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The traits that make a “normal” person a leader and how to acquire them (Jun 2004)

Introduction

Beginning over a century ago, scientist, and philosophers pondered what it takes to become a great leader. A leader’s character and the influence that present and past theories play in the leader’s life and the lives of their followers are central to the idea of the leader’s character. If people are not born leaders, what is it about their character that makes them a leader?

Since the last century, numerous studies have been conducted on the issue of leadership and whether it is a genetic, hereditary, or learned behavior. One of the first studies of character, relating to inheritance, was conducted by Sir Francis Galton in 1869. The study of hereditary improvement of the human race through selective breeding, known as Eugenics, was established by Sir Galton. Eugenics is a debatable topic and considered a false science by many. The fact that eugenics was conceived in the 1860s iterates man’s desire to understand genetics and how genetics play into the person that we are. The Theory of Eugenics was, “used to blame social ills on the perceived genetic traits of entire groups of people. Under Adolph Hitler, it was used to justify the murder of millions”

. The use of Eugenics was clearly used in the wrong direction but some truth may be hidden behind the theory that certain leadership skills and other personality traits are inheritable. The study of twins has shown that there are some personality traits that we do inherit. At the University of British Columbia and the University of Western Ontario a study was conducted on 195 monozygotic twins showing evidence of inheritable attitudes. The study displayed a correlation between a highly heritable attitude being more pronounced in the psyche than a less heritable attitude

. However, there is not enough evidence to prove that genes are the sole decider of traits and other behavioral characteristics. The influences that shape our personalities are also a result of the environment that surround us, including what is learned through observation

.

Leadership and the Theories around It

When we observe the world around us, we see leadership in every walk of life but in order to conceptualize the presented theories of leadership, they will be placed in a business setting. The business world is a perfect place to look for qualities and characteristics of leadership because it is a competitive and measurable environment. The qualities and traits of leadership are many and seen in the eyes of the follower or beholder. There is a necessity that is created between a leader and the followers, because without the other none of them would exist. Leaders provide guidance and instruction, while the followers provide support to the ideas of the leader. The motivation theorist Frederick Hertzberg realized this scenario and outlined opportunities that provide motivation on the follower’s behalf. Workers are motivated by opportunities for development, recognition, and increased responsibility. It is the duty of the leader to provide these opportunities in order to acquire employee satisfaction. Hertzberg outlined three things that motivate people; rewards, relationships and reasons, which need to be sought out and enacted by the leader. This theory can be seen at work in the Gore Associates Corp. which is a privately held company in a billion dollar market. The Gore Associates enact a system of sub-dividing its departments once they reach 150 people in size. The system works on the rule of 150, once there becomes more than a 150 people in a division it becomes too large for the individuals to be able to communicate

. This closed communication system breeds relationships because everyone knows everyone else’s strengths and weaknesses and the work that they perform. It is these relationships that enact motivation, “It’s knowing people well enough that what they think of you matters”

. It is this kind of model that plays on the desires of people, who want to use their abilities and be rewarded for their work by peer gratification. When people know that their efforts are making a difference to someone and that their work is meaningful, one of the strongest motivators is in use.

Another theory similar to Hertzberg’s theory was developed by Elton Mayo in the late 1920s. The Humanist theory like Hertzberg’s, centers on people who are doing the work, not the work itself. According to this theory, leaders should provide opportunities for workers to grow and advance. Productivity will increase when the employees feel that they are allowed to participate in decision-making and feel value in the work that they are performing. A major part of leadership is trying to persuade or motivate one’s followers to act and perform in the way that you want them too. In each of the different theories the means and methods of persuasion are different but the goal remains the same, to have your followers do what you want them to do.

The scientific or classical theory was theorized by Frederick Winslow in the early 1900s. The theory focuses on the task rather than the worker. Winslow theorized that productivity would increase if you were able to establish specific goals. These goals are based on studies of tasks and the exact amount of time needed to accomplish each of the tasks. If I am a secretary and the optimal time to file one folder is two minutes, then that would mean that I am capable of filing 240 folders in a standard eight-hour day. It is the leader’s job to manipulate their workers into meeting such a goal. This theory has several major windfalls, the theory allows for no margin of error or the fact that food or going to the restroom is a necessity. Classical theory emphasizes organizational aspects of leadership without regard for the humans performing them. This style of leadership is typical of authoritarian leaders who lead by intimidation

. When I traveled to South East Asia we visited some textile factories. The tour of the textile factory was only a promotional stunt by the owners of the company. Later in the day we ran into some workers who worked there and a couple of them spoke broken English. We began to ask them about their work and how they liked it because the tour seemed artificial. They went on to tell us that every day there is a certain quota that they must meet in a ten hour period, if they were unable to fill this quota their job would be given to someone else. This is a prime example of the scientific theory in place.

Various types

The idea that there is not only one kind of leadership role for someone to take on is held by Douglas McGregor. In his 1960 book The Human Side of Enterprise it is stated that people fall into one of two groups: x and y people. The y people are said to need leadership by participation. They are self-realizing and motivated, if they are committed to their objective and their motivation stems from rewards for their achievement. The x people lack self-control and realization and need an authoritarian leader. They dislike work, are lazy, and have little ability to uphold their responsibility. Although the idea that there are only two types of leadership roles seems stringent to the possibility that not everyone is either an x or y person. The idea that there are different types of leaders needed for different types of people and situations is held by other theorist. The idea that different leadership roles are needed in different situations has been referred to as the situational theory of leadership. An example of different types of leadership roles could be in the discrepancies between a leader of an army battalion and a leader of marketing firm. The military leader probably needs the qualities of courage and honor while the marketing leader may need to emphasize the qualities of determination and focus.

A final approach to leadership, the trait theory, states that leadership is defined by the traits that a person takes on such as honesty, integrity, self-confidence, and dominance. These traits allow followers to become leaders and people perceive the person who is exhibiting these traits as a leader. Bernard Bass a researcher of leadership skills identified some common traits that experts have found present in leaders including the ability to motivate, integrity, mental health, vision, intelligence and the ability to hire the right people. There have been great leaders that have not possessed all of these traits but it is necessary to possess the majority of them. A leader who feels that they are lacking in some respect of their character is able to makeup for those weaknesses by hiring people who have strengths in the areas that they are lacking. The ability to know and improvise for one’s weaknesses is a key ability for leaders to possess, along with the other necessary skills.

Hundreds of Companies Observed

Over one hundred fortune 500 companies were scrutinized by researcher Daniel Goleman, who looked at leadership models within these companies. One basic character trait was found to separate good leaders from extraordinary leaders, which he called emotional intelligence. “Approximately 90 percent of the difference in the performance of star leaders and average leaders at these companies was attributable to emotional intelligence rather than cognitive abilities,”

this information emphasizes the strength that emotional intelligence can bring to a leader. Emotional intelligence is not concerned with technical knowledge but is a combination of social skills, empathy, motivation, self-regulation, and self-awareness. Social skills include the ability to feel at ease in settings were other people’s feeling and reactions must be accounted for. Self-regulation is the process of controlling emotional impulses so they do not interfere with decision making. Self-awareness is the understanding of one’s self and knowing what situations affect you and how they affect you. If dealing with the accounting department only frustrates you and interferes with your other duties a realization of this feeling will help you better plan for it in the future. Empathy is seen as an understanding of other’s feelings and considering those feelings when decisions are made. Motivation is the drive to achieve some task to your satisfaction no matter what obstacles may lay ahead. Possessing emotional intelligence is a necessary character trait of a good leader and research shows that it can be obtained and developed with effort.

Leaders not only possess certain character traits, they have to apply those traits in a way that will enact people to follow them. To achieve a leadership role that is lasting, people have to want to follow you, not out of fear but out of the prospect of happiness, success, and opportunity. A follower should have “an aesthetic vision that inspires people with an ideal of what can be achieved,”

and it is this vision that a leader must create. A vision is only as good as the people who believe in it and in the current business world of restructuring, downsizing, and merging the vision is fleeting because of one reason, integrity. “Integrity is not only a personal virtue but also an organizational strength”

that leaders must instill in the minds of their followers if they want to be followed. If people want to create a vision that others will follow, people have to be willing to trust that person and trust that vision. A leader can gain this trust by being forthright with decisions that affect others and they must consider others before making these decisions. No matter what kind of leader a person becomes, if they do not pick the right people to follow them, their character traits are useless. The ability of reading one’s character and understanding their traits is essential for a leader to maximize the strengths that they possess.

Conclusion: Managers and Leaders

In any leadership role there has to be a delegation of power to others and there is a distinction between managers and leaders

. A manager focuses on following the rules and vision created by the leader. In the meantime a leader discovers creative ways to develop and guide the organization and the people within that organization. “Management is a function of all business, while leadership is more a relationship between the leader and the people being lead, that can energize an organization,”

Psychology professor William Cohen outlines “The Eight Universal Laws of Leadership,” that can be learned to become an effective leader.

  • Maintain absolute
  • Know your area of expertise
  • Show uncommon commitment
  • Expect positive results
  • Declare your expectation
  • Take care of your people
  • Place duty ahead of yourself
  • Set an example for others

 

These general outlines of leadership are supposed to be starting points for the acquirement of leadership skills. It is the details that must be filled in, to fit to the different situations that a leader will encounter.

The idea that leadership is a fleeting trait for those who are not born with the genetic traits of a leader is bogus. Through the examination of different leadership theories, it has been shown that people can become leaders when they look inside and have the desire to become one. It is true that there are different leaders for different situations but the idea that people are not capable of fulfilling that leadership role is untrue.

Bibliography

 

Bass, B. (July 1990). Bass & Stogdill’s Handbook of Leadership: Theory, Research, & Managerial Applications. New York, NY: Free Press

 

Berg, G.; Magnus, R. Leadership theories and their effect on productivity.

Available online at http://www.fminet.com/news/General_Contractors/leader-productivity.html

 

Cohen, W. (1998). Great leaders are made, not born. Available online at

www.stuffofheroes.com/Articles/made.htm

 

Gladwell, M. (2002). The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. Back Bay Books. New York, N.Y. 2002.

 

Goleman, D. (1998. What makes a leader? Harvard Business Review, 93.

 

James C. (1996). Leadership Australia’s Top CEOs: Finding out what makes them the best. Sydney, Australia, Harper Collins Publishers.

 

Knisely, J.S. (1996). Leaders: Born or Made? Training Programs called into question. Passages. Available online at http://content.monster.ca/career/leaders

 

Maccoby, M. (2000). Understanding the difference between management and leadership. Industrial Research Institute, Inc. Available online at http://onlinejournal.net

 

McGregor, D. (1985). Human Side of Enterprise. 15th Anniversary Printing. New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

 

Olson, J. (2001, June). “The Herability of Attitudes: A Study of Twins”. American Psychological Association. vol. 80, No. 6, 845-860.

 

Sorensen, E. (1999, October 19). “Are leaders born or made? Scientist suspect it’s a little of both”. Seattle Times. Available online at http://seattletimes.nwsource.com

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One Comment

  1. Posted November 13, 2012 at 2:17 am | Permalink

    hello very cool post man!