Leadership : Integrating the two theories−Trait theories and Behavioural theories
The focus of this article on Leadership is to examine the Trait theories and the Behavioural theories briefly, as separate quests, and to explore the possibility of integrating these two, seemingly disparate, theoretical approaches to ascertain whether an integrated model is available. The rationale for this effort is the changing aspirations of employees which in turn impact leadership strategies and the requisite skills. A background of the Classical view of leadership is also given as a prelude. The objective is to study Leadership in the corporate world.
Leadership, along with motivation, is perhaps the most researched and written about concept in management. The search started with the Trait theories and then branched off into Behavioral theories; each has been validated by empirical research. But the fascinating aspect of this quest is that it never seems to end. The Holy Grail of Leadership theories, one that unites the trait theories and the behavioral theories, is probably the one model that can settle the issue once and for all.
Perhaps one reason that we have such a plethora of leadership theories is the unique nature of humans and the difficulty in predicting human behavior; but the fact that it is so unique and difficult to understand, and therefore, to predict, makes the research all the more fascinating and challenging. In today’s context, leadership is even more relevant and crucial to the success of any group endeavor be it business, political or even social.
Trait theories were a very logical effort to understand human behavior given the limitation in knowledge at that point in time. But over time, our boundary of knowledge has extended considerably and trait theories no longer command the same respect, due in part to the inadequacy in their predictive powers and also in part due to our emphasis on politically-correct views.
One such perspective is to reject the theory that somehow some people are lucky to be born leaders while the unfortunate majorities, are destained to be the led. Leadership, they reasoned, is a skill that, like all skills, can be learned and improved; hence the focus on behavioral theories.
Classical View of Leadership
The classical view of leadership is the powerful, authoritarian leader who takes charge and leads the organization. He directs his followers more than leading them. There is a subtle, yet fundamental difference between directing and leading. The charismatic leader or the transactional leader is one who takes charge and directs his team. This is the most common form of leadership that we see all around us and which has been successful to a large extent. We have all experienced this form of leadership at one time or the other.
In the classical model of leadership – the directive /charismatic /transactional leader- followers were only willing to follow such leaders unquestioningly by abdicating their obligation to question or critique the methods of their leader by applying their power of reasoning and knowledge. Such followers do not exercise independent reasoning. They are overwhelmed by the intellect and charisma of the leader. Such charismatic leaders encourage this attitude of unquestioned obedience thereby perpetrating this culture.
This type of leadership is well established as a successful style as corroborated by empirical evidence. Why then do we continue to search for new leadership paradigms and theories when we already have a working style which is backed by data supporting its success?
Aspirations of Present Employees
The answer to the above question is- human needs. Human needs are not static but continually evolve over time as society undergoes change and our aspirations evolve along with this change. Management, as a science, also needs to evolve to keep pace with this changing human need. Leadership does not operate in a vacuum; leadership works on people, through people and is exerted by people. Therefore, when human needs and aspirations change, so too should the methods to deal with these changes. Hence, the logic to continually redefine leadership paradigms to keep pace with these changing human aspirations. There is always a time lag between the time of societal change and the time when change in systems evolve to cope with this change in aspirations.
The aspirations of the current workforce are much higher than before, for the following reasons:
a) Knowledge-explosion— people are inundated with information. This flood of information increases knowledge, and this increase in knowledge leads to increasing aspirations. Moreover, with this base of knowledge employees are not willing to accept decisions so easily as before. They tend to question the rationale behind decisions.
b) Democratization of management−There is greater pressure on managements and leaders for greater democratization of management
c) Growing complexity of managing business−The complexity of doing business is increasing and is only likely to increase further. Therefore, it is not possible for any one professional to combine in him all the requisite knowledge and competencies to cope with this increasing complexity.
Integrating the Trait theories and Behavioural theories
One study by a group of researchers has come up with a model integrating the various theories (Derue, et al., 2011). They posit that, both traits, and behavior, impact leadership and that behavior mediates the effect of traits on leadership effectiveness.
A lot of research has been focused on leadership traits but the results have not always been definitive in clearing the fog.
For example, gender has been the focus of considerable research, but the findings have been contrasting rather than confirming. Eagley and Johson, (1990) and Eagley, et al. (1995), cited by Derue, et al. (2011), analyzed the relationship between gender and leadership effectiveness and found that both, men and women, appear to be equally effective in spite of displaying certain differences in leadership styles.
Another area where the uncertainty is yet to be cleared is the relative merit or importance of two, generally, contrasting aspects of leadership-Task competence and Interpersonal attributes. Judge et al., (2002; 2005), cited by Derue et al., (2011), found a) Intelligence and b) Conscientiousness were positively correlated with leadership effectiveness.
But they also established a positive correlation between interpersonal attributes such as a) Extraversion and b) Agreeableness and leadership effectiveness on a similar ratio.
Research suggests that leadership traits relating to both- task competence and interpersonal attributes, are important predictors of effective leadership.
The authors (Derue, et al., 2011) developed an integrated trait-behavioural model of leadership effectiveness by examining the relative validity of three leadership traits viz: a) gender b) intelligence and c) personality and two behavioural configurations—transformational/Transcational and Initiating structure/consideration with specific reference to four leadership effectiveness criteria, a)leader effectiveness b) group performance c) follower job satisfaction and d) satisfaction with leader. They found that both−leader traits and behaviours together explain 31% of the variance in leadership effectiveness criteria. However, within the explained variance in leadership effectiveness, they found that leader behavior tend to explain more of the variance in leadership effectiveness than leader traits− at least 60%.
There is no final wisdom on the concept of leadership; every method is incrementally different but no less.
The concept of leadership is a fascinating, yet paradoxical one; it was one of the first phenomena to be studied in depth and yet it continues to be researched and debated. This is possible due to the impact that both— good and poor leadership exerts on the results of organizations. Time and again we have seen how good and effective leadership has pulled organizations out of impending disaster and lifted them to a higher level of performance through the sheer force of good and effective leadership with technical and financial inputs playing, at best, a supporting role; we have also seen how good, successful organizations have been led down the path to disaster by inept and poor leadership. Thus leadership has come to assume an importance that very few other facets of management can command.
1. Derue, D .Scott., Nahrgang, Jennifer. D., Wellman, Ned., Humphrey, Stephen.E.(2011), ‘Trait And Behavioral Theories of Leadership: An Integration and Meta-Analytic Test of Their Relative Validity’, Personnel Psychology, Spring 2011,Vol.64 Issue 1,pp-7-72