The timeframe in which the theory was popular is between the 1880s and the middle of the 1940s. According to it, one can be born a leader; thus, no further efforts would contribute to the development of the needed skills (Nahavandi, 2015). Trait leadership theory takes into consideration only particular characteristics of people who have succeeded as leaders, without regard for context (such as whether those qualities were worked on and what environment contributed to those personality traits). According to Nahavandi (2015), the people of the time believed that “innate qualities shape human personality and behavior” (p. 50). Other factors that may influence one’s probability of becoming a leader were disregarded. One reason for such beliefs is the social and historical setting in which the majority of the population could not become a leader of an organization.
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A variety of tests, similar to IQ testing was created to identify prospective leaders (Nahavandi, 2015). Although the researchers did establish that executives have common characteristics that contribute to their success, no universal trait would make one a good leader.
Due to the nature of the theory, it is impossible to point out a particular leader that would be an example of it. It is because the approach presents a point of view on the topic. Considering this, a good model that represents such beliefs is a monarchy. A typical outlook in this system is that a king or a queen who rules a country and is a good leader should have children who will be in their place once the monarch is diseased. Thus, the belief is that the children of a successful leader are born with the ability to rule a country. For instance, the monarchs of Great Britain still have a high social status and are considered leaders of the nation, although their actual political influence is limited. The same view can be applied to any other successful person. In the trait leadership theory, it is possible that a child of a leader would possess the same characteristics that the parent. However, social factors (such as good education provided by successful ancestors, or the ability to learn a specific skill from them) are not considered.
This theory was developed right after the trait leadership and was commonly applied until the early 1970s. The focus has shifted from personal characteristics to one’s behavior. The approach has changed from considering inherent qualities as a need for leaders in a military industry has become more evident (due to World War II). Thus, what a person was doing became more critical than what qualities he or she possessed. Therefore, the common belief was that a human who performs the same tasks that a successful leader does would be able to lead others as well. According to Nahavandi (2015), the behavioral theory offers several advantages to those who want to study successful leaders. Most importantly, behaviors can be examined, thus, making it possible to identify what a particular individual does in a specified setting. In addition, it is possible to apply techniques to measure the efficiency of one’s actions. Finally, the knowledge gained from these studies can be used to teach another person how to behave as a leader. Nahavandi (2015), states that the researchers identified “democratic, autocratic, and laissez-faire leadership” as part of the theory (p. 56). Therefore, behavioral leadership offered a more advanced outlook on the issue, while providing a method for becoming a leader.
As with trait leadership, the behavioral theory offers a point of view on how leaders become successful in their endeavors. Thus, an example that illustrates this leadership style would be someone who does not have personality traits that would assist him or her in becoming a good leader. However, the person is motivated and determined to learn from people that apply various approaches to manage people properly. Thus, this person identifies several leaders that are successful in the field of his or her work. Next, the behavior of these people is observed (such as the way they talk to others and how they make decisions). Additionally, the person can read books on the topic and practice the required skills. Eventually, he or she will acquire the knowledge necessary to manage people efficiently.
The contingency theory is an advancement to previous outlooks on leadership, as it synthesizes the behavior of a person and a particular setting in which the situation is evolving. Thus, an effective leader would be someone who has a required set of skills and knowledge that can be applied in a particular situation (Nahavandi, 2015). The method implies that one individual can be an effective leader in some settings while in a different environment he or she will be unable to resolve issues and manage people. In addition, an important aspect in question is utilizing the resources to make a particular group’s work efficient (through knowledge and skills). According to Nahavandi (2015), one is motivated by two factors – maintaining a relationship with employees or accomplishing a task, which can be measured by the least-preferred coworker scale. A variety of other factors can contribute to a successful outcome, such as the perception that the followers have. One of the implications of the theory is that the particular style of leadership that a person applies cannot be modified, thus, if a person is not a suitable leader for a particular case, he or she would not succeed. This statement is the primary limitation of the theory, as no adaptation approach is offered. Therefore, the theory takes into account the motivation and the environment of a person.
An example of a contingency leader would be a military official, as the theory was developed by observing such individuals. According to the approach, the executive that should supervise a particular organization should possess a specific set of skills and knowledge that would help him or her successfully manage a team. Thus, the primary objective is to find a person who has suitable characteristics, as those are the determinants of success. In addition, the leader should identify whether the primary purpose is the relationship with the employees or achieving the set goal. In the case of a military worker, the primary objective would be to perform a task correctly.
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According to this leadership model, successful executives utilize a particular set of skills in their everyday decision-making process that determines their efficiency. Similar to the behavior theory, the skills leadership approach implies that anyone can be a leader, as the needed characteristics can be acquired. Thus, through examining how executives apply various skills, one can advance in his or her endeavors. Schoemaker, Krupp, and Howland (2013) state that six essential skills ensure one can manage people and organizations properly. Although there have been a variety of studies on the topic with different results, the authors identify ” the abilities to anticipate, challenge, interpret, decide, align, and learn” as crucial (para. 1). It can be argued that different industries and companies may require different knowledge and approaches; these skills present essential requirements for leaders. They imply that a person can analyze a particular setting, make proper decisions, and most importantly learn to adapt to different situations. The skill leadership model is useful as it states that anyone can be a leader and that skills that executives use can be determined and studied. However, the limitation of the method is that some people may be more inclined to possess or learn individual skills; thus, it may be difficult for some to acquire specific characteristics.
An illustration of a skills approach leader is someone who possesses an understanding that certain qualities can be acquired through training and studies. When such a person strives to become a leader of an organization, he or she may observe what essential skills are applied by the current executives. For example, they may utilize advanced communication to manage teams. Through the examination, a skill-oriented leader would try to develop those characteristics to improve the current capabilities. An observation of particular qualities would present an opportunity to identify specific approaches instead of copying the behavior of a successful manager. Thus, a skill-oriented individual would be able to become a leader with a personal style and possession of required skills that can be applied to manage people.
Situational leadership is similar to the contingency theory as both consider the environment of an organization that the leader is managing. However, the approach does not merely examine the effects of the situation on a leader; it states that one must adjust the skills and leadership style to carry out the tasks correctly. Thus, the followers should be able to have a leader who can adapt to their behavior, not vice versa. In addition, these changes can be continuous (even if the leader is in the same company), as the outside factors may be changing. According to McCleskey (2014), the ability to analyze a particular setting is the key to becoming an excellent situational leader. Such executives can be task-oriented or people-oriented, depending on their approach. The theory has similarities with both the behavioral and contingency model. McCleskey (2014) states that there are a variety of issues with the situational approach, including “three flaws with … dealing with its consistency, continuity, and conformity” (p. 118). Situational leadership synthesizes a variety of approaches while suggesting that flexibility is the essential quality of a good executive. Thus, anyone can be a leader in any situation if he or she conducts proper analysis and utilizes adequate approaches to manage people in a specific setting.
An example of a situational leader is someone who adapts to the environment. It is especially essential for modern-day executives as the contemporary world is continually changing (through technological advancements). Thus, such a leader would examine a particular organization to identify what structure it has, and how the employees are managed. In addition, he or she would study the outside environment to identify factors that influence the company. Finally, the leader would choose a specific approach that would be suitable for the case. In addition, he or she would utilize flexibility to adapt to changes in the internal or external environment of an organization.
McCleskey, J. A. (2014). Situational, transformational, and transactional leadership and leadership development. Journal of Business Studies Quarterly, 4(5), 117-130.
Nahavandi, A. (2015). The art and science of leadership (7th ed.). New Jersey, NY: Pearson.
Schoemaker, P. J., Krupp, S., & Howland, S. (2013). Strategic leadership: The essential skills. Harvard Business Review. Web.