On Leadership: The Traits Leadership Model

“managers are people who do things right and leaders are people who do the right thing”

Bennis, WG; Nanus, B (1985). Leaders: The strategies for taking charge

Courtesy of managementpocketbooks.wordpress.com

Courtesy of managementpocketbooks.wordpress.com

In my opinion leadership must be separated from management, since both can be considered complimentary but different. As stated in the quote above, there is a fundamental difference between leaders and managers; the ability to go beyond the day to day (or in today’s organizations quarter to quarter) numbers. Managers are needed in every organization because as with any good orchestra director, they can make individuals perform to the best of their ability as a team. At the same time we should never confuse a great orchestra director with the composer that actually wrote the piece. Leaders are like those composers, the organizational counterparts to Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart; the individuals that can actually generate the ideas that will later be adopted by their followers, and executed by the managers. While we can agree that without great directors we most probably rarely hear the great composers, without the composers there will not even be an orchestra to lead.

Leadership Models:

When we look at leadership we can identify some very specific leadership models that are present in one way or another in today’s organizations. From the classical trait approach, to the more modern contingency models, organizations need a combination of leaders (and managers) in order to succeed. In today’s article we will focus on the first general theory of leadership, the Traits Theory.

The Trait Approach:

Courtesy of  fc08.deviantart.net/

Courtesy of fc08.deviantart.net/

One of the best examples of the trait approach is “The Great Man Theory of Leadership” that in a few words states that Leaders are Born, Not Made, and one that gives very little value to the ability of individuals to develop through the combination of experience, and education. According to the theory leaders have naturally superior abilities or characteristics that included persistence, the desire to lead, integrity, self-confidence, intelligence, and job knowledge that separate them from their less able followers.  The theory also assumes that these traits are equally present in all leaders, and that apply in all situations.

While the theory fails to recognize that many individuals will overcome the seemingly lack of these natural advantages through personal effort and dedication, we can also recognize that some individual characteristics make them more appealing and can substantially help them improve their ability to lead others. We all recognize names such as Michael Jordan, Pele, Pavarotti, and many others that based on their individual natural traits have been able to rise and be recognized and followed by millions on a worldwide basis.

steve_jobs3Leaders must be by nature charismatic, and in many cases can be even misunderstood by their own organizations. One of the most recent examples could be Steve Jobs, and his relationship with Apple, the company he founded, and an organization that seems to have its success or failure directly tied to Steve’s brilliance at the helm. Leaders and leadership traits are not necessarily limited by a chain of command, and are not always found at the top of the organizations. We can potentially identify most of the trait theory characteristics in Steve (persistence, self-confidence, intelligence, and job-knowledge), and could agree that the organization substantially benefited from his leadership style.

Leadership is not limited to the top layer of an organization, and in some of the most successful organizations like the U.S. Seals teams, leaders can be found at all levels and it is not unusual to find a higher ranking officer accepting a Master Sergeant as the mission leader based on the NCO’s experience and ability to creatively accomplish the mission. On cases like this the superior officer will act as the unit manager with the understanding that the mission is more important than any formal and sometimes rigid chain of command.

In our next article we will review the next leadership model, the Behavioral Approach.

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