Leadership is the action of leading a group of people or an organization, or the ability to do this Oxford Dictionary. A person exerts influence over other people, which inspires, motivates and directs their activities to help achieve common performance goals (Yukl, 1989 as cited in George & Jones, 2006). The person who exerts such influence is a leader. With the influence they exert, effective leaders help groups and organisations to achieve a goal.
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Effective leadership also increases an organisation’s ability to meet all the contemporary challenges such as obtain a competitive advantage, the need to promote acceptable ethical behaviour and is essential to manage a diverse workforce fairly and impartially. As a result, this will raise the organisations’ chances of success (George & Jones, 2006).
Nowadays due to the exceptionally challenging era, leadership can be very demanding because of the pace of change, the illusion of control and the high expectations of followers (Arnold & Rendall, 2010). A leader can adopt his own personal qualities, behaviours styles and decisions to develop his own leadership style (Arnold & Rendall, 2010).
Early leader-focused approaches to leadership have 2 main features: “ a description of the leader in terms of their characteristics and/or behaviour” and “ the investigation and analysis and of the characteristics and or behaviours of what makes a ‘ good leaders’ regardless of what they lead” (Arnold & Rendall, 2010).
Early leadership was more focused on finding the best characteristics that makes a person a leader or effective leader. Early work such as the work of House and Baetz (1979) came up with what characteristics that leaders tend to have at a higher degree than non-leaders. These characteristics include intelligence, dominance/need for power, self-confidence and knowledge of the task. (House & Baetz , 1979). Bass (1990) also included other personality traits such as good adjustment, emotional balance and high integrity which were found to be common traits amongst leaders. (Bass, 1990) This early research did yield some interesting results but researchers did not find a constant profile of characteristics which are common to all leaders however personality and intelligence seem to be fundamental for persons to emerge as leaders and ultimately be effective leaders (Arnold & Rendall, 2010).
The Big Five Personality Traits
People have certain characteristics which are constant to them throughout their life which can influence “ how they think, feel and behave both on and off the job” (George & Jones, 2006). These characteristic are called personality traits. These traits make you act, feel and think in certain ways which makes every individual unique. It is very important that these traits are understood since every person’s personality influences their behaviour and their approach to managing people and resources (George & Jones, 2006).
An individual’s personality is composed of five general traits or characteristics, these being extraversion, negative affectivity, agreeableness, conscientiousness and openness to experience (Digman, 1990). Each personality trait is viewed as a continuum along which every individual falls. A person can fall on the high end part or on the low end part or else somewhere in between. A person’s approach to management can be described in how people are like at the high and low ends of each continuum which is an easy way to understand how these trait affect a person’s approach (George & Jones, 2006).
The effectiveness of each trait is determined by a complex interaction between the nature of the job or organisation in which they are working and the characteristics of the person. Furthermore, some personality traits might be effective in one situation but can decrease the effectiveness in another situation. (George & Jones, 2006)
There are other personality traits in addition to the big five that describe people’s personalities. These are specifically important for understanding managerial effectiveness. Some examples are self-esteem, locus of control and need for achievement.
Research by Fred E. Fiedler acknowledged that effective leadership depends on the characteristics of the leader and of the situation. Fiedler came up with the Contingency theory of leadership. He explains why a manager or leader may be capable in one situation and incapable in another. It also suggests which kinds of managers or leaders are more effective in different situations (George & Jones, 2006). He argued that leaders have rather stable personal characteristic, leading to a characteristic behavioural style. In his theory, Fiedler assumed that how much a leader is person-oriented depends on the leader’s perception of their least preferred co-worker. He concluded that “ task-oriented leaders are best in very favourable and unfavourable situations and those person-oriented leaders are best in moderately favourable or moderately unfavourable situations” (Arnold & Rendall, 2010).
Desired and acceptable leadership characteristics may vary across organisational context. Sociability, need for power and need for achievement are considerably relevant characteristics which are consistent across different organisations and organisational cultures. (House & Baetz , 1979). House and Baetz (1979) came up with two insights which are generally accepted by persons studying leadership: if certain characteristics are to have an impact on others and their performance, these personal characteristics need to be observable in the leader and that leader characteristics and behaviours depend on the different type of task (House & Baetz , 1979).
Recent studies have pointed out the effects of personal and situational factors on the development of an individual as a leader. Amongst these personal factors are personality traits and gender (Jacobowitz & Pratch, 1996). One of the most distinct and difficult to change characteristics is gender. Leadership roles are typically described in stereotypically masculine terms. This could mean that women have a slight disadvantage over men in being selected for leadership roles and when selected it is difficult for them to be seen as good leaders.
Leadership roles are typically predominated by men but in recent years women in leadership positions have increased considerably (Corrigall, Konrad, Lieb, & Ritchie JR, 2000). This has prompted a lot of researchers to explore the relationship between gender and leadership. While the number of women in management positions has increased, there are still very few women who hold high level executive positions (Corrigall, Konrad, Lieb, & Ritchie JR, 2000). It is believed that women tend to prefer jobs who offer a reward rather than high pay and advancement, which might be the explanation of their failure to attain more jobs at the top level positions (George & Jones, 2006).
The styles of male and female leaders may influenced by the gender-based expectations. Individuals establish certain expectations for their own and others’ behaviour which is based on their own beliefs about what the appropriate behaviour of male and females should be like. (Eagly, 1987) Women are stereotypically described as nurturing, supportive and concerned with interpersonal relations whilst men are viewed as being directive and focused on task accomplishment (George & Jones, 2006) These stereotypes suggest that women can be more relationship oriented as managers and are more considerable in their behaviour. Men are seen as more directed towards task-orientation and engage in more initiating-structure behaviours (George & Jones, 2006).
People have become accustomed to the styles that men have since men have long held these roles. As a result, there is more focus on women in the discussion of the impact of gender on leadership (Eagly & Johannesen-Schmidt, 2001). There is little agreement about how women actually lead even though there is this greater focus on women in research. Feminists’ writings have given great importance to differences and similarities between leadership styles in males and females. (Eagly & Johannesen-Schmidt, 2001).
A number of researchers state that there is a difference between women and men having a leadership position, whilst others say that there is no difference. Eagly and Johnson (1990) state that male and female managers having a leadership position, tend to behave in similar ways. Men do not engage in more initiating structure than women and women do not engage in more consideration than men (Eagly & Johnson, 1990). Writers of trade books, have argued that thre is a difference in leadership behaviour between males and females. They tend to see women as being less hierarchical, more cooperative and ollaborative and more oriented to enhancing others’ self worth (Book, 2000). On the contrary, social scientists say that there is no or minimal difference iin female and male organizational leaders. (Eagly & Johannesen-Schmidt, 2001).
Job Attribute Preference
Research has show that job attribute preference may direct a male or female manager to a different set of jobs, career paths and emplyers due to the existence of sex difference (Beutell & Brenner, 1986). Job attributes have been divided into two categories: intrinsic and extrinsic factors. Job aspects that fulfil material or social needs are termed intrinsic factors and job aspects that fullfil higher needs such as growth, esteem and self expression are termed intrinsic factors. (Pinder, 1998)
Research on sex differences and similarities in job attribute preferences has been enriched by two distinct theoretical persecpetives: the gender ideology perspective and the structuralist persepective. Different personality characteristics and different sets of ativities for women and man are dictated by gendered societal norms in existence is the view of the gender ideology perspective. The structuralist perspectives argues that women have poorer quality jobs than men on average because of the segregation and discrimination in the labor market. (Corrigall, Konrad, Lieb, & Ritchie JR, 2000). Both of the perspectives conclude that job attribute preferences for men and women are different by they assign casualty to different underlying mecchanisms. They both predict that there will be a change in the pattern of sex differnces in job attribute preferences over time, however they conclude that the patterns of change will be somewhat different.
Gender ideology may be described as “ socially-constructed script that prescribes different characteristics, values, attitudes, behaviors and activities for women and men” (West & Zimmerman , 1991)Gender ideology is composed of gender roles and gender stereotypes. Gender roles are “ sets of norms presribing the behaiors and activities appropriate for each sex” (Best & Williams, 1990). Gender roles differ by cultures but in Western industrialised societies attribute the role of income provider for the family to the men and the role of homemaker to the women.
Gender stereotypes are different personality characateristics which are expected from men and women. Characterisitcs such as nurturing, affiliation and passivity were associated with the females whilst characteristics such as autonomy, aggression, dominance and achievement were ascribed more to males (Best & Williams, 1990). People tend to conform to gender expectations to avoid the disapproval from others.
If people’s choice ofwork would reflect gender ideology, then men should consider responsibility, autonomy earnings, advancement, prestige, recognition and challenge to be more important than women do. Whilst women should value more job security, good coworkers, a good supervisor, physical work environment, helping others, growth/development opportunities, opportunities to use one’s abillities, variety, task significance a feeling of accomplishment and good hours to be more important than men do. In this study conducted by Corrigall, Konrad, Lieb and Ritchie, it was found that men attached more importance to earnings and responsibility than women did. This reflects the idea that men take on the role of provider and that they need to demonstrate success and status reflecting the ideas of gender roles and stereotypes towards men. On the other hand women attached greater importance to all mentioned attributes which show that women take the role of homemaker and to demonstarte nuturing and expressiveness. The findings relate to the gender roles typically attributed to women. (Corrigall, Konrad, Lieb, & Ritchie JR, 2000)
Leadership styles of males and females
The styles of males and females can be described in terms of the stereotypes of masculinity and femminity. Studies of people’s stereotypes about men and women show that the popular beliefs about male and female behaviour can be compiled, following Bakan (1966), in terms of two dimensions, the agentic and the communal attributes. (Jacobowitz & Pratch, 1996)
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Agentic characteristics define primarily an assertive, controlling and confident tendency. These characteristics are typically ascribed to more strongly to men than to women. Agentic behaviours, in employment settings might include “ speaking assertively, competing for attention, influencing others, initiating activity directed to assigned taks and making problem-focused suggestions” (Eagly & Johannesen-Schmidt, 2001).
Women are more ascribed to communal characteristics. This is because communal characteristics describe primarily a concern with the welfare of other people. Examples of communal characteristics in employment settings are “ speaking tentatively, not drawing attention to oneself, accepting others’ direction, supporting others and contributing to the solution of relational and interpersonal problems” (Eagly & Johannesen-Schmidt, 2001).
Leader roles and gender roles
Female leaders can adopt leadership styles that differe from those of men because they need to accommodate their behaviour to the occasioanlly conflicting demands of the female gender role and their role as a leader. There are different implications for the behaviour of male and female leaders due to gender roles. This is not only because male and female roles have different content but there is a discrepancy perceivers associate with women as having communal qualties and successful leaders are perceived as having agentic qualities. Since agentic properties are more associated to men, people tend to believe that men are better at being leaders than females. (Eagly & Johannesen-Schmidt, 2001)
Eagly and Karau(2001) argued that apparent difference between the typical leader roles and the female gender tends to ccreate prejudice towards female leaders. It takes two forms: ” (a)less favorable evaluation of women’s (than men’s) potential leadership because leadership ability is more stereotypic of men than women and (b)less favorable evaluation of the actual leadership behavior of women than men because agentic behaviour is perceived as less desirable in women than men.”
In the first prejudice, women’s characteristics and the resulting female-stereotypic qualities are different from what is expected and desired in leaders. This is a result from the descriptive norms of gender roles. The second prejudice arises from prescriptive norms of gender roles namely the beliefs of how women ough to behave. Women leaders can be negatively assessed for fullfilling the agentic requirements of leader roles and thus failing to comply with the communal characteristics, even though they may be praised for their fulfillment of the leader role. (Eagly & Karau, 2001)
On the other hand, Sherpe (2000) states that after years of analyzing what makes leaders more effective, management gurus now know how to maximise the chances of getting a great executive. Their answer is to hire a women. The idea was first introduce by the writers feminist trade books on management and is now making tis way into the popular culture. (Carli & Eagly, 2003)
However in Malta, women have the highest rate of female inactivity 65. 2% compared to other E. U. countries 35. 7%. (Spiteri, 2012). Nevertheless, there was an increase in the rate of employement for woman which now stands at 62%, which has gone up from 55% in 1997 (Almunia, Andor, Barnier , Reding, Rehn, & Tajani, 2012). Many women continue to face a glass ceiling, holding them backe in achieving a higher level in their work place. Men dominate company boards: 86. 3% of board members and 96. 8% of the boardroom chairs, whilst women make up 13. 7% and 3. 2% respectively. (Almunia, Andor, Barnier , Reding, Rehn, & Tajani, 2012). Women in Malta represent only 3% of board members which is well below the EU average of 13. 7% (Spiteri, 2012).
On the other hand, there is a higher pecentage (22. 7%) of Maltese women who are achieving higher levels of tertiary education than men(14. 6%), even though when compared to other E. U. countries it is still very low (37. 2% women and 30% men) (Spiteri, 2012). The National Statistics Office in collaboration with the National Council of women in Malta carried out a survey on the “ Perceived Obstacles to the participation of women in Decision-making Positions” (2007). The rsult of this survey states that many women in malta are not advancing in their work to obtain top post because of 3 main difficulties: difficulties in reconciling long hours of work and family responsabilities, very little use of childcare facilities and lack of spouse/partner suport (National Statistics Office, 2007).
Maltese Governments have always put measures in place to promote gender equality through various legislations and regulations. The constitution of Malta guarantees equaltiy between women and men. It gives protection against discrimination on various grounds including sex. Additionally, there is Article 45(11) swhich provides for “ special measures aimed at accelerating de facto equality between males and females” (Spiteri, 2012). In 1991 Malta also approved the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
Even though these measures have been in place for a few years now, there is still a general idea that men are seen as being more siutable at having a decision-making job. There are also a number of structural and cultural barriers which are preventing Maltese women from achieving further in their job. Such barriers include jobs without opportunities of promotion or training, practices that favour men for promotions, lack of employment laws and lack of sharing of household/childcare responsibilities by fathers. There is also a considerably big barrier being the attitudes and perceptions towards gendered roles in Malta. (Spiteri, 2012).
In this study, I am going to focus on the perceptions that University students have towards leaders. Whether they tend to prefer male or female leaders and on what is their decision based on. Also, I am going to study what University Students think about the effectiveness of males and females in different work settings and what is the reasoning behind the idea.