enables leaders to make more effective decisions by considering the organization as an open system or considering the environmental influences to organization and organizational influences to the environment. Also helps to understand the systematic forces for effective change management. (Palaima & Skaržauskienė, 2010) Moreover, in the recent past the research investigators found that the emotional intelligence is very important for effective leadership rather than use of traditional leadership styles. “Emotional Intelligence involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide ones’ thinking and actions.” (Emmerling, Shanwal, & Mandal, 2008) Transformational leaders can easily make the difference by taking decisions according to follower’s emotions. “Inspirational, motivation and individualized consideration components of transformational leadership correlated with the ability to monitor emotions and the ability to manage emotions.” (Rosete & Ciarrochi, 2005) So it is important to improve emotional intelligence for an effective leadership. “Findings suggest that executives higher on EI are more likely to achieve business outcomes and be considered as effective leaders by their subordinates and direct manager.” (Rosete & Ciarrochi, 2005) Also transactional leaders can use their emotional intelligence to understand emotions of followers and give rewards according to their emotions. Furthermore, boundary spanning is also help to improve the effectiveness of contemporary leaders. “Boundaries are an unavoidable aspect of organizational life.” (Christopher & Jeffrey, 2008) Organizations have boundaries for its functions or even boundaries can be created from its culture. But the effect of globalization, technological advancements, demographic changes and shifts of social structures enables people to work together without a limit, which creates “the need for leaders to bridge social identity boundaries among groups of people with very different histories, perspectives, values, and cultures.” (Christopher & Jeffrey, 2008) This might helps transactional leaders to make a significant different within the organization easily. Also boundary spanning helps to spread the organizational experiences into local communities. “If people of different identity groups are provided with opportunities for positive cross-boundary contact in the workplace, then these experiences can spill over into local communities.” (Christopher & Jeffrey, 2008) Charismatic leaders might find this as an advantage to become a powerful leader not only to the company but also to outside communities. In addition, another very important and interesting approach of leadership is leaderful organisation. This concept introduced with the increased demand of organisations which have flattened structures where it is important to have self-managed teams. It directly challenges the traditional leadership model of being one leader for a group of people. Leaderful organization emphasise the “need to establish communities where everyone shares the experience of serving as a leader, not serially, but concurrently and collectively.” (Raelin, 2003, p. 5) Unlike in traditional theories, here, the leadership is concurrent. That is there are number of people acting as leaders on any one occasion. Moreover, it says that everyone is serving as a leader collectively. We know according to traditional models all the decisions were taken by one leader and he gives the authority or empower his followers to go beyond and do certain things if necessary. But according to leaderful organization, all the people have same type of authority or they were empowered equally to take necessary decisions to achieve their common objectives or goals. As a final point it is very important to mention the importance of expansive leadership. “Expansive leaders are people who are avid continuous learners.” (Diamante & London, 2002) Expansive leaders are always expanding their knowledge internally and externally. “Expansive leaders dive into the technology, thrive on their own development, and use their understanding of operations and linkages (connectivity) to push the organization in new directions.” (Diamante & London, 2002) Expansive leadership is vital to create expansive organisational cultures and expansive cultures promote learning organisations. The approach of learning organization is essential for every modern organisation since those organisations are always facing into rapid technological advancements.

In conclusion, traditional leadership models which include trait model, behavioural model and situational model of leadership explain the personal and behavioural characteristics of a leader and the leader always have the control over followers. Charismatic, transformational and transactional leadership models are the main contemporary models of leadership and those models argues that the effective leaders are the people who can manage followers and take effective decisions in complex, challenging and changing situations. Emerging models improve the effectiveness of contemporary leaders by enhancing their skills. It have been identified that systems thinking, boundary spanning, emotional intelligent, leaderful organisation and expansive leadership approaches helps contemporary leaders to make effective decisions to admit the globalization, rapid changes in technology and organisational structural changes such as flexible firms and virtual organizations. Unlike traditional models, emergent models promote concurrent and collective leadership which helps transformational leaders to be more innovative and bring the significant change easily. Transactional leaders can use approaches like emotional intelligence to be more effective by understanding the emotions of followers to improve their effectiveness. Emergent approaches such as boundary spanning helps charismatic leaders to extend their leadership into outside communities.

Reference List
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