Good leaders are made not born; if you have the desire and the will power you can become an effective leader. This simple sentence represents and explains what leadership is all. Goals, values and concepts are the core of great leadership qualities. This paper will describe what leadership styles are effective in organizations, how these styles assist in creating and sustaining a healthy organizational culture, and compare and contrast the leadership styles. A look at how Wal-Mart’s leadership styles impact the fortune 100 company will also be looked at.
What is leadership? When examining this question it is important to understand what it means to be a leader within an organization. “A leader is someone who holds a dominant or superior position within his or her field and is able to exercise a high degree of influence over others” (Business dictionary, 2009). Bateman & Snell (2009) states “An outstanding leader combines good strategic substance and effective interpersonal processes to formulate and implement strategies that produce results and sustainable competitive advantage.” Leaders serve people best when they help them develop their own initiative and good judgment, enable them to grow, and help them become better contributors (Bateman & Snell). A leader comes to the forefront when a crisis occurs and is able to think as well as act in creative way during difficult situations (Business dictionary, 2009).
“Leadership is an organizational role involving establishing a clear vision, communicating the vision with others so that others will follow willingly, providing information, knowledge, and methods to realize that vision, and coordinating and balancing the conflicting interests of all members or stakeholders” (Business dictionary, 2009).
Unlike management leadership flows from the core of a personality and cannot be taught; although leadership can be learned and may be enhanced through coaching or mentoring. Leadership involves unique processes that are distinguishable from basic management processes (Bateman & Snell, 2009).
It is important for an organization to know when good leadership is needed. Spurgeaon and Cragg (2008) believe that the following times are when good leadership is most needed. These times are when there is a non-routine task requiring innovative thinking, when there is a need to inspire and motivate others in undertaking tasks, when there is a need to establish momentum and keep things moving in a new direction in order to be successful, when there is abilities that go beyond what is currently being done and involving developing a longer term vision, and when a task is required because the external environment is unstable and changing rapidly (Spurgeaon and Cragg, 2008).
Leadership can be divided between supervisory leadership and strategic leadership in order to distinguish between the two (Bateman & Snell, 2009). Supervisory leadership occurs when a leader possesses behavior that provides guidance, support, and corrective feedback for day to day activities. Strategic leadership occurs when a leader’s behavior gives purpose and meaning to an organization’s envisioning and creating a positive future.
The leading function is about people within an organization; both individually and in groups. This function is organized to influence people to be high performers through motivation and inspiration. Leaders share their vision for the future of a company just as Sam Walton shares his vision for the future of Wal-Mart through his slogan; “saving people money so they can live better” (Wal-Mart, 2008). Since 1962 Walton has been proud of his vision of Wal-Mart and has passionately shared with all employees his success.
Today, over 40 years later, Walton’s goals and dreams are still prominent within the organization and is posted on the corporate website (Wal-Mart, 2008). Walton not only talked of his vision he lived it himself which gained him creditability as a leader. Known as a penny pincher, Walton would arm wrestle his suppliers for the lowest price and, unlike most competitors, he would pass the savings on to customers. Walton was able to get his associates and managers on board with the idea that his vision was the way to go; although it was not easy. This was achieved because “Walton framed his cheapness as a crusade on behalf of the lowly consumer and as a quest for a better life for all American” (Frank, 2006). American really related to Sam Walton’s message.
A leader “keeps people focused on moving the organization toward its ideal future, motivating them to overcome whatever obstacles lie in the way” (Bateman & Snell, 2009). Leaders capture the hearts and minds of their employees and stir up a desire to be a part of something big. They clearly see the future of the organization, the changes that need to occur to get t here, and they sell the vision with such compelling belief that others begin to see and believe it as well. Good leaders are aware of their role and how they can benefit from helping an organization achieve its goals. Walton was very good at helping his associates see that working for Wal-Mart meant limitless opportunity while providing a great thing for the community. Mr. Walton had this to say about working for Wal-Mart (Frank, 2006) “It would, I’m sure, help you become a leader, it would help your personality develop, you would become more outgoing, and in time you might become a manager of that store, you might become a department manager, you might become a district manager, or whatever you choose to be in the company… It will do wonders for you”. Walton was a very charismatic leader. He made it look so easy and people believed him and listened.
There are many leadership styles that an organization can choose from depending on specific needs. What styles are chosen depends on which one will be most effective. The choose of leadership styles can make or break an organization and also is the determining factor on how a staff functions. Wal-Mart has chosen to use a charismatic leadership style. This type of styles involves the leader to inject huge doses of enthusiasm into a team (Mind tools, 2008). Wal-Mart also uses servant leadership. This style involves any person at any level within the organization to be a leader and lead simply by meeting the needs of the team (Mind tools, 2008). Wal-Mart management are not sitting behind a desk but rather walking around on the floor with their fellow associates. This happens both at stores and in distribution centers as well.
Sam Walton had this to say about his chosen leadership style (2008) “In a way that creates wonderful morale to help the whole team accomplish an overall goal.” Management’s number one goal with their employees is to make working at Wal-Mart fun and rewarding. They even have their own cheer to boost associates morale and organizational spirit (Wal-Mart, 2008). “Who’s Wal-Mart? It is my Wal-Mart” (Wal-Mart, 2008). This is the type of leadership styles that all organizations need to use. This style makes employees want to come to work everyday and they feel secure knowing that they are working for a great organization. Wal-Mart is like one big family and like to make their associates feel like they are an important part of keeping the doors open (Wal-Mart, 2008). Another positive leadership technique Wal-Mart uses is they like to delegate responsibility amongst teams rather than lead from the front. Every associate’s opinion counts. Management has an open door policy for associates to talk with management and are encouraged to do so. But the goal every associate within Wal-Mart has is that they want to serve their customers to the best of their ability (Wal-Mart, 2008).
Different leadership styles support the creation and maintenance of a healthy organizational culture. At Wal-Mart different levels of styles work with different levels of the organization and in different situations. With front line workers both a democratic leadership solicits input from others and a autocratic style of leadership makes decisions and announces them to the group. These styles can work in a partnership to create a healthy culture. An example of a autocratic leadership is when a manager plans the number of hours required for coverage on the cash registers each day of the week. A democratic leadership style would then allow the cashiers to bid for the hours they would like to work. This can create a positive work environment because the hours are determined based on the stores needs and budget and the employees have imput on which hours they want to work. This concept can be taken one step further and support a feeling of greater democracy by allowing the employees with seniority to have first choice. Bureaucratic leadership works effectively in situations that require strict procedure adherence. “ Bureaucratic leaders work by the book ensuring that their staff follow procedures precisely” (Leadership styles, 2008). This type of style is effective in situations such as collecting cash from the cashiers. A process would be identified and only certain levels of management would be trained on the process. The process also has no flexibility. Charismatic leadership is important for top levels of management in most organizations. Sam Walton had charisma as is evident in the way the early days of Wal-Mart were described (Frank, 2006). “Charismatic leaders are dominant, exceptionally self confident and have a strong conviction in the moral righteousness of their beliefs” (Bateman & Snell, 2009).
The confidence of the leader and their belief in his vision and ability to tie the vision into everyday activities supports a healthy culture as it gives the leader credibility and supports the employees believing in the vision of their leader and the future of the organization. When employees have confidence in their leader they have confidence in the future of the organization.
In conclusion, Sam Walton had the confidence of his associates and he never lost connection with them. As Wal-Mart expanded Sam got his pilots license so he could fly to individual stores to reduce travel time. Walton’s reasoning for this was so he could personally visit his stores to keep in touch with associates (Frank, 2006). This was smart business and smart leadership. It is evident from Wal-Mart’s decades of success that Walton’s chosen techniques are effective.
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Business Dictionary. (2009). Leadership. Retrieved January 05, 2009, from http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/leadership.html
Frank, T. (2006) A Brief History of Wal-Mart. Washington Monthly, Reclaim
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Mind Tools. (2006). Leadership styles, using the right one for your situation. Retrieved December 29, 2008 from http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newLDR_84.htm
Spurgeon, P and Cragg, R. (2008). Is it Management or Leadership? Clinician in Management, 15:123-125.