Many of us have heard this statement: «Great leaders are born, not made« and plenty of people are convinced that what is called »charisma« is the key to the success of any leader. While this was quite a common view for a while, a number of leadership theories have emerged throughout 20th century that examined leadership from different perspectives and some also state the in fact leadership is a skill that can be trained.
Overall, some researchers summarize 8 different types of leadership theories1 and consequently the major argument of those: 1. The »great man« theories (that the statement above is a typical proof of); 2. Trait theories that are similar to the first one, however, with the focus that some traits are inherent and predispose certain people to become leaders; 3. Contingency theories, that primarily focus on the environment and the variables balance that success depends on, including leadership style, the characteristics of the followers and the situation itself; 4. Situational theories stress the role of a leader when choosing a leadership style depending on the situation variables; 5. Behavioral theories are an opposite for the »great man« theories and state that it is actions that make a leader, and hence, people can learn and train to become a good leader; 6. Participative theories, on the other hand, highlight a particular leadership style that focuses on the empowering group members input, while giving the leader that ultimate say in which contribution to allow; 7. Transactional theories talk about mechanisms of how the organisation is run and particularly the rewards and punishment systems; 8. Relationship theories stress the impact of the connections and communications created between the leader and his/her followers and importance is given to both group performance and individual success and potential.
Leadership is a complex subject and the number of approaches to it just prove that there is no unified recipe for what a great leader is or whether anyone can in fact be or become one.
While reading on the topic, I came across an article in Forbes by Joseph Folkman, a consultant who has done thousands of 360 assessments. What he and his colleague did was to analyse the data on the best leaders they encountered, clustered their findings and figured out that not only it is possible to identify 6 most common traits that these people had and naturally gravitated to several of them, but also that it is possible to improve and become even a more inspiring leader. These traits are: visionary, enhancing, driver, principled, enthusiast and expert2.
When thinking about leaders and leadership in general, one should not overrate their value. Not everybody wants to be a leader and should be a leader – somebody has to do the actual work as well. There are also certain environments, for instance, knowledge-intensive environments, where in fact management and micro-management are not necessary and in fact could bring the opposite results from expected. There is a need for a leadership, but the tasks are down to finding a meaning to the work that is being done, for instance.
One more idea to think about when talking about leadership, aren’t we all slightly brainwashed, particularly, in the West, that being a leader is important and great, while being a follower. who in fact might be a much happier and satisfying position to be, is wrong?