Great man theories
According to Kirkpatrick and Locke (1991), great man leadership theories were popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Judge, Piccolo and Kosalka (2009: 855) state that the great man theory is attributed to Thomas Carlyle who proclaimed that For, as I take it, Universal History, the history of what man has accomplished in this world, is at bottom the History of the Great Men who have worked here”. According to Eckmann (2005: 4), Carlyle’s argument was that heroes shape history through â€œthe vision of their intellect, the beauty of their art, the prowess of their leadership and, most important, their divine inspiration.” Kirkpatrick and Locke (1991) state that great man theories were based on the assumption that leadership qualities were inherited, particularly by upper class men. In other words, these theories asserted that great men were born, not made (Hoffman et al., 2011). Vroom and Jago (2007) refer to heroic concepts of leadership which they argue emerged with the great man theory of history whereby major historical events were assumed to be the work of great men with vision and genius.
Hoffman et al (2011: 349) argue that great man theories fell out of favour â€œamid questions as to the evidentiary basis underlying disposition-leadership associations”. Judge, Piccolo and Kosalka (2009) state that reviewers have labelled the approach as too simplistic, futile, dangerous and a product of self-delusion. Lieberson and O’Connor (1972: 117) also criticise great man theories for failing to consider a leader’s limits and state that the evidence indicates that the influence of single individuals is seldom as decisive as the great-man theory would lead one to believe.
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Great man theories evolved into trait theories in the early 20th century (Judge et al., 2002; Kirkpatrick and Locke, 1991). Proponents of these theories argue that leaders possess traits or characteristics that make them different from other people and give them leadership advantage. This assumption that leadership depends on the qualities of the leader makes trait theories seem similar to great man theories but trait theories differ because they do not assume that leadership is limited to a few heroic men (Judge et al, 2002). Researchers however, have failed to agree on what traits are universal and trait theories suffer from a lack of structure in describing personality leading to a wide range of traits being investigated under different labels” (Judge et al, 2002: 766). For instance, Kirkpatrick and Locke (1991) argue that the six traits that distinguish leaders from non-leaders include drive, desire to lead, honesty/integrity, self-confidence, cognitive ability and business knowledge. On the other hand, House and Aditya (1997) propose four factors including achievement motivation, prosocial influence motivation, adjustment and self-confident. Mann (1959) includes masculinity, dominance, adjustment, conservatism and extroversion in his list of traits. It is clear, as shown in figure 1 below, that different researchers have proposed different traits and there is no consistency in trait theories.
Figure 1: Past qualitative reviews of the traits of effective leaders
Kirkpatrick and Locke (1991) state that no traits are universally associated with effective leadership and argue that situational factors are also influential. These researchers state that traits only provide the potential for leadership and additional factors including skills, vision and implanting the vision are necessary for effective leadership. Other researchers have also argued that trait theories have failed to consider situational nature of leadership (Zaccaro, 2007; Vroom and Jago, 2007). These researchers have argued that situational variables impact on leader behaviour, effectiveness and consequences.
According to Derue et al (2011) criticism of leader-trait paradigm has led to the development of behavioural theories of leadership which assume that leadership capability is not inherent, but can be learned. Storey (2004) states that important behavioural studies include Ohio State University, which is credited with developing the Leader’s Behaviour Description Questionnaire, University of Michigan (Katz and Khan, 1978; Likert, 1961) and Blake and Mouton (1964). Behavioural theories as advocated by these researchers identified four styles of leadership behaviour: concern for tasks (production or output), concern for people, directive leadership and participative leadership. Blake and Mouton (1964) developed the Managerial Grid which identifies five theories of managerial behaviour which are based on two variables, concern for production and concern for people. The combination of these variables results in different styles of management as shown in figure 2 below. Each style is expressed on a scale ranging from 1-9, with 1 representing minimal concern and 9 representing maximal concern. Blake and Mouton (1964) argue that it is possible for managers to learn in a classroom and revise their practices and procedures thereby moving towards an ideal 9, 9 (team management) organisational environment.
Contingency (situational) theories
According to Gill (2011) contingency theories suggest there is no one best way of leadership because successful leaders use different styles depending on the nature of the situation and the followers. This means that effective leaders are flexible and have the cognitive ability to adopt a different leadership style for a given situation. Storey (2004) states that proponents of cognitive theories include Fiedler (1967), Vroom and Yetton (1973), Yukl (2002) and Hershey and Blanchard (1984). Other behavioural leadership theories include path-goal theory, leadership substitutes theory and normative contingency theory (McClesky, 2014). Fiedler’s (1967) two factor model divides leaders into relationship motivated and task motivated groups and suggests that leaders should be placed in the situation which is favourable to their style. Hershey and Blanchard (1984) present four leadership styles including directive, consultative, participating and delegating which are related to the readiness (maturity) of followers, for instance, leaders will adopt a directive style in a situation where followers lack readiness or the ability and confidence to perform a task. As the employees gain ability and become more confident, the leader will adopt a participating and delegating style. In other words, the level of follower maturity (job and psychological) determines the correct style of leadership. Figure 3 below shows the situational leadership model.