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