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Characteristics Needed for Effective Leadership

By: Dana-Marie Seepersad

There is an old proverb which states that leadership is doing the right thing while management is doing things right. Leadership can be classified as a process of setting a new direction for a group or organization. In this regard, managers cannot simply be leaders, as they require formal authority in order to be effective. To lead means having followers and following is a voluntary activity. 

Leadership embodies a charismatic, transformational style. Distributing orders to people does not necessarily inspire them to follow someone. Instead, leaders appeal to people by demonstrating that by following them, they have much to gain. Leaders generally possess strong charisma and the art of persuasion. With these, they are able to attract people to their cause, through which they promise transformational benefits. For instance, their followers will not just receive extrinsic rewards, but by one way or another become better people. A leader is therefore a people person who is very effective at engendering loyalty.

A major distinction between management and leadership is that managers manage things, but leaders lead people. Management is getting people to do what needs to be done. Leadership is getting people to want to do what needs to be done. In this vein, managers push while leaders pull; managers command and leaders communicate. Leaders chart the future through strong ideas and leave a strong imprint of ideology on a group/organization.

This discussion is very interesting to me, particularly as it demonstrates how leadership contributes to social change, which is a chief element of Walden University’s mission and objectives. Effective leadership is a blueprint to success. Leadership is a process of social influence through which an individual gathers support from others in order to accomplish goals. This means that a single person acting alone cannot accomplish organizational tasks. Rather, leadership is a social and interpersonal process.

In order for leaders to be influential, their followers must accept and respond to their persuasion. Followers are the ones who determine that an individual must be accorded leadership status. They do this by comparing a leader’s presented characteristics or image against deeply held assumptions about what constitutes a credible leader. They may do this by examining a leader’s competence and trustworthiness. Thus, judgments of these characteristics are based on image and impression, as well as experience and evaluation.

Today, leaders must be sensitive to changing environments and flexible enough to develop new systems and new knowledge to cope with change. Furthermore, they must establish and encourage norms, roles and rules as well as be responsive to change by employing problem-solving and decision-making strategies. For me, a central leadership function is building a motivated and capable team through coaching and guidance. A leader must understand follower needs and goals, create an atmosphere of justice and fairness, listen to followers and explain the bases for their decisions in order to build a foundation of mutual trust and respect.

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Dana-Marie Seepersad is a Ph.D. student at Walden University studying Public Policy and Administration with a concentration in International Non-Governmental Organizations. She has a Masters in International Relations and a Bachelor of Arts in Communications and Literature, both from the University of the West Indies. Dana-Marie is a tutor at the University of the West Indies, Open Campus in Trinidad and Tobago. In an effort to give back to the community, she is a volunteer editor for the International Affairs Review. She writes for the Public Administration Times column, Pay it Forward and is also featured on leading online fora addressing global issues. Outside of professional interests, she has applied her academic knowledge and leadership by creating and running her own business and is also in the process of building an NGO catered to the needs of young people in her country.


Photo courtesy of http://www.ideachampions.com/weblogs/archives/2010/07/real_roi_return_1.shtml.

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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