Leadership has been examined for a number of years to discover how successful leaders are created. To better understand leadership, researchers have proposed several theories, including the trait, behavioral, contingency, and full-range models of leadership.
The Trait Theory of Understanding Leadership
The search for the characteristics or traits of leaders has been ongoing for centuries. Underlying this search was the assumption that leadership is rooted in characteristics possessed by certain individuals. This idea is the trait theory of leadership. The trait theory was explored at length in a number of works in the 19th century. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, however, a series of qualitative reviews of these works done by researchers Stogdill and Mann took a drastically different view of the driving forces behind leadership. In reviewing the extant literature, Stogdill and Mann found that while some traits were common across a number of studies, the overall evidence suggested that persons who are leaders in one situation may not necessarily be leaders in other situations. Subsequently, leadership was no longer characterized as an enduring individual trait; instead, situational approaches posited that individuals can be effective in certain situations, but not others. This approach dominated much of the leadership theory and research for the next few decades.
However, trait theory was further examined by researchers in the 1980s based on statistical advances, new methods, and new measurements. The newer studies led to the modern day trait theory in understanding leadership, which says that individuals can and do emerge as leaders across a variety of situations and tasks. Research also shows that significant relationships exist between leadership and such individual traits as:
- Openness to experience
- General self-efficacy
The Behavioral Theory in Understanding Leadership
In response to the early criticisms of the trait approach, theorists began to research leadership as a set of behaviors. They evaluated the behavior of successful leaders, determined a behavior taxonomy, and identified broad leadership styles. Researchers posited that leadership requires a strong personality with a well-developed positive ego. To lead, self-confidence and high self-esteem are useful, perhaps even essential.
Behavioral theory also includes B.F. Skinner's (Figure 1) theory of behavior modification, which takes into account the effect of reward and punishment on behavior. An example of this theory is a manager or leader who scolds employees who arrive late to work and praises them when they are early or on-time.
The Contingency Theory of Understanding Leadership
Situational theory also appeared as a reaction to the trait theory of leadership. Social scientists argued that history was more than the result of intervention of great men, as trait theory suggested. Theorists said that the times produce the person, and not the other way around, and different situations call for different characteristics. According to this group of theories, no single optimal psychological profile of a leader exists; instead, what a leader does is dependent upon characteristics of the situation in which he functions. Contingency theory supposes that analyzing external and internal situations regularly and selecting the ideal managerial framework(s) based upon this exercise will lead to a more effective outcome. Therefore contingency theory incorporates all possible approaches and suggest that managers leverage a variety of these strategies according to the situation at hand.
The Fiedler contingency model bases the leader's effectiveness on what Fred Fiedler called situational contingency. This results from the interaction of leadership style and situational favorability (later called situational control). The theory defined two types of leader: those who tend to accomplish the task by developing good relationships with the group (relationship-oriented), and those who are primarily concerned with carrying out the task itself.
The Full-Range Theory of Understanding Leadership
The full-range theory of leadership is a component of transformational leadership, which enhances motivation and morale by connecting the employee's sense of identity to a project and the collective identity of the organization. The four major components of the full-range theory, which cover the full range of essential qualities of a good leader, are:
- Individualized consideration, which is the degree to which the leader attends to each follower's concerns and needs, and acts as a mentor or coach to the follower.
- Intellectual stimulation, which is the degree to which the leader challenges assumptions, takes risks, and solicits followers' ideas.
- Inspirational motivation, which is the degree to which the leader articulates a vision that is appealing and inspiring to followers.
- Idealized influence, which is the degree to which the leader provides a role model for high ethical behavior, instills pride, and gains respect and trust.