A plethora of information on leaders and leadership can be found in libraries, bookstores, journals, and business magazines and periodicals. The body of this material is often intensely scholarly, such as the article "A Meta-analysis of the Relation between Personality Traits and Leadership Perceptions: An Application of Validity Generalization Procedures," written by R. G. Lord and others, which appeared in the Journal of Applied Psychology. Other material is often intensely popular, such as Leadership Secrets of the Rogue Warrior: A Commando's Guide to Success by the consummate "Rogue Warrior" and ex-navy seal Richard Marcinko; or Semper Fi: Business Leadership the Marine Corps Way by Dan Carrison and Rod Walsh. In between these two extremes are books such as Leadership: Theory and Practice by Peter Northouse, a professor of communication at Western Michigan University. Books such as the latter are strongly based in leadership theory but nonetheless take a practical approach to the presentation of this data and information. In essence, books like these bridge scholarship and a more popular approach to leadership. They are well suited for those seeking a serious but not necessarily a strict scholarly approach to the subject.
Leadership can be defined in numerous ways depending on the theoretical telescope one uses to view the subject. From the 19th century to the present day there have been two general approaches to leadership—trait and process. The trait approach preceded the process approach and is best described by the popular phrase—"He's a born leader." The trait perspective put forth the concept that some people are born with certain qualities necessary to leadership roles. These innate personality characteristics or traits are thus an integral part of leadership. Based on this conception of leadership, numerous investigators began compiling lists of personality traits and ancillary "ability characteristics" associated with leadership. Two summations were done of the approximately 190 trait-related leadership studies done between 1904 and 1970. The first summation done in 1948 found that leaders differed from other group members in terms of intelligence, alertness, insight, responsibility, initiative, persistence, self-confidence, and sociability. The second summation, done in 1970, found leaders having the following ten characteristics: drive for responsibility and task completion; vigor and persistence in pursuit of goals; "venturesomeness" and originality in problem solving; drive to exercise initiative in social situations; self-confidence and sense of personal identity; willingness to accept consequences of decision and action; readiness to absorb interpersonal stress; willingness to tolerate frustration and delay; ability to influence other people's behavior; and the capacity to structure social interaction systems to the purpose at hand. Intelligence, self-confidence, determination, integrity, and sociability are the five leadership traits that consistently reappear in many of these studies. Lists of ability and physical characteristics included such things as speech fluency and height or body type.
In the post-World War II period, criticism of the trait approach to leadership began mounting. While not denying that leaders often displayed certain predictable traits, critics claimed that this approach failed to take into account environmental or situational factors affecting leadership. Why, critics asked, do people with leadership traits become leaders in some situations but not others? Why is it that some people embodying leadership qualities never become leaders? One approach to leadership theory that attempts to answer these questions is the style approach.
' Whereas the trait approach emphasizes the personality characteristics of the leader, the style approach emphasizes the behavior of the leader," Northouse wrote. The style approach attempts to analyze how leaders act in certain situations and what they do to attain and maintain their leadership positions in certain situations. In this context, leadership began being studied not only in terms of the leader but also in terms of those being led and the environment in which leadership activities take place. The style approach views leadership as a process and thus ushers in a "modern" definition of leadership: "Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal." Leadership is thus a process that occurs within the context of a group and is marked by influence and goal attainment. Leadership is a transactional event. Leadership is interactive, occurring between a leader and his or her followers—it is not just the result of innate characteristics or traits.
It is important to note that leadership, while sharing some of the characteristics of management, is nonetheless a much different activity. Management seeks to avoid chaos by pursuing order and stability; leadership, however, seeks "adaptive and constructive change."
As they relate to leadership, two types of behavior, task and relationship, are apparent from studies investigating the style approach. Task behavior is associated with goal attainment while relationship behavior is synonymous with interpersonal relations. Interpersonal behavior of this sort is generally associated with creating a comfortable psychological environment for subordinates, especially as it relates to how subordinates feel about themselves, other group members, and the general circumstances they find themselves in. Closely related to relationship behavior are two issues—a leader's concern for production and a leader's concern for people. In attempting to map these issues, researchers construct a leadership or management grid that correlates five major leadership styles: authority compliance; country club management; impoverished management; middle of-the-road management; and team management.
The first style, authority-compliance, emphasizes task completion over people and is result driven. A leader choosing this style, according to Northouse, is controlling, demanding, hard-driving, and often overpowering. The antithesis of authority-compliance is country club management, which is marked by concern for interpersonal relationships and an agreeable and uncontroversial work climate. An impoverished manager is distant, oftentimes indifferent, and equally unconcerned with task fulfillment and interpersonal relationships. Middle-of-the-road managers, as the term implies, seek expediency and a balance between task achievement and interpersonal relationships. The team management style is equally concerned with interpersonal relations and task fulfillment. Team management encourages full participation, which encourages subsequent commitment and involvement. Two offshoots are the paternal/maternal style of leadership, which employs both authority compliance and country club styles but manages to keep them separate. "This is the 'benevolent dictator' who acts in a gracious manner but does so for the purpose of goal accomplishment," Northouse wrote in his book. An opportunistic leader or manager uses all five styles, either alone or in various combinations, as the situation demands.
Another approach to leadership studies is the situational approach, the basic premise of which is that different situations demand different types of leadership. A situation, within this context, is a "set of values and attitudes with which the individual or group has to deal in a process of activity and with regard to which this activity is planned and its results appreciated. Every concrete activity is the solution of a situation." Situations can be complicated affairs and generally have five elements: the structure of interpersonal relationships within the group; the characteristics of the group as a whole; the characteristics of the group's environment from which members come; physical constraints on the group; and the perceptual representation, within the group and among its members, of these elements and the "attitudes and values engendered by them" (from the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, edited by David L. Sills). Situational influences thus constrain the leader who must adapt his or her style of leadership to the situation at hand. Situational leadership, according to Northouse, has both a directive and a supportive dynamic. A situationally motivated leader realizes that the skills and motivation of any group member are not static and the mix of the leader's supportive and directive activities must likewise change with the situation.
Closely related to the situational approach is what has become known as contingency theory. The contingency theory of leadership was formulated by University of Illinois research psychologist F.E. Fiedler in his landmark 1964 article, "A Contingency Model of Leadership Effectiveness." Contingency theory posits that effective leadership is contingent on the proper meld of leadership style and situation. Fiedler and his associates studied leaders in a variety of contexts but mostly military. "After analyzing the styles of hundreds of leaders who were both good and bad," according to Northouse, "Fiedler and his colleagues were able to make empirically grounded generalizations about which styles of leadership were best and which styles were worst for a given organizational context."
Within the outline of contingency theory there are two styles of leadership: task-motivated and relationship-motivated. Task, of course, refers to task accomplishment, and relationship-motivation refers to interpersonal relationships. Fiedler measured leadership style with his "Least Preferred Co-Worker Scale" (LPC scale.) Those leaders scoring high on this scale are relationship motivated while those scoring low are task oriented. According to Fiedler those leaders scoring low on this scale are most effective in very favorable and very unfavorable situations—when things, according to Northouse, are either going well or are out of control. Leaders who score high on this scale are most effective in moderately favorable situations. An important point of contingency theory is that any one leader will not necessarily be effective in all situations.
Central to contingency theory is concept of the situation, which is characterized by three factors. The first, leader-member relations, deals with the general environment of the group and the positive feelings (or lack thereof) such as loyalty and confidence that the group has for its leader. The second, task structure, is related to task clarity, the means to task accomplishment, and task finalization. The third, position power, relates to the amount of reward-punishment authority the leader has over members of the group.
Contingency theory has survived over the decades as a viable measurement of leadership effectiveness because it is grounded in empirical research; researchers who have followed Fiedler have likewise validated contingency theory with their own research. Contingency theory has also been proved to have 'predictive powers"' in determining the probability of success of specific individuals acting as leaders in specific situations. Contingency theory is also popular among leaders or potential leaders as it does not expect leaders to be equally effective in all situations. "Contingency theory matches the leader and the situation," wrote Northouse, "but does not demand that the leader fit every situation."
Contingency theory, although providing some answers, generally falls short in trying to explain why individuals with certain leadership traits are effective in some situations but not others. For instance: Why are task motivated leaders most effective in extreme situations but not as effective in moderately favorable situations? Fiedler's contingency theory has also come under criticism (some self-imposed) because of the awkwardness and input shortfalls of the LPC scale.
It is important to keep in mind how leadership theory has evolved over the decades. The trait approach focused entirely on innate characteristics of leaders—personality characteristics that the individual had little direct control over. The trait approach was modified somewhat by the style approach that looked at the behavior of people in leadership roles rather than their personality characteristics. The situational approach and the subsequent contingency theory represented a major shift in the approach to leadership theory by looking at the context or situation in which leadership activities took place and environmental influences on leadership effectiveness. Since Fiedler's contingency theory there have been numerous other approaches to leadership studies, such as the path-goal theory, the leader-member exchange theory, transformational leadership, the team leadership theory, and the psychodynamic approach. These, like the contingency theory, have moved away from emphasizing the individual leader and instead look at various environmental and interpersonal influences on leadership.
These various theories of leadership have spilled over into related fields such as social and political biography and especially leadership analyses of women and minorities. "Leaders are essentially individuals who have the ability to understand their own times, who express or articulate programs or policies that reflect the perceived interests and desires of particular groups, and who devise instruments or political vehicles that enhance the capacity to achieve effective change," wrote Manning Marable in the introduction to his book, a study of leadership in the black community. This definition closely parallels the definition given earlier by Northouse, who described leadership as a process during which the leader influences change in pursuit of common group goals.
Following World War II women began entering and staying in the job market in greater and greater numbers for a wide variety of social and economic reasons. As women stayed in the job market they likewise began working in positions of leadership, which prompted gender-based studies of leadership styles and effectiveness. Generally speaking it was found that women in leadership positions tend to adopt an interpersonal style of leadership. Based on numerous studies, a list of leadership characteristics generally shared by women includes: the use of consensus in decision making; viewing power in relationship terms as something to be shared; encouraging productive approaches to conflict; the building of supportive work environments; and the promotion of diversity in the workplace. This contrasts with the general leadership styles of men, which tend to be more hierarchical and authority oriented. One researcher believes that these gender-based differences in leadership styles are due to women traditionally working in "service" roles, such as mothers, teachers, nurses and volunteers. These are roles in which women are generally cooperative, gentle, understanding, and supportive, whereas men have traditionally occupied roles that have been more competitive and authoritative.
In many ways women are also redefining leadership. Mary S. Hartman, director of the Institute for Women's Leadership at Rutgers University, has edited Talking Leadership: Conversations with Powerful Women. In this book 13 well-known women, often regarded as leaders, are interviewed on a variety of topics—including leadership. The women interviewed are socially and politically active and range from New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman to Susan Berresford, the first woman president of the Ford Foundation. Surprisingly, Hartman found that while some of the women interviewed relished their role as leaders, others were troubled with the label. The latter were either uncomfortable with the traditional and oftentimes negative associations with the term or were wary of the media habit of building up leaders only then to turn and demolish them. Others regarded leaders as non-egalitarian. All of the women interviewed, however, saw themselves as agents of change fulfilling at least in part the definition of a leader. Carrison and Walsh, in a chapter entitled "A Few Good Women," however, maintain that "gender has absolutely nothing to do with leadership."
As stated earlier, the popular press is replete with books and articles on leadership. Generally speaking these sources can be informative and often entertaining to read. They often inform through the use of analogy (i.e., building your leadership tripod) and anecdotes while seldom backing up their contentions, regardless of validity, with hard facts or data. The major shortcoming of these books and articles, which are largely based on narrow and oftentimes specific personal experiences, is their lack of an encompassing theoretical framework to which a reader can plug in a variety of situations or scenarios. The award, however, for succinct advice to potential leaders goes to Richard Marcinko, who maintains that the most meaningful statement an effective leader can utter is "follow me!"
[ Michael Knes ]
Carrison, Dan, and Rod Walsh. Semper Fi: Business Leadership the Marine Corps Way. New York: AMACOM, 1999.
Dotlich, David L., and James L. Noel. Action Learning: How the World's Top Companies Are Re-Creating Their Leaders and Themselves. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 1998.
Fulmer, Robert M., and Stacey Wagner. "Leadership: Lessons from the Best." Training Development 53, no. 3 (March 1999): 28-33.
Hartman, Mary S., ed. Talking Leadership: Conversations with Powerful Women. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1999.
Lippitt Mary. "How to Influence Leaders." Traininig Development 53, no. 3 (March 1999): 18-22.
Lord, R. G., DeVader, C. L. and G. M. Alliger. "A Metaanalysis of the Relation between Personality Traits and Leadership Perceptions: An Application of Validity Generalization Procedures." Journal of Applied Psychology 71(1986): 402-10.
Marable, Manning. Black Leadership. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.
Marcinko, Richard. Leadership Secrets of the Rogue Warrior: A Commando's Guide to Success. New York: Pocket Books, 1996.
Miller, Clifford. "The Renaissance Manager: Embracing the Three Dimensions of Dynamic Leadership." Supervision 60, no. 2 (February 1999): 6-8.
Northouse, Peter G. Leadership: Theory and Practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1997.
Parachin, Victor M. "Ten Essential Leadership Skills." Supervision 60, no. 2 (February 1999): 13-15.
Sills, David L., ed. International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. New York: Macmillan, 1968.