By Emmanuel Kontovas*
Leadership is a perplexing term to define, as there are more than 350 definitions of leadership in the Business literature (Kontovas, 2019). One of the most accepted ones, is provided by Dr Northouse who in his book Leadership: theory and practice, defines the phenomenon of leadership as “a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal” (2019, pg. 5). This definition describes the phenomenon of leadership as one where there are two parts participating, namely the leader and the group of followers. Another important point is that in order for someone to lead, it is important to be able to influence their followers. A leader should convince their followers to follow them. Followers also, should freely decide to accept the role of the leader, their power and their vision and not be coerced. It also gives us hints that leadership is a two-way procedure where both the leader influences their followers and the followers influence the leader and this communication drives an organization towards success and sustainability.
In the industry of FL teaching, leadership styles have not been studied (Kontovas, 2019) even though it is an industry which in 2015 generated a revenue of 986.1 million euros (Kathimerini, 2015). Hundreds of people work at them and this places a great responsibility to their leaders on how to manage their human capital, i.e. their teachers.
The relationship between the leader and the followers was disrupted and redefined though by the recent pandemic. Covid- 19 has caused a tsunami of changes in the way business is conducted. Most industries, including the language teaching one, were forced to conduct business online, mostly via virtual environments. Millions of employees in different industries were forced to learn how to work remotely and use tools they may not have been familiar with before. Leaders of organizations have also been forced to re-think their leadership styles and adapt to the new conditions by re-organizing their businesses and taking decisions fast, without discussing them with their teams first, as it was a matter of survival for their companies. The autocratic leadership style was, and as the crisis has not gone away and the abnormal conditions persist, is still chosen over all other leadership styles.
But the next day, when this crisis is over, the leaders of all organizations, including FL schools, should realize that this is not the most effective way to lead. According to research the autocratic leadership style leads to greater dissatisfaction on the part of the employees and lower rates of employee retention (Bourantas and Papalexandri, 2003). This could be catastrophic because, especially in the case of FL schools, the employees constitute the human capital of the business which adds value and if they feel excluded and do not support the leader during the hard times after the crisis, then the leader will have to deal with yet another problem.
This article aims to suggest an alternative way of leading in the period after this crisis.
One thing that this pandemic has made very clear is the fact that in order to achieve great results even amidst crisis we need to work together. The greatest example comes from the scientists all over the world who work together, trying to discover the therapy for this deadly virus. Cooperation in combination with a transformation of the organizations are going to become essential in overcoming the arising challenges. A more inclusive, participatory and transforming leadership style of making decisions has to be followed, such as the transformational one.
In the transformational leadership style, the leader inspires and is accepted by their followers. The aim of the leader is to transform the organization and the people they work with. The vision of the leader as well as the strategies followed to achieve the organization’s goals are discussed and not set solely by the leader. This has as a result a greater motivation and commitment on the part of the followers as they are included in the decision-making process and their needs are taken into consideration. Furthermore, the fact that the path which leads to the realization of the vision is clearly explained, leads to a greater degree of security, because the followers know what is expected of them. In addition to this, leaders who follow this leadership style are characterized by a greater degree of empathy and a genuine interest in improving both professionally and personally their followers, either by becoming the mentors or coaches of them or by introducing educational programs which aim at exactly this (Northouse, 2012). This means that any lack of skills observed should not be a source of punishment but rather an indication where extra work is necessary. Examples of leaders who followed the transformational leadership style are people like Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln and others who have left their mark in the world.
The pandemic has led to a new business model where more constituents than ever before have voice and express themselves, thanks to technology. The participation of the employees in the decision-making process is something that leaders should ensure by creating a safe environment, by building teams, by listening actively and being open to all feedback, even criticism and by practicing empathy. According to research, when all voices are heard, followers feel more appreciated and this leads to a greater degree of motivation (Vaxevanidou and Reklitis, 2019).
Another challenge for leaders, will be that they will find themselves exposed to a variety of new challenges, coming from the internal or the external environment of the business. Once again, an inclusive transformational leadership style is more effective because the leaders have a team to support them. They should remain focused on their school’s core strategies and principles and as already mentioned communicate their vision clearly because this will help everyone prioritize more effectively (Saitis and Gournaropoulos, 2001).
As Simon Sinek mentioned in his famous TED Talk, “Start with why -- how great leaders inspire action”, a lot of businesses focus on how they do something and on what they do. Very few though focus on the why they do something, not realizing that this is what inspires and attracts both the clients and the employees. By forming the why together with their followers, leaders achieve a greater degree of motivation and commitment. These two factors will be crucial to the survival of businesses in the dawn of a new era, because knowing why you do something in a time of confusion and working with other people has always been the keys to success.
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Κοντοβάς, Ε. (2019) Τα Ηγετικά Στελέχη των Κέντρων Ξένων Γλωσσών μιλούν για το Ρόλο τους: μια ποιοτική προσέγγιση. Ανέκδοτη Εργασία.
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*Emmanuel Kontovas has graduated from the English Language and Literature Department of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. He also holds an MBA in International Business from the University of East London. He works as an English teacher at a Foreign Language school and at Metropolitan College, where he teaches EAP. He has been a Board Member of TESOL Macedonia- Thrace, Northern Greece since 2012. His main research interests are Leadership and Human Resources Management.