Leadership in a Changing Environment


Leadership has received much attention in the area of social sciences. It has been defined as a process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task (Zaccaro et al., 2004).Early research in leadership mainly concentrated in studying the heritable attributes of leadership in a certain individual and used this to determine how effective such a person can be as a leader as opposed to other individuals lacking such attributes. Consequently, the effectiveness of a person as a leader was predicated on individual characteristics e.g. skills and abilities, demographics, and personality traits (Mumford et al., 2007: 159). Due to criticism leveled against this position, researchers were forced to look beyond the mere character traits of an individual and consider how other factors such as the attitudes of followers and the relationship with the leader may affect the outcomes of the leadership process. This paper will discuss a case study of Tents-r-Us organization and determine how its leadership system identifies with the early leadership theory and approaches.

Characteristics of the Early Leadership Theory and approaches

As stated above, the Early Leadership theory concentrated on individual traits of a person to determine his leadership effectiveness. This theory focused exclusively on the individual leader and completely ignored the followers of such leadership (Storey, 2007). It was based on character traits of successful leaders and who possesses these traits. It does not give a set of principles on the kind of the leader most competent for a particular situation, or what is expected of a leader under a given set of circumstances. Quite contrary, it emphasized that all that was required to be an effective leader was to possess a set of preferred character traits. That possessing such traits was central to effective leadership. The leader and his personality were the two things that were central to leadership process.

It has been argued that leaders as opposed to non-leader exhibit six important character traits: motivation, self-drive, integrity, cognitive ability, confidence and task knowledge. Other traits include self-confidence, intelligence, competence, experience, etc. Proponents of this theory opine that individuals are either born possessing these traits or they learn them later in life. These traits are the yardsticks for determining a real leader. They feel that possessing leadership qualities differentiates you from ordinary individuals and this status should be accorded the correct level of recognition and importance within the leadership process.

One of the most recognized traits in this theory is social intelligence. This has been referred to as abilities that help one to understand not only one’s feelings, thoughts, and behaviours, but also those of others and respond appropriately to them. It is possessing capabilities such as social awareness, self-monitoring, social acumen, and the ability to respond as desired during contingencies in a highly changing social environment. These traits are considered as being the key to effective leadership. According to Zaccaro (2004: 116), such social abilities are classified at the top of categories of traits regarded most important in leaders.

Relationship between the Early Leadership Theory and Tents-r-Us Leadership Strategy

Leadership practice for this organization is adopts a rather individualistic outlook on the leader in question. This approach is founded on psychology, sociology and politics instead of management science. According to this approach, key characteristics of a successful leader are identified and the person found to be in possession of them is considered the most effective leader. In Tents-r-Us organization, they are trying to identify who among the two candidates will make an effective leader by studying their character traits. Mhariri is considered more appropriate by the selection panels because apparently she possesses most of those traditional traits identified with successful leaders. These traits include her personality, her ambitious nature, her self-confidence and aggressiveness, her experience, intelligence and competence. From these, she is considered to possess the abilities, interests, and personal traits of a successful leader.

To apply the trait theory principles, Tents-r-Us feel that with her intelligence and competence, Mhariri will be more skilled in approaching the execution and performance of roles designated to her group members. She is also perceived to be more dependable, dutiful, and emotionally stable, achievement oriented and as possessing high abilities in planning and structure (Mumford et al. 2007: 159). Such an individual is considered more open-minded and imaginative and as able to easily come up with different ways of working.

On the other hand, Susi Dome has not been the preferred candidate because her attitude to leadership differs with that of Tents-r-Us. According to her, leadership should be more relational-oriented towards their followers. This means that, leaders should consider the feelings of the people they lead by consulting with them to find out what they expect from their leader, and then incorporating these needs into their decisions as leaders. Also, leaders should show concern and respect to every individual member of the group, be friendly and approachable, and treat all members equally and with dignity.

Further, Susi Dome intends to encourage innovation and creative suggestions from her group members as her overall leadership strategy. This means that she will be empowering her group members to contribute qualitatively to the overall performance of the organization. To do this, she will be developing open and free communication among group members as well as encouraging risk taking. This kind of leadership practice is both mindful of the leader traits as well as the needs of the group members, a factor which are very essential in the ultimate success of the leadership process (Wilkinson and Marchington, 2008). Therefore, Susi Dome leadership strategy is more likely to result into successful leadership in a more contemporary organization. However, Tents-R-Us do not recognize this fact.

Tents-R-Us leadership practice also shows traces of gender discrimination against males. This is because, among the two candidates shortlisted, both of them are females. The result of this could be that there were no eligible males for the position, but it also raises question of whether the selection panel was of the opinion that only a female can effectively fill the position. If this was the case, then this is another characteristic of the trait leadership theory approach where leaders are determined by considering their demographics, such as gender and age. This amounts to discrimination as males who could have been eligible and more qualified as leaders were probably dismissed for females who would probably be less effective as leaders.

Another characteristic of the early leadership theory coming out clearly from Tents-R-Us leadership practice is the fact that persons selecting a leader are guided by their perceptions of who a leader is (Mumford et al. 2007: 156). The selection panel has their own perceptions of what traits an effective leader should possess, while Peter Ridge has his own perceptions different from those of the selection panel. According to the selection panel, a leader should have such qualities as self-confidence, intelligence and competence, aggressiveness, experience, etc. Peter Ridge on the other hand is of the opinion that the best leader is one who incorporates group member’s feelings, thoughts and ideas in his overall leadership strategy. Therefore, if Peter Ridge was the one to select the leader, it is likely that he would easily dismiss Mhariri for Susi Dome without considering all her other traits, and so would be the case with the selection panel with Susi Dome.

Another strong aspect is the fact that everyone at Tents-R-Us has ignored the issue of the followers of the intended leadership as all their focus is on the personality of the two shortlisted candidates. They have completely disregarded the issue of how the followers could affect the outcomes of the leadership process. Questions such as “how traits, behaviours, attitudes, perceptions, expectations (of followers) affect the type of effectiveness of certain leadership styles and techniques” (Judge et al., 2007), should have been considered during the selection process. This would have provided the selection panel with a clear guidance on what combination of factors, both from the leader and from the followers, would best result to the most effective leadership. Failure to do this may result into total failure of the whole leadership process.

Tents-R-Us is convinced that if they get an individual with all the desired traits, leadership process in the organization will be very effective. To them, all that is important is that they properly identify the person possessing these unique characters and everything will flow smoothly, an approach that is so common with the trait theory (Mumford et al. 2007: 160). Accordingly, being able to identify these traits in a person and actually acquiring such an individual will definitely transform leadership at Tents-R-Us to the required standards. The organization has mistakenly failed to realize that leadership is specific to an organization and the particular circumstances prevailing within it. They are unaware that by failing to consider internal factors as well as external factors of the organization, their project is bound to fail.

Positive Effects Associated with the Tents-r-Us Leadership Strategy

Various scholars have studied the various leadership traits such as competence, which is based on intelligence and conscientiousness, demographics such as age, gender, education backgrounds, and personality traits such as honesty, agreeableness, etc. it has been argued that even though leader traits may not be as effective independently, they play a big role in the effectiveness of a leader and therefore should not merely be dispensed with. For example, it has been contended that a study of the relationship between personality and intelligence has revealed that “extraversion and openness to experience are related to intelligence” (Judge et al. 2007: 117). On the other hand, “Extraversion and Openness to Experience are personality traits that have been shown to have strong relationships with leadership effectiveness” (Judge et al. 2002: 775). Also, in a recent study aimed at determining what the difference is between a charismatic leader and other individuals, it was identified that “charismatic leaders consistently possess traits of self-monitoring, engagement in impression management, motivation to attain social power, and motivation to attain self-actualization” (Jung & Sosik 2006: 18). Therefore, Tent-r-Us may actually succeed in establishing the most effective leadership for the organization by basing their decision on the character traits of the two candidates.

Further, the early leadership theory provides a yardstick against which an organization can base its assessment of an individual to determine whether he will deliver as a leader. For example, an individual who exhibits intelligence and competence indicates whether he or she will provide a good approach on how tasks will be performed and executed. It has been argued that how well an individual will provide a general direction on execution and performance of tasks depends on character traits such as intelligence, emotional stability Openness to Experience, and conscientiousness (Crane and Matten, 2010). A person who is intelligence possesses cognitive abilities tat directly affects his verbal, numerical, spatial and reasoning abilities. Intelligence has been positively liked to leadership effectiveness, (Judge et al 2004: 549). On this basis, Mhariri who possesses most of these qualities may be the most effective leader for Tent-r-Us.

The theory also helps one understand the leader element within the leadership process. In the 20th century, several research studies were carried out to determine how individual traits impacts on the leadership process. A group of leadership traits related to how individuals in various groups ascended to leadership were identified. The results of the study portrayed that “the average individual in a leadership role is different from an average group member with regard to the following eight traits: intelligence, alertness, insight, responsibility, initiative, persistence, self-confidence, and sociability” (Zaccaro, Kemp & Bader, 2004).

Negative Effects associated with the Tents-r-Us Leadership Strategy

One of the main drawbacks in this type of leadership is the fact that when one is selecting a leader, he is more likely be subjective in his judgment and this might result into bias. This is because in this theory it was identified that, “personality traits were strongly associated with individuals’ perceptions of leadership” (Lord et al. 1986: 408). As such, depending on a person’s prejudices and personal bias, one may fail to recognize leadership traits in another person simply because he professes a belief that is different from his. Accordingly, one will end up selecting someone who is totally unfit for the position in question at the expense of the one who would have been more effective in the role. For example, according to Judge et al (2007), leaders were identified as possessing six important traits: Intelligence, dominance, masculinity, extraversion, adjustment, and conservatism. Other findings revealed that intelligence, dominance, and masculinity significantly influenced individual perceptions on who made the best leaders. Based on these findings, researchers were of the opinion that used of personality traits as a determinant of a good leader would result to consistent discriminations across situations on leaders and non-leaders. This is truer considering the fact that, these traits are most common among males and as such this approach is bound to directly discriminate against female genders. For Tents-R-Us, they have resulted to female candidates rather than male individuals. Also, the panel selection panels more towards Mhariri than Susi dome while clearly, Susi Dome’s strategy is more likely to be successful.

Another problem with the early leadership approaches is that leadership traits are many and dynamic (Crane and Matten, 2010). For example, both Mhariri and Susi Dome possess desirable qualities. The organization can’t conclusively determine who they will pick as their decisions are divided (Harris and Leopold, 2009). Therefore, it becomes hard to determine a set of consistent traits that act as the standard of measurement. A leader who possessed certain identified leadership traits in a particular situation may not necessarily be successful as leader in a totally different setting. According to research findings, an individual will not form a great leader solely on the basis that he possesses certain identifiable traits of leadership. Research has also found that a more successful leader is not passive but comes about through a working relationship as between him and the members of the group he is supposed to lead. If the formation of this link fails, then regardless of the traits the leader possesses there will be problems in the leadership process. Accordingly, if Tents-r-Us do not hire Susi Dome, Mhariri may no effectively establish this link with the employees she will be leading and this may lead to failure.


The traditional leadership approach is premised on the idea that certain individuals inherently possess certain special traits which makes them great leaders as opposed to the rest of the population. It was believed that individuals who make great leaders can be differentiated from the rest of the people through a set of traits which they possess. Most scholars of the 20th century were determined to disprove this theory and they therefore embarked on a journey of studies and disproving theories. More modern theories have now included the aspect of followers and the effect of the relationship created with them through the leadership process. From studies conducted on this area, it is clear that certain traits are crucial to effective leadership. These traits include intelligence, determination, self-confidence, sociability, and integrity. Further, a strong relationship has been identified between effective leadership and personal traits of the leader. Some of the most successful traits include extraversion, conscientiousness, low neuroticism, openness and agreeableness, commonly referred to as a five-factor personality model. Research also has it that individuals who are more sensitive to their feelings and the effect of these feelings on others are more likely to form effective leaders. Thus, as much as the early leadership theory consists of various limitations, it should not be completely dispensed with as it is still very valid to our lives today.


Reference List

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