October 24, 2012

MU0012 [Employee Relations Management] Set1 Q3

Q.3 Explain the trait theory of leadership.

Ans:

The Trait Theory: This theory uses traits (characteristics) to distinguish between leaders and non-leaders. 

The trait model of leadership is based on the characteristics of many leaders - both successful and unsuccessful - and is used to predict leadership effectiveness. The resulting lists of traits are then compared to those of potential leaders to assess their likelihood of success or failure.

Scholars taking the trait approach attempted to identify physiological (appearance, height, and weight), demographic (age, education and socioeconomic background), personality, self-confidence, and aggressiveness), intellective (intelligence, decisiveness, judgment, and knowledge), task-related (achievement drive, initiative, and persistence), and social characteristics (sociability and cooperativeness) with leader emergence and leader effectiveness.

Successful leaders definitely have interests, abilities, and personality traits that are different from those of the less effective leaders. Through many researches conducted in the last three decades of the 20th century, a set of core traits of successful leaders have been identified. These traits are not responsible solely to identify whether a person will be a successful leader or not, but they are essentially seen as preconditions that endow people with leadership potential.

The traits that indicate strong leadership are as follows:
(1) Intelligence: This refers to the mental ability of a person and is only a moderate predictor of leadership. The Intelligence Quotient (IQ) of a person can be used as a qualifier for high management jobs, but once the high position is attained, an effective leader also displays good levels of Emotional Quotient (EQ). EQ helps a leader to empathise with the motivation and emotions of others. Many people feel that Carly Fiorina, the ousted leader of Hewlett-Packard, had a high IQ but a low empathy for the people around her and ignored the human aspects of her decisions.

(2) Extraversion: Extraverts have higher social and interpersonal skills. They are more energetic, assertive and self-confident. As extraverts are more dominant, they emerge as natural leaders. For example, Steve Ballmer, the CEO of Microsoft, is an extraverted leader. 

Figure depicts traits associated with leadership.

(3) Conscientiousness: Conscientious people are organised, dependable, systematic, punctual, and achievement oriented. They take initiative and are persistent in all they do.

(4) Openness: People who are open to new ideas and try new things become effective leaders. 

(5) Self-Esteem: People with good self-esteem assess their worth and capabilities in a more positive manner. Leaders with high self-esteem are more supportive to their subordinates. People with higher self-esteem are more self-confident and have greater charisma.

(6) Integrity: Effective leaders display honesty and integrity. Such leaders are more trustworthy.

Behavioural Theory: Behavioural theory of leadership does not deal with the traits or capabilities of a leader. They focus more on what the leaders actually do. According to this theory, leadership capabilities are not inherent and can be learned. It correlates the successes of leaders with their actions.

Managerial Grid Model: This is a behavioural leadership model proposed by Robert Blake and Jane Mouton. This model identifies the different leadership styles based on the concern for people and the concern for production.

Figure shows the graphical representation of the managerial grid model.

Figure : Graphical Representation of the Managerial Grid Model

In this model, the concern for production is represented on the X-axis and the concern for people on the Y-axis. Each axis is marked from ‘1’ (low) to ‘9’ (high). The different leadership styles that are identified are as follows:
(i) The Indifferent or Impoverished Style (1, 1): Managers adopting this style have low concerns for both people and production. Managers are more concerned about preserving their jobs and avoiding getting into trouble. The managers do not want to be held responsible for any mistakes and are therefore, less innovative.
(ii) The Accommodating or Country Club Style (1, 9): Managers using this style are more concerned about the people than the production. Managers try to ensure security and comfort of the employees hoping that it will enhance performance. The workplace atmosphere is pleasant but not necessarily productive.
(iii) The Dictatorial Style (9, 1): Managers using this style are more concerned about production than the people. Managers do not consider the needs of their subordinates. Managers pressurise their employees to achieve company goals by imposing rules and threatening them with punishment. 
(iv) The Status-Quo or Middle of the Road Style (5, 5): Managers adopting this style try to balance employee needs and company goals. But in trying to compromise, the managers do not meet the needs of the company or that of the employee.
(v) The Sound or Team Style (9, 9): Managers using this style are concerned about the people and the production. Managers encourage teamwork and employee commitment. Managers make employees feel that they are contributing constructively to the company.
(vi) The Opportunistic Style: Managers using this style exploit and manipulate their subordinates. This style does not have a fixed location on the grid. Managers adopt the behaviour which offers them the greatest personal benefit. 
(vii) The Paternalistic Style: Managers using this style praise and support their subordinates but discourage their being innovative. This style alternates between the (1, 9) and (9, 1) locations on the grid. 

Among the core traits identified are:
Achievement drive: High level of effort, high levels of ambition, energy and initiative 
Leadership motivation: an intense desire to lead others to reach shared goals 
Honesty and integrity: trustworthy, reliable, and open 
Self-confidence: Belief in one’s self, ideas, and ability 
Cognitive ability: Capable of exercising good judgment, strong analytical abilities, and conceptually skilled 
Knowledge of business: Knowledge of industry and other technical matters 
Emotional Maturity: well adjusted, does not suffer from severe psychological disorders. 
Others: charisma, creativity and flexibility

Strengths/Advantages of Trait Theory
It is naturally pleasing theory. 
It is valid as lot of research has validated the foundation and basis of the theory. 
It serves as a yardstick against which the leadership traits of an individual can be assessed. 
It gives a detailed knowledge and understanding of the leader element in the leadership process. 

Limitations of The Trait Theory
There is bound to be some subjective judgment in determining who is regarded as a ‘good’ or ‘successful’ leader 
The list of possible traits tends to be very long. More than 100 different traits of successful leaders in various leadership positions have been identified. These descriptions are simply generalities. 
There is also a disagreement over which traits are the most important for an effective leader 
The model attempts to relate physical traits such as, height and weight, to effective leadership. Most of these factors relate to situational factors. For example, a minimum weight and height might be necessary to perform the tasks efficiently in a military leadership position. In business organizations, these are not the requirements to be an effective leader. 
The theory is very complex 

Implications of Trait Theory
The trait theory gives constructive information about leadership. It can be applied by people at all levels in all types of organizations. Managers can utilize the information from the theory to evaluate their position in the organization and to assess how their position can be made stronger in the organization. They can get an in-depth understanding of their identity and the way they will affect others in the organization. This theory makes the manager aware of their strengths and weaknesses and thus they get an understanding of how they can develop their leadership qualities.

Conclusion
The traits approach gives rise to questions: whether leaders are born or made; and whether leadership is an art or science. However, these are not mutually exclusive alternatives. Leadership may be something of an art; it still requires the application of special skills and techniques. Even if there are certain inborn qualities that make one a good leader, these natural talents need encouragement and development. A person is not born with self-confidence. Self-confidence is developed, honesty and integrity are a matter of personal choice, motivation to lead comes from within the individual, and the knowledge of business can be acquired. While cognitive ability has its origin partly in genes, it still needs to be developed. None of these ingredients are acquired overnight.

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