History of Modern Leadership Studies Since 1900
The evolution of modern leadership studies begins with the Great Man Theory, which originated in the 19th century and carried over into the 20th century. It came about as people looked at the world’s greatest leaders who stood out from the run of the mill individuals of their time and made a significant difference upon the course of human history. Individuals like George Washington, or Abraham Lincoln or Napoleon Bonaparte—they were seen as Great Men who were born with something special that made them into great leaders. The idea was promoted by Thomas Carlyle (1888) and other writers, such as Herbert Spencer (1896), who added his own twist on the theory by arguing that Great Men were as much products of their own day and age as anything else. Great Man Theory got the ball rolling in leadership studies, and out of it developed trait theory, which still plays some part in how people think about leadership even today.
Thanks to Spencer’s (1896) arguments, particularly that “the genesis of a great man depends on the long series of complex influences which has produced the race in which he appears, and the social state into which that race has slowly grown.... Before he can remake his society, his society must make him,” focus on leadership shifted from the man himself to the characteristics he embodied (p. 31). Trait theory was developed by Gordon Allport in the 20th century. Allport argued that great leaders tend to share the same traits; however, this theory was disputed by Stogdill (1948), who argued that different leaders possess different traits and that they are by no means all the same in terms of characteristics. Some leaders are autocratic; some are soft-spoken; some are sensitive to the needs of others; some rule with an iron fist. This sense of different leaders having different traits forced the study of leadership into a new direction. Katz (1955) put forward skills theory, which posited that leaders may not all have the same traits, but they do need to possess skills in three distinct areas in order to be successful: technical, human and conceptual skills. Kurt Lewin along with Lippitt and White (1939) put forward style theory to focus not on traits or skills but rather on leadership styles. They focused on three styles in particular—authoritarian, delegative and participative—but since then many other styles have been developed and researched by scholars in the field.
By the 1960s, researchers were beginning to look at leadership in a more contextual way, and so situational leadership theory was born. Hersey and Blanchard were the ones to bring it to life; its big focus was on how leaders succeed if they are able to adapt to the environments in which they find themselves. It could just as easily explain why Washington had success in the American Revolution as it could why Henry Ford succeeded in the automotive industry. Contingency theory had been developed in the decade prior, and it focused on how leaders succeeded when they responded to the unique needs of the organization. Essentially similar to situational theory, it helped to steer the field towards the notion that leaders respond to their environment and address the needs of the people, groups or organization therein (Badshah, 2012).
However, once it was understood that leaders adapted to their surroundings, the question of what techniques and methods they should use in order to produce successful outcomes became the question. How to motivate people within these different situations and contexts soon became the focus. Out of this focus came transactional leadership theory, transformational leadership theory, leader-member exchange theory, and servant leadership theory. Each came in the latter half of the 20th century and explored in different ways the manner in which leaders achieve their desired ends. Transactional leadership theory posited that leaders use some incentive—good or bad—to spur on progress. Transformational leadership theory posited that leaders spur on progress by getting followers to buy in to the vision and the mission, using communication techniques, motivational and inspirational methods, and supportive systems. Leader-member exchange theory posited that leaders create in-groups and out-groups; in-groups consist of people who are near the leader, while out-groups consist of people who are not near the leader. Out-groups tend to feel marginalized, which hurts morale, so in this theory leaders should focus on being inclusive and making everyone feel that they are part of the team. Servant leadership theory is really the heart of modern leadership theory in that it focuses on the spirit of leadership, which is service to others or to the vision/mission of the organization. It is the idea that a leader dedicates and commits himself entirely to others so that they can in turn achieve their or their organization’s objective (Badshah, 2012).
Each of these theories has influenced the workplace in their own small ways. Leadership styles have ranged from autocratic (as a result of Great Man theory) to democratic (as a result of leader-member exchange theory). Leaders tend to embrace situational leadership theory as well as servant leadership theory—but there is no hard and fast rule when it comes to leadership. Indeed, some leadership scholars argue that followers have to be just as informed as leaders because sometimes leaders get it wrong. Chaleff (2015) calls this theory intelligent disobedience, and he argues that followers must be educated and trained to be like guide dogs for the blind: in those occasions wherein a leader makes a decision that a follower knows will cause harm, the follower should disobey and act autonomously until that time wherein the occasion for harm has passed. What Chaleff (2015) brings to the field of leadership is the role that followership plays as well. For, indeed, leadership is not a concept that exists in isolation: it is really about a relationship between leaders and followers, and so it stands to reason that followership also be understood.
Establishing a Universally Acceptable…has plummeted because of misdeeds from leaders at the top. For instance, at Enron, the leaders were engaged in unethical dealings and it destroyed the company. Authentic leadership was needed to restore the trust and to rebuild relationships between leaders and workers.
There are not really any cons to authentic leadership, but there might be limitations to its application. In some organizations, such as the military, it is impossible for leaders to be totally transparent to followers or lower-level soldiers because of the sensitivity of certain information.
Servant leadership is the idea that a leader’s role is to serve others—either those workers and followers over whom he sees or the vision and mission of the organization. Servant leadership requires leaders to be selfless in their devotion to the needs of their followers. The aim of the servant leader is not his own glory but rather to develop the potential of his followers so that they can rise up and become self-actualizing. What makes servant leadership unique from a conceptual standpoint is that instead of followers being there to serve the leader, the leader is there to serve the followers. In reality, no leader expects his followers to serve him because he is not the end to which they are all working. Rather, every leader knows that the is there to serve some outside purpose and so his aim is to get everyone else to serve that purpose as well. In this sense, servant leadership is very much like transformational and even authentic leadership. It is a philosophy of leadership more than anything because it is so primarily concerned with the essence of leadership. It is unlike adaptive leadership in the sense that it does not look to make structural changes to the organizational system. It looks instead to help the individual worker achieve his potential by supplying the emotional and social and intellectual support he needs to develop himself personally and professionally so that he can reach his highest potential and thus perform optimally for the organization (Van Dierendonck, 2011).
The theoretical basis of servant leadership is often associated with the Christian ethic or the Golden Rule—do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The notion is that to succeed in life, one has to give all of oneself and that giving begets more giving from those who receive, as one after another passes it on.
A real world example of servant leadership in action is Herb Kelleher’s example of servant leader at Southwest Airlines. He showed his employees a great deal of love because he wanted them in turn to show customers the same kind of affection and gratitude. His belief was that customers would come back, sensing that they were appreciated for their business—and it worked. Southwest grew from nothing into an airline rivaling the majors. With Kelleher, his servant leadership was often described as charismatic because it was so unusual to see a leader display such affection (Gibson…
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