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Getting to observe the various leadership approaches in my current workplace qualifies as one of the best things that came out of this leadership class thus far. By starting with the trait approach, this essay covers my observation of leaders’ demonstration of those leadership theories, including skills and behavioral approaches. Through analyzing my observation notes with those theories, I further reflected my views and listed my recommendations for each leader in the report. This observation essay concludes on the importance of being mindful of the leadership approaches in our lives as well as suggesting some action steps for me to take as a leader-in-training.
This assignment could not come during a more interesting timing. The longest government shutdown in history has impacted my office since we had to cancel all of our public events. On top of that, our spring programming went on hold due to the lack of approved funding. As the shutdown dragged long after weeks, the employees grew weary and low on morale. Here entered in the first leader I observed for this report. During the unusual circumstances those weeks, she had to lead an increasingly confused group of people through the uncharted territory.
One of the first things this leader did every Monday morning during the shutdown weeks was to call an all-hands meeting to check-in with people, also to provide the latest update from the Hill. During those meetings, I noticed she was calm yet full of self-confidence. Her extraversion personality shined through as she walked around the room to engage with each individual. She was not afraid to crack a joke or two to ease the tension. She easily held everyone’s attention as she shared the latest updates. And she always ended the meetings with words of encouragement for the staff.
Northhouse (2018) defines the trait approach as the shared innate qualities by leaders. Though I did not directly report to this leader, I could not help but notice her strong leadership traits from the first time I met her. She was quite charismatic. As one of the few non-furloughed leaders, she had to make decisions constantly to inform the staff on pending events status. More delicately, she had to maintain our partner relationships as our office canceled or postponed yet another program due to the shutdown. From my observation, I saw a considerable amount of determination and drive from her decision-making. The last a couple of weeks helped me to further notice her other leadership traits such as sociability and integrity. During one meeting, one staff raised concerns as rumor suggested that the employees might miss their paycheck for a week. She addressed the issue with honesty and compassion. Even though she did not have an immediate answer for us, she made sure people felt heard and assured.
As much as we admire her as a leader, some colleagues felt her strong personality sometimes outshines her skills. She made leadership looked more like a gift instead of skillsets that people could acquire, which created distance and unhealthy comparison between her and the rest of the leaders. I wish to see this leader gave more opportunity for other colleagues to speak up and take up the mantle every now and then.
The behavioral approach moves the focus from traits to action. It argues that the key to leadership came from a well-balanced relationship between the leaders’ task behavior and their relationship behavior. The two primary studies on this topic – one from the Ohio State University and the other from University of Michigan, did not agree on the exact correlation between leadership effectiveness and the role of people orientation versus task orientation. Nevertheless, the Blake Mouton Managerial Grid brought the two studies into the middle.
The same leader I mentioned above balanced the two behavior effortlessly as she adjusted to her new role in the office. During her first weeks in the office, she spent equal time on getting to know her staff while efficiently helping all of us streamlining some of our programming procedures. She did not hesitate to standardize our reporting system when she noticed redundancy and gaps in our old reports. Some members of the team did not welcome the changes with open arms. While others showed some resistance or challenging comments. Still, she listened to people’s concerns while she addressed those questions in a patient manner.
I had my doubts when I first heard about the things she tried to accomplish as someone newly arrived at post. I thought she was just another leader “walking in with new ideas yet not realizing the reality on the ground.” After several weeks, she won me over by her sincerity for changing and her exceptional active listening skills. As Simon Sinek (2014) mentioned in his thought-provoking TED Talk, being the new leader, she made myself and others felt safe during a time of confusion and change. While she did not shy from shower people encouragement and praise when she felt the staff needed them, her actions spoke louder than her words. Her top people skill and excellent task orientation puts her high on the managerial grid as the team leader of the organization.
Lately, I noticed she tried to spend more time in her office than investing in people. I understand that with multiple project deadlines approaching and the new year transition season, she felt the need to act more task-orientated than before. Nonetheless, I hope she could devote more time to employees’ development. Because only when the staff feels connected and motivated, they feel motivated to act as leaders.
Different from the trait and behavioral approaches, the skills approach shifts the focus from leaders’ innate characteristics to their abilities and knowledge (Northhouse, 2018). This approach argues leadership skills is gained instead of born with a set of traits. With this theory in mind, I refocused my observation to one of the longest working leaders at work. This leader reached his current position by obtaining decades of experience and from building a thorough understanding of our programs. Many of our contacts have known him for years; they trust him during our negotiations. As a team leader, he demonstrated competency skills revolved around problem-solving matters. When I first joined the team, he was instrumental in helping me to have a great start at this new position. He has excellent social judgment skills based on more than two decades of working experience in the office. He knows all the insights into the complicated office social network, and people often look to him for his insight on the latest on the latest work policy understanding and such.
From my report, I noted examples of technical and people skills from this leader, but I have yet to observe strong conceptual skills from him. Ever since we started worked together, he continually showed indecisiveness towards change. He felt much more comfortable forwarding any decision calls, either big or small, to higher management. I was surprised that he seems to be more willing to deal with the day to day work stuff then strategic planning.
My recommendations to this leader that might help him to bring his leadership skills to the conceptual level come from offering him the opportunity to gain a more significant picture understanding of our office. When he first joined the team more than twenty years ago, he took the role as a junior, entry-level position employee with little chance to share input to the managerial side. Because of all those years of working in that same mindset, now in a managerial role, he still felt ill-equipped to make judgment calls that were above his daily task list. Another suggestion I have for him could come from training to empower him to gain a better understanding of his role as a leader. Though he has all the skills and he is currently in a leadership position, this leader has a false belief that he does not have the ideal leadership traits. A clearer understanding of the meaning of leadership and what makes a leader could help him gain more confidence in his role.
From observation of those three approaches, I learned not only how to identify from my class reading; more importantly, I learned to reflect on the traces of leadership in my daily life. This exercise helped me to see that charismatic leaders still need to make way to others to shine. I learned that the stability between people skills and task focus was the key to effective leadership. I have also learned that the skills approach needs to include training on leadership concept. This observation essay serves as a first attempt of a long road to apply the knowledge I have gained from this vibrant community of learning.
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