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Trait Theory

Trait Theory

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Published by: haidahusin on Oct 24, 2011
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Trait Theory

Assumptions People are born with inherited traits. Some traits are particularly suited to leadership. People who make good leaders have the right (or sufficient) combination of traits. Description Early research on leadership was based on the psychological focus of the day, which was of people having inherited characteristics or traits. Attention was thus put on discovering these traits, often by studying successful leaders, but with the underlying assumption that if other people could also be found with these traits, then they, too, could also become great leaders. Stogdill (1974) identified the following traits and skills as critical to leaders. Traits Skills

• • • • • • • • • • • • •

Adaptable to situations Alert to social environment and

Ambitious achievement-orientated Assertive Cooperative Decisive Dependable (desire (high

• • • • • • •

Clever (intelligent) Conceptually skilled Creative Diplomatic and tactful Fluent in speaking Knowledgeable about group Organised Persuasive Socially skilled (administrative

task to ability)

Dominant influence others) Energetic Persistent Self-confident level)


• •

Tolerant of stress to assume

Willing responsibility

McCall and Lombardo (1983) researched both success and failure identified four primary traits by which leaders could succeed or 'derail':

• • • •

Emotional stability and composure: Calm, confident and predictable, particularly when under stress. Admitting error: Owning up to mistakes, rather than putting energy into covering up. Good interpersonal skills: Able to communicate and persuade others without resort to negative or coercive tactics. Intellectual breadth: Able to understand a wide range of areas, rather than having a narrow (and narrowminded) area of expertise.

Discussion There have been many different studies of leadership traits and they agree only in the general saintly qualities needed to be a leader.

For a long period, inherited traits were sidelined as learned and situational factors were considered to be far more realistic as reasons for people acquiring leadership positions. Paradoxically, the research into twins who were separated at birth along with new sciences such as Behavioral Genetics have shown that far more is inherited than was previously supposed. Perhaps one day they will find a 'leadership gene'. Leadership trait theory is the idea that people are born with certain character traits or qualities. Since certain traits are associated with proficient leadership, it assumes that if you could identify people with the correct traits, you will be able to identify leaders and people with leadership potential. Most of the time the traits are considered to be naturally part of a person’s personality from birth. From this standpoint, leadership trait theory tends to assume that people are born as leaders or not as leaders. There is a lot of value in identifying the character traits associated with leadership. It is even more valuable to identify the character traits that followers look for in a leader. These traits would be the characteristics of an individual who is most likely to attract followers. However, the idea that leadership traits are inborn and unchangeable appears to be incorrect. It is true that many of our dispositions and tendencies are influenced by our personalities and the way we are born. However, most people recognize that it is possible for someone to change their character traits for the worse. Someone who is known for being honest can learn to be deceitful. The whole idea of saying that someone was “corrupted” is based on the fact that people can learn bad character traits. If people can learn bad character traits and become different than the way they are naturally through conditioning, it logically follows that they can learn good character traits as well. A person who is prone to being dishonest can learn to be honest. A person who avoids risks can learn to take risks. It may not be easy, but it can be done. The book The Leadership Challenge identifies 20 character traits that are generally associated with good leaders. Thetop five traits are:  Honest  Inspiring  Forward-Looking  Competent  Intelligent These are all traits that someone can learn to implement. It may not be easy, but with practice you can become more inspiring, with practice you can become more honest, with practice you can become more competent. What makes this less difficult than it first seems, is that these are character traits that followers are looking for in a leader. By simply displaying these character traits more consistently an individual is able to change how they are perceived. Sometimes it isn’t a problem with changing your internal characteristics—it is just an issue of displaying those characteristics more openly. By focusing on your own character and developing traits associated with leadership, you can increase your ability to lead. Behavioral Theory Assumptions Leaders can be made, rather than are born. Successful leadership is based in definable, learnable behavior. Description

Behavioral theories of leadership do not seek inborn traits or capabilities. Rather, they look at what leaders actually do. If success can be defined in terms of describable actions, then it should be relatively easy for other people to act in the same way. This is easier to teach and learn then to adopt the more ephemeral 'traits' or 'capabilities'. Discussion Behavioral is a big leap from Trait Theory, in that it assumes that leadership capability can be learned, rather than being inherent. This opens the floodgates to leadership development, as opposed to simple psychometric assessment that sorts those with leadership potential from those who will never have the chance. A behavioral theory is relatively easy to develop, as you simply assess both leadership success and the actions of leaders. With a large enough study, you can then correlate statistically significant behaviors with success. You can also identify behaviors which contribute to failure, thus adding a second layer of understanding.

Tannenbaum and schmidt - model of delegation and team development The Tannenbaum and Schmidt Continuum is a simple model which shows the relationship between the level of freedom that a manager chooses to give to a team, and the level of authority used by the manager. As the team's freedom is increased, so the manager's authority decreases. This is a positive way for both teams and managers to develop. While the Tannenbaum and Schmidt model concerns delegated freedom to a group, the principle of being able to apply different levels of delegated freedom closely relates to the 'levels of delegation' on the delegation page. As a manager, one of your responsibilities is to develop your team. You should delegate and ask a team to make its own decisions to varying degrees according to their abilities. There is a rising scale of levels of delegated freedom that you can use when working with your team. The Tannenbaum and Schmidt Continuum is often shown as a simple graph:

Over time, a manager should aim to take the team from one end to the other, up the scale, at which point you should also aim to have developed one or a number of potential successors from within your team to take over from you. This process can take a year or two, or even longer, so be patient, explain what you're doing, and be aware constantly of how your team is responding and developing. When examining and applying the Tannenbaum and Schmidt principles, it's extremely important to remember: irrespective of the amount of responsibility and freedom delegated by a manager to a team, the manager retains accountability for any catastrophic problems that result. Delegating freedom and decisionmaking responsibility to a team absolutely does not absolve the manager of accountability. That's why delegating, whether to teams or individuals, requires a very grown-up manager. If everything goes well, the team must get the credit; if it all goes horribly wrong, the manager must take the blame. This is entirely fair, because the manager is ultimately responsible for judging the seriousness of any given situation - including the risks entailed - and the level of freedom that can safely be granted to the team to deal with it. This is not

actually part of the Tannebaum and Schmidt Continuum, but it's vital to apply this philosophy or the model will definitely be weakened, or at worse completely back-fire. Here are the Tannenbaum and Schmidt Continuum levels of delegated freedom, with some added explanation that should make it easier to understand and apply.

1. The Manager decides and announces the decision. The manager reviews options in light of aims, issues, priorities, timescale, etc., then decides the action and informs the team of the decision. The manager will probably have considered how the team will react, but the team plays no active part in making the decision. The team may well perceive that the manager has not considered the team's welfare at all. This is seen by the team as a purely task-based decision, which is generally a characteristic of XTheory management style. 2. The manager decides and then 'sells' the decision to the group. The manager makes the decision as in 1 above, and then explains reasons for the decision to the team, particularly the positive benefits that the team will enjoy from the decision. In so doing the manager is seen by the team to recognise the team's importance, and to have some concern for the team. 3. The manager presents the decision with background ideas and invites questions. The manager presents the decision along with some of the background which led to the decision. The team is invited to ask questions and discuss with the manager the rationale behind the decision, which enables the team to understand and accept or agree with the decision more easily than in 1 and 2 above. This more participative and involving approach enables the team to appreciate the issues and reasons for the decision, and the implications of all the options. This will have a more motivational approach than 1 or 2 because of the higher level of team involvement and discussion. 4. The manager suggests a provisional decision and invites discussion about it. The manager discusses and reviews the provisional decision with the team on the basis that the manager will take on board the views and then finally decide. This enables the team to have some real influence over the shape of the manager's final decision. This also acknowledges that the team has something to contribute to the decision-making process, which is more involving and therefore motivating than the previous level. 5. The manager presents the situation or problem, gets suggestions, then decides. The manager presents the situation, and maybe some options, to the team. The team is encouraged and expected to offer ideas and additional options, and discuss implications of each possible course of action. The manager then decides which option to take. This level is one of high and specific involvement for the team, and is appropriate particularly when the team has more detailed knowledge or experience of the issues than the manager. Being highinvolvement and high-influence for the team this level provides more motivation and freedom than any previous level. 6. The manager explains the situation, defines the parameters and asks the team to decide. At this level the manager has effectively delegated responsibility for the decision to the team, albeit within the manager's stated limits. The manager may or may not choose to be a part of the team which decides. While this level appears to gives a huge responsibility to the team, the manager can control the risk and outcomes to an extent, according to the constraints that he stipulates. This level is more motivational than any previous, and requires a mature team for any serious situation or problem. (Remember that the team must get the credit for all the positive outcomes from the decision, while the manager remains accountable for any resulting problems or disasters. This isn't strictly included in the original Tannenbaum and Schmidt definitions, so it needs pointing out because it's such an important aspect of delegating and motivating, and leadership.) 7. The manager allows the team to identify the problem, develop the options, and decide on the action, within the manager's received limits.

This is obviously an extreme level of freedom, whereby the team is effectively doing what the manager did in level 1. The team is given responsibility for identifying and analysing the situation or problem; the process for resolving it; developing and assessing options; evaluating implications, and then deciding on and implementing a course of action. The manager also states in advance that he/she will support the decision and help the team implement it. The manager may or may not be part of the team, and if so then he/she has no more authority than anyone else in the team. The only constraints and parameters for the team are the ones that the manager had imposed on him from above. (Again, the manager retains accountability for any resulting disasters, while the team must get the credit for all successes.) This level is potentially the most motivational of all, but also potentially the most disastrous. Not surprisingly the team must be mature and competent, and capable of acting at what is a genuinely strategic decisionmaking level. Situational Leadership Assumptions The best action of the leader depends on a range of situational factors. Style When a decision is needed, an effective leader does not just fall into a single preferred style, such as using transactional or transformational methods. In practice, as they say, things are not that simple. Factors that affect situational decisions include motivation and capability of followers. This, in turn, is affected by factors within the particular situation. The relationship between followers and the leader may be another factor that affects leader behavior as much as it does follower behavior. The leaders' perception of the follower and the situation will affect what they do rather than the truth of the situation. The leader's perception of themselves and other factors such as stress and mood will also modify the leaders' behavior. Yukl (1989) seeks to combine other approaches and identifies six variables:

• • • • • •

Subordinate effort: the motivation and actual effort expended. Subordinate ability and role clarity: followers knowing what to do and how to do it. Organization of the work: the structure of the work and utilization of resources. Cooperation and cohesiveness: of the group in working together. Resources and support: the availability of tools, materials, people, etc. External coordination: the need to collaborate with other groups.

Leaders here work on such factors as external relationships, acquisition of resources, managing demands on the group and managing the structures and culture of the group. Discussion Tannenbaum and Schmidt (1958) identified three forces that led to the leader's action: the forces in the situation, the forces in then follower and also forces in the leader. This recognizes that the leader's style is highly variable, and even such distant events as a family argument can lead to the displacement activity of a more aggressive stance in an argument than usual. Maier (1963) noted that leaders not only consider the likelihood of a follower accepting a suggestion, but also the overall importance of getting things done. Thus in critical situations, a leader is more likely to be directive in style simply because of the implications of failure.

Path-Goal Theory of Leadership Description The Path-Goal Theory of Leadership was developed to describe the way that leaders encourage and support their followers in achieving the goals they have been set by making the path that they should take clear and easy. In particular, leaders:

Clarify the path so subordinates know which way to go.

• •

Remove roadblocks that are stopping them going there. Increasing the rewards along the route.

Leaders can take a strong or limited approach in these. In clarifying the path, they may be directive or give vague hints. In removing roadblocks, they may scour the path or help the follower move the bigger blocks. In increasing rewards, they may give occasional encouragement or pave the way with gold. This variation in approach will depend on the situation, including the follower's capability and motivation, as well as the difficulty of the job and other contextual factors. House and Mitchell (1974) describe four styles of leadership: Supportive leadership Considering the needs of the follower, showing concern for their welfare and creating a friendly working environment. This includes increasing the follower's self-esteem and making the job more interesting. This approach is best when the work is stressful, boring or hazardous. Directive leadership Telling followers what needs to be done and giving appropriate guidance along the way. This includes giving them schedules of specific work to be done at specific times. Rewards may also be increased as needed and role ambiguity decreased (by telling them what they should be doing). This may be used when the task is unstructured and complex and the follower is inexperienced. This increases the follower's sense of security and control and hence is appropriate to the situation. Participative leadership Consulting with followers and taking their ideas into account when making decisions and taking particular actions. This approach is best when the followers are expert and their advice is both needed and they expect to be able to give it. Achievement-oriented leadership Setting challenging goals, both in work and in self-improvement (and often together). High standards are demonstrated and expected. The leader shows faith in the capabilities of the follower to succeed. This approach is best when the task is complex. Discussion Leaders who show the way and help followers along a path are effectively 'leading'. This approach assumes that there is one right way of achieving a goal and that the leader can see it and the follower cannot. This casts the leader as the knowing person and the follower as dependent. It also assumes that the follower is completely rational and that the appropriate methods can be deterministically selected depending on the situation. Contingency Theory Assumptions The leader's ability to lead is contingent upon various situational factors, including the leader's preferred style, the capabilities and behaviors of followers and also various other situational factors. Description Contingency theories are a class of behavioral theory that contend that there is no one best way of leading and that a leadership style that is effective in some situations may not be successful in others. An effect of this is that leaders who are very effective at one place and time may become unsuccessful either when transplanted to another situation or when the factors around them change. This helps to explain how some leaders who seem for a while to have the 'Midas touch' suddenly appear to go off the boil and make very unsuccessful decisions. Discussion Contingency theory is similar to situational theory in that there is an assumption of no simple one right way. The main difference is that situational theory tends to focus more on the behaviors that the leader should adopt, given situational factors (often about follower behavior), whereas contingency theory takes a broader view that includes contingent factors about leader capability and other variables within the situation.

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