Overview of Leadership Personality Theories



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“The study of leadership rivals in age the emergence of civilization, which shaped its leaders as much as it was shaped by them. From its infancy, the study of history has been the study of leaders—what they did and why they did it” (Bass, 1990). According to Keith Davis (1967), “Leadership is the ability to persuade others to seek defined objectives enthusiastically. It is the human factor which binds a group together and motivates it towards goals”. Barnard in 1938, defined leadership as, “The ability of a superior to influence the behavior of subordinates and persuade them to follow a particular course of action”. Leadership has a range of definitions but at its simplest it is concerned with the ability to influence others to accomplish goals.

The concept of leadership, and the study of the phenomenon, has its roots in the beginning of civilization. Various work-related variables such as work environment, worker motivations, leaders, managers, leadership style, have been the subject of study for almost two centuries. (Gregory Stone, Kathleen Patterson, 2005). The organizational focus of the leader emerged over this period, from organizations operating with an authoritarian style to ones that operate with a more comfortable work environment. Today, organizations are in a transit stage of empowering, encouraging and supporting personnel in their personal and professional growth throughout their careers. The focus of leaders has changed over time, which has influenced and shaped the development and progression of leadership theory (Gregory Stone, Kathleen Patterson, 2005).

Researchers have examined leadership skills from a variety of perspectives. Early analyses of leadership from the 1900s to the 1950s focused on identifying the differences between the characteristics of a leader viz. a viz. a follower. Study findings suggested that no single trait or combination of traits fully explained the abilities of a leader. Later studies, examined the influence of the situation on leaders skills and behaviors. Subsequent leadership studies attempted to distinguish effective from non-effective leaders. These studies attempted to determine which leadership behaviors were exemplified by effective leaders. Leadership studies of the 1970s and 1980s once again focused on the individual characteristics of leaders which influence their effectiveness and the success of their organizations. The investigations led to the conclusion that leaders and leadership are critical but complex components of organizations.

Leadership is necessary for a variety of reasons. On a supervisory level, leadership is required to complement organizational systems (Katz & Kahn, 1978) and to enhance subordinate motivation, effectiveness and satisfaction (Bass, 1990). At the strategic level, leadership is necessary to ensure the coordinated functioning of the organization as it interacts with a dynamic external environment (Katz & Kahn, 1978). Thus leadership is required to direct and guide organizational and human resources toward the strategic objectives of the organization and ensure that organizational functions are aligned with the external environment (Zaccaro, 2001).

Research on leadership has been divided into 8 major schools (John Antonakis, Anna T. Cianciolo, Robert J. Sternberg, 2004):

Trait School of Leadership (1900s)
Behavioral School of Leadership (1910s)
Contingency School of Leadership (1960s)
Contextual School of Leadership (1960s)
Skeptics (1970s)
Relational (1970s)
New Leadership (1970s)
Information Processing (1980s)

The trait movement gave way to the behavioral styles of leadership in the 1950s. This line of research focused on the behaviors that leaders enacted and how they treated followers. The well-known University of Michigan (Katz, Maccoby, Gurin, & Floor, 1951) and Ohio State (Stogdill & Coons, 1957) studies identified two dimensions of leadership generally referred to as consideration (i.e., employee-oriented leadership) and initiating structure (i.e., production-oriented leadership). Leader behaviors are often discussed in terms of whether the behavior is oriented toward (a) task processes, (b) relational dynamics, or (c) change. One consistent theme in the literature is that behaviors can be fit into four categories: task-oriented behaviors, relational-oriented behaviors, change-oriented behaviors, and what we refer to as passive leadership.

Initiating structure represents task-oriented behaviors. It describes behaviors such as defining task roles and role relationships among group members, coordinating group members’ actions, determining standards of task performance, and ensuring group members perform up to those standards. They describe leaders as being clear about expectations and standards for performance, and using these standards to shape follower commitment, motivation, and behavior. Moreover, initiating structure discusses dealing with deviations from those standards via the use of structure and routines.

Relative to initiating structure, consideration leader behaviors describe more relational-oriented behaviors. In particular, leaders high on consideration show concern and respect for individual group members, are friendly and approachable, are open to input from others, and treat all group members as equals (Bass, 1990). A common theme among relational-oriented behaviors is that the leader acts in ways that build follower respect and encourage followers to focus on the welfare of the group. It should be noted that certain aspects of transformational leader behaviors (e.g., individualized consideration) also consist of a relational orientation, which is a point that will be revisited later in the manuscript.

Leader behaviors oriented toward facilitating and driving change in groups and organizations represent a third category of leader behaviors that is conceptually distinct from task and relational-oriented behaviors. According to Yukl et al. (2002), change-oriented leader behaviors encompass actions such as developing and communicating a vision for change, encouraging innovative thinking, and risk-taking

The present study deals with two dimensions of Leader Behavior, Initiating Structure and Consideration Structure.

“Initiating Structure reflects to the extent to which an individual is likely to define and structure his role and those of his subordinates toward goal attainment” (Fleishman &Peters, 1962). It refers to the leader’s behavior in endeavoring to establish well-defined patterns of organization, channels of communication, and methods of procedure. Initiating structure refers to getting the job done. The individual who exhibits behavior highly oriented toward initiating structure is one who sees or recognizes the job to be done and more to accomplish it. This individual is task-oriented. He strives to fulfill the purposes of the organization, often at the expense of others concerned. Initiating structure reflects behavior which:

Emphasizes the quality of work.
Clarifies everyone’s responsibilities.
Is continually planning to get everything done.
Offers new approaches to problems.
Is first in getting things started.
Encourages the meeting of deadlines.

“Consideration Structure reflects the extent to which an individual is likely to have job relationships characterized by mutual trust, respect for subordinates’ ideas, and consideration of their feelings” (Fleishman &Peters, 1962). It refers to behavior indicative of friendship, mutual trust, respect and warmth in the relationship between leader and members of his staff. Consideration reflects concern for individuals in a group and their feelings. The individual exhibiting behavior highly oriented to consideration, tries to maintain close understanding between members of a group. This person is more concerned with group cohesiveness than with accomplishing specific purposes. Consideration is reflected by a person when he:

Finds time to listen to others.
Does little things to make it pleasant to work with him.
Shows interest in others as persons.
Compliments others for their work.
Has an open ear.
Has others share in making decisions.

A combination of both initiation structure and consideration structure is the most productive type of leader behavior.

A study conducted by Bruce M. Fisher and Jack E. Edwards, on ‘Consideration and Initiating Structure and their relationships with Leader Effectiveness” suggested that situations play a major role in determining the best suitable leader behavior.

Leaders play a very important role in the formation and functioning of teams.

Henderson and Walkinshaw (2002), defined the effectiveness of a team as, “The accomplishment of a desired result, especially as viewed after the fact” and the measure of effectiveness as “The extent to which a team meets the demands which are placed upon”.

Work teams in organizations have three features. First, they are real groups – intact social systems, complete with boundaries, interdependence among members, and differentiated member roes (Alderfer, 1977). Second they have one or more group tasks to perform, producing some outcome for which members bear collective responsibility and whose acceptability potentially can be assessed. Finally such teams operate in organizational context. This means that the group, as a collective, manages its relations with other individuals or groups in the larger social system in which it operates.

To perform well, a team must surmount three hurdles. It must: (1) exert sufficient effort to get the task accomplished at an acceptable level of performance; (2) bring adequate knowledge and skill to bear on the work; and (3) employ task performance strategies that are appropriate to the work and to the setting in which it is being performed (Hackman and Morris, 1975).

Teams are formed for the express purpose of accomplishing critically important goals. Its formation does not automatically lead to performance. In fact, without significant and ongoing nurturing by the leadership of an organization, teams can actually make things worse.

It is helpful to understand the building blocks required for a team’s success. Robbins and Judge (2012) describe a three dimensional model that articulates its foundation.

Dimension 1 relates to the importance of Context. Organizations need to support the construction and sustainability of a team, and the team itself requires an environment of comfort for its members; psychological safety is essential so members can feel free to speak up and engage without ridicule. Performance feedback and motivational systems must also be in place.
Dimension 2 suggests Composition is vital. In addition to knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) of its membership, the leader needs to focus on the peoples components as well
Dimension 3 reveals Process is important. Teams must have clear purpose and specific goals. It is hard to motivate without all members having a clear idea of the direction the unit is heading. In addition, mechanisms and agreements must be in place to deal with conflicts that arise and/or the members who are not “getting it done”

Since teams are a dominant feature in organizations, its effectiveness is paramount to the success of the business. To that end, leaders must understand the dimensions that make a team successful and then work diligently to make it happen. In addition, when teams derail, mechanisms must be in place to bring it back to life; it is the responsibility of the leaders’ to make it happen.

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