Development of Theories on Leadership

Development of Theories on Leadership.

The term leader was identified as early as 1300 and was acknowledged even before biblical times. Throughout history, leaders have been present. As social animals, men always look for order in the daily chaos that they live in. Men strive to be organized in the everyday mess that they find themselves in. As a result of this struggle to find whom to organize the chaos, someone finds himself to be in charge. Past leaders have either belonged to one of these three categories, religious, military, or political. Religious leaders have had more impact in the societies they have liked, with implications ranging to four centuries. In about 1790 B.C, Hammurabi, the Babylonian ruler, made the coded rules that unified his entire empire. This was translated to a proper order as all people adhered to the authorities. From the year 500 B.C., Sun Tzu, a military leader, wrote the book art of war, which was ironically about avoiding using the army unless it is indispensable.

The researchers in the great man theory dwelt majorly on the great men and women of the world, and they were viewed as role models in society. Boeden (1972) equaled leadership to personality. Some leading theorists have also equated leadership to inheritance.  (Jeanings 1960). Though that belief was disputed when leaders of influence started forming diverse opinions. Additionally, it is very difficult to copy personalities.

Leadership theory was improved during the trait period. During this period, attempts were made to cut the links with the individuals and to develop a number of general traits that can be adopted to enhance leadership performance and potential. In this theory, they were also facing failure as the leadership traits could not be copied. Because of this, personality theories have shown to be too simplistic and have since then become extinct. Researchers have therefore added trait theory to a variable to explain the difference. However, the main focus of the theories that later emerged was not on the character of the leader.

If you don’t find an answer in the traits of a leader, then they might lie in what the leader does. The behavioral theories suggest that some behaviors may easily help to give a difference of leaders to non-leaders. The trait theory can assist in picking a leader or suggest that someone can be a good leader, but the behavioral approach suggests that a leader can be trained.

It is evident from the above discussion that both the trait and behavior have some impacts on a leader’s path to success. The question to ask is what happens to the situation? This is called the contingency approach. The circumstances may place people to keep away from a particular leader and later on realize that he is the best leader. From the advent of the 1960s, the guiding principle has always been that what makes a leader good is the situation of the leader.      The great man theory succeeded the early trait theory. In the United States, for example, they were still experiencing the industrial revolution. This made it clear that the leaders were not just rulers. By the start of the 20th century, The U.S. started to realize the nitty-gritty of management and what it means exactly to be strategic in leadership.

Let’s look at how the media discusses personalities like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, or Mary Barra. They are philanthropic; they make tough decisions; they are extremely innovative. Most research that is done suggests that individual differences are still responsible for the quality a leader is. Through all the research, it is evident that there are various attributes of leadership that vary from one leader to the other. Some leaders are very good orators; some leaders are good writers, some leaders’ force of logic moves crowds. The difference between a great leader and a good leader is the leadership they possess. Lastly, it is how they will apply the leadership qualities to those who will be following them.


Jennings, E E (1960). “An Anatomy of Leadership: Princes, Heroes, and Superman. New York: Harper.

Bowden, A O (1927). “A Study on the Personality of Student Leadership in the United States,” Journal of Abnormal Social Psychology, 21,149-60

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