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Trait, Skills, and Situational Leadership Approaches: a Comparative Examination

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TRAIT, SKILLS, AND SITUATIONAL LEADERSHIP APPROACHES: A COMPARATIVE EXAMINATION

LEAD 720: Leadership Theory and Practice

Professor: Dr. David C. Greenhalgh

Submitted by:
Ronald Greilich
Eastern University
April 15, 2011

Introduction
There are many theories of leadership but three of the more formative are the trait approach, the skills approach, and the situational approach theories. This paper will compare these approaches, their foundations, and their research records as well as challenges to the theories and their position in the current examination of leadership, with discussion as to what is required to fully comprehend them and the future of research in these areas. Of all the leadership theories that are studied,
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“You must admit that the genesis of a great man depends on the long series of complex influences which has produced the race in which he appears, and the social state into which that race has slowly grown....Before he can remake his society, his society must make him” (Spencer, 1896).
Much later Stogdill (1948) found doubt in the trait approach. Northouse (2010) summarizes this skepticism in that there is “no consistent set of traits differentiating leaders from non-leaders across a variety of situations” (p.15). Northouse further noted the trait approach’s weakness is that it is not useful for training and development since personal attributes are not amenable to change. This led to another leadership theory, the skills theory.
The skills approach
The trait approach is defined by characteristics that are innate and fixed and, therefore, if one is not born with those attributes, by theory, he or she cannot become a leader. Katz, (1955) however, attempted to transcend the trait theory, which on face value, would place leadership out of the hands of those who do not score well on trait leadership instruments, such as the Minnesota Multiple Personality Inventory, the Leadership Trait Questionnaire, or the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator ®.
Utilizing firsthand observation, Katz (1955, p.34) suggested three personal skills that could be taught and developed: technical -- knowledge and
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