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Leadership may be defined as a process where others are influenced to understand as well as agree regarding what is required to be done and the way it can be done and the process of facilitation of the individual as well as collective efforts for accomplishment of the shared goals (Yukl, 2013). The person who influences the collective efforts of the group is known as the leader. The theories of leadership debate over the characteristics that are required to make a person a good leader. Through the years development of several schools of thought have taken place that provide various explanations regarding where the leaders are coming from, the way they can be identified and what is the cause of 'executive' instead of a 'servile' personality. The trait theories as well as the behavioural theories of leadership are same types of approaches for answering the above questions. Both these leadership theories view leadership as having a set of qualities that are objective or as actions that need to be mastered. The difference is on the persons who can develop such types of behaviours. The purpose of this essay is to compare as well as contrast two leadership theories and their contribution towards the understanding of leadership. To further explain these theories, leadership styles of two leaders Richard Branson of Virgin Group and Bill Gates of Microsoft will be considered.
The first attempts at explaining leadership in the period between the 1900s and 1940s were by way of the identification of the effective leaders' personal traits. Trait theory of leadership is, in fact, a 'virtue theory' of leadership. The basic idea of this theory is that a leader must possess certain basic virtues. These are typical traits that are inborn and that manifest themselves in a 'born leader'. These traits push them towards taking control of and also guiding situations. Thus, as per this theory, the leaders are born and they are not made.
The researchers had made comparisons between the traits of those persons who were leaders and traits of those persons who were followers. They also compared the traits that were possessed by effective leaders in comparison to the traits that were possessed by ineffective leaders. The mental, physical and social characteristics of the individuals were examined by the researchers (House & Podsakoff, 1994). However, even after several studies, there was no universal list of traits that could emerge. The studies were unable to find out traits that could clearly separate between leaders and followers on one hand and between effective leaders and ineffective leaders on the other hand (Stogdill, 1948). This suggested that it was possible to learn leadership. The studies also concluded that effective leadership is dependent on the match between the traits of a leader as well as the needs of a situation. However, the traits of knowledge related to business, cognitive ability, self-confidence, integrity, honesty, desire to lead as well as drive was found to be essential for successful leadership (Kirkpatrick & Locke, 1991).
The emphasis of the trait theory is that there exists a set of certain basic personality makers which differentiates the leaders from the followers. The business that follows this sort of model is constantly scanned as well as analyzed for the actions of the employees to find out the workers who show the potential necessary for leadership. Such people are then given promotions along with proper training to make the maximum realization of their capabilities. Although the trait approach considered the leader a gifted person, the consistent relationships between an individual's traits as well as leadership were lacking (Gibb, 1947) (Jenkins, 1947).
The failure of the trait approaches of leadership in explaining effective leadership led researchers of the 1950s to look at the behaviors demonstrated by effective leaders. The main question before them was the things that the leaders did that differentiated them from the followers. The main idea was that if those behaviors could be learned, the leaders could be given training in such a manner that will make them effective in every situation.
The theories of behavior do not consider any talk about the 'virtue' or the 'inborn potential' approaches to leadership. The leadership is reduced to a set of actions that are to be taken by leaders in relation to a situation in the organization in the approach of behaviorism. 'Born leaders' do not exist in the case of the theories of behavior. In this case, training can be given to the leaders so that the traits that should be possessed by a leader can be taught as well as developed. Thus, as per this approach, anyone can become a leader provided a proper environment along with training to develop the qualities of leadership must exist. However, the studies suggested that leadership behavior that appeared to be effective in a particular situation may not be necessarily effective in another situation. They failed to show any vital relationship between leadership behavior as well as outcomes (Kahn & Katz, 1953).