Organizational Behaviour – Leaders Are Born Not Made

This essay aims to provide a discussion about the statement “leaders are born, not made”. According to Stogdill (1950) leadership is the process of influencing the activities of an organised group in its efforts toward goal setting and goal achievement (Buchanan and Huczynski, 2010). In any organised field there is the necessity to recognize the distinguished figure of a leader, wheter it is the animal kingdom or the human modern society. Businesses and firms (but even hospitals, politicians, schools, military, sports…) requiere a strong figure able to inspire and being a role model to follow.

In order to accomplish the purpose of the essay, it will be first introduced the Great Man theory about leaders’ traits, and its relevant criticism. Secondly, it will be argued the behaviour theories of leadership exposed by the University of Michigan and the Ohio State University, followed by the contingency theory of leadership that negates both the trait and behavioural theories. Last, a conclusion will be held about to how far the assertion “leaders are born, not made” is true.

To cite Buchanan and Huczynski (2010) for the first half of twentieth century, researchers assumed that they could identify the personal traits and other attributes of leaders. It would then be possible to select individuals who possessed those markers, and to promote them to leadership positions. This search for the qualities of good leaders was influenced by the Great Man theory. According to Gordon (1999) the Great Man theory suggests that leaders have such personality, social, and physical characteristics traits. Firts introduced in the 1940s and 1950s, trait theory originally proposed that some individuals were born to be leaders.

More than 100 early studies on leaders traits showed that leaders differed from non-leaders in their intelligence, initiative, persistence in dealing with problems, self-confidence, alertness to others’ needs, understanding the task, desire to accept responsibility, and preference for a position of control and dominance. Leaders also differed from non-leaders in their drive (achievement, ambition, energy, and tenacity), desire to lead, honesty and integrity, self-confidence, cognitive ability, and knowledge of business. However, Ellis and Dick (2000) observe that one difficulty with this theory

is that the list grows ever longer the more succesful leaders are considered. Eventually, it becomes so cumbersome that you begin to ask yourself if any one person can ever possess all the qualities they need to become a great leader. There are also a number of contradictions if we start to compare leaders from different fields of endeavour. For example, the qualities needed for a professional sports’ team leader or coach or manager are very different from those that would be needed for a leader from the Church or the leader of an orchestra.

Taking a look back on history, it is possible to recognise different figures that we can consider leaders and that have influenced the course of the events: Mao Tze Tung, Hitler, Julius Caesar, Napoleon, but also Gandhi, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Martin Luther King. Looking on this list, it is possible to come to the conclusion that they were leaders who did not share same ideals and poin of views, and most important, that did not have same traits and characteristics. According to Champoux (2000) leadership reserchers eventually realised that traits alone did not full explain leadership effectiveness.

As a result, they turned to studying leader behaviour in the late 1950s. Two complementary behavioural theories of leadership were designed to describe the behaviour that distinguished leaders of effective and ineffective work groups. One set of researchers was the University of Michigan Studies; they conceptualised two dimension of leadership behaviour: Production-centered focus and Employee-centered behaviour. Production-centered leaders focus on putting production and tasks before people: the leader will decide what to do and will not trust people to work on their own, will give orders, will assign duties and jobs to the employees.

Their behaviour toward the staff will be autocratic and overbearing in order to accomplish every task with method and precision. A practical example of a production-centered leader could be found in a iron foundry, or in an assembly line. On the other hand, leaders that follow the Employee-centered criteria will be more concerned about the staff and the team. The leader will be more open mind toward the employees and they will arrange meetings and will take into consideration advice and ideas suggested by their subordinates.

In real life, an Employee-centered leader could be the team leader of a design studio. The Michigan University concluded its theory by attesting that people who work under the supervision of Employee-centered leaders will be able to achieve higher performance than people who work under production-centered leaders. This last group is indeed able to succesfully accomplish tasks and directions, but the quality of working life might lead to a high staff turnover or absenteeism, and a distrustful relationship between them and the leader in charge.

The second set of researchers was the Ohio State University Leadership Studies, whom also found two dimensions of leadership behaviour: Initiating Structure and Consideration. Leaders could present high or low levels of those two dimensions. A leader with a high level of Initiating structure will set deadlines and tasks to operate for the employees, while a leader with low level of initiating structure will not worry about setting tasks and deadlines, but will leave the responsability and the decisions to the members of its staff.

On the other hand, a leader with a high level of consideration is very concerned about its subordinates and will present a warm and friendly attitude toward them. Last, a leader with a low consideration is not interested in establish interpersonal relationships with its subordinates, and will often criticise people’s work in front of other colleagues, creating a non adeguate environment to work in. Employees working for supervisors high on both dimensions had more positive work attitudes than employees working for supervisors with other combinations of the dimensions.

Champoux (2000) attests that neither the trait nor behavioural approaches offered completely satisfactory explanations of leadership in organisations, causing researchers to develop contingency theory of leadership. According to Ellis and Dick (2000) several theories have emerged to explain how leadership styles should change when situations themselves change. Fiedler’s (1967) contingency theory of leadership combines an organisational situation with the desired style of management.

He used a least preferred co-worker (LPC) questionnaire to determine the predominant style of a leader. Fiedler subsequently divided the results into two groups: those people who gave negative reviews about their colleagues were described as being task oriented, while people who talked in a positive way and gave good reviews, even if didn’t have a harmonious relationship with their LPC, were defined as relationship oriented. Leaders in the task oriented group were found to

be more productive in highly favourable or highly unfavourable situations: in fact, in an unusual situation that differs from the normal routine, a task oriented leader will be able to give directions to follow, or provide a very organised structure to bring the situation back on track. An example of a task oriented leader is a military captain: in case of a war situation, it is necessary to lead the army with authority and organisation. However, leaders of the relationship oriented group are considered more effective in intermediate conditions: performances and tasks will be discussed with the staff instead of orders being given from above.

In the technology industry, for example, leaders should be relationship oriented and discuss with the team how to proceed to dictate a new fashion. For example, design is nowadays very important to sell technology, like the Apple is leader in the sector. To become an effective leader, a person needs to know how to apply the Fiedler’s contingency theory in relation to the situation they will face: being aware of what their job requires is a must to be able to choose their relationship style.

When this level of understanding is achieved the theory suggests that application of the correct style to the correct contingency will pay dividends. To conclude, if leaders are born or made is a subject that has been debated from the ancient Greek time of Aristotle (who attested in his book “Politics” that people were either barbarian or noble) until present day, and researchers still haven’t come to an unanimous agreement yet.

However, on the base of the above theories , it is possible to attest that a person might be born with particular traits that represent him as a possible leader, but the social environment and the situation in which it finds itself are able to change his points of view, ideals and beliefes, and therefore change their approach to them. Traits and characteristics evolve during the course of life, and the personal experience that a person has will be the key to make it become an inspirational leader.

Word count: 1477 Bibliography Buchanan, D. A. , Huczynski, A. A. (2010) Organizational Behaviour (7th edn. ). Harlow: Pearson Education Limited Champoux, J. E. (2000) Organisational Behaviour: Essential Tenets for a New Millennium. Berkshire House: International Thomson Publishing Europe Ellis, S. et al. (2000) Introduction to Organizational Behaviour. Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill Publishing Company Gordon, J. R. (1999) Organizational Behaviour : a diagnostic approach. (6th edn. ). Upper Saddle River: Prentice-Hall