Most of Mankind’s operations have been characterized by instances of leadership from the ancient times to the modern age. Leadership and management are some of the most sort-after and highly regarded commodities, especially in the 21st century. For most people, leadership is one way of improving their social, personal, and professional life (Northouse, 2009). Corporations and organisations have been on the hunt for not only good managers but also leaders who can bring meaningful change to their organisations.
Researchers worldwide have made numerous attempts to fully understand the complex concept of leadership (Koestenbaum, 2002). They have employed both qualitative and quantitative methods in various contexts. Small groups, large organisations, as well as therapeutic groups have been commonly used for research purposes. Leadership, according to the researchers, has emerged to be a concept with varying conceptualisations.
Some view it as a trait or behavior while others perceive it from an information-processing perspective (Northouse, 2009). The essay seeks to discuss the different leadership approaches and evaluate their situational suitability. Some of the strengths and criticisms for each approach will also be highlighted.
Despite the different conceptualisations and definitions of leadership, there is a common component for most of them. Leadership is a process of an individual influencing others that enable groups of people toward the attainment of a given goal (Northouse, 2009). Northouse also proposes that leadership is a process that can be learned by anyone. He has identified several approaches to leadership that have been found to be instrumental in specific situations in life.
Trait approach to leadership suggests that some people are born leaders. That they have inherent qualities which naturally qualifies them to lead and be great (Koestenbaum, 2002).Some of the personality traits that have been identified by the proponents of this approach include; self-confidence, intelligence, integrity, determination, and sociability.
The five-factor personality model has also been associated with the trait approach to leadership. Extraversion ranks high in relation to leadership, followed by conscientiousness, openness, low neuroticism, and agreeableness (Northouse, 2009). Emotional intelligence has also been identified to play a central role in the trait approach to leadership.
There are a number of merits associated with viewing leadership from the trait perspective. First it fits very well with the popular belief that leaders are special and great people. Secondly, research can be used to validate this perspective. The third advantage is that it helps in understanding the leader component in the process of leading (Koestenbaum, 2002). Furthermore, it offers guidelines for personal evaluation of attributes.
However, some criticisms for this approach exist. The trait approach has not provided a definitive list of the traits. It also disregards the impact of situations in leaders. The approach has also been identified as purely subjective. Lastly, this approach cannot be used to train and develop leaders (George, 2003).
Despite the criticisms facing this approach, it has significant practical implications. Organisations may use personality assessment techniques to determine who to employ. It also allows mangers to evaluate themselves in order to develop and improve their leadership potential (Koestenbaum, 2002).
The second is the skills approach to leadership which, like the trait approach, has a leader-centered perspective (Northouse, 2009). It focuses not on innate personality traits but on an individual’s knowledge and observable skills and capabilities which can be learned and developed. It has three pillars of major skills; technical, human, and conceptual skills whose importance depends on situation and the position of management.
The strengths of this approach include the emphasize it puts on the development of particular leadership skills, its availability to everyone since it depends on skills and can be learned, it has a broader conception of leadership befitting a complex concept of leadership, and lastly, its ability to reflect the experience taught in the curricula (Koestenbaum, 2002).
Some criticisms directed towards this approach exist as well. The conceptions of skills approach seem to be far beyond the scope of leadership hence making it unspecific.
This approach cannot be used in predicting and explaining variations. This leadership approach seems to appeal mostly to theorists and academicians but is yet to be embraced in most practical leadership situations apart from military personnel who were subjects in the research to this approach.
Style approach is the third type of leadership which emphasises on the behaviuor of the leader (Northouse, 2009). It focuses on task as well as relationship behaviours. Task behaviours are geared to achieve objectives while relationship behaviours help in enhancing mutual comfort. Leaders combine the two to cultivate a healthy relationship with the followers without compromising goal achievement.
This approach is advantageous in that the leader develops a strong relationship with the followers which make it easier to achieve set goals. It is not the leader-know-it-all type of approach. However, sometimes it may turn out to be problematic if the leader becomes so acquainted with the followers until he has minimal influence on them (Koestenbaum, 2002).
Path-goal theory is another major approach to leadership which concerns itself with how leaders motivate their subordinates in order to facilitate the achievement of set goals (Northouse, 2009). The approach places emphasize on the leader’s style and the characteristics of the subordinates as well as the work setting. This approach is motivated by the expectancy theory.
The path-goal theory has several advantages that can be used to enhance leadership. Firstly, it helps the leader to understand how his or her behaviours influence the performance of the subordinates in general. Secondly, the approach attempts to employ the principles of expectancy theory into understanding the concept of leadership. Moreover, this model is very practical.
It provides a clear model for leaders to help clarify goals to subordinates and thus help them overcome obstacles. However, there are some of the negative features associated with path-goal theory.
It is so complex and includes various aspects that make the theory difficult to interpret as far as leadership is concerned. Research findings do not confirm the claims made in this theory (Koestenbaum, 2002). Furthermore, the theory is leader-centered that it ignores the transactional nature of leadership, hence leaving out the subordinates and regarding them as subjects to be influenced.
Another significant approach to leadership is the Leader-Member Exchange (LMX) theory which emphasises on the interactions between leaders and their followers (Northouse, 2009). It is more concerned with the relationship between a leader and individual follower rather than viewing followers as a group. This style is appropriate in situations where individual out put is expected hence ensuring the attainment of organisational goals.
The advantage of this theory is that it helps leaders overcome challenges especially when the goal to be attained is too high. The major disadvantage of this theory is that it does not specify the leader behaviours that promote the relationship with the subordinate. This implies that it is too general (Koestenbaum, 2002).
Transformational leadership is one of the most prominent approaches to leadership that has ever been known over a long period of time (Northouse, 2009). It emphasises on the inspiration and impacting enthusiasm on the followers. It involves the exchange of information and feelings between the leaders and the followers. The transformational leader offers moral rewards once the goals are attained. This approach is useful in situations where followers need a lot of inspiration and motivation to be driven into action (George, 2003).
Transformational leadership has some identifiable advantages. It is in accordance with the society’s popular understanding of leadership hence admired. Also, it involves both the leader and the follower hence tapping the full potential of the followers in driving the transformation process. Furthermore, a transformational leader moves followers from one level of moral responsibility to a higher one (Koestenbaum, 2002).
Just like other approaches to leaderships, transformational leadership has its peculiar weaknesses. First, it does not have a clear conception. This is because the leader is involved in myriad activities. Second, the four factors of transformational leadership have been challenged as being highly correlated. It also treats leadership as a trait rather than a behaviour that can be learned. Some view this style as being elitist and antidemocratic and can be misused.
The paper has discussed the major approaches to leadership which have been researched and found to have special characteristics that distinguishes one style from another. It has identified the applicability of each approach as well as the associated strengths and criticisms. We can conclude that a lot of research needs to be done in order to come up with a list of well researched approaches to leadership which will in turn help simplify the otherwise complex concept of leadership.
George, W. W. (2003). Authentic leadership: rediscovering the secrets of leadership.
Koestenbaum, P. (2002). Understanding leadership: an introduction. Jossey-Bass
Northouse, P. G. (2009). Leadership: Theory and Practice (5th ed.). SAGE Plc.