Leadership depends more on the situation than the person. Discuss.

From a social psychological perspective, Chemers defined leadership as
‘a process of social influence through which an individual enlists and
mobilises the aid of other in the attainment of a collective goal’.
Throughout history, psychologists have done research and come up with
different theories to determine what constitutes as effective leadership.
However, it is still a heated discussion as to whether leadership depends
more on the situation, the person or both.
One of the earliest and simplest approaches to study leadership is the
universalist theory of leadership. This theory looks for the one key
characteristic or a cluster of key characteristics held by effective leader.
Theories like the great person theory states that effective leadership is due
to innate or acquired individual characteristics rather than the situation.
For example, Francis Galton (1982) in the nineteenth century maintained
that leaders are born, not made and in certain countries, relatives of great
leaders are put into positions of power because they believe that there is
inborn leadership ability. For instance, surveys of early trait research by
Stogdill (1948) and Mann (1959) reported that many studies identified
personality characteristics that appear to differentiate leaders from
followers. The problem with this original trait approach is it is too
general. It assumes that effective leader will have very definite set of
characteristics that made a leader, regardless of the situation. It is unlikely
that any one of the traits that an effective leader possesses will apply to
all situations especially when different situations have different aspects to
Therefore, instead of focusing on a specific trait, psychologists have
come up with the Big Five personality dimensions, which focuses on
conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, openness, and
extraversion. (Hogg, 2014) Contrary to the great person theory, the Big
Five model is able to account for different traits in personality without
overlapping and hence, it might offer a better explanation of leadership.
In Hogg (2014), a definitive meta-analysis of data from 73 studies by
Timothy Judge and his associates (Judge, Bono, Ilies and Gerhardt, 2002)
found that these attributes have an overall correlation of 0.58 with
leadership. There are also other theories, which looked at exceptional
leaders such as the charismatic leadership theory and transformational
leadership. The charismatic leadership theory tries to identify and define
the characteristics that these leaders possess that inspire followers to
identify with and to be devoted to them, and also outlines the nature of
the relationship charismatic leaders have with followers. Meanwhile,

community and so on while consideration is the extent to which the leaders build a good rapport with the followers. creating a vision to guide the change through inspiration. According to Fleishman (1969). The initiating structure behaviour involves the leader to define roles and directs activity through planning. Richard Sorrentino and Nigel Field (1986) conducted detailed observations of twelve problem-solving groups. Hence. there are two important behavioural studies. the type of task that has to be completed and the relationship with the group members they were leading. According to Blighe (2011). the early universalist theory of leadership is too simplistic as it explains effective leadership by possessing a characteristic or a cluster of key characteristics. Members who are rated as being high on both the task and socioemotional dimensions of Bales’ (1950) system .transformational leadership is a style of leadership where the leader is charged with identifying the needed change. These two main behaviours are the most significant factors in leadership. The Ohio State study uses the leader behaviour description questionnaire to divide behaviours into two categories. We have seen that personality might not be able to explain leadership as a whole and hence. For example. Besides. how do we explain those people who possess those qualities but are not leaders? How many of those qualities does an individual need to possess in order for them to be considered as a good leader? These questions show us the difficulties of explaining effective leadership solely based on the individual characteristics. The biggest issue with the universalist theory is reductionism. this theory has failed to consistently distinguish between leaders and non-leaders. The failure of trait theory to fully explain leadership led psychologists to look at behavioural theories of leadership. which is a complex issue into smaller components and ignores other factors that might have come into influence. which are initiating structure and consideration. It is a big leap from universalist theories of leadership as it assumes that leadership can be learned and not just inherited. and executing the change. which are the The Ohio State Leadership studies and the Michigan studies. Research has shown that most effective leaders are those who score above average on both initiating structure and consideration. there could be other variables affecting the effectiveness of leadership. if a particular trait is the key features of leadership. It ignores the role of particular situations the leader has to lead in. Universalist theories narrow down leadership. The idea is to implant these behavioural patterns to individuals to make them effective leaders. psychologists begin to focus on how successful leaders behave. In this case.

This explanation is too limited because a specific leadership style may not be best in all circumstances. It is a more holistic approach as it presents different way of examining leader effectiveness by focusing on the leader-situation interaction. Its detailed attention to situation emphasised the importance of both situation and leader characteristics in determining leader effectiveness. By using the Least Preferred Worker measure. Fiedler’s theory has been important in explaining leadership compared to other theories. The University of Michigan studies strongly favoured leaders who were employee-oriented in their behaviour. Fiedler determines how task-oriented or relationship-oriented the leader is by examining how harshly or leniently the leader rated their least preferred worker. which are task-oriented/initiating structure and relationship-oriented/consideration. work situation is defined by using three variables which are leader-worker relations. Then. 2014) At about the same time. The most famous contingency theory would be Fiedler’s contingency theory. citing higher employee productivity and higher job satisfaction. However. task structure and position power. Fiedler’s Contingency Model looks at the match between a leader’s behavioral style to which the work situation gives control and influence to the leader. it is not clear how actual work situations would break down in .were elected as leaders later on. (Hogg. According to Fiedler. Since Fiedler’s prediction concerns the assessment of situations. task-oriented leaders will be successful in most favourable and least favourable leadership situation because their ability to focus on task performance encourages the worker to perform the job whilst moderate favorable situation will be suitable for relationshiporiented leaders. Contingency theories of leadership recognise that leadership effectiveness of particular leadership behaviours is contingent on the properties of leadership situation. Different leader behaviors will be more or less successful depending on characteristics of the situation. many researchers have concluded that that successful leadership is the result of the interaction between the traits of the leader and the situation itself. which is the basis of the contingency theories. Therefore. the University of Michigan also found out that effective leadership can be grouped into two categories which are task-oriented and relationshiporiented. The behavioral style of leadership is also simplistic in their assumption as it narrows down leadership style into two broad categories. there are a few criticism of the Fiedler’s contingency theory.

one of the criticisms of the pathgoal research is that it tends to be relatively simplistic. In order to comprehensively evaluate path-goal theory. and the situational complexion of leadership. Fiedler believed that natural leadership style is fixed and the most effective way to handle situations is to change the leader. There are four leadership behaviors that are identified which are directive leader. in exchange. Investigations of directive leader behavior and supportive leader behavior have dominated the literature. Leader and followers can be seen as involved in an implicit/explicit agreement whereby followers devote time and energy to pursuing organizational goals. Contingency theories also fail to capture the interaction between leaders and followers and how both can support one another. which states that leaders should be facilitators to guide the followers to attain the goals they desire. supportive leader and achievement-oriented leader. There is also an issue with the assessment of whether the situation would be favourable or unfavourable for the leader. this theory lacks of flexibility. while research has generally neglected the other types of leader behavior about which the theory makes predictions. provides rewards and job security. all of the hypothesized relationships must be tested. Although contingency theory explores how the properties of the person and of the situation interact to influence leadership effectiveness. leaders are flexible and the same leader can display different behaviors according to the situation. participative leader. Another contingency theory is the Path Goal Theory. despite the complex nature of the theory. (Hogg. it neglects the group processes that are responsible for the rise and fall of leaders. Transactional leadership focuses on the transaction of resources between leaders and followers. 2014) The approach also neglects considerations of instances of extraordinary leadership. According to this theory. . The majority of research on path-goal theory has focused on determining how task structure moderates the relationship between leader behavior and follower performance and satisfaction.terms of their favourableness for the leader. According to Knight (2011). This limitation can be addressed by theories of transactional leadership. Besides. which may not be true in real life. and the leader.

.When looking at leadership. Huczynski & Buchanan  (2007) also suggested that leaders around the world couldn’t use the same leadership style in their various locations due to the cultural differences. Besides. However. In the Ohio State Leadership studies. It does not directly assess the task and relationship orientation of the leader. charismatic or transformational leadership is thought to broaden and motivate followers to go beyond their self-interests for the good of the organization. as Western countries are more culturally  individualistic. the researcher devise a scale which is called the leader behaviour description questionnaire to measure leadership behaviour and distinguish between initiating structure and consideration dimensions. According to Hartog (2011).S (Jeff Bezos)  leader have a basically different philosophy of managing people. This reduces its generalizability to  collectivistic culture. this reduces the reliability of the measure. Therefore. Jeff Bezos is heavily individual­orientated and will praised  individual with great performance in front of everyone. Japanese leadership style differs from those in the U. A problem with questionnaire is that there could be demand characteristics. which is the  opposite in Japanese culture.  Another issue when studying leadership is the reliability of self-report measures used. In some cultures. Hence. It requires the leader to rate the least preferred co-worker.  For example. psychologists should also consider the views on leadership that may vary across cultures. most of the leadership theories are  discovered in the Western countries. Besides. The problem with this selfreport is that it is not clear exactly what is measured because it only infers a leader’s orientation from feelings about a co-worker. different cultural groups may vary in their conceptions of the important characteristics of charismatic or transformational leadership. generally. the Fiedler’s Contingency Theory also uses a self-report measure. it is uncertain of how reliably the LPC measure is able to determine how taskoriented or relationship-oriented the leader is. there could be a problem with generalizing  some of the leadership theories to all cultures. the Least-preferred Co-worker (LPC) measure to assess a leader’s orientation.S and  the most common is that Japanese (Akio Toyoda) and U. Respondents may respond in a way that he or she thinks is desirable and hence this may affect the results of the questionnaire significantly. one might prefer a strong. decisive leadership while in other cultures a democratic approach may be preferred when it comes to effective leadership. For  example. Subsequently.

 2011. Northouse. 8  Apr. Leadership : Theory & Practice. Work & Organizational Psychology – Volume 2. researchers have realized that the interaction between the leader and the situation is key to understanding leadership. Michelle C. London:  SAGE Publications Ltd. Social Psychology 7th edition Harlow : Pearson Education Limited Den Hartog. California:  SAGE Publications. and Vaughan M. Theory and Practice of Leadership. SAGE Publications. Therefore. 2nd ed. . 2011. 2001. Gill. “Personality Theories of Leadership.” Encyclopedia of Group Processes & Intergroup Relations. 2009. 16 Feb 2011. References Bligh. (2014). Roger. along with the specification of important trait and situational variables. Deanne and Paul Koopman “Leadership in Organizations. Peter G. (2013).It is too extreme to assume that effective leaders depend on the situation or person solely.”  Handbook of Industrial. SAGE Publications.  Hogg A.