Last Updated 10 Aug 2020

Theories of Leadership – psychological, contingency

Category Leadership
Essay type Research
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Leadership is the process whereby one individual influences other group members towards the attainment of defined group or organizational goals (Yukl & Vanfleet 1992). Often the leader of a group is the one who holds a particular title e.g. manager or head teacher. There are such things as informal leaders. Thus a group leader can emerge and be a person with no title or status. Those leaders emerge because they possess characteristics that the group members value.

The Universalist Theories of Leadership all focus on one thing; that leaders have key characteristics in common. Psychologists believe people with these key traits will always emerge as leaders and be successful regardless of the situation. The Great Man- Woman theory is another explanation of leadership. This theory states that great leaders posses key traits that set them apart from most human beings. The theory also contends that these traits remain stable over time and across different groups. Therefore it suggests that all great leaders share these characteristics regardless of when or where they lived and their precise role.

In the Trait, Approach psychologists have tried to identify specific traits that leaders posses. Traits are consistent and involved identifying physical and personality attributes including height, appearance, and energy levels. It was found that leaders tend to be slightly taller than their followers. Terman 1904 asked teachers to describe playgroup leaders. They were reported to be active, quick and skillful.

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Bavelas 1960 saw that leadership traits as quickness of decision, the courage to take risks, coolness under stress, intuition, and luck. Stogdill 1974 reviewed a large number of studies and found that leaders are slightly more intelligent, more extravert and more sociable. Bray and Campbell 1974, found that managers who were most frequently promoted tended to score highly on oral communication, human relationship skills and need for advancement. McClelland 1975 sees the need for power as a prerequisite to assuming a managerial role.

The Vroom and Yetton decision model assume that leaders are decision makers who need to select an appropriate leadership style. They must take into account the demands and qualities of a particular situation, each situation is unique. The styles you can adopt are; Autocratic I, Autocratic II, Consultative I, Consultative II and Group. These range form leader making the decision totally alone to decisions that are fully participative.

The model states the leader goes through a series of decisions to decide the best leadership strategy to adopt. In deciding how to make the decision to adopt a particular style of leadership the leader will be considering how to maximize the potential benefits but minimize potential costs. The leader selects the best approach by answering some questions about the situation. These relate from the quality of the decision to the acceptance of the decision. Behavioral theories begin to consider the effect of the leader's behavior on performance and try to identify what behaviors effective leaders show. The behavioural approach was developed in the late 1950's. Read about difference between behavioral theory and contingency theory of leadership

The Ohio State studies (Haplin et al 1957) carried out detailed observations and self-reports from leaders and subordinates of leadership behavior. They accumulated hundreds of lists and found that these could be condensed into 2 main categories of behavior, initiating structure and consideration. Initiating structure refers to those leadership behaviors that define and organize the structure of the work situation. Consideration refers to showing concern for feelings attitudes and needs of subordinates by developing rapport, self-respect, and trust, asking subordinates for opinions and encouraging communication to build up self-confidence, implement suggestions. Some leaders can only pass consideration, others possess initiating structure, and others possess both.

The Michigan studies (Kahn and Katz 1960) were also looking at behavior that effective leaders possess in a large insurance organization. They found two main categories of behavior, task orientated and relationship. Task orientated leader concentrates on performing jobs, focusing on tasks, standards and supervising jobs. Relationship orientated leaders are concerned with the employees well being and involve them in making suggestions. The main difference between the Michigan studies and the Ohio studies is the Michigan ones believes the relationship behaviors are made more effective than the task ones.

The contingency theories of leadership examine the interaction of the characteristics of the leader and the situation, stating that effective leadership depends on the proper match between the two. The contingency theories build on the behavioral theories, as the style of leadership has to be identified first. They are different because they recognize no one best style of leadership. Rather leader effectiveness depends or is contingent upon, the interaction of leader behavior and the situation. Fieldler 1967 contingency model of leadership states the effective leadership depends upon a match between behavioral style and the degree to which the work situation gives control and influence to the leader.

Evaluate psychological theories of leadership

The theories that I have looked at seem to only be theories and show very little evidence to support them. For example, the Trait approach was finally concluded that there is no difference solid trait that is found in all leaders (Hollander 1985). Although Stogdill's identification of a number of leadership tendencies, they still conclude that no reliable or coherent pattern of characteristics can be identified. Also the Great Man- Woman theory failed to produce any solid evidence to support the theory.

A great deal of research has been done on the two types of leadership style put forward and they are in agreement that leadership behaviors do fall into two categories Freshman and Harris). These studies have also found that initiating structure is correlated to work performance, but is negatively correlated to job satisfaction, and leads to an increase in staff turnover. Consideration leaders tend to be positively correlated to job satisfaction, and negatively correlated to work performance.

The contingency theory worked in practice in the laboratory but when put into practice didn't seem to have the same results. The reasons why they carried out the experiment in a laboratory is because it is very easy to manipulate the independent variable. Also, it increases control over the external variables. Also, it is very easy to replicate the experiments. Problems are that it lacks ecological validity and this is why the results found in the lab were not replicated in the true situation. Also, the results can be biased by demand characteristics.

Self-reports were used in the contingency theory to gather evidence. This is an easy way to collect a large amount of data. People usually feel that they can answer truthfully because they are not under pressure from the interviewer. They are also not under the influence of demand characteristics. However people do not always fill them in, and if the subject is to do with their boss they may lie in case they are not completely confidential. Read about difference between behavioral theory and contingency theory of leadership

Questionnaires were used in the trait approach, questionnaires are useful because they are highly replicable and easy to score- unless open-ended questions. Problems are that they can be biased to socially desirable answers, acquiescence and response set. The Ohio/ Michigan studies were very useful because they did stimulate a lot of research into leadership behavior. This is important for psychological research because it shows that it is showing something new that people are interested in and that they want to find more out about. Another thing that supports these studies is that they are in agreement and so they support each other. However, they are too simplistic in their approach. They cannot make firm predictions about relationships between leaders behaviors and specific work outcomes in all types of work situations.

An issue in the contingency theory is reliability. The LPC score does not show great reliability since it is liable to change over time. This may be due to the fact the leadership style is determined by self-report measures. It is also unclear what the LPC score is a measure of since it only infers a leaders orientation from feelings about a co-worker rather than directly assessing the task and relationship orientation (Ashour 1973). The model does try to improve the model and inspire the formulation of alternative contingency theories.

Based on the evidence you have presented outline a training program which could improve leadership. Leadership needs to be improved to increase the productivity of companies and also decrease staff turnover. Fiedler and Chemers 1984 developed a leadership program that consisted of a workbook containing an LPC measure, leadership problems that the leader must analyze and solve, directions of how to assess elements of the leader's situation and suggestions for helping subordinates improve performance. It teaches managers to recognize their own leadership orientation using the LPC score and then trains them to recognize those situations in which they are most likely to succeed. If a mismatch occurs suggestions are made for changing the situation to provide the more appropriate fit.

In the training program, I would also teach them about the uses of the Vroom and Yetton decision model. I think this would help leaders who only tended to use one type of decision-making strategy. I think this would help them decide the correct way to make decisions, and show them more effective ways. This model is said to consider how to maximize the potential benefits and minimize the potential costs. The leader selects the best approach by answering some questions about the situation. These relate from the quality of the decision to the acceptance of the decision.

Using the trait approach the participant could be asked to list the qualities they believe are essential for their job, e.g. nursery teacher active, quick, skillful etc. Using these traits they could look at how to improve these traits and use them more in their work. I think once they are aware of the necessary traits they can try to use them more effectively. Also in job interviews, if the interviewer knew what traits to look for in the applicant they could find a more effective employee.

The behavioral theories could be used to educate people on the types of leadership categories of behavior, initiating structure and consideration. If they were shown the benefits and flaws of each style and how there is a need for a mix of each style of behavior, they could become more effective leaders. I think that leadership is something that people presume can't be taught it is something that is innate or that is learned at a very young age. If people understand that there are ways of making their leadership a lot more productive I think they would try to learn. If they are shown the research done by psychologists they can at least think for themselves how to improve their own personal behavior.

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