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The History of Leadership Thought and Practice

Note. This lecture is property of the University of Phoenix, not the course facilitator.

Leadership practice and philosophical study have occurred for centuries. However, leadership research is relatively new. The historical study of leadership requires examination of the significant periods and milestones of leadership thought from ancient times to the present. During the 1500s, Machiavelli (1903, 1935, 1952) reportedly commented that there were over 1,000 leadership books for sale. Bass (1990) reviewed over 3,000 pre-1974 leadership publications alone. In the 21st century, over 10,000 leadership references are available. This exceptional breadth of information supports the high level of interest in, and importance of, leadership research. There are various theories and models of leadership, and doctoral learners must be able to articulate the evolution of leadership thought.

The Great Man Theory: 19th Century and Before

Plato’s notion that leaders possessed inborn traits is echoed in much of the 20th-century literature. Prior to the middle of the 20th century, the great man theory predominated leadership thought. The great man theory advocated that leaders were born rather than made, and that divine class or providence signified leadership. Consensus during this time was that leaders differed significantly from their followers. Bass (1990) explained that every society identified individuals who were intellectually and morally superior, and these individuals were destined to lead. Proponents of the great man theory suggest John F. Kennedy, Lee Iacocca, Douglas MacArthur, and Martin Luther King, Jr. are examples of individuals with inborn, predetermined leadership abilities. As the behavioral sciences evolved, the great man theory has become less prevalent, and more contemporary leadership models have emerged.

Transformational Leadership

Transformational leadership is a contemporary leadership model. Transformational leadership enables followers to rise to a higher level of performance than presumed possible. According to transformational leadership theory, leadership does not reside in an individual, but in the relationship between individuals. According to Bass (1990), leadership should be oriented to promoting a vision rather than focused solely on attaining organizational goals. Transformational leadership focuses on changing the human condition and can spring from any source. It empowers individuals at all organizational levels to assume leadership roles.

According to Bass (1990), transformational leaders inspire employees to exceed the expected by embracing a vision and striving to achieve that vision. Transformational leaders demonstrate specific behaviors and actions: attributed charisma, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration (Conger, 1999). Attributed charisma occurs when leaders demonstrate behaviors that engender respect and trust. Leaders who display charisma demonstrate interest in the well-being of others, stay calm in crisis situations, formulate decisions that benefit the group as a whole, demonstrate competence, and earn followers’ respect (Bass & Avolio, 1994). Leaders who display inspirational motivation engage and inspire others by providing meaningful and challenging work (Bass, 1990). Intellectual stimulation includes promoting risk taking and creativity by encouraging followers to question assumptions, redefine problems, and consider alternatives to existing methods or approaches. Individual consideration includes developing individualized relationships with followers to empower and support them. Transformational leadership behaviors increase followers’ commitment to support the leader's vision, create innovative approaches, assume greater responsibility, and perform more effectively (Bass, 1990).

Transactional Leadership

In contrast to transformational leaders, transactional leaders attempt to appeal to followers’ self-interests by creating an exchange relationship. According to Burns (1978), the following comprise transactional leadership practices:

1. Contingent reward: The leader uses perks to reward followers for meeting work objectives.

2. Passive management by exception: The leader uses punishment or negative reinforcement to correct unacceptable performance or deviation from the accepted standards.

3. Active management by exception: The leader closely monitors employees as they perform their jobs and corrects them to ensure that work is completed according to standards.

4. Laissez-faire leadership: The leader takes a hands-off approach and ignores the needs of others, does not respond to problems, and does not manage employee performance.

Transactional leadership attempts to influence others by exchanging work for wages, but it does not create morale or inspire worker creativity. Leaders who use transactional leadership as a primary practice foster an environment of power and politics where leaders and followers exchange gratifications in a political marketplace. Transactional leadership creates short-lived relationships because sellers and buyers cannot repeat the exchange identically. Transactional relationships comprise quick cost–benefit calculations. The objective in transactional relationships is to promote the individual interests of people going their separate ways.

Operationalizing Leadership

As Bass (1990) concluded, transformational leadership maximizes employee morale and productivity. Knowledge of transformational leadership theory alone is insufficient for becoming an effective leader. It is important to be able to translate transformational leadership theory into observable, daily leadership behavior. According to Sergiovanni (1990), the following are transformational behaviors leaders can demonstrate with followers:

1. Say “good morning” to employees each day, and encourage other employees to do the same. A morning greeting demonstrates to employees a value and appreciation of their presence at work.

2. Involve employees in goal setting and establishing objectives for the year. Involving employees illustrates that their opinions are valuable and demonstrates a willingness to listen and integrate their input, creating employee buy-in.

3. Invite employees to seek new and different solutions by inviting and encouraging different perspectives. Avoid promoting status-quo thinking, and challenge employees to stretch themselves intellectually and creatively.

4. Clarify and summarize main points during meetings; facilitate, but avoid imposing personal points of view. Use a participative leadership approach.

5. Establish teams and task forces to distribute power. Delegate responsibility and include employees in governance activities. Ask employees to lead or chair committees.

6. Look for the good things that are taking place in various departments and publicly recognize individuals and teams who have contributed to the organization’s goals. Send e-mails to individuals to privately thank and recognize them.

7. Conduct employee satisfaction surveys and act on the results. Communicate actions taken as a result of employee survey feedback. Reinforce to employees that their input made a difference.

8. Allow employees to try new ideas and encourage risk taking.

9. Encourage employees to participate in training. Facilitate a training or workshop and share new knowledge and information.

10. Communicate high expectations for employees and model expectations. Avoid expecting 100% if unwilling to commit 100%. Demonstrate consistency in actions and words.

Doctoral students of leadership should challenge themselves to integrate transformational leadership behaviors into daily leadership work. In addition, doctoral learners should conduct periodical assessments to ensure that they consistently model the behaviors they expect from others.

References

Bass, B. (1990). Bass & Stogdill’s handbook of leadership: Theory, research, & managerial applications (3rd ed.). New York, NY: The Free Press.

Bass, B. M., & Avolio, B. J. (1994). Improving organizational effectiveness through transformational leadership. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. 

Burns, J. M. (1978). Leadership. New York, NY: Harper & Row. 

Conger, J. A. (1999). Charismatic and transformational leadership in organizations: An insider's perspective on these developing streams of research. Leadership Quarterly, 10, 145-179.

Foster, W. (1986). The reconstruction of leadership. Victoria, Australia: Deakin University Press.

Machiavelli, N. (1984). The prince (Reissue ed.). New York, NY: Bantam.

Sergiovanni, T. J. (1990). Adding value to leadership gets extraordinary results. Educational Leadership, 47, 23-27.

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