From INSEAD Knowledge (http://knowledge.insead.edu)
Although research suggests there's no one-size-fits-all approach to leadership, a fixed or generic notion of leadership still gets taught at all levels, to be used at all times, for all problems. That's according to Professor Steve Kozlowski of Michigan State University, who has studied dynamic leadership.
"It's not that there's anything wrong with (generic) theories, but they simply provide a one-size-fits-all solution to leadership," Kozlowski says. "And my view on leadership is that, particularly if you want to understand it in more complicated or intense situations, you really need to understand how leadership needs to change in order to fit the requirements of the situation."
When it comes to research, Kozlowski's approach is to focus on middle managers instead of top management.
"We're not thinking so much about the top of an organization but really more in the middle where things get done, where the rubber meets the road, so to speak," he says. "It's about leaders being able to develop specific skill sets among their subordinates and that means really being able to identify what skills people need to develop and being able to push them along."
His justification is based on the premise of dynamic team leadership -- an understanding of factors at play within a team environment, an action team environment to be precise. Once that understanding is in place, it then becomes important to identify what a leader needs to do in order to shape the development and capabilities of the team.
The leaders in question are likely to be supervisors or leaders operating within small groups. Therefore, they are well placed to make changes that have the greatest impact. Kozlowski explains that middle managers are the focus of his research because he sees them as the nucleus of an organization, or the nerve center. By saying that they are the "nerve center," Kozlowski means to suggest that they permeate many levels and sectors of the organization.
Among the examples that Kozlowski cites of dynamic team leadership at work is a medical emergency scenario involving a trauma patient at a hospital. Imagine that the patient is wheeled into a room. Four physicians come in and immediately have to figure out what has happened, what is wrong, and how they are going to solve the patient's problems.
"So things are happening very quickly and the consequences of an error are not very good," says Kozlowski. "There isn't a lot of latitude to make mistakes and so it's very important that in these high reliability situations, team members can effectively integrate their capabilities and accomplish the goal."
Accomplishing such goals, Kozlowski says, puts the premium on team leadership, to make sure that each member of the team has those capabilities when the situation demands flexible adaptive performance.
Of course, to be effective in the first place, the leader must already possess certain intrinsic qualities. But in dynamic team leadership situations, team members are usually equally matched in terms of competencies and capabilities.
The goal, says Kozlowski, is to build the capabilities of members so that teams can effectively self-manage. If the team can self-manage, the leader can then focus on other things such as minimizing conflicts and enabling the team to pursue its mission broadly within the organization.