Researchers from the Center for Leadership Studies tracked the evolution of team leadership theory over 70 years and found significant differences in the traits, characteristics and personalities of the leaders they studied. These studies are compared to leadership frameworks used in companies, organizations and other teams. The resulting theories explain the development of various successful team leadership models.
Great Man Theory
The Great Man theory is based on the belief that a leader is born with leadership qualities. These qualities are innate, rather than learned or conditioned. The Center for Leadership Studies notes that this leadership model focuses on Western males, usually involved in military pursuits.
The Trait Approach seeks to identify leadership characteristics. By identifying these traits, military personnel believed they could more easily recruit the right men to leadership positions. Some common leadership traits included adaptability, alertness to social environment, ambition and dominance, as noted by the Center for Leadership Studies. This approach failed when it became obvious that not all successful leaders possessed every trait listed.
The Behaviorist theory points to a leader's specific actions rather than her traits. Douglas McGregor, in "The Human Side of Enterprise," looks at behavioral theories to identify the most effective style of team leadership. McGregor examines an autocratic manager who believes that the "average human being has an inherent dislike of work and will avoid it if possible," and so must be coerced into doing work. He compares this type of manager to one favoring a participative style, with the belief that "People will exercise self-direction...to achieve objectives to which they are committed."
Situational theory admits that each situation requires a different leadership style. Where one group may require coercion, threats and strict direction, another may thrive on freedom and imagination. Factors in determining the right leadership style include "the situation, the task, the organization [and] environmental variables" as listed by the Center for Leadership Studies.
The Contingency model refines the Situational model by identifying three key situations that determine the appropriate leadership style: leader-member relations (how well the leader works with his team members), task structure (how tightly structured is the task) and position power (the manager's level of authority).
The Transactional Theory looks at the relationship between the leader and his followers. James McGregor Burns in his book "Leadership" defines the transactional theory as "a relationship of mutual stimulation and elevation that converts followers into leaders and may convert leaders into moral agents." This theory rests on the idea of mutual motivation and morality between a leader and followers, where neither party seeks total power.
Transformational leadership is also "preoccupied with purposes, values, morals, and ethics" as stated by the Center for Leadership Studies. The leader's goals are not allowed to interfere with the dignity of the followers or with the values of the mission. This theory is aimed toward successful adaptation, acknowledging that the leadership style may have to change several times before the final goal is achieved.
- Center for Leadership Studies: A Review of Leadership Theory
- "Leadership: Theory and Practice;" Peter G. Northouse; 2010
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