Leadership Theories Essay

Leadership Theories Essay

The validity of trait ideas to recent development in leadership theory

The discussion on whether leaders are born or made has attracted more attention in the past study but no common conclusion has been reached on this matter. One of the theories which support that leader are born is the trait theory. According to this theory, there are some inborn qualities that an individual should posses in order to be a leader. The trait theory assumes that people are born with inherited traits some of which are suited to leadership. To be an effective leader a person should have the right combination of traits. Some of the traits identified include adaptable to situation, assertive, ambitious, decisive, dependable, dominant, energetic, self-confidence and tolerance. A leader should also have certain skills which include conceptual skills, clever/intelligent, creative, tactful, fluent in speaking and persuasive. However the trait theory does not explain why some people with above qualities are not leaders which therefore mean that being a leader require more than inherited traits (Daft, 1999).

Leadership can be affected by a number of personal, interpersonal and organizational factors. According to the definition of leadership a leader is described as a person who is able to influence the opinion, altitude and behavior of others in order to pursue certain goals. Therefore as long as a person is able to influence other people’s behavior to achieve certain goals he can be termed as a leader. In organization mangers are able to influence employee’s behavior through reward and punishment and hence do not require inherited traits to be a leader. The means by which one becomes a leader can be either formal or informal (Hofstede, 1980). This may be through inheritance, personal power, and appointment by superiors or recognition by subordinate. Depending on the circumstance a leader takes the leadership role in formal organization or assumes the expected leaders role in informal organization.

There is no set of universally acceptable traits that could make leaders effective in all situations. However successful leaders are generally expected to posses some if not all of the following qualities.

  • ability to influence other people

  • ability to structure social interaction

  • willingness to accept behavioral consequences

  • creativity and intelligence to solve problem

  • strong desire to task accomplishment

  • persistent pursuit of organizational goals

  • high tolerance

The above qualities are not necessarily inherited but can be nurtured. Leadership skills can be gained through training, observation and experience as proposed by behavioral theory of leadership. Many of the people who are currently CEO of companies and other top management have learned the art of leadership from many years of training and experience (Hughes, Ginnet and Curphy, 1996). To be a leader you have to know how your followers react to various situation if you are to take decision that others are expected to willingly follow. Understanding people’s behavior requires an individual to have social interaction with others and such understanding is only gained through observation and experience. Therefore a leader has to learn to understand people’s behavior and such quality is not inborn (House, 1996).

According to the trait theory certain trait within an individual will lead to a specific leadership style however organization are dynamic and continuously change and therefore leaders should change their leadership style as situation changes as proposed by contingency theory of leadership (Graef, 1993). Therefore leadership does not only involve personal trait but also leadership behavior, situational factors and leadership matches. There is no single best style of leadership and appropriate style vary depending on situation. This therefore means that we cannot depend upon inborn qualities to make effective leaders but good leaders are made from combination of personal traits, leadership behavior, situational factors and leadership matches as discussed below

  1. personal trait

Leaders should have certain personal traits such as altitude, motivation and personality. This influences their behavior as leaders. A manager who trusts other people is more likely to consult with his subordinate than the one who does not trust.

  1. leadership behavior

Most leaders exhibit certain behavior pattern in dealing with their subordinate. These leadership behaviors reflect their own personal trait and the institutional demand. The common leadership behaviors include being directive, supportive, participative and achievement oriented.

  1. Situational factors

The environment in which a leader operates influences his behavior. This environmental influence are referred as situational factors and the most important one include group members, task structure and organization practice such as authority granted to a manager.

  1. leadership matches

For any individual to function effectively as a leader he has to demonstrate the leadership behavior that is suitable to his personal trait and situational demand. If these are mismatched he is not likely to function effectively. A leadership match can be realized by

    1. Modifying situational factor to suit the leader trait and behavior.

    2. Increasing leadership style e.g. a leader should not have a standardized way of responding to situation, he must vary according to varying situation. The style that is most effective depends on

  • interaction among subordinate

  • characteristic of work situation

  • amount of time available

  • nature and type of subordinate

  • what is to be accomplished

  • expectation of organization

  • tradition of the organization

The effectiveness of a leader behavior is expected to increase when there is a match between leadership style and situation. Leadership effectiveness can be measured by the degree to which the managers meet all the organization goals and satisfies employee (Fiedler, 1967).

However it is worth noting that some inborn traits such as charisma are inborn and can never be cultivated through training. In addition suggesting that leaders are not born with extraordinary endowment is to imply that people have equal abilities and talent which is not true. Therefore there are some inborn qualities which make people good leaders but in order to be an effective leader you have to adapt and learn from the environment. Therefore we can conclude that leaders are both born and made.

The trait idea is hardly applicable to transactional leader since they use reward and punishment to achieve their goal. Transactional leader ensure compliance from employee by promising them benefits incase they meet their goal and administering punishment where goals are not achieved. Therefore this type of leaders does not require any personal trait in order to effectively lead and to them such traits are not useful in leadership. Transactional leader accept the culture, structure and goals of existing organization and hence are ineffective at bringing significant change (Bass, 1985). In the modern society transactional leaders encompasses the following behaviors

1. Contingent reward

In influencing behavior the leader clarify the job to be accomplished. The leader uses incentive or reward to motivate employee and achieve desired result.

2. Management by exception

– Passive- the leader uses punishment for unacceptable performance in order to influence employee behavior.

– Active- to influence behavior and ensure that the work meet acceptable standard the leader use corrective methods and actively monitors the work performed.

3. Laissez-faire leadership

The leader waives responsibility and allow subordinate to work as they choose with minimum interference. The employees are given authority to make decision or examine the course of action with the limit of authority given. The manager indicates what need to be done and when it must be accomplished but let employee decide how to accomplish it. They do this to avoid situation that preclude possibility of confrontation (Bennis, 1959). The style employed by transactional leadership therefore does not require the use of personal trait.

Transformational leadership originates from personal values and belief of a leader. Transformational leaders operate on the basis of personal values they hold e.g. integrity and justice. This leader is able to influence their followers by demonstrating important personal characteristic for instance by demonstrating self-confidence, strong conviction in moral righteousness and dominance he is able to motivate and convince his followers without exchange of goods and rights. They use charismatic method to attract people and require a high level of self esteem and self actualization in order to be successful leaders (Bass and Avolio, 1994). Component of transformational leadership include:

  1. idealized influence or charisma

Leaders should behave in admirable ways and display conviction, take stand and appeal to his followers on an emotional level. They should have clear set of values that provide role model for followers and building trust between leaders and followers.

  1. inspirational motivation

Leader should articulate a vision which is inspiring and appealing to followers. The visionary aspect of leadership requires to be supported by communication skills that allow leaders to articulate their vision with precision and power in a persuasive and compelling ways (Kotter, 1988).

  1. intellectual stimulation

Leaders with intellectual stimulation are able to challenge assumptions, solicit subordinate ideas and take risk. In addition they are able to stimulate and encourage followers to think creatively. As a result followers are able to connect to leaders, goals and the organization and overcome obstacles in achieving organization goals.

Therefore transformational leadership has evolved from preceding leadership type and contains element of trait, charismatic, behavioral theory, transaction and situational leadership (Yuke, 1998).


According to transactional leadership the trait ideas are not useful since it usually depend on reward and punishment in influencing followers behavior on the other hand transformational leadership require the use of personal trait in motivating and influencing followers behavior therefore the trait ideas are useful.



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Bass, BM and Avolio, BJ 1994, Improving organizational effectiveness through

transformational leadership, CA: Sage, Beverly Hills.

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Daft, RL 1999, Leadership: Theory and Practice, Dryden Press, New York.

Fiedler, FE 1967, A Theory of Leadership Effectiveness, McGraw-Hill, New York.

Graef, CL 1993, ‘The Situational Leadership Theory: A Critical Review.’ Academy of

Management Review, vol 8, pp285-296.

Hofstede, G 1980, Culture’s Consequences: International Differences in Work-Related

Values, CA: Sage, Beverly Hills.

House, RJ 1996, ‘Path-Goal Theory of Leadership: Lessons, Legacy and a Reformulated

Theory.’ Leadership Quarterly, vol 7, pp323-352.

Hughes, RL, Ginnet, RC and Curphy, GJ 1996, Leadership: Enhancing the Lessons of

Experience, Irwin, Chicago.

Kotter, JP 1988, The Leadership Factor, Free Press, New York.

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