Leadership skills can be developed


“Over the years ,leadership has been studied extensively in various contexts and theoritical foundations. in some cases, leadership has been described as a process, but most theories and research on leadership look at a person to gain understanding”.(…) [leadership honer]”The study of leader traits has a long and controversial history. While research shows that the possession of certain traits alone does not gauarantee leadership success, there is evidence that effective leaders are different from other people in certain key respects. “[do traits matter,p2]what makes a leader different from the other people? Resrearchers and managers are all interested in this topic. Are leaders born? or can leadership skill be developed? The answer of this question are important, because it will influcen the decision making of a organization on how to enhance leadership behavior and outcome. If the traits are born and determined wheter a person can be a successful leader ,then the process of select leader are cruicial; if the leadership can be developed, then it is important for organizations to find out how to develop leadership skill in appropriate way.

The definition of leadership:

Leadership is defined in many different ways. Some researchers define leadership by the tipical traits, while the others see it as behaviours and process. Stogdill saids that “there are almost as many definitions of leadership as there are persons who have attempted to define the concept” [108,p. 7]. [2630884] incorporate the important aspects of several definitions of the predecessors. It defined as follows:”Leadership is both a process and a property. The process of leadership is the use of noncoercive influence to direct and coordinate the activities of the members of an organized group toward the accomplishment of group objectives. As a property, leadership is the set of qualities or characteristics attributed to those who are perceived to successfully employ such influence.” This comprehensive definition is better than the others , hence it is accepted and used in this article.

Structure of this essay:

This article begins with a review of the primary leadership theories, to have an understanding of what have been find out in previous researches on the question of whether leaders are born.In the following part, there will be a disccusion about the two different views with a critical thinking, before give up my personal view. Then in the third part, it will make suggestions concerning how to enhance leadership effectiveness. The essay will conclude about what has done in this essay, the contribution, implication and the limitation as well.

Leadership Theories review

Traits theory

In the 19th centrary, the “great man” leadership theory were highly popular. [do traits matter,p2]The study of the leadership in that period is to find out the attributes of great leaders, likes Napoleon, Hitler,Lincoln,Gandhi, Kennedy. leadership research was dominated by attempts to show that these leaders possessed some intrinsic quality or characteristic that differentiated them from followers. The search was directed towards identifying that property possessed by the leaders.concentrated on the measurement and quanlification of leadership traits and the relationship between such traits and the criteria of leader effectiveness. [2630884,p4]leadership was explained by the internal traits with which a person is born(Bernard,1926). [leadership honer,p1] The great man theories asserted that traits were prove to be the essence of successful and effective leadership. [2630884,p4]leadership qualities were inherited , especially the people from the upper class. Great men were born ,not made. [do traits matter,p2]

Early in the 20th century, the great man theories evolved into trait theories. Trait is used broadly here to refer to people’s general characteristics, including capacities, motives or patterns of behavior. [do traits matter,p2]According to the traits theory, successful leaders could be quickly put into positions of leadership when the traits that differentiated leaders from followers could be assessed and identified. Personality, physical and mental characteristics were examined.[leadership honer,p1]

behavioural theory

in the middle of 20th centrary, researchers began to look at leaders’ behaviours, in an attempt to find out what successful leaders do, but not what traits they have. (Halpin and Winer,1956;Hemphill and coons,1957). In the famous Michigan and ohio state leadership studies, leaders were put into the context of the organization, the behaviours that increase the leadership effectiveness of the company were identified. It showed that leadership was not necessarily an inborn trait, however, instead,effective leadership methods could be taught to employees.(Saal and knight,1988). These research were making progress in identifying what behaviours differentiated leaders from followers , and could be developed by teaching and learning.[leadership honer]

in behavioral theory, leadership was defined as behavioral interactions between leaders and followers, and was viewd as an observable process or activity rather than an inherent, often unobservable, personal characteristic or trait. [2630884,p6] Ralph stogdill concluded that”a person does not become a leader by virtue of the possession of some combination of traits”. [do traits matter,p2]

Contingency theory

In Fiedler’s contingency model, It conclude that “effective leadership depends on the situation”. The exact conditions under which different leadership traits or leadership behaviors would be effective required idengtification. It was concerned with specifying the conditions under which certain leader traits rather than behaviors that may interact with situational variables to determine leader effectiveness.

The latter contingencies theory, such as path- goal theory, also make the assumption that effective leadership depends on the situation. But Unlike fiedler’s model, effective leadership is defined in terms of behaviors and process rather than traits.From this perspective leadership is viewed as leader behavious that has both the motivation impact and the need satisfaction impact on followers; in other words, effective leadership is thought to be the behaviors that can increase followers performance and satisfaction by means of enhancing those psychological expectation that motivate and satisfied them. in The path-goal theory, leader is expressed in terms of the leader’s behaviours that influence in clarifying the paths or routes followers travel toward work and personal goal attainment. [2630884,p9]

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Extending an intial formulation by EVANS[15], House and his assouciates propose a path-goal theoty of leadership[52],[55][57].


Based on the reviewed theories, there are two difference perspectives. One argues that leaders are born, because the successful leaders possess the similar characteristics, and these traits are proved to be born but difficult to be developed. On the contrary, another view believes that leadership can be developed, because the effectiveness of a leader is influenced by the situation and leader behaviors which can be improved by training. To find out which of these two points is more convincing, we should make clear of the following issues.

Do traits matter?

Behavior theory and contingency theory claim that, it is not traits that can determine whether a person could become a great leader. Does it mean there is no relations between the traits and successful leaders? Does everyone can be a great leader? Definitely not. Leaders are proved to be own some unique characteristics which distinguish them from the others.

In Kirkpatrick and Locke (1991) research , they reveal that there are certain core traits which significantly contribute to leaders’ success. These traits include: (1)drive(a broad term which include achievement, motivation ,ambition, energy, tenacity, and initiative);(2)leadership motivation;(3)honesty and integrity; (4)self-confidence;(5)cognitive ability. They believe that the “key leader traits help the leader acquire necessary skills; formulate an organizational vision and an effective plan for pursuing it; and take the necessary steps to implement the vision in reality. “

In Hogan,R.,Curphy,G.J.,and Hogan,J.(1994) research, personality have been shown to correlate with leadership effectiveness. They suggest that the big- five model of personality structure provides the personality factors which were found to relate to leadership. The big- five model shows that the personality related to leadership can be described by five broad dimensions, that is: surgencey, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability and intellect. These research suggests that personal qualities, such as the big five dimensions are somehow related to effectiveness of a leader.

From the researches said above, it is indeed that there are certain traits which could differentiate leaders from the followers. But, all these trait theories did not make assumptions about whether leadership traits were inherited or acquired. They simply asserted that leaders’ characteristics are different from non-leaders. Basic on the traits theory, some scholars make further research to prove the leader traits are inherited, in order to justify their view of “leaders are born”.

Are traits nature or nurture?

Some practicers found it difficult to change the leadership style, because of the relatively stable nature of personality within individuals over time. John and Robins(1993) claimed that traits have a genetic basis. Someone oppose this idea said that the traits would be changed due to one’s experience and learning in life. However, though personality traits may change over time, for most traits and for most individuals, the changes are unlikely to be large enough to deny stability.(BUSS,A.H. 1988)

Recently, there are much research on the charismatic leader. This type of leader is an example to justify “traits are nature” in some extent. “Leadership involves the influence of group members through interpersonal processes without resort to the authority or power derived from an employment contract.”( Jago,G.A.,1982,p330) A successful leader can influence the subordinate by their charisma, rather than management skills and motivate methods. “Charismatic leaders may or may not be effective in achieving the organization’s goals, but their followers are blindly obedient and unquestioningly loyal.” (Fiedler,E.F. 1996. P242) The charisma of a leader is the internal qualities which are born but not developed.

Conclude of some research, the traits that are inherited rather than developed can be classified into two categories:(1)Physical and constitutional factors: activity, energy; appearance; height; weight.(2)Personality chareaceristics: drive, adaptability, aggressiveness, alertness, dominance, emotional balance, enthusiasm, extraversion, independence, nonconformity, initiative, insightfulness, originality, persistence, responsibility, self-confidence, sense of humor, tolerance of stress.[2630884,p4]

Are leaders born?

Tough the corn traits related to leadership was proved in some researches that they were inherited, however, it still cannot illustrates that leaders are born.

Firstly, though the stability of some traits had been proved, it cannot assert that all the traits which successful leader possess are born. Traits such as height ,weight and physique are heavily dependent on heredity, whereas others such as knowledge are dependent on experience and learning. [do traits matter,p2]evidence of the heritability of personality varies considerably from characteristic to characteristic, being strongest for traits associated with temperament(eg, emotionality, activity, sociability;A.H.BUSS & PLOMIN,1984)and weakest for attitudes and beliefs

[a critical,p3]Funder(1991)suggested that traits are learned. [a critical,p3]Social characteristics(cooperativeness, Interpersonal skills, Sensitivity, Popularity, prestige, Scociability, Talkativeness, Tact)and Skill and ability(administrative ability, intelligence, judgement, knowledge, technical competence, verbal fluency) can be developed by training. [2630884,p4]

secondly, Though much research was done to identify the traits, no clear answer was found with regard to what traits consistently were associated with great leadership. [leadership honer,p1]It is not only traits can determine whether one can become a great leader. Traits alone, however, are not sufficient for successful business leadership-they are only a precondition. Leaders who possess the requisite traits must take certain actions to be successful(eg, formulating a vision, role modeling, setting goals). Possessing the appropriate traits only makes it more likely that such actions will be taken and be successful. After summarizing the core leadership traits, we will discuss these important actions and the managerial implications. [do traits matter,p3]

thirdly, No one has argued that Inheritance is all important or even more important than environment. Indeed, current thinking in the field suggests that the environment is important, that it accounts fot at least half the variance in personality traits,and that there is a danger that the rush from the environment will go too far(dunn & plomin,1990) . [a critical,p3]

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One flaw with this line of thought was in ignoring the situational and environmental factors that play a role in a leader’s level of effevtiveness. no traits were universally associated with effective leadership and that situational factors were also influential. For eg, military leaders do not have traits identical to those of business leaders. [do traits matter,p2]

The direction and the strength of certain relationships apparently depend on certain situational contigncies.GIBB (35)and STOGDILL(108) accepet the fact that those who are successful leaders in some situations may not necessarilu be successful leaders in all situations. The relative importance of different leadership traits may depend upon the organizational setting, historical recedent, the nature of the specific goals or objectives of the group, task characteristics and the traits and characteristics of followers. [2630884,p5]

Can leadership skill be developed?

To answer this question, It is important to recognize what this definition includes and what it excludes. Leadership is not only some quality or characteristic that one possesses or is perceived to possess, it can be something that one does. [2630884,p3]

For the leadership style perspective, effective leaders were presumably distinguished from ineffective leaders not by how they behaved on an intelligence or personality test but rather by how they behaved when interacting with followers or potential followers. It concentrated on two issues. The first issue concerned the dimensionality of leader behacior. What meaningful categories or factors can be used to describe differences in leader behavior? What summery dimensions canbe used to identify patterns-or styles of leader behavior? The second issue concerned the relative effectiveness of different leader behaviors. What categories or factors seem to distinguish effective from ineffective leaders[what is the optimal leadership style] [2630884,p9]

The effectiveness of leadership is influenced by leader behavior and situation. Therefore,
Leadership skills can be developed by the means of change the leader behavior or change the situation.

Change the behavior:

A number of studies show that the successful leader was one who developed good rapport and two-way communication with subordinates and who, at the same time, took an active role in planning and directing group activities. [2630884,p9]
leader behavior is acceptable and satisfying to subordinates to the extent that they see it as either an immediate source of satisfaction or as instrumental to future satisfaction.

leader behavior will be motivational(eg, will increase subordinate effort)to the extent that(1) it makes satisfaction of subordinate needs contingent on effective performance, and(2)it complements the environment of subordinates by providing the coaching,guidance,support,and rewards which are necessary for effective performance and which may otherwise be lacking in subordinates or their environment.[25,p254] [2630884,p9]

Change the situation:

In essence, the leader’s task is to assist followers in attaning their goals and objectives and to provide the necessatu conditions to insure that such goals and objectives are compatible with the mission of the group or organization. The theory imply that the effectiveness of various leadership behaviors depends upon characteristics of subordinates(eg,need states,ability,tolerance for ambiguity,self-esteem)and characteristics of the environment within which they function(eg, task structure, role ambiguity, formal reward systems) [2630884,p9]

Leadership is an interaction between the leader and the leadership situation. We cannot manke leaders more intelligence or more creative , but we can design situations that allow leaders to utilize their intellecturel abilities, expertise, and experience more effectively. This is likely to be of considerable practical importance.(research on leadership selction and training)

Is there a clear, single reason exists for explain how to be a great leader? Most likely there is not.

there is not a consistent definition of a successful leader or one best understanding of what causes the leaders effectiveness.



This implication was based on the idea that leader traits were born, and the key to success was simply identifying those people who possece the traits.[leadership honer,p1]Individuals can be selected either from outside the organization or from within non- or lower-managerial ranks based on their possession of traits that are less changeable or trainable. [do traits matter,p12]

There are several method can be used to select leaders:

  1. an intelligence or personality test
  2. group discussion.

The relationship-oriented style leader were more effective than task-oriented style leaders in making the discussion group to generate more ideas.[effects of leadership style, personality….]

The behavior in group discussion can distinguish the people who is relationship-oriented from those task-oriented

Cognitive ability (not to be confused with knowledge) is probably the least trainable of the six traits.

The desire to lead is more difficult to judge in new hires who may have had little opportunity for leadership early in life. It can be observed at lower levels of management and by observing people in assessment center exercises.

If leadership is indeed governed by the traits contained in table 2, the selection of people most likely to be successful in positions of leadership, could be manke in a relatively straightforward and mechanical manner. Replacing subjective methods and educated guesswork, a “leadership test” could be constructed to assess and weigh the various traits known to be associated with leadership. Administration of such a test to all candidates for a particular position would provide a quantitative estimate of their relative leadership potential and a basis for selecting the most promising individual. [2630884,p4]


While the traits theory is important to identify the factors what is assessed in selecting and recruit leaders, the behavior theory helped to identify those factors that would be useful in training leaders. Unlike relatively stable traits and characteristics, behavior patterns of the leader suggests that effective leadership is an acquired skill and can therefore be taught. [2630884,p7

Studies reveal significant increase in the performance ratings of trained personnel who compared to control groups receiving no training.[11][24][77][2630884,p10]

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Develop leadership traits

There is indeed some evidence that attitudinal and behavioral changes do result from leadership training involving self-assessment, lectures,groups discussions, case stydies, films, role-plaing and “sensitivity-training”(8),(108)[2630884,p6]

Develop the interpersonal skills

Leadership training, as opposed to selection or placement,would be prescribed. However, training would not only be focused on the acquisition of new behavioral styles. Skills in diagnosing the leadership situation and rules for matching the appropriate behavior to the situation would be emphasized. Leaders would be taught the specific conditions or circumstances under which each is likely to contribute to follower motivation and satistaction. In essence, leaders would be taught how to adapt their behavior to the demands of the situation. [2630884,p13]

develop the ability act adapt to different situation


When task demands are unclear, or when formal procedures,regulations and policies are ambiguous, structuring behavior complements the task by providing the required guidance and instruction likely to clarify expectations and the paths to goal accomplishment. The effective leader in a structured situation engages in personally supportive behavior which provides a source of extrinsic rewards for followers. Such extrinsic rewards reduce the frustration and stress that presumably accompany a highly structured task having little challenge and few sources of instrinsic satisfaction. [2630884,p12]

Two other traits can be developed through experience and training. Knowledge of the industry and technical knowledge come from formal training, job experience, and a mentally active approach toward new opportunities for learning. Planned job rotation can facilitate such growth.Self-confidence is both general and task specific. People differ in their general confidence in mastering life’s challenges but task-specific self-confidence comes from mastering the various skills that Leadership requires as well as the technical and strategic challenges of the industry. Such confidence parallels the individual’s growth in knowledge.

Honesty does not require skill building; it is a virtue one achieves or rejects by choice. Organizations should look with extreme skepticism at any employee who behaves dishonestly or lacks integrity, and should certainly not reward dishonesty in any form, especially not with a promotion. The key role models for honest behavior are those at the top. On this issue, organizations get what they model, not what they preach.


the effectiveness of a leader is significantly influenced by the match between his leadership style and the situation, hence placing leaders in situations likely to fit their leadership style is very important. [2630884] used Fiedler’s Least Preferred Co-worker scale[22] to explain the relationship between leaders and situations. The study suggested that: high LPC leaders are relationship-oriented leaders who should be place in moderately favorable situations; however, low LPC leaders are task-oriented leaders who care little about the interpersonal relations could be placed in either favorable or unfavorable situations.

However, sometimes it is impossible to achieve such optimal placement. In this case, “engineer the job to fit the manager [18]” is an alternative choice. The perspective “designing job to fit leader” was under the assumption that it is easier to change the situation than to change the leadership style of the manager. Specifically, there are four methods to engineer the job:The first one is, changing leader-member relations. For example, increase or decrease the informal time that the leaders spend with their subordinates[p 154];The second is to modify task structure. For example, break the job down into smaller subtasks which can be more highly structured[p155];The third is to modify position provide[p 157]; And the last one is to call on members in the group to participate in planning and decision-making [p157]. [2630884,p10]


This essay firstly review three primary leadership theories: traits theory, behavioural theory and contingency theory, to have an understanding that what the scholars think about the topic”whether leaders are born, or can be developed.” The traits theory support that leaders are born, because the traits that makes leaders different from the others are inherit. However, in contrast, the other two theory support the perspective that leadership can be developed, because it is not traits that can determine a successful leader. The effectiveness of leadership is influenced by the leader behavior which can be developed by training, and the situation.

After a basic understanding about the theory and the two fundamentally perspective, in the second section, three questions were raised up, in order to think the two points critically. Through discussion , anwers to these questions can be conclude as follows:

  1. Do traits matter?
  2. Are traits nature or nurture?
  3. Can leadership be developed?

To sum up, some traits like….. are indeed inherited, and these traits are important to help a person become a successful leader. We cannot ignore the traits. However, it doesn’t mean the a person posess these traits will definitely be a good leader. The leaders interactive with their subordinates and the situations have significant relations with leadership. Leadership can be taught to adapt certain situation and get alone with different kind of followers. Leaders’ traits are born but leadership can be developed. Both the traits and the leadership skills should be attached importance to.

According to the conclusion above, the implication of how to enhance leadership and performance could be relized in three way: firstly, given that the some leader traits are born and significant related to leaders success, selection of leaders who possess that traits are very important. Several method can be used to identify the traits, such as personality test and group discussion. In the second place, training also can have great impact on leadership behavior, because the leadership skills such as_can be developed by training. In the third place, placement of leaders is also an important implication, due to a successful leader is one who fit the situation.

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