Ways in which leadership thinking evolved from traditional ‘great man’ theories to more contemporary theories of leadership Number: University: Course: Date: How has leadership thinking evolved from traditional ‘great man’ theories to more contemporary theories of leadership?…
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The theories do not pursue a firm sequential pattern, although the models may be grouped by era. Leadership has evolved through eras of the Great Man theory, trait theory, behavioral theory, situational theories and contemporary theories. Great men theory suggests that some people were naturally born leaders. Trait theory looks at the elements that are common among famous leaders. Behavioral theories assert that behaviors are the single most characteristic that makes up a leader. Contingency and situational models uphold that the interaction involving leader’s characteristics and conduct and the situation at hand make the leader. Other contemporary theories focus on interpersonal elements that look at followership (Ballus, 2010, para 5). Great man theories/ Trait theories Trait theory was one of the systematic attempts to study leadership in the early 20th century. In the approach, traits of great leaders such as Winston Churchill were studies to determine what makes great leaders. The theories developed were referred to as ‘great man’ theories as they focused on spotting the innate qualities and characteristics possessed by political, social and military leaders. Prominent leaders’ traits greatly contribute to the trait theory such as Mahatma Gandhi, Bonaparte napoleon and Abraham Lincoln. It was widely believed that people intuitive with these qualities and that simply the “great” people have them. Some of the traits put forward are such as intelligence, alertness, responsibility, insight, self confidence, sociability, motivation, persistence, initiative, tolerance, cooperativeness and drive. Others are such as cognitive abilities, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and social and emotional intelligence. In the mid 20th century, the trait theory of leadership was questioned on the basis of universality of leadership traits. It was held that no consistent set of traits differentiated leaders from non-leaders in an assortment of situations. A person with leadership traits in one circumstance may not be a leader in another situation (Daft, 2008, p 22). Behavioral theories The limited ability of traits to forecast effective leadership led researchers to review a person’s behavior rather than personal traits as a means of increasing leadership effectiveness. Behavioral theories proponents believed that leaders may well be identified by what they do rather than what they have. Certain behaviors such as the degree of flexibility, extent of control, concern for task accomplishment and concern for the followers determine the kind of leadership to exercise. For instance, McGregor held that leaders treat subordinates depending on the postulations they hold with regard to what energizes workers. In his theory X, McGregor presents a pessimistic view of workers whilst theory Y presents a fairly optimistic view of human nature. Leaders who subscribe to theory X consider that workers need to be controlled and threatened to make them work, which results in adoption of an autocratic style of leadership. Theory Y style of a leader believes that workers are rational people who consider work as part of everyday life. As such, the leader uses a participative/democratic style of leadership. Leader attributes in behavioral theories morphed from inherent to particular and teachable. Apparently, leadership styles could be learned as behavioral theorists created training programs. Behavioral theor
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