Wednesday Night GMAT: Analysis of an Issue

People are likely to accept as a leader only someone who has demonstrated an ability to perform the same tasks that he or she expects others to perform.

Discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the opinion stated above. Support your view with reasons and/or examples from your own experience, observations, or reading.


As the passage above infers, there are two main leadership styles that all other styles can be categorized into.

Leading by example


Leading by authority

This can be seen not just in the business world, but also in the world of sports. Take a professional NFL or rugby team. While there are many leaders, there is only one “team captain”, who’s job is to not only lead, but to inspire his troops. In the case of the last four Rugby World Cup winning teams, the captains have all come from the most physically demanding set of players – the forwards, or the scrum – and each of these captains has lead by example, putting his body on the line in order to further the cause of the team.

Francois Pienaar, John Eales, Martin Johnson and most recently, John Smit were all known as intensely physical competitors not adverse to bending the rules or, to use a common rugby phrase, putting their heads in where it hurt. Each of these leaders lead, primarily by example. They pushed their bodies to the limit in one of the world’s most demanding sports and expected their teams to do the same. Because of the situations the groups of players found themselves in, they reacted to this style of leadership and formed a, seemingly, unbreakable bond to meet a common goal – lifting the William Webb Ellis trophy as world champions.

However, each team also has a central fulcrum – the quarterback or fly-half – who leads the team by virtue of his skills and ability but who is not necessarily the team captain. The fulcrum does not need to lead by example; does not need to put his body on the line or exhort his team mates to fight longer, harder, stronger. This player has a leadership role by virtue of his skills. The natural authority inferred on him by the role is enough to for him to lead and, importantly be supported by his team-mates.

Watch any NFL game and, should the quarterback take a late tackle, you will invariably see a small scale riot as his team mates rush to his defence.

I believe that sport and business have uncanny parallels, especially when it comes to the qualities needed to succeed in both. However, it is important to remember that the leadership style one adopts should not be determined by the leader, but by the team, the individuals being lead and the situation.

When managing a small team, one should be cognizant to show leadership by example in order to influence and inspire your colleagues; but this hands on style can be diluted as the group grows and the prospective leader would be well-advised to take a step back from the hands-on, lead by example style that has served her so well up to now. When leading a large group of direct reports, the leader needs to distance herself from the team, to lead with authority; not necessarily by example. For instance, Meg Whitman of ebay is a brilliant strategist but, while I’m sure she would be a fantastic software engineer, should not try to prove her coding skills to the IT department in order to inspire and lead them. Her position and decisions appropriate to her position should be enough to command respect.

However a talented leader such as “Neutron” Jack Welch, is able to transfer this hands on leadership style to inspire an entire organization as huge and diverse and General Electric. Interestingly enough, it was by focusing his attention on a small cadre of managers and letting his enthusiasm cascade down to the rest of the employees, that allowed him to achieve this extraordinary feat.

It is also important that different people react in different ways in different situations so there can be no “silver bullet” for great leadership. Some people thrive on autonomy in the workplace or on the sports field and the cany leader would do well to recognise when to step back and offer big picture, strategic advice, rather than rolling up her sleeves and getting too involved with her team member’s project or role. On the other hand, some employees need a more nurturing, emotive leader who they can stand (or sit) shoulder to shoulder with as they face the next challenge. When faced with this class of employee, the shrewd manager should indeed roll up his sleeves and give the team member the support and leadership they need to be as effective a worker as possible.

After all, isn’t an efficient and winning workforce the goal of any successful business leader?


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