There is no unanimity among scholars about the origin of leadership. Whether leadership is a natural trait, a developable competency or a combination of both, it is reported by executives that a great part of what leaders use to lead effectively comes from experience, more than from formal training. A key question is then how do we need to modify training interventions in order to represent a source of leadership learning? Learning is understood as a transformational effect on the individual (large or small) but with noticeable behavioural changes. Clark defines transformational learning as a way in which people change: “they are different afterwards, in ways both they and others can recognise”; or as Kegan defends, transformational learning is not only about adding new knowledge, but also about increasing self consciousness.
Trait theory is the first academic theory of leadership that appeared in history. Ronald Heifetz in his book: Leadership Without Easy Answers, traces this approach back to the nineteenth-century tradition of associating the history of society to the history of great men. Proponents of the trait approach usually list leadership qualities, assuming certain traits or characteristics will tend to lead to effective leadership (e.g. integrity, self-confidence, cognitive ability, and business knowledge). On this reading of the theory, leadership development involves identifying and measuring leadership qualities, screening potential leaders from non-leaders, then training those with potential, which is what most corporations do today with their talent management programmes. The ‘strongest’ versions of trait theory however see these ‘leadership characteristics’ as innate, and accordingly labels some people as ‘born leaders’ due to their psychological makeup. But the great majority of leadership researchers today have shifted to one of the later theories.
Behavioural theories appeared in response to the criticism of the trait approach and scholars began to research leadership as a set of behaviours. The behavioural theory, which dominated research between 1940s and 1970s, approached leadership under the belief that leaders differentiate themselves by observable behaviours. The focus of their research has been in identifying those universal behaviours as they believe that they are developable and could be modified through practicing certain skills. Followers of this theory are interested in evaluating the behaviour of 'successful' leaders, determining behaviour taxonomy and identifying broad leadership styles. For example: the managerial grid model, developed by Blake and Mouton suggests five different leadership styles, depending on the leaders' concern for people and their concern for production or output. The behavioural approach is questioned by researchers today that defend that despite the numerous behaviour-based studies, there is no evidence that a certain list of behaviours would be more important than another.
Situational and contingency theories also developed as a reaction to the trait theory of leadership. According to them, no single optimal psychographic profile of a leader exists as different situations call for different leadership characteristics. The proponents of this theory state that leaders in one situation are not necessarily perceived to be leaders in another. Some of the most notable contingency leadership theories appeared in the recent years: Fiedler contingency model, Vroom-Yetton decision model, the path-goal theory, and the Hersey-Blanchard situational theory. As an example, the situational leadership model proposed by Hersey and Blanchard suggests four leadership-styles and four levels of follower-development. For effectiveness, the model posits that the leadership-style must match the appropriate level of followership-development. In this model, leadership behaviour becomes a function not only of the characteristics of the leader, but of the characteristics...
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