Leadership in Social Group Work

What is Leadership?

Leadership is an essential element of the directing function of management. Wherever there is an organised group of people working towards a common goal, some type of leadership becomes necessary. "The power of leadership is the power of integrating. The leader stimulates what is best in us. He unites and concentrates what we feel only gropingly and shatteringly. The person who influences me most is not he who does great Deeds, but he who makes me feel that I can do great deeds." Marry Parker Follet.

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Leadership is the ability to build up confidence and zeal among people and create an urge to be led. To be a successful leader, a manager must possess the qualities of foresight, drive, initiative, self-confidence and personal integrity. Different situations may demand different types of leadership. Leadership in this context does not mean taking centre stage – it is about creating the right environment for others to act. It is less directing and controlling, more stimulating, enabling and empowering.

Meaning, Characteristics, Functions and Types of Leadership/Leaders

Leadership is the capacity to work creatively, constructively, and effectively with individuals, families, groups, organisations, and communities to promote social justice, catalyse social change, and address individual and social problems. Leaders accomplish this by inspiring vision, offering direction, and supporting individual and collective action to obtain mutually valued results.

A simple definition is that leadership is the art of motivating a group of people to act towards achieving a common goalLeadership is a process by which an executive can direct, guide and influence the behaviour and work of others towards the accomplishment of specific goals in a given situation. Leadership is the ability of a manager to induce subordinates to work with confidence and zeal.

Leadership is the potential to influence the behaviour of others. It is also defined as the capacity to influence a group towards realising a goal. Leaders are required to develop future visions and to motivate the organisational members to want to achieve the visions.

According to Keith Davis, "Leadership is the ability to persuade others to seek defined objectives enthusiastically. It is the human factor which binds a group together and motivates it towards goals.""

Leadership is both a research area and a practical skill encompassing the ability of an individual or organisation to "lead" or guide other individuals, teams, or entire organisations. US academic environments define leadership as "a process of social influence in which a person can enlist the aid and support of others to accomplish a common task."

Leadership is when one person sets the purpose or direction for one or more other persons and gets them to move along together with them and with each other in that direction with competence and full commitment. (Jaques & Clement, 1994: 4)


Leadership is an interaction between two or more group members that often involves a structuring or restructuring of the situation and the perceptions and expectations of members…Leadership occurs when one group member modifies the motivation or competencies of others in the group. Any member of the group can exhibit some amount of leadership… (Bass, 1990: 19-20)

Leadership is the process of influencing the activities of an individual or a group in efforts toward goal achievement in a given situation. (Hersey & Blanchard, 1988: 86). Leadership is interpersonal influence, exercised in a situation and directed, through the communication process, toward attaining a specified goal or goals. (Tannenbaum, Weschler & Massarik, 1961: 24)

Leadership involves a) establishing a clear vision, b) sharing that vision with others so that they will follow willingly, and c) providing the information, knowledge and methods to realise that vision, and coordinating and balancing the conflicting interests of all members and stakeholders. A leader steps up in times of crisis and can think and act creatively in difficult situations.


Characteristics of Leadership

1. Leadership is a personal quality.
2. It exists only with followers. If there are no followers, there is no leadership?
3. It is the willingness of people to follow that makes a person a leader.
4. Leadership is a process of influence. A leader must be able to influence his subordinates' behaviour, attitude, and beliefs.
5. It exists only for the realisation of common goals.
6. It involves a readiness to accept complete responsibility in all situations.
7. Leadership is the function of stimulating the followers to strive willingly to attain organisational objectives.
8. Leadership styles do change under different circumstances.
9. Leadership is neither bossism nor synonymous with; management.

Emergence of Leadership

  1. Personal Traits
  2. Accidental Leadership
  3. Situational Leadership
  4. Specific Skills
  5. Tradition based
  6. Conditioned Needs

Power bases of Leaders

  1. Connection Power
  2. Expert Power
  3. Information Power
  4. Legitimate Power
  5. References Power
  6. Reward Power
  7. Coercive Power

Functions of a Leader/Leadership in Social Work

  1. Attributor (Conflict Mitigator)
  2. Compromiser
  3. Co-ordinator
  4. Education (formal, non-formal)
  5. Facilitator
  6. Motivation
  7. Democratic Decision Making
  8. Guidance & Control
  9. Organising the Group
  10. Policy Maker
  11. Programme Planning
  12. Representation of the agency
  13. Supervisor
  14. Empowerment

Style/Types of Leadership

A leadership style is a leader's style of providing direction, implementing plans, and motivating people. There are generally three significant styles of leadership such as:

Authoritarian Leadership

The authoritarian leadership style keeps the main emphasis on the distinction of the authoritarian leader and their followers. These types of leaders make sure to only create a distinct professional relationship. Direct supervision is what they believe to be vital in maintaining a successful environment and followership. Authoritarian leadership styles often follow the vision of those in control and may not necessarily be compatible with those being led. Authoritarian leaders focus on efficiency, as other styles, such as a democratic style, may be seen as a hindrance to progress.

Examples of authoritarian leadership: a police officer directing traffic, a teacher ordering a student to do their assignment, and a supervisor instructing a subordinate to clean a workstation. These positions require distinct characteristics that give the leader the position to get things in order or get the point across. Authoritarian Traits: sets goals individually, engages primarily in one-way and downward communication, controls discussion with followers, and dominates interaction.

Several studies have confirmed a relationship between bullying, on the one hand, and an autocratic leadership and an authoritarian way of settling conflicts or dealing with disagreements, on the other. An authoritarian leadership style may create a climate of fear, where there is little or no room for dialogue and where complaining may be considered futile.

Democratic Leadership

The democratic leadership style consists of the leader sharing the decision-making abilities with group members by promoting the interests of the group members and by practising social equality.

The boundaries of democratic participation tend to be circumscribed by the organisation or the group needs and the instrumental value of people's attributes (skills, attitudes, etc.). The democratic style encompasses the notion that everyone should play a part in the group's decisions by virtue of their human status. However, the democratic leadership style still requires guidance and control by a specific leader. The democratic style demands the leader decide who should be called upon within the group and who is given the right to participate in, make and vote on decisions.

Research has found that this leadership style is effective and creates higher productivity, better contributions from group members, and increased morale. Democratic leadership can lead to better ideas and more creative solutions to problems because group members are encouraged to share their thoughts and ideas. While democratic leadership is one of the most effective leadership styles, it does have some potential downsides. In situations where roles are unclear or time is of the essence, democratic leadership can lead to communication failures and uncompleted projects. Democratic leadership works best when group members are skilled and eager to share their knowledge. It is also essential to have plenty of time to allow people to contribute, develop a plan, and vote on the best course of action.

Laissez-faire Leadership

The laissez-faire leadership style is where all the rights and power to make decisions is entirely given to the worker. This was first described by Lewin, Lippitt, and White in 1939, along with the autocratic leadership and the democratic leadership styles.

Laissez-faire leaders allow followers to have complete freedom to decide on completing their work. It will enable followers to self-rule while at the same time offering guidance and support when requested. The laissez-faire leader using guided freedom provides the followers with all materials necessary to accomplish their goals but does not directly participate in decision making unless the followers request their assistance.


This is an effective style to use when:

  • Followers are highly skilled, experienced, and educated.
  • Followers have pride in their work and the drive to do it successfully on their own.
  • Outside experts, such as staff specialists or consultants, are being used.
  • Followers are trustworthy and experienced.
This style should not be used when the leader cannot or will not provide regular feedback to their followers. 

10 Qualities of a Leader

A leader has multidimensional traits, making him appealing and effective in behaviour. The following are the requisites to be present in a good leader:

  1. Physical appearance- A leader must have a pleasing appearance. Physique and health are significant for a good leader.
  1. Vision and foresight- A leader cannot maintain influence unless he exhibits that he is forward-looking. He has to visualise situations and thereby has to frame logical programmes.
  1. Intelligence- A leader should be intelligent enough to examine problems and difficult situations. He should be analytical, weigh the pros and cons, and then summarise the situation. Therefore, a positive bent of mind and mature outlook is fundamental.
  1. Communicative skills- A leader must communicate the policies and procedures clearly, precisely and effectively. This can be helpful in persuasion and stimulation.
  1. Objective- A leader has to have a fair outlook free from bias and does not reflect his willingness towards a particular individual. He should develop his own opinion and base his judgement on facts and logic.
  1. Knowledge of work- A leader should precisely know the nature of the work of his subordinates because it is then he can win the trust and confidence of his associates.
  1. Sense of responsibility- Responsibility and accountability towards an individual's work are essential to bringing a sense of influence. A leader must have a sense of responsibility towards organisational goals because he can only get the maximum capabilities exploited in an absolute sense. He has to motivate himself and arouse an urge to give the best of his abilities. Only then he can motivate the subordinates to be the best.
  1. Self-confidence and willpower- Confidence in himself is important to earn the confidence of the subordinates. He should be trustworthy and should handle the situations with full willpower.
  1. Humanist-This trait to be present in a leader is essential because he deals with human beings and is in personal contact with them. He has to handle the personal problems of his subordinates with great care and attention. Therefore, treating human beings on humanitarian grounds is essential for building a congenial environment.
  1. Empathy is an old adage ""Stepping into the shoes of others"". This is very important because fair judgement and objectivity come only then. A leader should understand the problems and complaints of employees and should also have a complete view of the needs and aspirations of the employees. This helps in improving human relations and personal contacts with the employees.
From the above qualities present in a leader, one can understand the scope of leadership and its' importance for a scope of business. A leader cannot have all traits at one time. But a few of them helps in achieving effective results.


Components of Leadership

1. Self-Knowledge: The ability to demonstrate the professional use of self in practice, including the capacity for self-examination, insight and self-awareness. Monitor the effectiveness of one's own professional practice by applying research techniques and evaluation methodologies appropriately. Understand and acknowledge the profession's mission, values, ethnic principles, and ethical standards and course in a manner consistent with them. Understand the importance of continued professional renewal.

2. Critical & Creative Thinking: Apply critical thinking skills within professional social work practice. Use theoretical frameworks supported by empirical evidence to understand development, behaviour and interactions across a life span. Analyze and formulate social policies. Evaluate social work research and apply it to practice.

3. Effective Communication: Understand the various communication modalities and how contextual factors impact the effectiveness of contact with individuals, families and groups. Use verbal and nonverbal communication skills differentially with clients, colleagues and communities. Employ communication skills to establish and maintain mutual respect, acceptance and trust with other students, colleagues and clients. Share thoughts, ideas and feelings effectively in discussions, meetings, field placement and presentations with diverse individuals and groups. Demonstrate proficiency in oral and written communication designed to affect change in clients, groups, organizations, communities and society in the interest of social and economic justice.

4. Respect & Inclusion: Practice with respect, knowledge and skills related to clients' age, class, colour, disability, ethnicity, family structure, gender, marital status, national origin, race, religion, sex and sexual orientation. Validate and enhance assets and capacities for all client systems and communities, exceptionally diverse populations and disadvantaged, vulnerable or oppressed groups. Respect and promote clients' right to self-determination and assist clients in their efforts to identify and clarify their goals. Developing an understanding of their own personal, cultural values and beliefs is one way of appreciating the importance of multicultural identities in the lives of people.

5. Moral Courage: Understand the value base of the profession and its ethical standards and principles and practice accordingly. Recognize the forms and mechanisms of oppression and discrimination and apply advocacy and social change strategies. Take appropriate measures to discourage, prevent, disclose, and correct incompetent or unethical behaviour by colleagues and assist and defend colleagues believed to be unjustly charged with such conduct.

6. Teamwork & Collaboration: Use supervision and consultation appropriate to social work practice. Establish and maintain effective helping relationships that facilitate planned change. Demonstrate the skills necessary for constructive work within an organization. Treat colleagues with respect and represent accurately and fairly the qualifications, views and obligations of colleagues.

7. Focus On Purpose Or Results: Employ strategies for change that promote empowerment of clients and social justice. Plan and implement social intervention strategies appropriate for use in direct or management and community practice. Engage in social and political action that seeks to ensure that all people have equal access to the resources, employment, services and opportunities they require to meet their basic human needs and develop fully. Strive toward the maintenance and promotion of high standards of practice.


Importance of Leadership in Social Group Work

Leadership is an essential function of management that helps to maximize efficiency and to achieve organizational goals. The following points justify the importance of leadership in a concern.

  1. Initiates action- A leader is a person who starts the work by communicating the policies and plans to the subordinates from where the work actually starts.
  1. Motivation- A leader plays an incentive role in the concern's working. He motivates the employees with economic and non-economic rewards and thereby gets the work from the subordinates.
  1. Providing guidance- A leader has to supervise and play a guiding role for the subordinates. Guidance here means instructing the subordinates on how they have to perform their work effectively and efficiently.
  1. Creating confidence- Confidence is an essential factor that can be achieved by expressing the work efforts to the subordinates, explaining their role clearly and giving them guidelines to achieve the goals effectively. It is also essential to hear the employees regarding their complaints and problems.
  1. Building morale- Morale denotes the willing co-operation of the employees towards their work and getting them confidence and winning their trust. A leader can be a morale booster by achieving full co-operation to perform to the best of their abilities as they work to achieve goals.
  1. Builds work environment- Management is getting things done by people. An efficient work environment helps in sound and stable growth. Therefore, human relations should be kept in mind by a leader. He should have personal contact with employees and listen to their problems and solve them. He should treat employees on humanitarian terms.
  1. Coordination- Coordination can be achieved through reconciling personal interests with organizational goals. This synchronization can be achieved through proper and effective coordination, which should be the primary motive of a leader.

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