Also known as the Great Man Approachi, trait theory was fundamentally built on the idea that some people are born with traits that make them natural leadersi (Daft, 1999, p65). This meant that to become a leader one must hereditarily possess the traits of leadership. Family of successful leaders such as J. F. Kennedy and G. W. Bush support this theory. But how would you explain King Henry VIII? Clearly, he was born into leadership under a long line of monarch, but rather than showing concern for leading the country, he spent his life more concerned about his numerous wives. This does not support the assumption of trait theory that leaders genetically possess leadership qualities.
However, under the theory of Blake and Moutoni s Managerial Grid, King Henry VIII can be classified into the Impoverished Management. This is one indication that the Managerial Grid of the behavioural approach is an improvement to trait theory.
Behavioural approach implies the possibility of development of leadership qualities. Tony Christiansen, a champion swimmer and car racer, a qualified pilot, a gold medalist, a successful businessman, an inspirational speaker and certainly a great leader of this day, described himself as a typical Kiwi kidi (Christiansen & Dobson, 2001, p10) before his tragic accident which led to the loss of his legs.
It was through the experience his loss that he developed the desire to achieve higher-level goals and inspire others to do the same (Christiansen & Dobson, 2001). The desire to motivate others is a key leadership characteristic that the trait theory states is only genetically attained. For Tony Christiansen, it is clear that the desire was a result of a personal experience rather than genetics and thus giving evidence to the idea leadership characteristics can develop after birth.
Further supporting the realistic idea of behavioural approach is the existence of leadership training. Professional training centres, consultants, business schools and organizations are turning to the development of leadership. For example, Motorola recently spent 150 million US dollars on leadership education for their staff members (Daft, 1999). If leadership cannot be learnt as the trait theory suggests, why is so much time, money and effort put in for leadership training? ASB Bank is a leading New Zealand organization that understands the importance of leadership training.
One of the first courses undertaken by ASB Banki s employees, who are newly appointed to a management position, is in fact leadership. On-going training and development of leadership skills are also provided on a regular basis. Stephanie Busby, a Team Leader of ASB Bank Contact Centre, says that she hesitated when she was first promoted. There was so much focus on team achievements and I didnit think I d be able to lead a teami During the first few months of her role as a Team Leader, she found her team continuously in second to last position.
Frustrated by the constant low achievement, she became strict to increase their sales by trying to force them to do things. But no one really listened. After a series of leadership training, she decided to attempt a different tactic. Rather than trying to boss them around, I became one of them and worked together to develop an action plan that everyone was please with. Stephanie Busby found her team in third place soon after. I think everyone possesses some leadership quality - maybe some more than others.
But I learned it s just a matter of finding the right way and developing themi (appendix 1). Another weakness of the trait theory is the underlying assumption that all leaders possess identical set of traits and consequently, hold the same leadership style. This means, theoretically, if any two great leadersi characteristics were analyzed, the results should be identical. How realistic is this theory? Can we say Adolf Hitleri s atrocious leadership style is identical to Martin Luther Kingi is inspirational leadership style?
Managerial Grid and the behavioural approach improve this unrealistic assumption of the trait theory by providing flexibility for diverse leadership styles dependant on personal characteristics and situations. Survey results show that every conceivable leadership style is represented by the Chief Executive Officers of Americai s most admired companies (William, 2000, p697). Is this not proof that leaders can be different? Furthermore, New Zealand Postis Chief Executive Officer, Elmar Toime states that organizational leaders needed to be dictatorial in the 80 is due to a vital need for restructuring.
Whereas in the 90 s, inspirational leaders were desirable for the promotion of growth and competitiveness (Sullivan, 1996). Re-visiting the words of Stephanie Busby, Team Leader, ASB Limited, we found that the style of Authority Compliance Management was not so appropriate for the situation but the style of Middle-of-the-Road Management was able to bring her team together. Does this not confirm that leaders need to adopt a style that best fits the relevant situation?
Behavioural approach to leadership is an improvement on trait approach because of it is accuracy towards reality. As the essay has clearly outlined, trait theory takes an unrealistic view that all leaders possess identical traits and adopt identical leadership styles. Furthermore, trait theory suggests that these identical characteristics can only exist hereditarily. Behavioural approach improves these unrealistic views by focusing on the recognition of the diversity of characteristics and situations that exist in this world.
It is comprehensible that there is indeed a requirement for change in style with the change of circumstances. These different styles are clearly outlined in Blake and Mouton is Managerial Grid. The essay has also demonstrated that great leaders have developed their quality and skills through both personal experience and specific training. Organizations of today is world such as; Motorola and ASB Bank Limited clearly show the credibility of behavioural approach through their understanding of the importance of leadership training. After all, why wait for a hero when you can make one?