Leadership is an important component of society that has been around throughout human history. For any society to function effectively it has to have effective leadership. Leadership means different things to different people. To some leadership simply means the ability of a leader to lead a group of followers. To others leadership is much more complex and means more than just leaders and followers. Leadership is a concept that has generated interest in many researchers who have been studying it to gain a better understanding of its meaning and application. These researchers or experts have come up with different theories in an attempt to understand and explain leadership.
This essay will explore some of these leadership theories particularly trait theory and how they have evolved over the years into the different leadership styles we have today.
Trait theory is one of the earliest theories researchers into leadership came up with in an attempt to understand leadership. This theory was greatly influenced by the “great man theory of leadership” popularised by the work of Thomas Carlyle in the 19th century. According to Carlyle, “The history of the world is but the biography of great men, effective leaders are those gifted with divine inspiration and the right characteristics” (Carlyle T. 1888). Carlyle’s work appears to support a widely accepted notion that “Great leaders are born, not made” suggesting that the capacity for leadership is an inherent ability. Carlyle’s assumption was further strengthened at the time by other early researchers into leadership whose studies seem to show that those in leadership positions were aristocrats who were thought to have inherited traits that made them successful and therefore born to lead. This is now known to be a confounding factor as aristocrats often earned their leadership positions as birth rights irrespective of their successes or personalities ruling out such opportunities from people in the lower social status.
Whether or not you are an advocate of trait theory, it is difficult to argue against the idea that some people appear to be better leaders than others. History has shown us that some individuals have certain characteristics inherent in them that enable them to become great leaders. This reminds me of my school years where some students are selected amongst others to be class prefects based on their personalities which portrays them as potential leaders. I see this same scenario in the health sector where I work where some of my colleagues including junior ones are singled out and encouraged to take up leadership roles based on their personalities. The argument that the potential to be great leaders are inherent rather than being learnt has been supported by recent psychological, neurological and sociological studies performed by scientist at University College London, Wake Forest University North Carolina and University of Cambridge to mention but a few. These scientists conclude that leadership skills can be learnt but learning leadership skills does not make an individual a great leader or even successful at leadership rather great and successful leaders tends to have these leadership skills naturally. Tamara K. H 2015. It is my opinion that in the current climate, great or successful leadership requires a combination of the two factors.
There have been arguments against trait theory since its introduction in the 19th century. The main ones being why are some people who are deemed to have leadership qualities never become successful leaders or why do some people with leadership qualities become successful leaders in some situation but not in others? Early researchers in an attempt to address some of these questions came up with the styles approach. This approach expanded the scope of leadership research into trying to understand leadership process even more. This approach pays more attention to leaders’ behaviour and how they act rather than their personalities although advocates of traits theory will argue that such behaviours are determined by the leaders’ personalities. Styles approach recognises two types of behaviours that are generally associated with leadership – task-oriented behaviours and relationship-oriented behaviours – (McCaferry 2004). Task-oriented behaviours looks at behaviours that leaders employ to enable his or her group members achieve their set goals while relationship-oriented behaviours focus more on the feelings and relationship among group members. The idea behind styles approach is to explain how successful leaders combine these two types of behaviours to achieve the best results from their group members. Styles approach provided leaders with the opportunity to assess their actions to determine ways of improving their leadership effectiveness. This approach has since given rise to the various leadership styles we have around today such as transformational, autocratic, democratic etc. Like trait approach critics of this approach have been unable to find a universal leadership style that is effective in all situations.
Although I am a great advocate of traits as important determinant factors for potential leadership I agree with critics that traits alone cannot be the only factors accounting for successful leadership. it is impossible for a single individual to have all the desirable traits that makes strong leadership. Moreover, there are no universal list of traits that all great leaders possessed that made them successful at leadership. This will explain why some people who appear to have leadership qualities do not all become great leaders or why some leaders are successful in some situation but not in others. Trait theory may not provide all the answers we seek for successful leadership however it paved the way for leadership researchers to explore and consider other theories on leadership we have today. Such theories include the style approach to leadership, situation approach and contingency approach.
Trait theory has inspired me to seek leadership roles. Studying trait theory has made me to analyse my own traits and compared them to various benchmark traits that successful leaders have been known to possess. Knowing that I have some of these traits has given me the confidence to consider taking up leadership roles and perhaps I will go on not only to succeed as a leader but become one of the great leaders we have today.
Trait approach contributes valuable information to the leadership process. It helps understand leaders and leadership through their personality traits hence various researchers since the 19th century have continued to investigate and compile numerous personality traits or characteristics that are associated with successful leaders. These investigations have therefore resulted in the production of many tests and questionnaires that individuals or organisations use to seek these benchmark traits or personalities in potential leaders. This may explain the reasoning behind the use of personality questionnaires as part of the recruitment process in the organisation I work for. On an individual level people use these tests or questionnaires to analyse their own strengths and weaknesses in other to strengthen their position and improve their effectiveness as leaders.
There are many tests or questionnaires available today that proposes to assess for benchmark personalities or traits in potential leaders amongst other things. An example of such tests is The Myers–Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). MBTI is a self-report personality questionnaire that enable individuals assess and identify their personality types. The questionnaire assists respondents to understand or explore their strengths, weaknesses, preferences or compatibility with other personality types. Despite criticism from some researchers who claim the tool has poor reliability and validity, The MBTI is one of the commonly used personality questionnaires available on the internet. Some have attributed the popularity of MBTI to its ease of use and user friendliness. Some individuals use the MBTI to analyse and understand their strengths and weakness in order to strengthen their position and improve their effectiveness as leaders. Some use it improve their working relationships with their team. A lot of leadership programmes for leaders and managers tends to include the MBTI personality questionnaire as part of their training tools.
Despite its shortcomings my use of MBTI has greatly enhanced my leadership potentials. Not only has it increased my insight about my strengths and weaknesses, comparing my personality type to that of others has also given me an insight into how others may perceive and react to my behaviours. This has enabled me to adjust my ways of relating to others in order to improve my working relationships with them.
Recommendations and Conclusion
I will recommend the use of personality or trait assessment tools as they are useful tools if used appropriately. Like many other assessment tools, they have limitations which should be borne in mind each time they are used. For instance, the MBTI can sometimes return different results for the same individual putting into question their reliability. However the key is not to get too hung up on the results rather to understand that the environment or the situation also play an important influence. Moreover, our personality change over time.
Any organisation requires effective leadership to function well. This particularly the case with the health sector where there is increasing demand for quality despite limited available resources. Leadership is about getting things done. It requires leaders to be able to influence people to achieve desired goals. Humans have evolved over the years and have become more challenging and difficult to influence. With limited resources, this role becomes a lot more challenging and puts a lot of pressure on leaders. Leadership styles that may have succeeded to achieve certain goals a decade ago will struggle to achieve same goals today. Thus, for leadership to succeed it has to evolve as well. As a medical practitioner in the health sector, I work with highly skilled and intellectual multidisciplinary teams. With a team like this the traditional leadership styles where one leader at the top does all the leading and everyone else follows is unlikely to succeed. A combination of different leadership styles particularly where there is sharing of leadership responsibilities among team members is likely to be much more effective. This does not mean there isn’t somebody at the top who oversees the overall leadership responsibilities. This is the line I hope to toe as take up more leadership roles.
Leadership is a complex multifaceted concept whose importance in society cannot be over emphasised. It has existed since the dawn of time and has evolved in line with man’s evolution in order to achieve its desired effects. There are many ways of thinking about leadership, ranging from focusing on the personality traits of great leadership to emphasizing aspects of the leadership behaviours that determine how effective people lead. Like most things, leadership is a mixture of many factors that help determine why some people become great leaders. There is no perfect leadership style that is guaranteed to be effective in all situations therefore leaders need to be aware of this and be skilled in different leadership styles which they can use in relevant situations to achieve their desired goals.
Introduction Leadership is an important component of society that has been around throughout human history