Executive Leadership Research Paper Starter

Executive Leadership

(Research Starters)

Leadership is slightly more obvious than it is valuable. One can exemplify leadership in a variety of ways. Maintaining an awareness of the bodies of knowledge on the topic is one among many. With an ability to draw from various sources and perspectives in a timely manner, an effective leader demonstrates preparation and readiness to articulate ideas, to specify recommendations, and to convince others of rationale soundness. This essay covers transactional leadership, transformational leadership, and servant leadership, and it conveys some tenets from each. In addition, it summarizes leadership thought from a historical viewpoint. About eighty years ago, most experts believed that leaders were individuals who were born possessing specific characteristics. Those older approaches gave way to some seeking to find the one best way to lead. More recent thinking suggests executive leadership effectiveness depends on the degree to which there is a match between style and organization of situations. A recent shift in thinking holds the potential for emphasizing service over results. It is likely that service to others will gain importance given the expected growth of jobs and leadership opportunities in the nonprofit sector. The main focal points of executive leadership include mission accomplishment, resource acquisition, and external affairs. In brief, this essay aims to help readers recognize some requirements for leadership so prospective leaders may prepare to act on them.

Keywords Effectiveness; External affairs; Mission accomplishment; Nonprofit sector; Resource acquisition; Servant leadership; Service; Transactional leadership; Transformational leadership

Management: Executive Leadership


Leadership is both valuable and obvious. Most people would probably define leadership according to their observations of people with whom they interact daily. In terms of the workplace, some of us would agree that our managers, supervisors, and executives are leaders in a formal sense though they may fall short of the leadership we expect to see in them. Fortunately, a few of our co-workers and associates with whom we enjoy informal relationships fit the leadership role better than others who occupy authoritative positions. The need for leadership is present at every level within and between organizations; this essay tends to focus on the top level and makes frequent references to the nonprofit sector.

Aside from job growth projections, significant differences exist between nonprofit organizations and governmental or for-profit entities. “To measure its effectiveness, a nonprofit must ask itself, ‘Are we really delivering on our mission, not just meeting budget, and are we getting maximum impact from our expenditures?’” (Epstein & McFarlan, 2011). Leaders of nonprofit organizations should hold or acquire skills that allow them to fulfill missions, acquire resources, develop strategies, and navigate external and political environments. In short supply, some publications on the topic of nonprofit executive leadership are available and tend to focus reader attention on interactions between presidents of the organization and its board. It takes time to rise to the top of the organizational ladder, yet prospective leaders begin developing their skills now rather than later, for the benefits of doing so will become more evident with the passage of time and through service in diverse settings.

Regardless of the sector(s) in which today's undergraduates and tomorrow's leaders seek or will find gainful employment, it is likely they may find the contents of this essay insightful and informative. One of the aims here is to provide content that is applicable across the landscape of organization types. Furthermore, at the very least, readers will finish this essay knowing the difference between a manager and a leader, or between management and leadership. The current state of knowledge on the topic asserts that leadership has more to do with influencing others than it does with exercising authority over others through title or position. Moreover, that literature suggests that leaders influence followers and vice versa while formal authority often fades away into the background. In other words, some scholars and practitioners assert that a leader usually gains authority because his or her followers are willing to lend it. In essence, leaders exist only if they have followers and, as we shall discover in the pages ahead, some leaders function by serving their followers. Indeed, Some studies have shown that, for example, to improve service quality and maintain customers, organizations must ensure their employees' job satisfaction (Pansoo & Jang-Hyup, 2013).


Through what approaches can one become an exemplary leader? In attempting to answer that question, it is interesting to note that a countless number of today's college students and high school students are satisfying graduation requirements by earning credits for service learning projects, community service tasks, experiential learning arrangements, and the like. This fact alone may serve to demonstrate the immediate and future needs to pursue effective leadership through various means. Another fact of interest is that the literature on this topic contains a lot of material debating whether experience or instruction is the most effective approach for learning about leadership.

Corporate governance is said to be related to corporate performance (Chun-Yao, Zong-Jhe, & Chun-Yi, 2013). Taken here as evidence of real tension between the academic sector and the corporate sector on the subject of leadership program effectiveness, corporations and management consultants argue from a standpoint that leadership is a topic essentially self-taught. In contrast, business school representatives claim those corporate entities offer programs primarily geared toward issues facing a specific firm and industry concluding that they fall short of exposing participants to larger environmental contexts in which leaders truly operate. Casting those arguments aside for the moment, this essay merely scratches the surface addressing subjects such as leadership traits, styles, and skills and noting the interdependencies among them.

In brief, it is important to assert that personal traits are ineffective and leadership styles are irrelevant in the absence of skillful communications. Some combination of them will keep workers and organizations moving toward their futures. In the broadest sense, an organization is by definition a group of individuals who come together to share responsibility for achieving three general goals common across the universe of organizations: Growth, stability, and survival.

One of the challenges an executive faces is how to channel individual energy and group activities toward goal achievement and how to maximize performance levels and improve output and service qualities. In essence, organizational results are a function of leadership skill development and its perpetual application to challenging situations. As the reader will see, there are a variety of approaches and perspectives on how executives and their subordinates can pursue and meet those challenges. A good place to begin is with an overview of various perspectives on leadership. By understanding those perspectives, readers will find themselves prepared and ready to handle a variety of situations they might encounter during the course of their personal or professional livelihoods.

Leadership Foundations

Able to borrow from various perspectives in a timely manner, an executive leader must be ready to articulate ideas, to specify recommendations, and to convince others that the underlying rationale is sound. Those analytical and communication skills also arise, in part, due to the leader's exposure to opportunities for interactions with highly respected leaders. In addition, the number of interactions and those abilities are a result of the passage of time because individuals will accumulate experiences and encounter a variety of settings as they tend to their personal and professional lives. In the process, leadership learning will occur as they sharpen their self awareness and recognize the influences they have on others.

According to Chester Barnard, leadership is the ability of a superior to influence the behavior of a subordinate or group and persuade them to follow a particular course of action. In addressing the topic of executive leadership, it is necessary to introduce readers to the primary responsibilities or functions of executives. In his classic book Functions of the Executive (1968), Barnard outlines those responsibilities. Many recognize them in abbreviated form as POS-D-CORB, which is a device by which to remember respectively the following list of functions: Planning; organizing; staffing; directing; coordinating (drops one letter); and, budgeting. It may serve students of executive leadership well to gain some experience in each in addition to memorizing them.


Barnard also drew attention to the efficacy of organizations at a time when there was a mechanistic-type fixation on efficiency. Long before the organic and systems perspectives on organizations came into existence, some problems arose as subunits attempted to maximize their own efficiencies in isolation from each other. In effect, subunits would look inward, thereby creating some operating distance between them and other subunits and between the organization and those on the outside whom it serves. Obviously, it takes multiple subunits to deliver a good or service to a customer, but the fixation on departmental efficiencies virtually disrupted the focus on deliveries to clients, customers, and the like. In sum, the organization became highly efficient but it did so at the expense of becoming highly ineffective. That is, it began to lose sight of external demands and it was able to do so at minimal cost, a serious problem indeed.

Management scholars and organization theorists during the 1970s were asking questions something like this: Does it matter if organizations do the right thing when there is a prevailing emphasis on doing whatever they do at the lowest average cost? Certainly, making more of an unwanted item will enhance efficiency as will cutting the costs of producing that item. One could go as far as saying very few leaders arise from the ranks of accountants, for instance, who typically form and implement cost-cutting measures. An inward-looking focus on efficiency will only last until another set of problems arise. Consequently, an ongoing...

(The entire section is 4664 words.)