The Evolution of Leadership Theory Essay

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1 The Evolution of Leadership Theory Although the practice of leadership has changed considerably over time, the need for leaders and leadership has not (Bass, 1990a; Kouzes & Posner, 1995). Already in 1990, Bass (1990a) found a proliferation of leadership books (over 3, 300). Since the publication of Burns’s (1978) seminal work on transforming leadership the number of leadership programs at various higher education institutions has grown to over 900 (Mangan, 2002). Clearly, interest in the field remains high. This review, although not exhaustive, traces the historical evolution of leadership theory from its initial focus on Great Man and trait theory to the contemporary study of transformational leadership theory offered by Bass. Although the theoretical underpinnings of leadership theory have changed over time, in many ways the basic functions of leadership–providing direction, decision making, establishing goals, communicating, resolving conflict–have not (K. E. Clark & Clark, 1990). Examining the historical development of leadership theories provides some necessary perspective as well as context within which to appreciate the increasing interest in transformational leadership (Bennis, 1976). Leadership Traits The historical evolution of the study of leaders and leadership derives from Galton’s Great Man theory (K. E. Clark & Clark, 1990). Royalty, battlefield heroes, and other wealthy and successful individuals were thought to possess inherent talents and abilities that set them apart from the population at large and 2 which enabled them to achieve great success. Great Man theory subsequently gave rise to trait theory in the 1920s and 1930s, which generally unsuccessfully attempted to identify traits that made leaders different from other individuals. The underlying assumption of the theory was that leaders surely had to possess some universal

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