The concept of trait theory in leadership leans toward that leaders are born and not made. It makes the assumption that leaders require certain traits (e.g., high energy level, stress tolerance, integrity, emotional maturity, and self-confidence). As I later learned in practice, this theory is extremely limited because using traits alone to predict effectiveness was met with only limited success in the real world. Trait theory is more useful in predicting leadership emergence but will not necessarily predict actual effectiveness of a leader.
In the behavioral approach, the assumption is that behaviors seem to distinguish effective from ineffective leaders. There are two overall sets of behavior types; initiating structure and consideration. Initiating structure behaviors are aimed at facilitating the task performance of groups. This includes organizing work for subordinates, communicating performance expectations, and making sure subordinates stay focused. Consideration behaviors are aimed to show subordinates that they are valued and that the leader cares about them as people. This includes showing interest in subordinate’s families and being compassionate when problems occur. It is important to have both of these sets of behaviors. Lacking initiation structure will hurt productivity and lacking consideration will not keep subordinates around.
In my past attempts to lead a group, my general focus is mostly on productivity. In retrospect, I realized my subtle weakness in the area of consideration. What I learned is that without consideration, productivity will suffer. Also, it is important to note that “over” consideration will also negatively affect productivity. There is a fine balance with these two aspects. On one extreme you can be a careless and emotionless robot. On the other end you can be mothering to the point were you are doing all the work while treating them like children who are not responsible enough to do what is needed.
This approach does help in addition to the trait theory but one of the major limitations with this is that there is no universal set of behaviors that all leaders can follow. Then again, if there was a perfect set list of behaviors and they were being used as techniques rather than actually being done in congruence with the person using them, I would highly doubt their effectiveness. I believe the intention in your behaviors is just as if not more important than the behavior itself. Someone using these as techniques without the genuine intention will most likely be seen as using coercion which will only work in the short-term. More is required for the longevity of leadership than just behaviors.
Finally, the contingency approach makes the assumption that the relationship between leader behaviors, traits, and effectiveness depends on characteristics of the particular situation the leader is in. A good leader can read the situation and determine what behaviors would be most appropriate. The limit with this is that it doesn’t really help predict or give any clues on what to do or who can be effective. In a way it implies that the particular situation and circumstances will manifest leadership. This can be true but as trait theory states, some people are more prone and able to take on that role when others do not. With this approach is it the person, the situation, or both? What kind of person is more prone to adapt to the situation better? Must they not already have certain traits that make them more adaptable than others? The paradox here is if the leader is being too flexible, is the leader really leading the situation or being lead by the situation?
The 3 approaches; trait, behavior, and contingency are more connected than described. These approaches are not distinct but rather build on each other. To emerge as a leader one must have traits that make it possible. Those traits will allow the person’s behaviors to be natural and congruent with whom they are. This makes the behaviors effective because they are a natural extension of themselves rather than a technique to get somewhere. When the technique to get somewhere is dropped all behaviors are flowing from integrity. When all behaviors are flowing from integrity one can adjust to any situation. Rather than independent ideas, they are the three legs that make the solid foundation to leadership.