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What Science Says about Leaders: A Brief Survey of Research into Leadership

Leadership is a surprisingly scarce and valuable resource in the business world, and most businesses are very concerned with finding or developing good leaders in their organization. But what is a “good” leader? What qualities define them? What’s the difference in the workplace between a “good” leader and a mediocre one?

Thanks to their importance, these questions are actively studied throughout the world. So, what does the research have to say about leaders? Here’s a brief survey of recent research into leadership.

The Journal Of Engineering, Project, and Production Management.
This study looked at the link between leadership qualities and organizational success. Through a survey, the researchers identified the most important qualities possessed by good leaders. Some interesting and perhaps unexpected qualities include charitableness and dignity, but the most frequently cited include accessibility, dedication, neutrality, modesty, and others. These findings suggest that much of what makes a good leader is determined by how they interact with the people around them.

The European Journal of Business and Management
This research looked specifically at the relationship between the leader and the people who prefer to follow. It further tried to drill into the differences between a “boss” and a “leader.” It found that bosses drive employees and depend on authority, while leaders coach their teams and rely on goodwill. A good illustration: a boss will say, “Go.” A leader will say, “Let’s go.”

The Journal of Management Development
This study found that self-awareness and authenticity provided the main foundation for leadership. Interestingly, the author suggests that organizations should avoid becoming overly dependent on “inspirational” leaders and suggests that authenticity in leadership, though challenging to embody, can do more to inspire workers to implement a shared vision.

Quarterly Review of Business Disciplines
This study looked at predicting leader performance and found that good leadership becomes even more important when dealing with high levels of complexity. For instance, organizations undergoing major changes need highly competent leaders to be successful. The researchers cite the example of an organization pivoting from manufacturing into a service economy, which requires “leaders to have increasing levels of capability in order to be effective.”

Organization Studies
In this paper, researchers tried to understand situations where seemingly good leadership ends up backfiring. It turns out that when followers become overly reliant on the leader – and thus relax their own ambition and sense of accountability – organizational effectiveness can suffer.

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