Leadership has been a topic of interest to historians and philosophers, but only around the turn of the century did scientific studies begin. Since that time, scientists and other writers have offered more than 350 definitions of the term “leadership” (Daft, 1999). Defining leadership has been a complex problem because the nature of leadership itself is complex. In recent years, however, much progress has been made in understanding the essential nature of leadership as a real influence in organizations and societies (Northouse, 2001).
It is worth rewieving the first conceptions of leadership – the trait and the behavioural approach – as one can learn from these former approaches in order to construct a new approach best fitting to the current economic situation. Therefore, the aim of this essay is to describe these two controversal approaches and present their strengths and weaknesses. First, this essay will deal with the trait approach.
The approach will be defined and Stogdill’s surveys and other studies on this theory will be presented. Morover, the strengths and weaknesses of the trait approach will be explored. The second part of the essay presents the behavioral approach by defining it and describing the Ohio State Studies, the University of Michigan Studies and Blake and Mouton’s Managerial Grid. The strengths and weaknesses of the behavioral approach will also be examined.
The Trait Approach
In the early 1900s, scholars became aware of the importance of leadership and created the first systematic attempt to study leadership: the trait approach (Daft, 1999). Fundamental to this theory was the idea that great leaders own innate qualities and characteristics enabled them to be successful. Scholars focused on leaders’ personal traits to identify the source of successful leadership (Northouse, 2001). In this respect the trait approach emphasises the individual rather than the situation (Handy, 1985).
Researchers began by examining different characteristics such as personality traits, physical traits, abilities, social and work-related characteristics of effective leaders. Stogdill’s surveys Although there was a lot of research on traits in the 20th century, the surveys of Stogdill in 1948 and in 1974 provide a good overview of the trait approach. In his first survey Stogdill analyzed more than 124 trait studies and uncovered the following traits that appeared important for effective leadership: intelligence, alertness, insight, responsibility, initiative, persistence, self-confidence and sociability (Northouse, 2001). Furthermore, Stodgill found out that situations in which leaders operate are ‘key determinants of whether particular traits are appropriate’ (Bryman, 1986, p. 19). This result affected a new approach to leadership that concentrated on leadership behaviors and situations. This theory will be discussed later in this essay.
In 1974 Stogdill published his second survey which analyzed another 163 studies and compared these results to the findings of his first survey (Bryman, 1986). While the first survey implied that situational factors, not personality factors, play an important role concerning leadership, the second survey showed that both factors were determinants of leadership. Stogdill’s second survey identified another 4 traits important for being an effective leader: achievement, cooperativeness, tolerance and influence (Northouse, 2001).
However, Stogdill’s second survey demonstrated that situational aspects of leadership are still very important, but there is a greater significance to traits than in his first survey. One such theorist is Mann who, in 1959, examined more than 1,400 findings regarding personality and leadership in small groups (Northouse, 2001). In contrast to Stogdill, Mann did not emphasise the situational factors of leadership; rather suggested that personality traits could be used to differentiate leaders from followers. Mann identified certain traits of effective leaders: intelligence, masculinity, adjustment, dominance, extroversion and conservatism (Bryman, 1986).
In 1986 Lord et al. reestimated the results of Mann’s study. They discovered that personality traits could be used to differentiate leaders from non-leaders consistently across situations (Northouse, 2001). Kirkpatrick and Locke (1991) identified six traits by which leaders and non-leaders can be distinguished: drive, the desire to lead, honesty, self-confidence, cognitive ability and knowledge. According to Kirkpatrick and Locke these traits can be innate qualities of leaders, learned or both (Northouse, 2001). Major leadership traits As a result of a century of research on the trait theory Daft (1999) establishes three traits deemed essential for leaders if they want to be perceived by others: self-confidence, honesty/integrity and drive. In addition to Daft, Northouse (2001) identified two more major traits: intelligence and sociability.
The confidence a leader displays and develops is positively related to leadership because it creates commitment among followers and it prevents leaders from being paralyzed into inaction even if things go wrong. Honesty is essential in order to minimize skepticism and to build productive relationships. Leaders with drive desire achievement, have tenacity and ambition to achieve their aims. Intelligence is important insofar as leaders need to have strong verbal and perceptual abilities and reasoning in order to be sucessful. But in this context it is important that the leader’s IQ is not too different from that of the followers because otherwise communication and accepting of ideas might become difficult themes for the leader.
The final trait which is important for a sucessful leader is sociability which means sensitiveness to others’ needs and concern for their well-being. Sociability is important to keep present followers and to gain new followers. Strengths of the trait approach The trait approach consists of five identifiable strengths. First, the trait approach fulfills people’s need to see their leaders as gifted people. In our society there is the common assumption that only people with gifts can do extraordinary things (Northouse, 2001). The trait approach supports this assumption by stating that leaders are different because they possess special traits.
Second, organisations only have to search for people with the specific traits examined by the trait approach in order to acquire good leadership in their organisations (Bryman, 1986). The recruitment process is less complicated when using the trait theory . Third, this approach contains of a century of research to support it. ‘No other theory can boast of the breadth and depth of studies conducted on the trait approach.’ (Northouse, 2001, p. 22).
Fourth, although leadership consists of leaders, followers and situations, the trait approach only concentrates on leaders. This strength may also be a weakness but by focusing only on the role of leaders within leadership the trait approach is able to give a deeper understanding of how the leader and his/her traits are linked to the process of leadership (Northouse, 2001). Fifth and finally, the trait approach provides supervisors and managers with information about their strengths and weaknesses and presents ways to improve the effectiveness of their leadership (Northouse, 2001).
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