Great Man Theory
Aristotle may be said to be a proponent of The Great Man Theory as he is quoted as saying, “Men are marked out from the moment of birth to rule or be ruled.” This theoretical perspective was developed further by historians who studied the lives of respected leaders for clues to their greatness but it has never become part of mainstream organizational psychology. The major assumptions are leaders are born and not made and great leaders will arise when there is a great need.
Early research on leadership was based on the study of people who were already great leaders. These people were often from the aristocracy, as few from lower classes had the opportunity to lead. This contributed to the notion that leadership had something to do with breeding. The idea of the Great Man also strayed into the mythic domain, with notions that in times of need, a Great Man would arise, almost by magic. This was easy to verify, by pointing to people such as Eisenhower and Churchill.
Most of the time the traits are considered to be naturally part of a person‟s personality from birth. From this standpoint, leadership trait theory tends to assume that people are born as leaders or not as leaders. However, the idea that leadership traits are inborn and unchangeable appears to be incorrect. Some of the main assumption are people are born with inherited traits, some traits are particularly suited to leadership and people who make good leaders have the right (or sufficient) combination of traits.
Stogdill is one the main scholars of trait theory approach to leadership. Two of Stogdill's surveys established certain traits which were consistent of leaders. These surveys took place from the 1930s-1950s.
Ø The first survey concluded: intelligence, alertness, insight, responsibility, initiative, persistence, self-confidence, and sociability were traits found among leaders. These traits did not automatically make a person a leader. The person also needed the right situation (a leadership opportunity) and work with others.
Ø The second survey added more traits which included: drive, vigor and persistence in pursuit of goals, venture and originality in problem-solving, personal identity, willingness to accept consequence for actions and decisions, ability to influence another person's behavior.
McCall and Lombardo (1983) researched both success and failure identified four primary traits by which leaders could succeed or 'derail':
Ø Emotional stability and composure: Calm, confident and predictable, particularly when under stress.
Ø Admitting error: Owning up to mistakes, rather than putting energy into covering up.
Ø Good interpersonal skills: Able to communicate and persuade others without resort to negative or coercive tactics.
Ø Intellectual breadth: Able to understand a wide range of areas, rather than having a narrow (and narrow-minded) area of expertise.