For a number of years, researchers have examined leadership to discover how successful leaders are created. Experts have proposed several theories, including the trait, behavioral, contingency, and full-range models of leadership.
The Trait Theory of Leadership
The search for the characteristics or traits of effective leaders has been central to the study of leadership. Underlying this research is the assumption that leadership capabilities are rooted in characteristics possessed by individuals. Research in the field of trait theory has shown significant positive relationships between effective leadership and personality traits such as intelligence, extroversion, conscientiousness, self-efficacy, and openness to experience. These findings also show that individuals emerge as leaders across a variety of situations and tasks.
The Contingency Theory of Leadership
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. According to this approach, called contingency theory, no single psychological profile or set of enduring traits links directly to effective leadership. Instead, the interaction between those individual traits and the prevailing conditions is what creates effective leadership. In other words, contingency theory proposes that effective leadership is contingent on factors independent of an individual leader. As such, the theory predicts that effective leaders are those whose personal traits match the needs of the situation in which they find themselves. Fiedler's contingency model of leadership focuses on the interaction of leadership style and the situation (later called situational control). He identified three relevant aspects of the situation: the quality of the leader's relationships with others, how well structured their tasks were, and the leader's amount of formal authority.
The Behavioral Theory of Leadership
In response to the early criticisms of the trait approach, theorists began to research leadership as a set of behaviors. They evaluated what successful leaders did, developed a taxonomy of actions, and identified broad patterns that indicated different leadership styles. Behavioral theory also incorporates B.F. Skinner's theory of behavior modification, which takes into account the effect of reward and punishment on changing behavior. An example of this theory in action is a manager or leader who motivates desired behavior by scolding employees who arrive late to meetings and showing appreciation when they are early or on time.
The Full-Range Theory of 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 theory, which cover the full range of essential qualities of a good leader, are:
- Individualized consideration: the degree to which the leader attends to each follower's concerns and needs and acts as a mentor or coach
- Intellectual stimulation: the degree to which the leader challenges assumptions, takes risks, and solicits followers' ideas
- Inspirational motivation: the degree to which the leader articulates a vision that is appealing and inspiring to followers
- Idealized influence: the degree to which the leader provides a role model for high ethical behavior, instills pride, and gains respect and trust