Leadership Trait Theory and Application Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

Trait Theory and Application

The "Trait Theory" of leadership has developed most during the past 3 decades and is concerned with amassing the core personality characteristics of known leaders -- both effective and ineffective -- to predict potential for successful leadership. Trait Theory currently recognizes more than 100 identified physiological, demographic, personality, intellectual, task-related and social characteristics. The most generally recognized characteristics include: the drive for achievement; intense motivation to lead; honesty; integrity; self-confidence; higher-than-average cognitive ability; business knowledge; emotional maturity; charisma, creativity and flexibility. Trait Theory has been supported by considerable research and is advantageous in that it offers detailed and clearly-defined qualities for leadership assessment on all organizational levels. Unfortunately, the theory also has drawbacks: in some respects, those traits are quite subjectively interpreted; it cannot predict future behavior; it fails to account for development of personality and skills; it fails to address ways in which negative traits can be changed; experts disagree on the importance assigned to each trait; it sometimes leads to the mistaken conclusion that leaders are born, not made, though leadership development is clearly a combination of Nature/Nurture - inborn traits/skills and their development (Heffner Media Group, Inc., 2003; Management Study Guide.com, 2012).

Whether or not it receives due credit, Trait Theory is widely used by individuals attempting to "move up" within large organizations and by large organizations attempting to find their potential leaders. For example, a Blue Cross or "WellPoint" job description posted January 26, 2012 for "Senior Project Manager" contains a laundry list of leadership traits: "expert facilitation skills; expert relationship management & communication skills; highly detail-oriented; highly organized; ability to make sense of ambiguous situations; ability to take ownership and make an immediate impact" (WellPoint, Inc., 2012). In response, the applicant is supposed to measure his/her own traits to see how closely they match the job description characteristics. From experience, a job interview for a management position at WellPoint includes such ham-handed questions as "Can you take ownership and make an immediate impact?" At that point, the applicant is expected to essentially say, "Yes, I can!" The result can be a wholly subjective interpretation of the traits by the interviewer and the interviewee.

3. Situational Theory ("Hersey Blanchard Model") and Application

Developed in the 1970's and 80's and also known as the "Life-Cycle" theory, the Situational Theory calls on the leader for flexible leadership according to the readiness of his/her followers/subordinates. Creating four "Readiness Levels" for subordinates, Paul Hersey and Kenneth Blanchard determined that an organization's followers have varying levels of ability and willingness to complete certain work tasks. Hersey and Blanchard labeled those four readiness levels as: "R1" or "Low Follower Readiness," indicating a follower's low ability and willingness to accomplish a task (not able and not confident); "R2" or "Low to Moderate Follower Readiness," indicating low level of ability but high level of willingness to accomplish a task (confident but not able); "R3" or "Moderate to High Follower Readiness," indicating a high level of ability but low willingness to accomplish a task (able but not confident); "R4" or "High Follower Readiness," indicating high levels of both ability and willingness to complete a task (able and confident). The leader's management style adapts to those four readiness levels, the leading style adapts, using "Task Behavior" and/or "Relationship Behavior." Task behavior consists of varying levels -- from low to high -- of direction, goal setting and role defining given by the leader to the follower. "Relationship Behavior" consists of varying levels -- from low to high -- of reciprocal communication between leaders and followers, with the leader listening to the follower and giving encouragement. The four levels of leadership corresponding to the follower's four levels are: "S1" or "Telling," emphasizing high task behavior and low relationship behavior, designed for dealing with low follower readiness (R1); "S2" or "Selling," in which the leader uses high task and relationship behaviors, designed for dealing with low-to-moderate follower readiness (R2); "S3" or "Participating," in which the leader uses low task behavior and high relationship behavior, designed for dealing with moderate-to-high follower readiness (R3); "S4" or "Delegating," in which the leader uses low task and relationship behavior (Management Study Guide.com, 2012). Situational leadership is advantageous in that it is easily applied and focuses some leadership attention on the readiness and willingness of his/her followers. It is disadvantageous in that: it is not readily applicable to leaders with very limited power, such as managers; the theory can be skewed by deadlines and complexity of the work task; when tested, this leadership style doesn't work as theorized (Leadership Central.com, 2012).

This theory is seen in an ALCOA mill in which workers are divided into hourly millworkers, forepersons and supervisors. When the supervisor gives the daily work detail to the foreperson, the foreperson is expected to meet that shift's performance demand. From personal experience, however, when the foreperson then gives the daily work assignments to the millworkers, he/she is faced with people of widely varying abilities and willingness whose jobs are strongly protected by their union. Millworkers range from people who are highly capable and willing to persons who hide makeshift beds in large aluminum coils in order to sleep during their shifts. The foreperson must nevertheless meet the daily performance quota; therefore, he/she uses every approach outlined in situational theory, probably without ever knowing that it is a well-defined and named theory.

4. Contingency Theory ("Fiedler's Model") and Application

Introduced in 1967 by Fred Fiedler, the Contingency Theory of leadership maintains that there is no "best way" to organize, lead or make decisions; rather, the most advantageous method depends on internal and external situations. Fiedler determines a leader's internal situation through a questionnaire exploring the leader's "least preferred coworker" (LPC) in order to determine his/her underlying attitude toward others. The LPC questionnaire uses 16 attributes: "pleasant/unpleasant, friendly/unfriendly, rejecting/accepting, unenthusiastic/enthusiastic, tense/relaxed, cold/warm, helpful/frustrating, cooperative/uncooperative, supportive/hostile, quarrelsome/harmonious, efficient/inefficient, gloomy/cheerful, distant/close, boring/interesting, self-assured / hesitant, open/guarded" (Management Study Guide.com, 2012). Each of those traits is given a ranking from "1/Unfriendly" to "8/Friendly" and, depending on the leader's answers to the LCP questionnaire, he/she obtains a cumulative score rating him/her from lowest/task oriented to highest/relationship oriented. Having determined the leader's internal situation, Fiedler then examined the external situation's favorability for this leader, rating the external situation according to three situational factors: leader-member relations, measuring how much the followers trust, like and are willing to follow this leader; task structure, measuring how the work task is structured, defined and capable of being accomplished detailed instructions; position power, measuring the leader's power within the organization and ability to use authority to compel followers to accept and obey his/her direction. Using those three variables, Fiedler composed 8 conceivable situations determining the most effective leader according to the leader's internal situation within those external situations. Examining this Contingency Theory in the workplace, studies found that LCP low-scoring/task-oriented leaders are more effective in highly favorable/unfavorable situations, while LCP high-scoring/relationship-oriented leaders are more effective in intermediately favorable situations (Management Study Guide.com, 2012). The Contingency Theory is advantageous in that: it is well-researched, flexible and can identify effective leaders for varying situations; it can place leaders appropriately, putting personable leaders in poorly structured work environments and impersonal leaders in well-structured work environments. The theory is disadvantageous in that: the LPC questionnaire scale is subjective; the theory works only with closely-supervised groups; it does not account for bad situations with no/bad leaders (Leadership Central.com, 2012).

Returning to the ALCOA mill, supervisors are tested for personality traits and cover the ranges from friendly to exceedingly unfriendly. These same supervisors control varying set work situations within the entire plant to achieve the greatest productivity. One supervisor, in particular, strongly reminds me of a "1/Unfriendly" who remained in that position for the last 30 years of his career because he was so highly effective in the highly unfavorable situation of wringing acceptable performance from millworkers/forepersons. From ALCOA's perspective, this was the optimal position for this supervisor.

5. Transformational Theory and Application

The Transformational Theory of leadership is one of the newer theories and calls for visionary, inspiring, daring and thoughtful leaders who inspire their followers to high performance. This theory applied in all levels and divisions of an organization, as well as the organization as a whole. The transformation theory is founded on "Inspirational Motivation," setting common vision, mission and values for the organization, and the leader within this organization work enthusiastically within that system. The leader must also encourage "Intellectual Stimulation" in the form of innovation and creativity by followers. In addition, the leader must provide "Idealized Influence," acting as a role model for followers. Finally, the leader must provide "Individualized Consideration," mentoring and rewarding innovation and creativity from individual followers. While the Transformational Theory can successfully inspire workers to high performance, it has also been criticized in that: it uses "impression management" which can allow "amoral self-promotion" by leaders and harmful manipulation of workers; it is a complex theory combining many theories and is therefore difficult to teach.

Nursing supervision within hospitals…

Sources Used in Document:

Works Cited

Leadership Central.com, 2012. Fiedler's Contingency Theory. [Online]

Available at: http://www.leadership-central.com/fiedler's-contingency-theory.html#axzz1kteBrv6G

[Accessed 29 January 2012].

Leadership Central.com, 2012. Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership Theory. [Online]

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