Despite there being leaders within society since Man started living in groups, the study of leadership as a subject has only really come about since the middle of the Nineteenth century. The focus of the early studies was centred on the individual and their characteristics, or traits, whereas later research moved towards the relationship between leader and follower and the circumstance in which that relationship was formed. The aim of this literature review is to provide a background of general management theories and how these have been developed up to, and post, 1992 through the work of prominent leadership and management researchers and theorists and what form this ‘new genre’ of leadership theory takes.
Keywords: leadership, leadership theory, trait, charismatic, situational, transformational
Introduction to Leadership
Since the dawn of civilisation in any form of society there have always been leaders and followers. Philosophers such as Aristotle wrote about the education and traits of leaders (Grint, 2007: 231). Despite the fact that leadership has existed for so long its study has only really surfaced since the mid. Nineteenth century. More recent theorists such as Bernard Bass wrote that although the style of leadership may change with both time and culture, the premise of leader and followers appearing in society is a basic need (Bass, 1990: 19).
In order to study leadership one has to first define the term. Early definitions, such as that of Thomas Carlyle, states that a “hero sometimes stands for an actual leader of men” (Carlyle, 1841). Meredith Belbin later describes leadership as involving “finding a way forward appropriate to the problem and issues of the times and successfully engaging others in the process” (Belbin, quoted in Carpenter, 2002: 36). Gary Yukl concludes that “most definitions of leadership reflect the assumption that it involves a process whereby intentional influence is exerted over other people to guide, structure and facilitate activities and relationships in a group or organization” (Yukl, 2010: 21).
As with the changes in the definition of leadership, researchers and theorists have tried to explain the characteristics of leaders and their followers. Early work centred on the authoritative nature of leaders with the “‘moral force of character’ and ‘instincts to lead’” (Rhodes, quoted in Markwell, 2013: 17). This notion gave way in the mid. Twentieth century to a more situational approach in which, according to Ralph Stogdill, leaders were no longer defined merely by their traits but also by situational effects (Northouse, 2010: 26). Later work by Robert Blake and Jane Mouton suggested an alternative approach which focussed on the leader’s support for their followers’ wellbeing (Blake and Mouton, in Curtis, 2002: 74).
A new genre of charismatic leadership theory was first developed in the 1970s by Robert House who believed that it was necessary for leaders to instil loyalty and shared vision with their followers in order to be effective (House, in Conger and Kanungo, 1998: 13).
This new genre of leadership has been further developed by House and others since 1992. With the changing social attitudes of people and hence of leaders and followers, researchers such as House, Michael Brown and Linda Trevino, Fred Luthans and Bruce Avolio have all developed this new genre of leadership theory into ones that include concerns for ethical and moral behaviour.
It was around this time that Henry Mintzberg, Michael Porter and Peter Drucker all proposed that the qualities of leadership could be learned, however Mintzberg did qualify his ideas by stating, regarding formal qualifications, that “the MBA is about business…underneath should be written: warning: not prepared to manage” (Mintzberg, quoted in Robinson, 2005: 38).
General Leadership Theory