Leadership Theories

Trait Theory of Leadership

According to this theory, leaders are born, not made. Many researchers have tried to identify the physical, mental, and personality traits of various leaders. leaders do not possess all the traits mentioned in these theories, whereas many non-leaders possess many of them. Moreover, the trait approach does not give one an estimate of how much of any given trait a person should possess. Different studies do not agree about which traits are leadership traits, or how they are related to leadership behavior. Most of these traits are really patterns of behavior.

Behavioral Theories

When it became evident that effective leaders did not seem to have a particular set of distinguishing traits, researchers tried to study the behavioral aspects of effective leaders. In other words, rather than try to figure out who effective leaders are, researchers tried to determine what effective leaders do – how they delegate tasks, how they communicate with and try to motivate their followers or employees, how they carry out their tasks, and so on.

Situational or Contingency Theories

The use of the trait and behavioral approaches to leadership showed that effective leadership depended on many variables, such as organizational culture and the nature of tasks. No one trait was common to all effective leaders. No one style was effective in all situations. Researchers, therefore, began trying to identify those factors in each situation that influenced the effectiveness of a particular leadership style. They started looking at and studying different situations in the belief that leaders are the products of given situations. A large number of studies have been made on the premise that leadership is strongly affected by the situations in which the leader emerges, and in which he or she operates. Taken together, the theories resulting from this type of study constitute the contingency approach to leadership.

Situational or contingency approaches obviously are of great relevance to managerial theory and practice. They are important for practicing managers, who must consider the situation when they design an environment for performance. The contingency theories focus on the following factors.

1. Task requirements

2. Peers’ expectations and behavior

3. Organizational culture and policies

There are four popular situational theories of leadership: (1) Fiedler’s contingency approach to leadership (2) The path-goal theory, (3) The Vroom-Yetton model and (4) Hersey and Blanchard’s situational leadership model.

Path-goal theory

This theory was developed largely by Robert J. House and Terence R. Mitchell. The path-goal theory of leadership attempts to explain how a leader can help his subordinates to accomplish the goals of the organization by indicating the best path and removing obstacles to the goals.

The path-goal theory indicates that effective leadership is dependent on, firstly, clearly defining, for subordinates, the paths to goal attainment; and, secondly, the degree to which the leader is able to improve the chances that the subordinates will achieve their goals. In other words, the path-goal theory suggests that the leaders should set clear and specific goals for subordinates. They should help the subordinates find the best way of doing things and remove the impediments that hinder them from realizing the set goals.

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