Leadership is an art requiring a mix of technical, conceptual, and human talents. That means the leader should have a combination of technical knowledge, a vision of the future and human talents to effectively lead other people. Kotter (2012) has identified three critical leadership functions. Firstly a leader should have a vision for the future, often the distant future, and strategies for producing the changes needed to achieve that vision. Then this vision should be communicated continuously to all the stakeholders, to ensure that this vision is embedded in the culture of the individual and the organisation as a whole.
The second function, according to Kotter (2012) is effective communication of the direction by words and deeds to all whose cooperation may be needed, to influence the creation of teams and coalitions that understand the vision and strategies and accept their validity. If all the stakeholders are not on board regarding the direction they should follow, the task of leading people can become very difficult and the vision for the team or group will never be achieved. Thirdly and last leaders should motivate and inspire their team members to overcome major political, bureaucratic and resource barriers to change by satisfying very basic, but often unfulfilled, human needs. To fulfil this function as a leader means that leaders should believe in themselves selves unconditionally that the barriers mentioned can be overcome and that they are but stepping stones to achieve the ultimate vision of the group (Kotter, 2012).
Leadership as a function of management gives the leader certain powers and responsibilities (Erasmus, Strydom & Rudansky-Kloppers, 2016). Because of the authority of the leader’s position he/she may command and demand certain actions to ensure the objectives of the organisation are achieved. The power attached to a formal position can be used by the leader to enforce action from the follower to ensure that the objectives of the organisation are met. This formal position places a responsibility on the leader to ensure that the organisational objectives are achieved. These responsibilities can be delegated to followers and this means that followers have now the responsibility to complete a task. The powers and the responsibilities attached to a formal position make the leader of an organisation/department or section accountable for the achieving of the objectives of the organisation/department or section.
The question is, if leaders lack these skills, can these skills be acquired? Hellriegel, Jackson and Slocun (2005) recommend that organisations can help to develop leaders through on-the-job training, assessment and training programmes, mentoring and coaching. On-the-job learning can only take place when followers take up tasks that require leadership responsibilities. Organisations should create a conducive environment where team members will be willing to take up these leadership responsibilities. For example, a team leader for a specific project can ask for feedback from the team members or, if not in a formal leadership position, one can learn from observation of a reputable leader (Hellriegel, Jackson ; Slocun 2005). Assessment and training programmes generally evaluate individual leadership style and provide educational programme/survey questionnaires to improve the effectiveness of the individual as leader. Hellriegel, Jackson and Slocun (2005) state that mentoring is regarded more favourably when it is provided from a senior reputable leader inside the organisation as opposed to hiring someone from outside the organisation. Each organisation has a unique culture and someone from inside will be aware of this. Coaching is defined as one-on-one tailored comments and guidance to enhance the leader’s performance and the organisation at large.
Clegg, Kornberger and Pitsis (2011) argue that particular transformational leadership skills can be learnt and/or developed by means of mentoring and coaching. Coaching is the process of mounting a person’s own knowledge and expertise to improve the job performance. A coach can be an internal or an external person. Mentoring is an old process of development dating back to the ancient Greeks. Mentoring normally takes place between two people, the expert and the student. It can, however, equally apply to an expert and a group (Hellriegel, Jackson ; Slocun, 2005). Dubrin (2005) identifies 10 core abilities needed by a leader to become a coach or a mentor. These abilities are as follows:
• To build trust amongst the team member(s);
• to be coached through honesty and sincerity;
• to have empathy with the team member(s) to be coached or mentored;
• to have good listening skills meaning minimum talk (20 % of the time from the coacher or mentor);
• to have a persuasive tactic;
• to be able to assist to set realistic goals and deadlines;
• to set standards to assess performance;
• to give effective feedback;
• to encourage positivity through recognising and awarding performance; and
• to discourage negativity.
The next section looks at the characteristics of an effective leader.