Leadership Theories:A 20th Century History
1900ís: the ďgreat manĒ theories -- itís an innate ability; who is born to lead?
1930ís: group theory -- how leadership emerges and develops in small groups.
1940ís-50ís: trait theory -- what universal traits are common to all leaders.
1950ís-60ís: behavior theory -- what key behavioral patterns result in leadership.
Leadership studies historically went hand-in-hand with studies of elites: political, financial, military, aristocratic, or cultural elites. Leadership was considered an art, for which some fortunate people had an inbuilt genius; the rest of us could only engage in admiring post-game analyses.
During the Great Depression, US social psychologists found in studying groups that democratic leadership was not only possible, it was more effective. Thus a more egalitarian view of leadership evolved from the elitest (and, in todayís view, sexist) ďgreat manĒ view. Unfortunately, research indicated that patterns of leadership behavior in small groups was not transferable to large groups, or organizations.
During WWII, people began to ask what traits leaders needed to win the war; however, research produced no consensus on key traits productive of effective leadership. In the 1950ís, Stogdill compared results of various traits studies, finding them contradictory and inconclusive.
Consequently, in the 50ís and 60ís Stogdill and others tried to conceptualize leadership as behavior, but could not isolate key behavioral patterns that made a difference.
(This slide/page and subsequent slide/pages are drawn directly from Rostís excellent summary and critique of the history of leadership studies, theories, and definitions.)