Within psychology the topic of leadership has been extensively studied over the last hundred years. Leadership is defined as the process by which an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal. Leaders have two main responsibilities: to ensure the demands of the organization are satisfied and to ensure the needs of the group are satisfied.
The first person to study the topic of leadership was Thomas Carlyle who developed the great man theory of leadership during the 19th century. This theory argued that great leaders are born and not made. This theory of leadership links in with trait theories which argue that leaders are born with specific characteristics which make them who they are. In the 1920s the trait theory was considered to be one of the most influential. After the Second World War the trait theory lost favor and researchers started to recognize how important the environment was for developing leaders. Recently researchers have adopted an interactional approach to studying leadership which looks at the relationship between the environment and the leaders characteristics. Researchers believe that great leaders have common personality traits that are appropriate to specific leadership roles. However it can be argued that no one set of characteristics ensure successful leaders. Therefore effective leadership styles must fit a specific situation.
To understand leadership we shall look at two main theories which are the Multidimensional model of leadership (MML) and transformational leaders. The MML is an interactional model which has been developed specifically for sport and physical activity. The model argues that leadership style will vary depending on the characteristics of the athletes and the constraints of the situation.
In the diagram below it can be seen that leader characteristics (age, gender, experience) compose personal factors and situational and member characteristics (age, gender, ability) are the situational factors. The model argues that a positive outcome is more likely if the three aspects of the leader behaviour agree. If the leader behaves appropriately for the situation and these behaviours match the preferences of the group members, the group members will achieve successful performance. This model takes into account the different leadership styles which a person can adopt and how the leader will change his style depending on the situation.
The required leader behavior refers to how a person is expected to act in a particular situation. For example a PE teacher is expected to act in a certain way in front of his pupils. Preferred leader behavior is dependent on the group members. Age, ability and gender will all influence a member’s preference for coaching. For example older athletes might prefer a coach who is more autocratic whereas younger athletes might prefer a coach who is more democratic. Finally the actual leader behavior is simply the behavior that the leader exhibits. When trying to understand the topic of leadership we must realise that a leaders behaviour is very much dependent on the situation and the members characteristics. Research has shown differences in gender and age among leadership style and therefore we must take this into account when adopting a leadership style. Research has shown that women prefer leaders who adopt a democratic style and involve members of the team and men prefer leaders who adopt an autocratic style (Horn, 2002). As well as this it has been found that as people get older they prefer more autocratic leaders who are willing to lead people in the right direction. However research has shown that 10 to 13 year olds and 14 to 17 year olds do not differ in their preferences for leadership style. It was found that both age groups preferred leaders who gave positive feedback, technical and tactical instructions and social support. When coaching we must acknowledge these differences and be sure to understand the different environments which we work in.
In relation to an exercise setting it can be argued that the MML model of leadership lacks research. Chemers (2001) developed a MML model of leadership for an exercise setting that consisted of 3 components: image maintenance, relationship development and resource deployment. Image maintenance refers to how the exercise leader uses his image to arouse feelings of trust in their followers. Relationship development refers to the relationships that the leader will develop with followers to help them achieve their goals. Finally resource deployment refers to how the leader uses his knowledge and skills to help the group achieve their goals. A study conducted by Estabrooks et al (2004) looked at leadership style in an exercise setting and found that older participants preferred leaders who were qualified, had a good bond with followers and used their knowledge to get the best out of the group. Therefore if you are a personal trainer who works in large groups be sure to take these 3 components into account. Make sure you try to create a good bond among your followers so that you can help get the best out of the exercise group.
Recently there has been a lot of research focusing on transformatonal leadership. Transformational leadership is based on developing and selling a vision for what is possible. Transformational leaders initiate change by challenging the organizational status quo. This leadership style is important in times of change, growth and crisis and is most successful within organizations that thrive on change and innovation.
“There are four components of a transformational leader: (a) idealized influence or charisma reflected in the ability to inspire others through personality and vision, prompting followers to exert extra effort, persistence, and determination to achieve extraordinary results; (b) inspirational motivation or the ability to clearly articulate shared goals and a vision for the organization, providing inspiration and motivation to followers; (c) intellectual stimulation or the ability to encourage innovation and creativity from followers and (d) individual consideration or the creation of a supportive work environment that recognizes individual differences”(Vidic & Burton, 2011, p280). Transformational leadership has been studied across many settings, with results consistently showing the effectiveness of this leadership in affecting change. Research has found that transformation leaders increase well being, self efficacy and group cohesion.
From this research it can be seen that there are many factors that affect a persons leadership style. We must realize that one size does not fit all and that the environment, member characteristics and leader characteristics play an important part in leadership. By reading this article I hope that I have given you the opportunity to reflect on the leadership style which you adopt. As a coach, manager or personal trainer, try and use this article in a positive way to improve your leadership style. Try to look at aspects of the Transformational leader which you can use to develop as a leader.