Leadership Theories

This page includes some of the most popular leadership theories and styles.  


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"Great Man" Theory (Trait Approach)


In the early 20th century, leadership traits were studied to determine what made certain people great leaders.  "Great Man" characteristics or traits were focused on identifying the qualities and characteristics possessed by great social, political, and military leaders. Many believed only those born with "greatness" possessed a list of traits to include but not limited to intelligence, alertness, insight, responsibility, initiative, persistence, self-confidence, and sociability. (Northouse, 2013, Kindle Version, Pg. 16)


From 1904-1948, leadership research was dominated by trait leadership.  Unfortunately, traits such as height, weight, health, education, and appearance were considered indicators of leadership potential.  In 1948, Ralph Melvin Stogdill reviewed 128 published studies that attempted to determine a specific list of traits and characteristics that can be found in most effective leaders.  He concluded that leadership traits needed to match the need(s) of a specific situation.  Overall, Stogdill claimed the traits with the highest overall correlation with leadership were originality, popularity, sociability, judgment, assertiveness, desire to excel, humor, cooperativeness, liveliness, and athletic ability. (Bass, 2008, pg. 94)


By 1970, further studies of trait leadership (by Stogdill) illustrated determination, persistence, self-confidence, ego strength, activity level, rate of talk, initiative, assertiveness, aggressiveness, dominance, ascendance, emotional balance, tolerance for stress, self-control, self-efficacy, enthusiasm, and extroversion as all traits of effective leaders. (Bass, pg. 100) It is important to note that Stogdill also believed that successful leadership involved certain life skills and capabilities, which resulted in group cohesiveness, drive and productivity. (Bass, pg. 100)