Trait Theory of Leadership Essay

Keywords: leadership trait theory

Leadership can be defined as a process by which one individual influences others toward the attainment of group or organizational goals. Three points about the definition of leadership should be emphasized. First, leadership is a social influence process. Leadership cannot exist without a leader and one or more followers. Second, leadership elicits voluntary action on the part of followers. The voluntary nature of compliance separates leadership from other types of influence based on formal authority Studies of leadership styles are diverse in nature and multiple definitions have been offered. However, leadership style can be defined broadly as the manner and approach of providing direction, implementing plans, and motivating people.

Leadership should be distinguished from management. Management involves planning, organizing, staffing, directing, and controlling, and a manager is someone who performs these functions. A manager has formal authority by virtue of his or her position or office. Leadership, by contrast, primarily deals with influence. A manager may or may not be an effective leader. A leader’s ability to influence others may be based on a variety of factors other than his or her formal authority or position. Following is study of the development of leadership studies and theories over time is briefly traced.

TASK 1 (a)


Three main theoretical frameworks have dominated leadership research at different points in time. These included the trait approach (1930s and 1940s), the behavioral approach (1940s and 1950s), and the contingency or situational approach (1960s and 1970s).


The scientific study of leadership began with a focus on the traits of effective leaders. The basic premise behind trait theory was that effective leaders are born, not made, thus the name sometimes applied to early versions of this idea, the “great man” theory. Many leadership studies based on this theoretical framework were conducted in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. Leader trait research examined the physical, mental, and social characteristics of individuals. In general, these studies simply looked for significant associations between individual traits and measures of leadership effectiveness. Physical traits such as height, mental traits such as intelligence, and social traits such as personality attributes were all subjects of empirical research In an important review of the leadership literature published in 1948, Ralph Stogdill concluded that the existing research had not demonstrated the utility of the trait approach. Finally, early trait research did not consider the impact of situational variables that might moderate the relationship between leader traits and measures of leader effectiveness. As a result of the lack of consistent findings linking individual traits to leadership effectiveness, empirical studies of leader traits were largely abandoned in the 1950s.

Douglas McGregor’s x and y theory:

His Theory X and Theory Y was detailed in The Human Side of Enterprise, published in 1960.

What is it?

Essentially Theory X and Theory Y describe two opposing views of people at work that will influence management style. Managers can be said to follow either view of their workforce.

Theory X is often said to describe a traditional view of direction and control.

Theory Y implies a more self directed workforce that takes an interest in the goals of their organisation and integrates some of their own goals into these.

Theory X

Theory X assumes that: –

The average person dislikes work and will avoid it unless directly supervised.

Employees must be coerced, controlled and directed to ensure that organisational objectives are met.

The threat of punishment must exist within an organisation.

In fact people prefer to be managed in this way so that they avoid responsibility.

Theory X assumes that people are relatively unambitious and their prime driving force is the desire for security.

Theory Y

Theory Y effectively takes the opposite view.

It assumes that: –

Employees are ambitious, keen to accept greater responsibility and exercise both self-control and direction.

Employees will, in the right conditions, work toward organisational objectives and that commitment will in itself be a reward for so doing.

Employees will exercise their imagination and creativity in their jobs if given the chance and this will give an opportunity for greater productivity.

Theory Y assumes that the average human being will, under the right conditions, not only accept responsibility but also seek more.

Lack of ambition and the qualities of Theory X are not inherent human characteristics but learned in working environments that suffocate or do not promote Theory Y behaviours.


Partially as a result of the disenchantment with the trait approach to leadership that occurred by the beginning of the 1950s, the focus of leadership research shifted away from leader traits to leader behaviors. The premise of this stream of research was that the behaviors exhibited by leadersare more important than their physical, mental, or emotional traits. The two most famous behavioural leadership studies took place at Ohio State University and the University of Michigan in the late 1940s and 1950s. These studies sparked hundreds of other leadership studies and are still widely cited. The Ohio State studies utilized the Leader Behavior Description Questionnaire (LBDQ), administering it to samples of individuals in the military, manufacturing companies, college administrators, and student leaders. The conclusion of the Michigan studies was that an employee orientation and general instead of close supervision yielded better results. Likert eventually developed four “systems” of management based on these studies; he advocated System 4 (the participative- group system, which was the most participatory set of leader behaviors) as resulting in the most positive outcomes.

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One concept based largely on the behavioural approach to leadership effectiveness was the Managerial (or Leadership) Grid, developed by Robert Blake and Jane Mouton. The grid combines “concern for production” with “concern for people” and presents five alternative behavioural styles of leadership. An individual who emphasized neither production was practicing “impoverished management” according to the grid. If a person emphasized concern for people and placed little emphasis on production, he was terms a “country-club” manager. Conversely, a person who emphasized a concern for production but paid little attention to the concerns of subordinates was a “task” manager. A person whotried to balance concern for production and concern for people was termed a “middle-of-the-road” manager. Finally, an individual who was able to simultaneously exhibit a high concern for production and a high concern for people was practicing “team management.” According to the prescriptions of the grid, team management was the best leadership approach. The Managerial Grid became a major consulting tool and was the basis for a considerable amount of leadership training in the corporate world.


Contingency or situational theories of leadership propose that the organizational or work group context affects the extent to which given leader traits and behaviors will be effective. Contingency theories gained prominence in the late 1960s and 1970s. Four of the more well-known contingency theories are Fiedler’s contingency theory, path-goal theory, the Vroom-Yetton-Jago decision- making model of leadership, and the situational leadership theory. Each of these approaches to leadership is briefly described in the paragraphs that follow. Introduced in 1967, Fiedler’s contingency theory was the first to specify how situational factors interact with leader traits and behavior to influence leadership effectiveness. The theory suggests that the “favorability” of the situation determines the effectiveness of taskand person-oriented leader behavior. Favorability is determined by (1) the respect and trust that followers have for the leader; (2) the extent to which subordinates’ responsibilities can be structured and performance measured; and (3) the control the leader has over subordinates’ rewards. Fiedler’s contingency theory has been criticized on both conceptual and methodological grounds There are five types of leader decision-making styles, which are labeled AI, AII, CI, CII, and G. These styles range from strongly autocratic (AI), to strongly democratic (G). According to the theory, the appropriate style is determined by answers to up to eight diagnostic questions, which relate to such contingency factors as the importance of decision quality, the structure of the problem, whether subordinates have enough information to make a quality decision, and the importance of subordinate commitment to the decision.


Beginning in the 1970s, a number of leadership theories emerged that focused on the importance of a leader’s charisma to leadership effectiveness. Included within this class of theories are House’s theory of charismatic leadership, Bass’s transformational leadership theory, and Conger and Kanungo’s charismatic leadership theory. These theories have much in common. They all focus on attempting to explain how leaders can accomplish extraordinary things against the odds, such as turning around a failing company, founding a successful company, or achieving great military success against incredible odds. By contrast, transformational leadership focuses on developing mutual trust, fostering the leadership abilities of others, and setting goals that go beyond the short-term needs of the work group. Bass’s transformational leadership theory identifies four aspects of effective leadership, which include charisma, inspiration, intellectual stimulation, and consideration.

Tannenbaum and Schmidt’s leadership continuum:

Leadership occurs when a person tries to influence another person’s or group’s way of behaving – regardless of the cause. Every time a person tries to influence another person’s behaviour, this person becomes a potential leader, but the person whose behaviour is attempted changed becomes a potential recipient (irrespective of whether this person is the chief, a colleague, a friend, a group or…).Leadership style is not about how leaders think they behave but about how their recipients perceive the leaders’ behaviour.

Robert Tannenbaum and Warren H. Schmidt were some of the first to make use of the situational approach to leadership. In their proposal, the leader chooses from seven possible continuums of leadership behaviour, depending on the situation and the relations between the leader and the employees, is as follows:

1. Leader allows followers to function within the limits defined by a superior.

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2. Leader defines limits; the group is encouraged to make decisions.

3. Leader presents problem. Receives suggestions and makes decision.

4. Leader presents preliminary decisions, which may be changed.

5. Leader presents ideas and encourages questions.

6. Leader sells decisions.

7. Leader makes a decision and announces it.

The above points the dimensions in the continuums of leadership behaviour constitute:

  • Democratic or relation-based behaviour
  • Authoritarian or task-related behaviour

Task-oriented behaviour is often perceived as authoritarian leadership behaviour from the viewpoint that the leader tells the employee ‘what needs to be done’ and ‘how to do it’. This leadership behaviour is based on the view of humanity called Theory X in which the leader perceives the employees as independent and lazy.

Relation-based leadership behaviour is often perceived as democratic leadership behaviour from a view of humanity called theory Y where employees contribute independently and creatively to task performance.

Tannenbaum-Schmidt model has excluded the ‘Laissez-faire’ leadership continuum where employees are free to do whatever they want. According to Tannenbaum-Schmidt, it is not a leadership continuum when each employee is free to do what he pleases without the influence of the leadership or other employees.

TASK 1: (b)

Trait Theory


  • People are born with inherited traits.
  • Some traits are particularly suited to leadership.
  • People who make good leaders have the right (or sufficient) combination of traits.

Contingency theory

Contingency theory is a class of behavioral theory that claims that there is no best way to organize a corporation, to lead a company, or to make decisions. Instead, the optimal course of action is contingent (dependent) upon the internal and external situation. Several contingency approaches were developed concurrently in the late 1960s.

They suggested that previous theories such as Weber’s bureaucracy and Taylor’s scientific management had failed because they neglected that management style and organizational structure were influenced by various aspects of the environment: the contingency factors. There could not be “one best way” for leadership or organization.

TASK 2: (a)


Analysis of the Company

The SWOT Analysis is possibly the most popular instrument utilized in strategic planning and organizational problem solving. SWOT indicates the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats of a firm. The derivation of the SWOT contraction, nonetheless, is difficult to understand. Coyles and Gokey (2002) affirmed that the Harvard Business School scholars were utilizing the notion in the 1960s. On the contrary, Turner (2002) presents the growth of the SWOT Analysis perception.


The major strength of Manchester United is their brand consciousness, Manchester United is exceptionally recognized globally, and if advertised as the national team with international sponsors. This consequently implies that any merchandise that they put in the market, with the team name and emblem will be immediately identified by their fans which could arrive to a million. Nevertheless, the team requires guaranteeing that they are still focused on what there fans and the consumers wish for. By reason of having the great fan base, ticket sales is also considered as strength for Manchester United, as there is a big waiting list for passes for every match, and with the new expanded arena, the income of ticket sales is bound to increase over the coming years.


The major weakness that has been identified based on their website is their products and product variety. It is obvious that they have introduced a lot of diverse products at numerous different occasions. There is an issue though whether the fans were consulted in this context. It seems that MU has introduced a broad variety of products from jerseys to Credit Cards Another weakness for Manchester United is that currently, the club has been so flourishing, and it is now working on such a huge level, there is a distressing estimation that the club has now lost its origins, and it is no longer concerned with the game of football, but all about proceeds. Unconstructive outlooks such as this can have a harmful effect on the fans.


The key opportunity for Manchester United at the moment is the penetration to the American market. There is an opportunity in the proximate future to structure the coalition with one of the world’s most well-off team in sports, the New York Yankees. This will signal enormous merchandise channels in America, and provide Manchester United the lead over all other Football teams in the American context, presenting their product to a new market.


Manchester United is in a very firm site, as they have no direct dangers from any players in the industry. There is a huge breach connecting Manchester United and the subsequent strongest competitor. Nonetheless, there are a number of dangers to Manchester United that has to be taken into account. A threat to Manchester United at present is the Change of leadership in the teamThe club slid from a position as one of the top clubs in the UK in 1970 to a status of mediocrity in 1996.In 1996, Francis Lee, a former player of the club, took over as chairman. He recognised the need for stability and structure.

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TASK 2: (b)


Here are a few basic attributes of a socially successful person that are worth discussing:

Confidence – They display confidence in themselves and successfully execute the projects they lead.

Friendliness – They are friendly to everyone, not to just a select few, displaying a genuine sense of care and concern for others.

Appearance – They make sure their hygiene, apparel, and proper body movement is always acceptable.

Trustworthy – They can be depended upon both with personal exchanges and with projects.

Organized – Their organizational skills are second nature and displayed in all activities.

Self-control – They handle themselves well when emotional issues arise.

Acceptance – They extend love and forgiveness to everyone, even difficult people and those that differ from them.

Fun – They make life fun.

Space – They respect other’s privacy and choices.

It’s never too late to improve your social skills. The first step is to honestly examine yourself and admit you need to improve yourself in deficient areas. Like anything else in this world, there have been many books written on the subject. I highly recommend John C. Maxwell’s book entitled “Be a People Person.”


This area has to do with interaction with others. In theory, people who have a high interpersonal intelligence tend to be extroverts, characterized by their sensitivity to others’ moods, feelings, temperaments and motivations, and their ability to cooperate in order to work as part of a group. They communicate effectively and empathize easily with others, and may be either leaders or followers. They typically learn best by working with others and often enjoy discussion and debate.

Careers that suit those with this intelligence include sales, politicians, managers, teachers and social workers.


This area has to do with words, spoken or written. People with high verbal-linguistic intelligence display a facility with words and languages. They are typically good at reading, writing, telling stories and memorizing words along with dates. They tend to learn best by reading, taking notes, listening to lectures, and by discussing and debating about what they have learned. Those with verbal-linguistic intelligence learn foreign languages very easily as they have high verbal memory and recall, and an ability to understand and manipulate syntax and structure.

Careers that suit those with this intelligence include writers, lawyers, policemen, philosophers, journalists, politicians, poets and teachers.


I would like to suggest nine key skills and principles that, if adopted, would improve your communication skills immediately.

They are:

  • Ask more questions, make fewer statements
  • Be specific, not vague
  • Use the affirmative, not negated language
  • Objective thinking
  • Focus on the future not the past
  • Use pleasure/ pain consequences
  • Distinguish between long term v short term consequence
  • Map out their ideas on paper
  • Protect the self image

TASK 2: (c)


To a large extent the survival and continued success of any business depends upon owners and managers having a combination of leadership savvy, good judgement based on knowledge and information and a reasonable ability to steer a business in the right direction.

This need becomes considerably more important when a company is on the verge of expanding.

Therefore, before you commit yourself to starting or expanding a business, first commit yourself to learning – and in the very least recognizing – the personal leadership and management skills needed to initiate and sustain profitable company growth.


  • Choose competent subordinates
  • Demonstrate high moral standards
  • Exude Charisma
  • Inspire others
  • Take action: When faced with a crisis, effective leaders don’t just sit around and twiddle their thumbs. They solve the problem themselves or get someone who can.
  • Understand the penalty of leadership
  • Use your imagination to solve problems
  • Wander around frequently
  • Work hard


  • Actively listen to customers and workers
  • Attend parties
  • Clarify employee responsibilities
  • Deal with unexcused absences immeadiatly
  • Demand accountability
  • Criticize positively
  • Know how to delegate responsibilities to trained and qualified people
  • Know how to handle stress
  • Know how to fire employees
  • Make sure each employee has only one supervisor
  • Reward appropriate behaviours and results


Manchester is in a very competitive spot at present, nonetheless they require to be cautious that they are not getting self-satisfied and that they are focusing on the market, and the requirements of their clients and followers. By implementing the research into their markets, it will allow them to build up products for the clients, which will bring about sustained support from the fans and success.

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