Sample Business Studies Paper on Leadership (Trait Theories)

Leadership (Trait Theories)

Leadership draws a lot of interest in the academic and organizational frontiers. The position, role, power, influence, and ability rally people towards achieving goals that leaders have are perhaps among the reasons that draw attention to leadership (Derue et al., 2011). Furthermore, leadership as a subject entreats examination given the significance of the position of a leader, as well as the idea that several theories have been fronted in the illumination of leadership. Currently, no single theory can explain leadership, and the existing theories contest different aspects of leadership. Nonetheless, the elementary feature that creates resemblance across the many theories of leadership is the central role of the leadership position in determining the management and organization of resources not only with an organization but also within the political sphere. In the early years of research on leadership, specific attributes were the focus of the theories, as they tried explaining which attributes made one successful while others unsuccessful (Derue et al., 2011). The line of research that gave prominence to specific attributes an individual possessed was the foundation of trait theories of leadership. Relevant and in use today in different organizations, trait theories hinge on individual characteristics including skills and abilities, personality traits, and demographics to predict and explain a leader’s effectiveness.

There has been an evolution of leadership approaches over time revealing the change in the series of theories attempting to explain leadership. Harrison and Klein (2007) explain that in the past, leadership approaches and theories had a fixation on the character and personality, and behavior of leaders, with particular interest in successful leaders. The early theories pointed out qualities exhibited by good leaders and used the qualities as the measure in their explanation of leadership. Through the list of qualities and behavior exhibited by ideal leaders, the theories mandated the aspects as the most fundamental in defining good and successful leaders, as well as them being the foundational characteristic requisite for any successful leader (Harrison & Klein, 2007).

For the early leadership theorists, the characteristics were innate in a leader, in addition to the fact that these qualities were never acquired. The theories formed a list of the fundamental features that successful leaders had to have. Honesty and integrity, emotional maturity, motivation, self-confidence, cognitive ability, and achievement drive are among the trait enumerated by Bolden et al. (2013) as the traits requisite for a successful leader as part of the repertoire of leadership according to the early leadership theorists. Consequently, early leadership theories (essentially trait theories) emphasized on the behavior and characteristics of the leaders as the fundamental determining factors of successful leadership.

Regardless of the assertion of the trait theories on the qualities possessed by a leader, leadership theories have recently looked into performance rather than the innate qualities. The shift from the previous notion of innate qualities possessed by leaders stemmed from the ideation that the bulk of the leaders during the creation of the theories were largely of military and political standing, and had the said characteristics. However, failure of some of the leaders damaged their reputation, as well as the credibility of the early trait leadership (Bolden et al., 2013). Aside from trait theories, the Great Man theory additionally was one of the early theories of leadership insisting on the inherence of leadership capacity. The theory thus viewed leaders as heroic, mythic beings, who could not make any mistakes and had a destiny defined by their ability to rise above other people to become the leaders they were.

Expansions in organization have, however, increased the need for leadership within organizations. Through this growth, other leadership theories have developed largely relying on the acquired character of leaders rather than the innate trait assertions as fronted by the trait leadership theories. The new crop of theories is rather outward than inward lookingthrough an acceptance that leadership characteristics can indeed be acquired by individuals through experience, learning, training and mentorship rather than being a fixation on the innate capabilities exhibited by a “selected” few (Bolden et al., 2013; Northhouse, 2016). Transformational and behavioral leadership are among the new crop of leadership theories, that offer an alternative to trait leadership approaches.

One of the leaders who extensively used the trait theory is the late former Apple co-founder and CEO, Steve Jobs, who effectively used his charisma, love for perfection, and attention to detail to move the company from bankruptcy to one of the most values companies in the world. Trait theory essentially focuses on personal attributes of the leader, among them charisma, which Steve Jobs elicited and used in his public rhetoric of the company. The charisma that Jobs used earned him respect across the business world and throughout the company, as well as endearing him to his customers. In an analysis of Jobs’ use of charisma, Heracleous and Klaering (2014) inform that Jobs integrated a customization to different audiences and situations while at the same time remaining consistent in the central theme of the company. The two authors argue that these (customization and consistency) are the markers of competence of a truly charismatic leader (Heracleous & Klaering, 2014).

Among the many characteristics of a charismatic leader is his/her commitment to the vision he/she set for the organization. Commitment to pursuing the vision of the organization means making sacrifices and leading by example. Steve Jobs is the true exemplification of commitment and sacrifice to the vision of the organization. According to Harvey (2001), Jobs, on his return to Apple in 1997 after a 12-year hiatus from the company, asked for only $1 a year salary. Thus he demonstrated the commitment he had to turn Apple into a world-class company that it is currently.

Sometimes, a charismatic leader has to make decisions, which are not popular with the employees, but necessary. Upon Jobs’ return to Apple in 1997, he realized that the company was not operating effectively). Therefore he felt the need to institute some changes to steer the company in the direction he wanted. The action meant canceling some internal projects, accepting mistakes, and sometimes making a unilateral decision, some of which were not popular with the employees (Harvey, 2001). For instance, he canceled some computer projects, canceled the deal to license Apple software to PC manufacturers, as well as moved production from U.S. to China, even as he allowed employees the creative space to work on projects. Indeed, these decisions, some of which caused disgruntlement among the employees worked to the advantage of Apple as a company, as they steered it to its present, elevated state(Harvey, 2001).

. The trait theory largely emphasizes the personal attributes of an individual. Indeed, charisma is one of the most important of these traits, given its ability to inspire followers into action, taking the risk for the company, and working tirelessly to see to the achievement of organizational goals and objectives.

Before Steve Jobs came into the limelight as one the most charismatic leaders in business, Lee Iacocca had the adulation of the business community due to his ability to turn around Chrysler, the automaker that was facing bankruptcy (Khurana, 2002).  Noteworthy is that he is not a natural born charismatic leader, but developed the trait. During the infantile stages of the development of trait theory, researchers dug into heritable attributes, which differentiated leaders from non-leaders (Derue et al., 2011). It was the belief of the researcher at that time that leadership traits/attributes were innate, and that these innate abilities were essential in differentiating leaders from followers, as aforementioned. However, a later development of the trait theory transcended the idea of innate characteristics into accepting that the behavior of the leaders also predicted their effectiveness (Derue et al., 2011). It is for this reason that although not born a natural charismatic leader Iacocca developed charisma, turning it into one of his greatest strengths as a leader. Cultivating charisma enabled Iacocca to convince Congress to bailout Chrysler at a time when it and the public would not have approved such a move. Additionally, through his developed charisma, he was able to not only convince Congress to extend a loan to the company but also inspire the company’s employees to work hard thus successfully turning Chrysler into a profit-making company.

A leader’s behavior and inherent characteristics are an important combination that distinguishes successful from unsuccessful ones. The self-serving and often selfish and intrinsic characteristic of some leaders have led to the failure of companies, for instance, the near bankruptcy of Apple under Sculley (Harvey, 2001). Seeing his power threatened, Sculley (Apple’s CEO brought from Pepsi by Steve Jobs) colluded with the company’s board and threw Steve Jobs (the then chairman) out of the company (Harvey, 2001). In this regard, Derue et al. (2011) argue on the importance of a combination of trait and behavior towards the success of a leader. Further, they argue, “The influence of the leader behavior paradigm can be seen across leadership theories, including Fiedler’s (1967) contingency model, Blake and Mouton’s (1964) managerial grid, and the work on transformational and transactional leadership” (Derue et al., 2011, p. 8). Thus, the trait theories hinge on the inherent characteristic and behavior of the leader in predicting the effectiveness and eventual success of the leader.

The importance of behavior of the leader is perhaps the reason for the success of Jack Ma, Alibaba’s founder. Clark (2016) informs that while world’s billionaires and CEOs love the attention they are accorded and talk up the connections and academic credentials, Jack Ma trounces these stereotypes by playing down his success and wit. Ma built a business empire that serves 100 million shoppers every day and with revenues surpassing Amazon and eBay combined but does not value popularity that comes with such a fete (Fortune, 2014). Ma’s downplaying demeanor is perhaps one of the traits that continue to endear him to his employees, the board of Alibaba and the world.

Over the years, leadership has become an important element in organizations. It continues to pique interest given the weight of the position and its influence on the direction an organization, and to a larger part, the country takes. Trait theories of leadership place emphasis and importance on the inherent learned or acquired traits and behaviors of the leaders. Some leaders have used their traits for the betterment of the organizations they worked for, while others squandered the opportunity due to their selfish desires. While new forms of leadership theory such as transformational leadership are fast replacing trait theories, trait theories and their ideas still hold true as leadership approaches.







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