leadership theories - DOC by topman1984



Most 20th century leadership theories fall into one of five approaches –

Trait, behavioral, power-influence, situational, and integrative.

Great-man theories gave rise to trait theories, leading to situational theories, which

shaped the literature of the time. Trait theories of leadership are the basis of longstanding

explanations of the phenomena of leadership. In its earliest form, trait theory provided an

easy explanation for the complex set of individual characteristics that together form a

leader. The origins of Trait theory are found in the writing of the English philosopher

Thomas Carlyle (1969) and the great man theory. The great man theory of leadership

states that some people are born with the necessary attributes that set them apart from

others and that these traits are responsible for their assuming positions of power and

authority. It was this genetic heritage, or specific innate traits and characteristics that

made these people different from those who are followers. Earlier leadership was

considered as a quality associated mostly with the males, and therefore the theory was

named as the great man theory. But later with the emergence of many great women

leaders as well, the theory was recognized as the great person theory. A leader is a hero

who accomplishes goals against all odds for his followers. The theory implies that those

in power deserve to be there because of their special endowment. Furthermore, the theory

contends that these traits remain stable over time and across different groups. Thus, it

suggests that all great leaders share these characteristic regardless of when and where

they lived or the precise role in the history they fulfilled.

Assumptions of the Theory

The assumptions of great man theory are:

     The leaders are born and not made and posses certain traits which were


     Great leaders can arise when there is a great need.

To support or not to support the assumption, is it acceptable in 2011?

The assumptions can actually be opposed as well as supported with reasonable examples.

If we look at the great leaders of the past such as Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar,

Napoleon, Queen Elizabeth I, and Abraham Lincoln, we will find that they do seem to

differ from ordinary human beings in several aspects. The same applies to the

contemporary leaders like George W. Bush and Mahatma Gandhi. They definitely

possess high levels of ambition coupled with clear visions of precisely where they want

to go. These leaders are cited as naturally great leaders, born with a set of personal

qualities that made them effective leaders. Even today, the belief that truly great leaders

are born is common. But the idea that leaders are ‘born and not made’ is no longer

uncritically accepted by many. Further, the belief that there is only one set of traits that

will guarantee leadership ability has also been dismissed through research. Trait theory

research conducted in the 1940s found that ‘a person does not become a leader by virtue

of the possession of some combination of traits’ (Stogdill 1948:64), rather there are

situational factors that are influential as well.

25 years ago the study of leadership traits regained popularity. A resurgence of research

since 1980 has claimed that it is the leader’s actions and reactions in specific situations

that make a person a successful leader. While there is not one set of traits that guarantee

an individual’s ascension to leadership in any given situation, the possession of some will

make it likely that a person will be granted or assigned a leadership position?

As it turns out, these characteristics have much in common with the qualities previously

associated with great man theories. These include physical features (E.g. height);

personality factors (e.g. extroverted); education and ability-related characteristics (e.g.

speech fluency). This is hardly surprising: traditionally, members of the upper class were

in leadership positions. With access to education, sanitation and nutrition, they and their

offspring were typically healthier, taller and smarter than those of the lower classes.


Many of the traits cited as being important to be an effective leader are typical masculine

traits. In contemporary research, there is a significant shift in such a mentality. Traits

such as height, weight and physique are heavily dependent on heredity, whether genetic,

social or a combination of the two, whereas others such as knowledge of the industry are

contingent on experience and learning. Trait theory is now expanded to include this wider

range of inherited and acquired qualities. Thus, leadership resides in and amongst people,

and it is likely that leadership will only be effective when the position is held by people

with these characteristics. Traditional criticisms of Trait theory include: it has failed to

create a definitive list of leadership traits; it fails to take the situation into account; it is

not a useful approach for the training and development of leaders as the traits it examines

are not easily changed or acquired. Critical theorists have noted that the research focuses

almost exclusively on male leaders and male respondents. Other critics have noted the

failure of this theory to acknowledge that leadership traits are a receiver characteristic.

The follower must accept these traits as necessary and/or sufficient for effective

leadership, or the leader will face difficulty in persuading others to follow.

Lastly, creativity, charisma, and flexibility are not included in Trait theory, yet they are

the focus of later leadership theories. This shows that the trait theory has left out many

other important characteristics for leadership pf a person.

Leader’s Personality Traits according to the Theory

There is little consistency in the research as to how much of an influence these traits have

on leadership and leadership ability. An analysis of 20 studies on leadership conducted

during the 1940s revealed 79 unique traits; however, 65 of these 79 traits appeared in

only one study, and only four (extroversion, humor, intelligence and initiative) appeared

in five or more studies (Stogdill 1948). A further review by the Centre for Excellence in

Management and Leadership (CEML 2002; Perren and Burgoyne 2001) listed over 1,000

traits, distilled to 83 more or less distinct attributes. While possession of some, many or

all of these does not guarantee leadership success, there is evidence that effective leaders

are different from other people in certain key respects. The current study of the Trait

theory states that leaders share certain personality traits that differentiate them from


Depending on the research, these traits include:

achievement, alertness, ambition, athletic ability, cognitive ability, cooperativeness,

critical thinking, emotional stability, energy, honesty and integrity, humor, initiative,

insight, intelligence, judgment, leadership motivation (the desire to lead but not to

seek power as an end in itself ), motivation, originality, persistence, popularity,

problem-solving skills, responsibility, self-confidence, sociability, social judgment

drive, solution-construction skills, status, tenacity, tolerance, verbal facility and etc

Researchers have sought to categorize these traits to help understand and predict

leadership ability; however, even when researchers agree on many of the above traits, the

categorization of these traits into specific characteristics has proven difficult. These

means, the great man theory will no longer be accepted if it keep stressing on the certain

types of traits that are important for leadership.

Now that it is clear that traits alone are not sufficient to explain or to give rise to

successful leadership. Rather traits are a precondition or precursor for action such as role

modeling, formulating a vision and setting goals. Possessing certain traits only makes it

more likely that the person will become a leader or be given leadership authority.

However, it is by no means clear that these observable traits have any causal role in

propelling people into leadership. More importantly, there is no agreement about what

mix of traits really distinguishes leaders from others; and methodological doubts remain

about attribution errors, suggesting that many of these traits are observed in

leaders because they are leaders, and their apparent manifestation is consequent to the

many other factors that constitute leadership.

There are both theoretical and methodological reasons for considering the link between

the traits of potential leaders and their tendency to be perceived as leaders. A 1986 study

focused on the question of how personality relates to leadership emergence. From the

receiver’s perspective, the assessment of leadership traits in others will create the

perceptions of the other’s leadership qualities. Hence, the traits of potential leaders need

to correlate with the traits that the receiver/ followers both expect and view as important.

This study indicated that the traits most followers believe are important are intelligence

and dominance. More research on the follower’s beliefs of necessary traits will be helpful

in furthering the understanding of this theory.

Importance of the chosen leadership Theory

The great man theory or also called trait theory is important as it provides a few essential

abilities needed in order to become a leader. According to the Binary’s leadership

manual, some traits that have been considered for leadership trait theory such as high

energy level, appearance, self-reliance, aggressiveness, persuasiveness and dominance

are important in order to be a good leader. If one is not aggressive in achieving the

targeted goal or one is not self reliant when working in group then how is it possible to

come up with a confident and stable decision or how will he lead the others if he is not

relying or more to say, no confidence on his own ideas and instructions. therefore

although great man theory has been criticized that not all muscular related traits and there

are other traits that are more important than what great man theory has listed to be

considered for good leadership, it is still acceptable for some of the traits from great man

theory to be applied in real life. Probably any traits related to physical and appearance

can be minuses and some other trait like persuasiveness can be followed by followers.

This is because many leaders today are not those who are tall and has louder voice. If we

Look at Apple’s Steve Jobs, Pepsi’s Indra Nooyi and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan

Singh. They are not muscular and 6 foot tall but they are good leaders who are made up

of valuable leadership characteristics. Therefore, in order to be a good leader, there a lot

of leadership traits that one should adapt to and some of them can be accepted from Great

Man Theory.


Prompted by the great man theory of leadership, and the emerging interest in

understanding what leadership is, researchers focused on the leader –

Who is a leader?

What are the distinguishing characteristics of great and effective leaders?

This gave rise to the early research efforts to the trait approach to leadership. The great

man theory or traits theory focus on appearance and assumptions that leaders are born

and not made. This is fully disagreeable as there any other characteristics and ability that

is needed to be a leader apart from having the aggressiveness, appearance, high energy

level and dominance.


1. Binary leadership Manual

2. Effective leadership by Lussier / Achua, third edition


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