Analysing The Principle Theories Of Leadership


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Leadership is a broad and complex term and in recent years the importance of the leadership concept has increased significantly as well. Nowadays no topic is considered to be a more important to business success than leadership. According to Cole (2004:p.53) leadership can be defined as follows:

"Leadership at work is a dynamic process whereby one individual in a group is not only responsible for the group's results, but actively seeks the collaboration and commitment of all the group members in achieving group goals in a particular context and against the background of a particular national culture."

Often the term leadership is confused with management but both are of great importance to organisations. In fact the role of the management is to get the things done through other people in the organisation in order to achieve organisational objectives while the role of leadership "revolves around vision, ideas, direction, and has more to do with inspiring people as to direction and goals than with day-to-day implementation." (Bennis, 1992:p.139) It is also said that a good manager have to be a good leader. The aim of this essay is to compare the two principal theories which are trait and behavioural with the help of an example of a leader for each theory from the 20th century.

The first principal theory of leadership which is the trait theory assumes that leaders are born and not made. According to the trait theory leaders are born with right combination of certain traits that differentiate them from non-leaders. According to Drucker cited in Mullins (2005:p.367)

"Leadership is of the utmost importance. Indeed there is no substitute for it. But leadership cannot be created or promoted. It cannot be taught or learned."

There have been many researches carried out on this theory in order to find out the traits of a successful leader but all these researches had little success in identifying the common traits of a leader because most of the researches came with lists of traits which tends to contradict or overlap. Some important traits which were common in most of the researches are intelligence, charisma, self-confidence, determination, integrity and sociability. To view leadership through the trait theory will have some strengths and some weaknesses. One of the strength of viewing through the trait theory is that it can be used for development and personal awareness as it will allow people and managers to analyse their strengths and weaknesses and what should they do which will help them in enhancing their leadership. Another strength of the trait theory is that it provides a complete understanding of what is a leader in the leadership process. The weakness of the trait theory when viewing leadership is that it cannot be used in training and developing individuals because an individual's personal qualities are relatively fix and therefore his/her traits are not willing to change. In addition, the trait theory has not sufficiently linked the traits of leaders with other outcomes such as group and team performance. (Northouse, 1997; Mullins, 2005)

The person who clearly exemplifies the trait theory of leadership is Mohammad Ali Jinnah (1876-1948). It was under his leadership Muslims of India were able to create a separate country for themselves called Pakistan and now he is hailed as 'Father Of Nation' and 'Quaid-i-Azam' (a great leader) in Pakistan. It was his charisma, intelligence, determination and self-confidence (traits) that made him a great leader because he neither spoke the language of his followers nor wore their dress and nor shared their confident and warm-hearted nature but yet he successfully led them to create a separate country. One of the famous American historian Stanley Wolpert quoted in his book 'Jinnah Of Pakistan', "Few individuals significantly alter the course of history. Fewer still modify the map of the world. Hardly anyone can be credited with creating a nation-state. Mohammad Ali Jinnah did all the three." ( This quotation clearly sums up that yes Mohammad Ali Jinnah was a born leader.

The second principal theory which is the behavioural theory also known as style approach is based on a assumption which is completely opposite to trait theory assumption that leaders are made not born or in other words leadership can be learned rather being inherent. Behavioural theory focuses on the different kinds of behaviours of leaders and what they do and how they act in different situations. Many studies have been conducted on this theory but the most extensive research studies are the 'Ohio State Leadership Studies' by the Ohio State University and 'Michigan Studies' by University Of Michigan. The aim for these studies was to find out the universal set of leadership behaviours which will help to explain the effectiveness of leadership in different situations. These studies identified that leadership comprises of two general kinds of behaviours. First one is the 'task behaviours' which help in achieving the goals successfully by helping the group members to achieve their objectives. Second one is the 'relationship behaviour' which helps in making sure that subordinates feel comfortable with themselves, each other and the situation they find themselves in. Like the trait theory, behavioural theory also has its positive and negative sides. The positive side of behavioural theory is that it has stretched the scope of leadership. Second, it is much more reliable approach because it is supported by a wide range of studies. Third, the behavioural theory has identified two core dimensions of leadership behaviour which are task and relationship making behavioural approach very valuable. The negative side of behavioural approach is that even though it was able to identify the two general kinds of leadership behaviour which are task and relationship, it was not successful in identifying universal set of leadership behaviours that would result in effective leadership. So overall, the behavioural theory needs to be more refined so that it can provide an organised universal set of leadership behaviour required for effective leadership. (Northouse, 1997; Mullins, 2005; ""LeadershipHYPERLINK ""_HYPERLINK ""TheoriesHYPERLINK "".doc)

Nowadays leadership is very important in an organisation because leaders are the people who will create change and will be significant in improving the performance of an organisation. So an organisation's long-term success is dependent on good leadership and ability of leaders to motivate and influence others. This significance if leadership has led to different studies to help explain good leadership and these studies have came up with different leadership theories among which trait and behavioural were the principal theories. After discussing these two above it can be concluded that no theory holds the key to unlock the door to successful leadership but instead each theory adds a unique set of values which can help the existing leader to achieve success and provide a framework within the organisation in which leaders can work.


Mullins, L. (2005). Management And Organisational Behaviour. 8th ed. Essex: Pearson Education Limited

Cole, G. (2004). Management Theory And Practice. 6th ed. London: Thomson Learning

Bennis, W. (1992). On Becoming A Leader. London: Random Century Group Ltd. ISBN 0-7126-9890-6

Northouse, P. (1997). Leadership Theory And Practice. London: Sage Publications Ltd. [Last Accessed on 20th June 2010] ""LeadershipHYPERLINK ""_HYPERLINK ""TheoriesHYPERLINK "".doc [Last Accessed on 20th June 2010]

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