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Abstract

Studies on leadership and its role in organizational growth are abundant. Nevertheless, leadership remains one of the most controversial concepts. Emergence of new leadership models and novel approaches to the study of leadership has caused confusion among leadership scholars (Yukl, 2010). In this paper, research approaches to studying leadership are considered. Their strengths and weaknesses are discussed. Further, examples of situational leadership in organizations are provided. Finally, recommendations for future research are included.

Keywords: situational, leadership, approach, research, organizations.

Leadership Approach

Leadership is one of the central factors of organizational development and growth. It is no wonder that studies about leadership and its implications for organizational performance are abundant. Emergence of new leadership models and approaches to studying leadership causes confusion among scholars. Earlier attempts to organize the literature around the most important research perspectives have failed (Yukl, 2010). Today’s leadership theories are based on one of the three following variables: leader characteristics/traits, follower characteristics, and situational factors (Yukl, 2010). Situational leadership is one of the most popular leadership models in today’s organizations. It is based on situational factors and emphasizes their importance in theoretical study and practical implementation of leadership.

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According to Yukl (2010), situational leadership model emphasizes the importance of contextual factors and their effect on leadership effectiveness. Based on situational leadership model, the relationship between leaders and organizations is moderated by a number of situational factors, including the nature of leaders’ work, characteristics of followers, the type and effectiveness of the organization, as well as the complexity of external business environment (Yukl, 2010). The study of situational leadership in organizations usually relies on two major approaches. First, researchers seek to discover and evaluate the way situational leadership differs across organizations (Yukl, 2010). Here, comparative studies are used as the primary method of research (Yukl, 2010). Dependent variables may include but are not limited to behavior patterns, managerial attitudes, and managerial activities (Yukl, 2010). Second, many situational leadership researchers aim to identify and explain situational factors influencing the relationship between leadership styles and leadership effectiveness (Yukl, 2010). For example, leaders’ behaviors and traits can become a dependent variable in the study of situational leadership. Many researchers describe situational leadership as ‘contingency’ leadership. Some researchers even try to deny the relevance of conventional hierarchical leadership models within organizations (Yukl, 2010).

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All these approaches have their strengths and weaknesses. Comparative studies enable researchers to expose the complexity of situational leadership and identify the factors that are responsible for situational leadership differences across organizations. However, comparative designs place severe limitations on cross-cultural organization studies. This is mainly because

the vocabulary for distinguishing between different kinds of comparative research is redundant and not very precise. Concepts such as cross-country, cross-national, cross-societal […] and comparisons on the macro-level, are used both as synonymous with comparative research in general. (Kreuger & Neuman, 2006, p.421)

Moreover, researchers cannot be confident that conceptualizations of situational leadership variables in different countries are equivalent. Finally, when leadership researchers assume that different attributes are effective in different situations, they may simply fail to identify the most important attributes of situational leadership within particular organizations. Situational leadership depends on situational variables, which vary greatly across organizations. Therefore, any study of situational leadership can be extremely problematic.

Nevertheless, situational leadership is rather popular among contemporary leaders. For example, Silverthorne and Wang (2001) examined situational leadership and its impacts on productivity and organizational success in Taiwanese businesses. It appears that situational leadership is rather common in Taiwanese organizations. Furthermore, Silverthorne and Wang (2001) have proved situational leadership to be a crucial predictor of business success. Butler and Reese (1991) found that situational leadership was rather popular in the insurance industry. Based on Avery and Ryan (2002), situational leadership is highly popular among management practitioners in Australia. George Patton was one of the most outstanding situational leaders, whose philosophy was broadly applied in military organizations.  Today’s leaders use situational approaches either automatically or deliberately (Avery & Ryan, 2002). Their popularity is explained by relative simplicity and higher adaptability to external and internal organizational changes. However, future researchers should focus on the development of better situational leadership models and research approaches to understand the nature of situational leadership in cross-cultural contexts.

Conclusion

Leadership is one of the central topics in the study of organizations. Despite the abundance of empirical literature, the concept of leadership remains extremely confusing. Earlier attempts to systematize leadership research approaches have failed. Research problems in situational leadership are particularly acute. Situational leadership is extremely popular among today’s leaders, but the study of situational leadership variables is incomplete. Future researchers must develop new approaches to studying situational leadership in cross-cultural contexts.

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