Author: Shihan Graeme

Leadership skill in martial arts is not unlike the leadership skills required in industry and business, because it is fundamentally a human skill. All too often people arrive at positions of leadership power or authority through personal skill in the technical aspects, without any particular skills in the management of the leadership process. What is worse, many make no effort to improve their skills in this area. The purpose of this article is to help martial artists in leadership positions or aspiring to leadership positions to broaden their knowledge and understanding of this important aspect of "being in charge".

Leadership is the work people in leadership positions perform to influence other people to take effective action. Leadership is based on authority or power.

"Power is based upon perception - if you think you have got it then you have got it. If you think you do not have it; even if you have got it, then you do not have it."
Herb Cohen


This is the power vested in the position itself; for example manager, captain, matron, Prime Minister, Sensei. Legal authority should be used sparingly, as people tend to resent "rank pulling" - "I'm the boss, do what I say."


Knowledge is power. An effective leader is one who has very good knowledge of the people and environment within which he or she is operating.


Although inherent qualities are important, a leader needs to learn and develop lasting leadership skills and employ these effectively in dealing with people. When these skills are used effectively people are "tuned-in" to their leader.

(k-; -z-)n. (pl. -ta) Divinely conferred power or talent; capacity to inspire followers with devotion and enthusiasm; hence CHARISMATIC (k-; -z-)a. (eccl. L. f.Gk kharisma (kharis, favour, grace.).


The way a leader characteristically behaves in order to get results through other people.
Here are some ways of approaching the question of leadership styles.

1. McGregor's Theory X and Y

Douglas McGregor's theory represents polar assumptions about work and people.

Theory X assumes most people prefer to be directed, do not want responsibility and above all desire security. Money, fringe benefits and fear of punishment determine performance.

Theory Y assumes people are basically self directing, creative, responsible and see work as fulfilling and desirable. The rewards that motivate these people are the rewards of affiliation, self-esteem, prestige and self-actualisation.

In terms of leadership style, the leader should determine the social orientation of the organisation, (falling somewhere between X and Y) and use a style ranging from Authoritarian (task oriented) to Democratic (relationships oriented).

2. System 4 Management

Developed by Rensis Likert from the standpoint that effective management means effective human resource management. Likert identified four "systems" of leadership :

System 1 - Exploitative, authoritative

System 2 - Benevolent, authoritative

System 3 - Consultative

System 4 - Participative/group

These systems each have different structural and behavioural characteristics which determine the nature of the leadership processes. have different motivational forces, communication processes, interaction and influences, decision making processes, goal setting and control processes.

Likert contends System 4, resting on the principles of supportive relationships, group dynamics, participation and delegation is the most effective system. His four systems reflect leadership styles which arise from varying behavioural assumptions made.

3. The Managerial Grid

The concept of the managerial grid (Blake & Mouton) is based on the view that a manager must have a concern for results and also for the people through whom results are achieved. These two concerns can be represented diagrammatically on intersecting axes, horizontal for production and vertical for people. When each of these axes is divided into nine points and the points joined, a grid is formed.

Various combinations of leadership style can then be identified, Blake & Mouton recommending a "9.9" as the most effective style.

4. The Continuum Approach

Developed by Louis Allen, this approach is polar in a way similar to McGregor's Theory X and Y.

At one end we have a Centric Leader and at the other, a Radic Leader.

Centric: A way of acting, either intuitive or rational, in which a person in a leadership position gives priority to their own personal needs and objectives and second place to the needs and objectives of one's colleagues, subordinates, and the group as a whole.

Radic: A way of acting, either intuitive or rational in which a person in a leadership position balances their personal needs and objectives with concerns for the needs, interests and objectives of others.

The continuum approach is "Leader-oriented" in that the leader decides where on the continuum he or she wishes to place themselves at any point in time.

In this respect the "continuum" approach is situational in application - the leader choosing the style which best suits the environment, the situation and himself or herself at any particular time.

5. Situational Leadership

The Situational Leadership approach was developed by Dr. Paul Hersey.

This approach to leadership definition, like the Managerial Grid, is based on two axis. On the vertical is "Relationship Behaviour"; on the horizontal, "Task Behaviour". Leadership style falls into one of four quartiles:

S1 (telling) - if "High Task, Low Relationship"

S2 (selling) - if "High Task, High Relationship"

S3 (participating) - if "Low Task, High Relationship"

S4 (delegating) - if "Low Task, Low Relationship"

Also taken into account is the maturity of followers (M1-M4).

6. Adjectival Approach

Perhaps the easiest way to visualise and categorise leadership style is to describe various forms of leadership behaviour. This approach is relevant because the different styles can be applied in the various situations arising out of studies such as the Managerial Grid, System 4 Management and so on.

Naturally, this approach provides an almost unlimited number of ways of describing leadership behaviour. Listed below are some of the more well known -

Autocratic/Authoritative : This may be of two types:-

* Authoritative/Exploitative - uses fear, threats and very occasionally, rewards. Tends to keep followers insecure, uninformed and afraid of the leader's authority.

* Authoritative/Benevolent - uses rewards, economic or otherwise. Is often very effective in getting productivity and can develop effective human relationships.

The autocratic leader is job centred in approach and centralises power and decision making. He or she takes full responsibility and authority. This leader tends to be a centralist and a one way communicator using listening as a way to obtain information upon which to base decisions. There is very little participation.

The autocratic style can be quite effective if it is of the positive or benevolent type.

Autocratic leadership provides strong motivation and reward to the leader, decision- making is faster and less competent subordinates can be employed as their job is to carry out orders.

On the negative side people dislike it if it is in the extreme and of the exploitative type. Frustration, low morale and conflict can develop.

Many people have an "authoritarian set" - they derive security and satisfaction from working within a strong security structure and resent attempts at participation, increase in responsibilities and control over the environment.

Democratic: The Democratic or Participative leader tends to decentralise authority. Decisions tend to be arrived at through consultation and participation. Control is often achieved by using group dynamics. This is a people-development style characterised by two way communication participative problem solving, development of team spirit and the conscious application of principles espoused by various behavioural scientists.

While many people are attuned to this approach, it is a very difficult leadership style to handle well as it calls for a very high order of skill in a wide range of human relations areas. Lack of effective human relations and communication skills is probably the major reason some leaders avoid this style despite its potential to deliver the greatest rewards.

This style is most applicable when the group is well trained and experienced, has a proven record of Co-operation and performance; individuals have high personal motivation and are able to apply themselves independently.

Laissez -faire or Free Rein: The Laissez-faire leader avoids power, depending on the group to work out its own goals and problems. The group trains itself and provides its own motivation. This style is applicable in situations where the group is small, where its members interact in problem solving, are expert in their field and are willing to make decisions.

This style needs to be appropriate to the group and the environment or chaos will result. A laissez-faire leader may be seen as abdicating, non-assertive and non-involved. This style is not generally suitable within industry.

Bureaucratic: This leadership style is marked by a strict compliance with rules. Leaders go "by the book", everything is in writing, communications are slow and inventiveness and enthusiasm are stifled.

This style is ideal with new people to the group. It is a very supportive style giving the leader a good deal of personal satisfaction. Some people, particularly the less skilled, may appreciate paternalism. It does however, give rise to over-dependence and subordinates either become demotivated or grow to resent the lack of opportunity to show personal initiative.

Manipulative: Virtually all leadership styles are to some extent manipulative. The manager manipulates by retaining control of the situation, adjusting his or her position in view of the realities of the situation, the objectives, people involved and so on. To this extent manipulative is not surreptitious. However, some very sophisticated approaches to manipulating people are employed by some people which are not conducive to good working relationships, stability and effective sound leadership.