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  • Print publication year: 2008
  • Online publication date: June 2018

3 - Leadership in context


Learning objectives

After reading this chapter you should be able to:

  • ☑appreciate the impact of context on effective leadership behaviours
  • ☑understand the difference between transformational and transactional leadership
  • ☑reflect on leadership in practice and the leadership experience.
  • Introduction

    From a theoretical perspective this chapter continues the exploration of different models of leadership. The previous chapter examined the trait and style theories of leadership and encouraged you to engage with how they can be used to reflect on your understanding of what leadership is, and how leaders behave. This chapter moves on to consider three more recent groups of theories: contingency theories, transformational leadership theories and theories that consider leadership in practice and the leadership experience. Contingency theories suggest that the most effective leadership style depends on, or is contingent on the context; they identify key aspects of the context and classify leadership styles and behaviours in relation to these different types of context. Transformational leadership theories seek to explore the leadership behaviours necessary to engage and motivate followers. Leadership theories that focus on leadership in practice and the leadership experience explore the leadership process and in particular seek to contribute to leadership development.

    Context and contingency theories of leadership

    The Michigan and Ohio leadership theories discussed in Chapter 2 suggest that the ‘high consideration, high structure’ approach is the ‘one best way’. Although managing people and a task might intuitively seem to be essential aspects of leadership behaviour in any context, behaviour that is expected of, and respected in, staff and their leaders is different in different sectors, depending on the objectives of the organization. For example, the head of a national library, such as the British Library, is expected to develop and evolve a vision for the role of the library that they lead in a national and international marketplace, and this involves leadership on national and international platforms. Vision, careful management of power and politics, and reputation management are required, and these are key qualities for leaders. On the other hand, the leader of an electronic resources team in a public library, although also needing to manage the politics and power issues around resources and to develop a credible vision for developing their service, is required to focus on leading their team to ensure reliable and effective service delivery.

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