Trait theories centre on the belief that the individual is more important than the situation, identifying the personality characteristics of successful leaders is of paramount importance.
Traits, such as above average intelligence and high levels of self assurance were identified as being synonymous with successful leaders. Most studies eluding to this point were committed in the 1950’s or earlier, so suggest notions of imperialism or elitism. Possession of all of these traits is an unreasonable ideal.The fading of the prominence of trait theories can be attributed to an increase in democratic culture stating that anyone has the potential to be a successful leader if they display the appropriate attributes. There are three main leadership styles that could be implemented. The main differences between them reside with the focus of power. An autocratic system involves the manager setting the objectives and insisting on obedience. Poor cohesion and poor worker motivation often result.
Democratic type leaders encourage participation in decision making, and can result in increased motivation and worker efficiency.A Laissez-faire style allows subordinates to carry out activities freely, but can bring about unstructured and confounding worker efforts. Fiedler (1976), in attempting to put forward a theory to explain the most effective leadership style argued that it is easier to change someone’s role or power, or to modify the job he has to do, than to change his leadership style” (Hall, et al. 1994). Fiedler is, therefore, suggesting that an individual’s leadership style is more a function of a specific personality trait, therefore an autocrat will always remain so; unable to adapt for the situation in question.More than 800 individual studies were committed during this research, so despite no methodology could be found for possible criticism of his findings, Fiedler’s perspective has to be strongly considered by the prospective manager or scholar. Participate styles such as democratic or laissez-faire can be argued to benefit both employer and employee through satisfying subordinate urges for responsibility, self-actualisation and esteem. Employing appropriate management style alone is not enough to ensure overall effectiveness, thus the advent of contingency theories.
Contingency theories focus on a broader spectrum of variables involved in a leadership situation than the oversimplified situational approach. No one style of leadership is appropriate to all situations. Fiedler, as previously mentioned was a particularly prominent theorist, stating that the favourability of the leadership situation, relationship between the leader and the group and the structure of the task are the determinants to be used when choosing appropriate leadership characteristics.
He largely concentrated on the relationship between leadership and organisational performance, and devised the ‘least preferred co-worker scale’ (LPC). This scale demonstrates a rating of which subordinate a leader would work least well with. However, interpretations of the LPC scale have proved inconsistent, so although it provides a useful tool to the potential leader or manager, reactions must be guarded. Vroom and Yetton provide an alternative contingency model. Their analysis is based on three aspects, decision quality, decision acceptance and the time constraints placed on the decision making process.’Decision rules’ were then outlined to help the manager adopt the most appropriate leadership style. Another alternative contingency model is that of the path-goal theory, championed by theorists such as House, House and Dessler. The model is based on the understanding that an individual’s motivation is governed by the expectations of increased reward, in return for increased effort and in the confidence of success if effort is boosted.
This model relies heavily on sociological perspectives of motivational expectancy theory.All contingency approaches suffer if the manager appears to have an inconsistent leadership style. Communication patterns within a group can determine effectiveness. However, when a status discrepancy exists, the higher status members speak more and have more influence, while those of lower status speak less and are likely to defer to superiors’ (adapted from: Hurwitz, Zander and Hymovitch, 1953). This shows how adopting a flatter, hierarchical structure can promote freer contributions, and group effectiveness.The environment is another element that has to be considered, as leader, subordinates and the task in question does not operate in a vacuum, but as a part of a wider external field.
Nearly all organisational tasks are not isolated, they impact upon other areas, internally and externally of the organisation. Pressures can come from areas such as national or international, social, economic or political. An effective leader has to try to shape the environment and be comfortable with being shaped by it.