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Leadership and Leadership Development

Abstract and Keywords

The study of leadership has a long history in disciplines outside of social work. Theorists have struggled with a myriad of definitions of leadership, as well as trait, behavioral, and situational leadership models. They have identified leadership types from transformational and charismatic to motivational. There has been much speculation and some study of the traits and characteristics of effective leaders, as well as effective leadership styles, abilities, and practices. Social-work theorists have contributed to this field by identifying the critical and unique characteristics of social-work leadership, such as adherence to social-work norms and orientation to the needs of disadvantaged groups. In the early 21st century, social workers have begun to elaborate technologies for creating tomorrow’s leaders through practices such as formal training, mentoring, and peer networking. There has always been, and will be, a critical need for leadership in social-work endeavors. Leadership development can be viewed from two perspectives: the individual and organizational. From the individual perspective, the system begins with a critical assessment of the individual’s strengths and limitations, along with the opportunities and threats for professional growth. Ultimately, the organization is responsible for providing resources to enable individual development. The long-term goal is to implement a developmental mind-set throughout the organization. Leadership development must be intended for all employees, not just a select few. Both individual and organizational job performance are ultimately dependent on the leadership developmental structures embedded within each organizational unit. The issue at hand is designing and delivering leadership development programs that meet the leadership requirements for today’s complex, yet changing organizations.

Keywords: leadership, leadership development, organizational leadership, social-work leadership, leadership traits, leadership training, effective leadership, social-work management

Nature of Leadership

According to historian James MacGregor Burns, “Leadership is one of the most observed and least understood phenomena on earth” (1978, p. 2). Leadership is a universally observed and examined activity for humans and animals alike (Bass, 1990). Although it is easy to identify when observed, in a given situation, it is difficult to define. Fiedler (1971) stated that there are as many definitions of leadership as there are leadership theories and as many theories of leaderships as there are working psychologists.

Leadership can be defined as the ability to motivate a group of people to achieve a common goal. Leaders empower their followers to pursue shared values, goals, and outcomes. Kouzes and Posner (2002) employed questionnaires and case analysis to study leadership behavior of effective leaders. They described five practices that produce exemplary results and allow leaders to function at their personal best to achieve organizational growth and successful results.

  1. 1. Model the way: find your voice by clarifying your personal values and set the example by aligning actions with shared values.

  2. 2. Inspire a shared vision: envision the future by imagining exciting possibilities and enlist others in a common vision by appealing to shared experience.

  3. 3. Challenge the process: search for opportunities by seeking innovative ways to change, grow, and improve. Take risks by constantly generating small wins and learning from mistakes.

  4. 4. Enable others to act: foster collaboration by promoting cooperative goals and building trust. Strengthen others by sharing power and discretion.

  5. 5. Encourage the heart: recognize contributions by showing appreciation for individual excellence. Celebrate victories by creating a spirit of community (Kouzes & Posner, 2002, p. 22).

Other researchers have identified similar set of effective leadership practices (Bass, 1985; Bennis and Nanus, 1985; Howard, 2004; Pawar & Eastman, 1997; Tichy & Devanna, 1986; Yukl, 1998).

Leadership Perspectives and Models

Criteria for effective leadership along with theories of leadership development have evolved over the past half century. There is a consensus among organizational behaviorists that leaders in the early 21st century cannot model themselves on past leadership archetypes. In the past, the traditional trait approach (Holland, 1959, 1962, 1966) misguidedly assumed that leaders are born and not trained. This school of thought suggested that certain characteristics or traits distinguished leaders from followers. Leaders had a different pedigree than nonleaders. They were more intelligent, articulate, virtuous, and attractive. Contemporary researchers have abandoned this theory. Although leaders may possess inherent talents, studies of world leaders have conclusively demonstrated that leaders are made, not born (Rejai & Philips, 2004). Another traditional model referred to as the behavioral approach associated leadership with task performance, group maintenance, and employee participation. According to this model, leadership skills can be learned and developed with time (Seashore, 1966). Goldberg and Larson (1975) suggested four types of behavioral leadership: laissez faire, authoritarian, democratic, and nondirective leadership. Last, the situational or contingency leadership model acknowledges that effective leadership behavior varies from situation to situation. In this model leaders can be trained to assess the uniqueness of the situation and employ the appropriate leadership style for that occasion (Fiedler, 1967). Leaders can be effective if their leadership skills best match the situation. Contingency theory seeks to identify the unique characteristics of various situations for maximum effectiveness.

Contemporary perspectives on leadership fall into three prototypical models: transformational, charismatic, and motivational. An entrepreneurial or transformational leader brings elements together in a unique combination that no one has seen before. These leaders change things from what “would be” to “what is”; they translate a vision into reality. They inspire followers to transcend their own self-interests and to achieve group goals by instilling a sense of pride, respect, and trust in employees (Bass, 1990; Hater & Bass, 1988). Transformational leaders are credited with stimulating creativity, increasing mission awareness, empowering subordinates to expand their abilities, and motivating people to value teamwork over individuality (Bass & Avolio, 1994). There are four key characteristics of transformational leadership, commonly referred to as the four I’s:

  1. 1. Idealized influence is the leader’s ability to generate enthusiasm toward the vision through self-confidence and emotional appeal (Bass & Avolio, 1994).

  2. 2. Intellectual stimulation is demonstrated by creative problem solving with other team members by generating novel approaches to collecting data using existing resources (Bass, 1985).

  3. 3. Individual consideration includes coaching and mentoring. Leaders must communicate regularly with team members, discussing their goals and professional progress.

  4. 4. Inspirational motivation stimulates team members toward action plans by confidence building and generating belief in the organizational vision (Bass, 1985).

The charismatic leader is a change agent. This type of leader possesses characteristics that inspire followers. These larger-than-life figures seize the moment and initiate major organizational changes on the strength of their personality. Although followers may not trust the institution, they trust the charismatic leader (Zaccaro, 2001). Conger and Kanungo (1998) asserted that charismatic leadership is best evaluated by measuring the leadership behavior that produces results. Charismatic leaders display five characteristics: articulation of a vision; personal risk taking; sensitivity to environmental constraints and resources; sensitivity to followers’ needs; and unconventional behavior (Conger & Kanungo, 1998). Charismatic leaders take on risky projects because they are passionate about the possibilities of a positive outcome. Projects take on larger-than-life stature, inspiring people to view the project as the chance of a lifetime. Hence, volunteers actively seek to become engaged in the project (Wallington, 2000). Although the transformational and charismatic approaches are related, they are not the same. Bass (1985) and Drucker (2004) have asserted that charisma is an important ingredient, but not essential for transformational leadership.

Finally, motivational leaders maximize the value of the already-existing organization. Here the leader takes his or her identity from the business and allows the company to become the real hero. The leader visualizes organizational greatness, takes bold action to achieve it, and expects the same type of effort from employees. These leaders motivate their followers in the present moment by clarifying role and task requirements (Bass, 1990). Acting in consultation with others, the leader exercises legitimate control over the organization and its members by clearly defining the goals to be pursued. Additionally, the leader prioritizes the organizational problems and allocates the resources for their solution. Finally, leaders as managers create and maintain an information network that provides both internal and external communication channels (Smith, 1997). This leadership style is effective when the organization needs clarity, structure, communication, and bottom-line performance (London, 2002).

Leadership versus Management

The leader’s primary focus is to create a vision or a mental image of a possible and desirable future state of the organization (Kotter, 1990). Strategic leadership gives purpose and meaning to organizations and motivates stakeholders to buy into that vision, whereas supervisory management provides guidance, support, and corrective feedback for the daily tasks of employees (House & Aditya, 1997). Rost (1991) proposed that leadership is a relationship with multidirectional influence concerned with developing mutual processes to enable followers to initiate real change. Management, on the other hand, is a unidirectional authority relationship focused on completing tasks and cooperating with subordinates to sell goods and services. Bennis and Nanus (1985) contend that “managers are people who do the things right and leaders are people who do the right thing” (p. 221). Kotter (1990) identified the key differences between management and leadership.

Management is about:

  • Coping with complexity: bringing about order and consistency to an organization.

  • Planning and budgeting.

  • Organizing and staffing: creating an effective organizational structure.

  • Controlling and problem solving.

Leadership is about:

  • Coping with change.

  • Setting a direction and developing a vision for the future along with strategies for change.

  • Aligning people in a new direction by effective means of communication.

  • Motivating and inspiring people to implement a leadership-centered culture.

Both management and leadership are critical aspects to organizational success. Strong leadership without competent management will bring meaningless results and misguided changes. Conversely, strong management without leadership will create a bureaucratic, stifling environment (Kotter, 1990).

Holosko (2009) identified five core attributes associated with effective management:

  1. 1. Vision. To have an intrinsic awareness of a desired future condition along a strategic plan to enact the vision.

  2. 2. Influencing others to act. To inspire and engage others to take initiative, have a commitment to a cause and actively perform the necessary responsibilities.

  3. 3. Teamwork or collaboration. To work collectively and in partnership with others toward achieving a goal.

  4. 4. Problem-solving capacity. To anticipate problems and act decisively when they occur.

  5. 5. Create positive change. Helping people to move to a better place within the organization. (p. 454)

Leadership Traits and Emotional Intelligence

In the 1990s it became evident that an enlightened leader of this decade was required to be a dynamic, highly skilled individual with excellent interpersonal skills and the ability to communicate to diverse stakeholders (Parthasarathy, 2009). In the 21st century a new leadership style is emerging, with skills tailored to meet the needs of a complex and chaotic environment. Given the challenges of the changing workplace, today’s leaders must be both enlightened and engaging. They must embody key traits.

First, they need the intrinsic ability to adapt. They must learn quickly and empower their organization to adapt on a daily basis. They must instill a “change mentality” in their organizations. Instead of resisting change, successful organizations welcome and embrace it. Leaders must be role models in engaging workers to embrace change.

Second, leaders need self-awareness. Effective leaders must have an insightful awareness of their personal strengths and limitations. Leaders are not expected to achieve perfection, but to pursue excellence.

Third, leaders must promote and elicit the innovative talents of their personnel. Leaders must manage the creative process of their workforce if they expect to achieve organizational success. It is the leader’s role to derive unity of mission and purpose from a diverse group of people (Leonard & Straus, 1999).

Decisiveness is the fourth trait of enlightened leaders in the early 21st century. Execution is a critical component of organizational management. Excessive deliberation and reflection must be eliminated. At some point the leader must make a decision in a decisive, well-articulated manner.

The fifth required trait is collaborative skills. Effective leaders must erect communication channels that foster the free exchange of ideas among the vested stakeholders. Successful organizations reflect a spirit of openness with candor and transparency displayed by its personnel. Good leaders are not afraid to inform their followers on their performance and the current well-being of the organization (Tice, 2007).

A sixth key trait of effective leaders is emotional intelligence (EI), a concept introduced by psychologist Daniel Goleman (1997). The central theme of his research is that cognitive reasoning and technical skills are important for leaders, but EI is the primary requirement. Analytical abilities and technical skills, such as accounting or business-planning skills matter, but Goleman considers them entry-level requirements for executive positions. Goleman claimed that EI has two major components: personal and social competence. How leaders manage themselves is personal competence and how they maintain relationships is social competence. He categorized these competencies into five domains: self-awareness, self-control, motivation, persistence, and social skills. The list of emotional competencies could also include initiative, trust, communication skills, and interpersonal sensitivity. Effective leaders, Goleman asserts, are alike in one crucial way: they all have a high degree of EI, which is the essential characteristic that drives outstanding performance. EI is a leader’s ability to work or supervise others effectively and initiate organizational change.

In studies of workplace behavior, Goleman (1997, 1998) found that EI was twice as important as cognitive or technical skills. EI can be learned. Scientific inquiry suggests there is a genetic component to EI and psychological and developmental research indicate that nurture plays a role as well. The process is not easy. It takes time and, most of all, commitment. Data indicate that as individuals age, their EI increases; yet even with maturity, most people still need training to enhance and develop their EI (Goleman, 1998).

Effective Leadership: Styles, Abilities, and Practices

Which leadership style is most effective? Leadership styles have a direct impact on the working atmosphere of a company, a division, or team and, in turn, on its overall performance.

Goleman (2000) found that effective executives use a collection of distinct leadership styles, each springing from different components of EI. Leaders producing the best results did not rely on one leadership style. Rather, they used most of them in a given week, seamlessly and in different measure, depending on the business situation. The study analyzed how six leadership styles impacted an organization’s working environment. The six leadership styles were coercive, authoritative, affiliative, democratic, pacesetting, and coaching. The data revealed that authoritative leadership had the most positive impact on work environment but three others—affiliative, democratic, and coaching—followed close behind. Goleman (2000) argued no style should be relied on exclusively, and all have at least positive short-term uses.

Although many elements affect organizational performance, the quality of leadership is the most important and influential (Kotter, 1990). Ultimately, the leader must create the strategy to achieve a vision. Hence, effective leadership implies inspiring and motivating followers to participate actively in the organization’s strategic goals and objectives. Effective leadership is attaining the desired results for the followers. Gandz (2005) believes that successful leaders demonstrate five crucial competencies; that is, they must have the ability to do the following:

  1. 1. Understand the environment. Leaders must broaden their vision into the future and be able to think short and long term. They must constantly focus on needed organizational changes.

  2. 2. Develop benchmark strategies. An integral part of leadership is designing detailed strategies that will deliver the desired results.

  3. 3. Execute the strategy in a timely manner. Leaders must be able to align personnel with the mission, vision, and objectives so that there is universal commitment to achieving stated objectives.

  4. 4. Evaluate results and make necessary adjustments. Leaders must monitor the results of strategic planning and make changes when required to meet organizational goals.

  5. 5. Maximize organizational capabilities. By investing time, effort, and financial resources, leadership develops the core competencies of their personnel while delivering winning results for their organization.

Regardless of the leader’s vision and ability to inspire others, they will be evaluated and judged by the stakeholders on their effectiveness. Drucker (2004) argued that an effective executive may be charismatic or dull, generous or tightfisted, visionary or numbers oriented; in themselves, personality traits do not determine the degree of effectiveness. What effective leaders have in common is that they get the proper things done. Their effectiveness results from their use of the same fundamental practices:

  1. 1. They ask, “What needs to be done?”

  2. 2. They ask, “What is right for the enterprise?”

  3. 3. They develop action plans.

  4. 4. They take responsibility for decisions.

  5. 5. They take responsibility for communicating.

  6. 6. They focus on opportunities rather than problems.

  7. 7. They run productive meetings.

  8. 8. They think and say “we” rather than “I.”

The first two practices give leaders the knowledge they require. The next four help them to convert this knowledge into effective action. The last two ensure that members of the organization feel responsible and accountable. In the end, effectiveness is a discipline that can and must be learned for the sake of leadership performance (Drucker, 2004). Drucker believed it was possible to train managers to develop an understanding about content themes that are critically needed to implement visions within their respective organizations (Sashkin, 1998).

London and Maurer (2004) identified four characteristics leaders must display if they are to reach their potential as established, effective executives. The following characteristics are required for learning and development programs to achieve their desired goals:

  1. 1. Self-insight, self-efficacy, and self-determination. Leadership development and professional growth for individuals require self-insight to grasp one’s strengths and weaknesses, along with organizational needs and goal setting for development. Self-regulation is required for establishing learning goals and pragmatic action plans for development.

  2. 2. Learning motivation and capability. An individual’s desire and ability to learn are the key ingredients for leadership development. Leaders committed to continuous learning and development will be motivated to seek opportunities to improve their knowledge, skills, and abilities based on a clear conception of what they might become (Wurf & Markus, 1991).

  3. 3. Feedback orientation. London and Smither (2002) define feedback orientation as “an individual’s overall receptivity to feedback and the extent to which the individual welcomes guidance and coaching” (pp. 82–83). Feedback orientation is a multifaceted construct that includes (a) liking feedback; (b) inclination to seek feedback; (c) willingness to process feedback thoughtfully; (d) sensitivity to colleagues views of one’s performance; (e) belief in the value of constructive feedback as useful information to guide performance improvement; and (f) feeling accountable to act on feedback.

  4. 4. Cognitive and emotional development. Current scholarship (Bullis, Lewis, Bartone, Forsythe, & Snook, 2002; Day, 2002) views development as a transformation to more advanced and complex ways of thinking and feeling. In this more complex, sophisticated thinking pattern, our inner self becomes an object of reflection and objective analysis separate from our perception of others. This type of thinking allows individuals to be more effective leaders in more complex situations (Arches, 1997).

Social-Work Leadership

During the 20th century, the social-work profession produced several dedicated leaders, whose altruistic efforts made an appreciable difference in the lives of countless vulnerable and disadvantaged people. Early pioneers in the social-work profession included the likes of Jane Addams, Dorothea Dix, Josephine Shaw Lowell, Mary Richmond, Frances Perkins, Florence Kelly, and Paul Kellogg (Holosko, 2009). Analytical research into social-work leadership is a relatively new discipline. Until recently, social-work theorists focused on an examination of social-work administration and management. As Graham (2002) noted, “research into leadership is a young and still rather shapeless discipline” (p. 87).

Social-work leadership has been defined “as the communication of vision, guided by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Code of Ethics, to create proactive processes that empower individuals, families, groups, organizations and community” (Rank & Hutchinson, 2000, p. 499). Rank and Hutchinson investigated how individuals in leadership positions within the Council of Social Work Education and the NASW perceived social-work leadership. They surveyed a random sample of 75 deans of social-work schools and 75 executive directors and presidents of social-work organizations. Participants responded to an eight-item, open-ended questionnaire. The findings defined leadership within the social-work profession and identified how social-work leadership is distinctive from leadership in other professions.

Participants identified nine leadership skills required for 21st-century social workers:

  1. 1. Community development skills or those “efforts made by professionals and community residents to enhance the social bonds among members of the community, motivate the citizens for self-help, develop responsible local leadership, and create or revitalize local institutions” (Barker in Rank & Hutchinson, 2000, pp. 495–496).

  2. 2. Communication and interpersonal skills or “the verbal and non-verbal exchange of information, including all the ways knowledge is transmitted and received” (Rank & Hutchinson, p. 495). Included is the capacity to work jointly with others in achieving social goals. Also, the ability to write and speak clearly, time management, and financial skill are deemed required assets.

  3. 3. Analytic skills are viewed as “a systematic consideration of anything in its respective parts and their relationship to one another” (Rank & Hutchinson, p. 495).

  4. 4. Technological skills are the ability to understand and apply computer and software skills, such as distance learning programs, to concrete social work.

  5. 5. Political skills are the “coordinated efforts to influence legislation, election of candidates, and social causes” and “running for elective office, organizing campaigns in support of other candidates or issues, fundraising, and mobilizing voters and public opinion” (Rank & Hutchinson, p. 496). The efforts of officeholders and government workers should be carefully monitored.

  6. 6. Visioning skills are the capacity to envision the future landscape for a cohort, institution, community, and clients with the ability to communicate the vision orally and in writing.

  7. 7. Risk-taking skills enable a leader to show courage under fire when advocating for a cohort, institution, constituency, or community under duress and seeking to improve the human condition.

  8. 8. Ethical reasoning is adherence to the values and ethics prescribed by the NASW Code of Ethics. This mandate implies acting with integrity, trust, credibility, and accountability.

  9. 9. Diversity skills are defined as sensitivity to diversity, cultural differences, and tolerance of ambiguity. These skills must be demonstrated by supervisors toward their supervisees.

Based on this pilot study, Rank and Hutchinson (2000) viewed social-work leadership as a “process of advocacy and planning whereby an individual practices ethical and humanistic behavior to motivate others (clients and colleagues) to achieve common goals articulated by a shared vision” (p. 499). Rank and Hutchinson’s survey indicated that 21st-century social-work leaders will need three crucial skills: (a) the ability to build communities; (b) communicating well orally and in writing; and (c) analyzing insightfully the current political, social, and cultural trends. These findings are supported by Brown’s (2008) survey of 285 agency directors who were queried on the essential skills required of aspiring directors. Respondents stated that aspirants need expertise and experience in financial management, performance management, strategic planning and goal setting, mission execution, supervisory skills, mentorship, critical thinking and communication skills, conflict resolution, and team building. Claiborne (2004) listed essential skills for social-work leaders. Included is the ability to create a shared mission, vision, organizational values, effective communication channels, and the acknowledged importance of followers over the authority of the leader. Claiborne’s skill set is congruent with the transformational leadership model (Bass, 1990). Packard (2003) believes that transformational leadership principles are compatible with social work’s emphasis on valuing the individual.

Rank and Hutchinson (2000) argued that the skill set required by their profession differs from that of other professions in five specific areas: (a) commitment to the NASW Code of Ethics; (b) a systemic perspective linking macro with micro practice; (c) a participatory leadership style; (d) advocating altruism; and (e) concern for the profession’s public image. These authors assumed that social-work leaders are less driven by economics, are more people-oriented and less-product driven, and have an altruistic concern for people in need rather than a desire for wealth.

Brilliant (1986) has argued that leadership training and development should be infused into social-work curricula to socialize students into leadership roles in their agencies and communities. Students should be exposed to theories of leadership and the uniqueness of social-work leadership. Additionally, they should be given an opportunity in leadership role playing in field situations.

Social-Work Management Competencies

The National Network for Social Work Managers (NNSWM) developed a set of tools designed to improve management skills and the quality of service offered by agencies. Included are 10 professional competencies associated with social-work management. The competencies are divided into two categories of “external” and “internal” relations (Wimpfheimer, 2004). The first four competencies focus on external relations and the last six on internal relations:

  1. 1. Knowledge of contemporary social and public policy issues. Leaders must be knowledgeable concerning the contemporary social and public policies that impact their agencies. Managers must ensure that staff and clients benefit from the most current information and technology. Leaders must be aware of the latest rules and regulations affecting their constituencies.

  2. 2. Advocacy or the ability to publicize one’s position in a clear, articulate manner. Leaders must have the ability to advance the agency’s mission in a convincing manner.

  3. 3. Public or community relations and marketing are extremely important tasks for social-work leaders in their efforts to keep the public informed about the services that are available.

  4. 4. Governance, or the management of the agency and its staff, is an essential skill of an effective manager. There are three primary goals of governance: to (a) add value to advance the organization’s vision and mission; (b) maximize the rate of return to the organization’s stakeholders; and (c) hold the organization’s values, assets, and purpose in public trust (Taylor, Chait, & Holland, 2001).

  5. 5. Strategic planning by staff and board members determines the future for well-run agencies. Oversight of internal systems for quality control, data analysis, updating technology, and resource allocation is a necessary component in operating a successful agency and its staff. Effective managers must balance the demands of overseeing the day-to-day operations while being involved in the periodic strategic planning process.

  6. 6. Program development and management are the backbone of successful agencies. Managers must ensure that sponsored programs are consistent with the agency’s mission and that quality controls are initiated to monitor the efficiency and effectiveness of the programs. The goal is to design and deliver high-quality programs that meet the basic human needs of the agency’s constituency.

  7. 7. Financial development, or managing the finances of an organization, is a challenging task for social-work leaders. Without vigilant fiscal oversight, no organization can be effectively operated. Fiscal responsibilities include keeping financial records, preparing accurate financial statements, anticipating financial difficulties, safeguarding and managing financial assets, and complying with federal and state regulations (Gross & Warshauer, 1979). Managers must be able to accurately predict the financial needs of the agency and hire competent staff to oversee the fiscal management in an ethical fashion.

  8. 8. Evaluation of the strengths and limitations of the agency’s services is a regarded as an important skill for effective management. Being able to critically assess the overall effectiveness of a program based on accurate feedback and make necessary changes to improve productivity is an important management tool.

  9. 9. Human resource management is the ability to interact with employees in a positive, constructive manner. For social organizations to function efficiently, they require a workforce that is competent, cooperative, and centered on fulfilling the stated mission. Managers must build and maintain a productive, efficient workforce while promoting harmonious staff relationships and fostering the social stability of the group.

  10. 10. Staff development is an essential competency for the delivery of quality programs. Skillful assessment of the professional development needs of the agency’s personnel is frequently overlooked. Staff development must occur on all levels so that high levels of supervision, coordination, and administration occur throughout the agency.

Wimpfheimer (2004) argued that for agencies to deliver benchmark practices, social-work leaders must demonstrate both external and internal competencies in their management style. Through their hands-on experience and commitment to professional growth, social-work leaders will better understand the following:

  1. 1. Their roles as managers in organizations and their roles within their organization.

  2. 2. The organization’s style of operation and the unique culture of the agency.

  3. 3. The organization’s image as perceived in its interagency environment.

  4. 4. The values and priorities of the agency and whether it is results oriented or process oriented.

  5. 5. The fiscal health of the agency.

  6. 6. The informal structure of the agency and how well each department works with the others.

Because of the current cultural, economic, and political forces influencing and changing the mission of agencies, special leadership skills and competencies are now required of executives in the social-work profession. The range of skills required for effective social-work administrators is becoming more extensive.

Leadership Development

Although NNSWM has endorsed the 10 competencies needed by 21st-century social-work leaders presented above, it has failed to identify how or where aspiring leaders can obtain them. Wimpfheimer (2004) noted that although managers can rise through the ranks having worked as social workers and supervisors, this does not mean they received adequate leadership development. If fortunate, they have been exposed to exemplary role models and good supervision. However, in too many instances these neophytes to management have received little training or support. Stoesz (1997) argued that social-work professionals are often asked to assume positions of leadership within the profession with insufficient mentoring. Hence, social workers aspiring to leadership deserve proper training and education before assuming their management responsibilities (Nesoff, 2007, p. 285).

According to Patti (2003) and Wuenschel (2006) leadership development and training has been given insufficient attention compared to other disciplines. At the same time, both the Council of Social Work Education (2009) and the National Association of Deans and Directors of Social Work Schools (2009) have identified leadership development as an area requiring greater attention and resources.

Leadership development is defined as the expansion of a person’s capacity to assume effective leadership roles and processes (McCauley, VanVelsor, & Ruderman, 2010). Through leadership development, executives are better able to establish directions, aligning personnel, energizing people to overcome barriers, and producing change, often to a dramatic degree (Kotter, 1990). The basic assumption in leadership development is that executives can learn, grow, and change over time provided they appreciate the factors that impact their growth process.

There are three major components of leadership development: (a) developmental opportunities to learn; (b) the capacity to learn through a mixture of motivational, personal orientation; and (c) organizational support for development, which includes a number of contextual elements such as coaching, feedback, and rewards for development (McCauley, 2001). Three principal strategies have been proposed for this process: (a) create a variety of developmental experiences that offer assessment, challenge, and support; (b) enable the individual’s ability to learn from experience, and (c) align leadership development with the present organizational structure and needs (McCauley et al., 2010).

In a competitive marketplace, leadership development is an important component for a competitive advantage. Day (2000) distinguished between leadership and management development; the latter focuses on managerial training. He also distinguished between leader development and leadership development. The aim of leader development is to develop work-related competencies to make leaders more effective. Leadership development, on the other hand, seeks to help leaders create relational bonds and appreciate shared delegation. Leadership and leader development complement one other. They must be viewed as a continuous, systematic development and not as a haphazard, disconnected process.

Leadership development can be viewed from two perspectives: the individual and organizational. From the individual perspective, the system begins with a critical assessment of the individual’s strengths and limitations, along with the opportunities for and threats to professional growth. Ultimately, the organization is responsible for providing resources to enable individual development. The long-term goal is to implement a developmental mind-set throughout the organization. Leadership development must be intended for all employees, not just a select few (London, 2002).

London (2002) proposed an integrated leadership development program aimed at meeting individual and organizational needs composed of the following elements:

  1. 1. Corporate needs analysis. Identifying futuristic leadership requirements based on anticipated industry trends and business strategies. What type of talented managers will need to be recruited to oversee operational activities over the next 5 to 10 years?

  2. 2. Overall assessment of talent at different organizational levels. Gathering information from assessment centers, performance appraisals, and employee surveys to assess individual development needs.

  3. 3. Skill gap analysis. Both at the organizational and at the individual level, skill-set needs must be monitored regularly.

  4. 4. Early identification of talent. Performance appraisal and assessment data must be reviewed to identify young managers with the potential to be developed into future leaders.

  5. 5. Development planning. Individuals within the organization must identify the job-related skills to be strengthened and limitations to be improved based on data about their capabilities, past performances, and organizational opportunities.

  6. 6. Support for development. Although individuals must assume responsibility for their own development, organizations must provide developmental opportunities for their personnel. In assessing a subordinate’s performance, managers must also assess their developmental needs. Development training must become a goal for the individual and the organization.

  7. 7. Ongoing assessment and development. Organizations must conduct leadership job analyses and skills assessment every three to five years; individuals must repeat the process annually, calibrating their skills and career goals in relation to opportunities within and outside the organization. Organizations must establish a development-oriented culture to encourage continuous learning and new skills.

Organizational experts now regard development as an integral part of an organization’s infrastructure. Both individual and organizational job performance are ultimately dependent on the leadership developmental structures embedded within each organizational unit. The issue at hand is designing and delivering leadership development programs that meet the leadership requirements for the 21st century’s complex, yet changing organizations. McCall (2000) identified the critical components for leadership development programs. Systematic programs must have a conceptual foundation and use reliable measurements to determine effectiveness. Job experience should be an integral part of development. Organizational leaders should be actively involved in the developmental process as teachers and coaches, never accepting mediocrity as acceptable job performance.

Most development programs are inadequate because they start by identifying appropriate competencies. This approach is short sighted. Benchmark developmental programs, such as General Electric’s John F. Welch Leadership Center at Crotonville, New York, begin with goal-focused results and work backward to attributes (Zenger, Ulrich, & Smallwood, 2000).

To achieve a productive leadership development model, organizational behaviorists and scholars have proposed a multistep process that includes the following:

  1. 1. Communicate the desired business outcomes and tracking information to ensure employees understand organizational goals so they can appreciate their specific role.

  2. 2. Identify leadership development within the organization’s strategic objectives.

  3. 3. Begin with the top executives and ensure that all executives have the same experience and convey the same message in their respective divisions.

  4. 4. Build scorecards for results, including the key developmental indicators for each person. Each participant should leave with a defined series of actions to undertake that can and will be measured.

  5. 5. Link competencies to results. Competencies will make the most sense to participants if they can see the link between a competency and the organization’s desired results.

  6. 6. Mold the learning methods to fit individual learning styles. Spend time planning what participants must do differently on returning to their jobs.

  7. 7. Transform leadership development from an event to a process. Leadership programs should last a person’s entire career within an organization.

  8. 8. Help leaders transform complexity into simplicity and see the big picture. The discipline of distilling a complex issue into a one-page memo is a way to practice the necessary skill of simplifying.

  9. 9. Create realistic, pressured situations in which people learn, fail, and try again. Leadership development should prepare people to perform in realistic, pressured situations.

  10. 10. Train everyone to lead. If everyone in the organization can make a difference, then they should be trained in leadership skills (Zenger et al., 2000).

Distributed leadership qualities in health and social work are critical to enhance team building, staff, collaboration, and partnership within a professional context. There is little doubt leadership development strategies are a direct result of the needs of organizations and their contextual environment. Development cannot be viewed as a sporadic occurrence, but as a continual process for individual and organizational growth and renewal. London (2002) identified six trends emerging in the methodology used for leadership development:

  1. 1. Individual skill needs follow from business goals. Leadership skills must emerge from business strategies. Organizations must ensure they have future leadership talent. This cannot be left to chance. Organizations must identify managers who have the potential to move into leadership roles and give them the opportunities to develop their skills in conjunction with the organization’s vision for the future.

  2. 2. Leaders’ individual differences (for example, learning style, openness to constructive criticism, self-control) influence their ability to engage in leadership development. Likewise, organizational conditions (for example, reward system, opportunities for self-growth, resources for training, and human resource expertise) have a significant impact on the success or failure of developmental programs.

  3. 3. Leadership skills include envisioning the future, establishing goals, and artfully communicating and implementing the strategic plan. Different leadership styles must be employed depending on the situation to deliver the desired results. Leaders must be flexible, adapting their style of behavior to match the current organizational challenges.

  4. 4. Leaders must take responsibility for their own career development. The leader’s role is to establish and work toward development based on insight into self-improvement and professional demands. Leaders must be open to constructive criticism and seek continuous feedback on their performance.

  5. 5. Leaders need insights into their environments, such as anticipating technological changes, economics conditions, and competitive forces. Being able to acquire necessary knowledge and skills will allow executives to cope successfully with the ever-changing needs of their agencies. Leaders must be role models in advocating the importance of training and development programs. They must be teachers and students at the same time.

  6. 6. Learning experiences are multifaceted and arise from a myriad of work-related experiences. Some of the experiences may be the more traditional approaches to learning, such as attending lectures, whereas others arise from job-related events and feedback from colleagues and human resource managers.

In 2008, The Hartford Foundation (Annual Report) presented a model of leadership training and support. This foundation, whose mission is to improve the quality of life for the citizens of Connecticut, stated that to be effective and successful, social-work leaders need specialized training and an established support system. Although leadership skills can be acquired, they must be measurable, learnable, and teachable. Effective leaders must have the heart, desire, and ability to lead. The foundation advances a model that identifies four critical components in the preparation of social workers: formal training, mentoring, peer networking, and “answering the call.”

Formal training is offered in the area of administrative leadership. More specifically, the training focuses on personnel, finance fundraising and advancement, maintaining a budget, and strategic planning (Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, 2008), Although these areas are deemed “foundational,” this training model acknowledges that additional attributes are required for successful leadership. Leaders must understand the need to be innovative change agents within the organization by focusing on the development of a “team” concept among subordinates. Other key attributes to be nurtured are interpersonal communication, risk taking, self-knowledge, the ability to inspire, and strategic vision (Bass & Riggio, 2006).

Mentoring is also identified as a critical component to the development of successful leaders. Through mentoring, knowledge and expertise are shared and developed in the novice. Mentors are invaluable because they can share ideas, assist in career development, and provide growth opportunities to individuals seeking to enhance their administrative skills. To facilitate this, it is important to ensure a good match between a mentor and a mentee.

Peer networking is the term that connotes the supportive process to assist employees by sharing ideas, providing feedback, building self-confidence, and facilitating contact with helpful resources. The intent is to prevent leaders from feeling isolated as they make challenging decisions that are necessary to promote organizational change.

The final and most critical component of the Hartford Foundation model is “answering the call.” Leaders are requested to answer the question, “Who is going to act?” Effective leaders are those who are willing to run the risk of taking action and chancing failure. Good leaders use their creative talents and skills to benefit the organization as a whole.

The Hartford Foundation concepts of leadership development support the model of transformational leadership advanced by Bass and Riggio (2006). Bass identified four attributes for a transformational leader: idealized influence, inspirational motivational behavior, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration (2006). These concepts are regarded as instrumental in motivating employees to create effective organization. These methods, which assist leaders in developing a transformational leadership style, are similar to the Hartford Foundation (2008) concepts of mentoring, peer networking, and utilizing formal training. Both leadership development models advocate modeling coaching and peer support in their training methods (Sanderlin-Nykamp, 2011).

The Past, Present, and Future of Social-Work Leadership

Until recently, social-work authors and researchers have focused on social-work management and supervision, rather than leadership. This is not surprising. Under the day-to-day pressures of delivering services, it has been easier to attend to the nuts-and-bolts management of staff and resources. Far more elusive, and yet perhaps more important, are issues of leadership, which encompass the daunting tasks of inspiring others and creating a vision for a better future.

The study of leadership has a long history in disciplines outside of social work. Theorists have struggled with a myriad of definitions of leadership, as well as trait, behavioral, and situational leadership models. They have identified leadership types from transformational and charismatic to motivational. There has been much speculation and some study of the traits and characteristics of effective leaders, as well as effective leadership styles, abilities, and practices.

Social-work theorists have contributed to this field by identifying the critical and unique characteristics of social-work leadership, such as adherence to social-work norms and orientation to the needs of disadvantaged groups. Finally, social workers have begun to elaborate technologies for creating tomorrow’s leaders through practices such as formal training, mentoring, and peer networking.

There has always been, and will be, a critical need for leadership in human endeavors. In the 21st century, social workers will encounter an increasingly complex world and new challenges related to economic, political, technological, and environmental change. Who will lead the social-work profession into this new world? We can glean an answer from what we already know about leadership and from a future we can only imagine.


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