The dismal performance of organizations and economies of sub-African countries has attracted the concern of stakeholders in the last four decades. Ineffective leadership is seen as the most important factor for the poor performance. Marshall (2017) asserts that leaders of firms (SMEs) have poor appreciation of the usefulness of strategic leadership processes to organizational performance. Significant evidence suggests that Ghanaian SMEs operate under conditions of lack of technical expertise on good governance and strategic leadership (Asunka, 2017). The focus of this paper is to investigate the leadership practices of Ghanaian executives relative to the leadership practices in the modern context of organizations.
The concept of leadership and its impact on organizational performance is one subject that has received extensive discourse in management studies. Varied views on the nature of leadership exist but this paper adopts a more pragmatic view of leadership as being, not only the art of transforming people and changing organizations as means of attaining and improving organizations and their goals, but also empowering and motivating followers through skills development and relationship building. Even though leadership is widely acknowledged in all spheres of human endeavours, nevertheless, it’s the least understood concept in management without universal leadership style. The suitability of a leadership style is influenced by the context and situation of the organization.
Attempts at identifying and highlighting the differences between the concepts of leadership and management have been the focus of researchers and theorists in recent times. However, a clear distinction between the two concepts is yet to emerge. Leadership is inclined towards organizational change whereas management deals more with the processes that sustain existing organizational norms and conduct, and the latter may be unresponsive to organizational and environmental changes in the 21st century. In explaining poor performance of organizations, more emphasis is rather placed on management than the leadership factor. The leadership factor is viewed as the most singular factor that has the greatest impact on organizational performance especially of SMEs. The success or failure of an organization to execute its corporate goals and remain sustainable and competitive depends on the leadership style employed within the organizational context. Effective leadership capabilities of managers of firms can, however, be enhanced through combination of management and leadership skills.
The views and opinions of leadership are many just as there are behavioural characteristics that distinguish leaders from non-leaders. Leadership styles are the approaches and methods employed to motivate and elicit behavioural and performance responses. However, Principles of leadership rather provide the guiding framework that direct and inform leader and follower behaviour. Academic models and theories have shaped and supported the emergence of more complex forms of leadership beyond the primary leadership style rooted in ancient systems. During the early Social Person Era, management viewed workers as factors of production that should only be seen and not heard. Employees were not considered as valuable assets, capable of greatly adding value to output through innovative ideas. Leaders were believed to possess certain characteristic traits or special qualities even from birth to lead. The authority to lead is thus based on special abilities and skills of leaders and it is leaders only who set rules and regulations through which employees behave and for order to be restored in chaotic times.
The literature indicates that leaders in Africa are terribly ineffective and irresponsible to environmental changes. Many Ghanaian managers and executives still hold on to defective leadership principles and practices even after being exposed to more effective leadership styles. Their leadership style is mainly task-oriented where subordinates are only to be supervised and closely monitored to deliver defined performance goals. Employees and subordinates are instructed and told what to do, how to do it, when and where to accomplish set tasks. Most executives in Ghana adopt relationship-based management (patronage) style and autocratic leadership practices. The leaders seek to provide privileges and special opportunities to closest employees who are also seen as subservient and “loyal” to them. They do not encourage inner motivation and commitment in the general employee base.
Most leaders who adopt ineffective leadership practices suffer from many weaknesses. They are complicit of the Icarus Paradox phenomenon where leaders believe that what worked yesterday can also work tomorrow. They falsely believe they have ability to solve all organizational problems and do not clearly distinguish between personal and organizational interests. They try as much as possible to do away with employees who have divergent views on how things should be done. The result of ineffective leadership is business with unfulfilled, unmotivated employees. About 75% of SMEs in Ghana collapse within the first three years of their operations and those who go beyond three years fold up before their tenth anniversary.
Given the highly competitive and dynamic business environment in today’s globalised economy, improving and sustaining organizational performance requires new leadership paradigm that is geared towards agility, flexibility, proactiveness and innovative responses. Firms require entrepreneurship and management to initiate and maintain ongoing operations, but effective leadership is needed to steer the firm to success and sustainability. Effective leadership not only mobilizes organizational resources, but also institute and influence behavioral forms for organizational cohesion and cohesiveness.
The effectiveness and success of formal management is now influenced more by the personal and new strategic leadership skills and entrepreneurial attributes possessed by leaders at both micro and macro levels. Instituting reward system for goal and performance achievement is good but employees are better encouraged and motivated to perform better where there are less close monitoring but allowing for greater room for employee involvement in corporate decisions. The knowledge economy and transformation of the workforce have made employees more knowledgeable, skillful and sophisticated such that new leadership paradigm more than the simple use of positional power and authority is needed to secure the commitment and motivation of employees to contribute to organizational mandate (Arham&Sulaiman, 2013).
The globalised economy with its explosion in technology and knowledge today means that the traditional methods of management of giving orders and closely monitoring is best ineffective now. Collaborative leadership styles that engage in collegial, horizontal relationship with employees and closes the hierarchical gap, is the order of the day. Leaders are abandoning the exploitative, authoritarian leadership for creative leadership that elicits commitment, innovation and loyalty of employees. They adopt consultative system that involves wider consultations and participative system that promotes supportive relationship in decision making processes. Modern management process calls for coordination and direct communication across organizations regardless of positions.
Effective leadership in today’s complex work environment requires of leaders to possess positive and high emotional intelligence and social competencies as key ingredients for collaborative interactions in teams to foster closer connection and linkages among all stakeholders. Leadership in the modern context focuses on the bigger picture of holistic improvement in personal and organizational welfare, and not only the bottom line.
In sum, the quest for leadership styles and principles that enhance personal and corporate effectiveness and efficiency is a never-ending effort. No leadership style is totally outdated as the usefulness of every style of leadership depends on its suitability in the context of organizational challenges and situation. The leadership style may change with changing organizational circumstances but the principles of leadership remain fairly stable. An organization structure that is most ingenious can hardly achieve corporate goals if the organization is poorly managed and led. The dynamisms and competitive hostility within the corporate environment and shifting paradigm in relation to how organizations are managed and led make the search for best practices in leadership a continuous process.
By Dr. Kingful Kobena Acquah