Several methods of studying leadership exist. The trait approach emphasizes attributes such as personality, motives, values, and skills. A behavioral approach involves studying how managers cope with the demands and constraints of their job, as well as on identifying effective leadership behavior. Influence processes between leaders and others are examined by power-influence research, while contextual factors that influence leadership processes are studied by the situational approach. The integrative approach combines multiple leadership variables and thus can present the most accurate picture (Yukl, 2006).
It is rare for any leadership theory to include all leadership variables in the same study. Studies of leadership and social support are often done in isolation of each other. However, overlapping models imply that the differences between leadership and social support processes are not always clear (Suganuma & Ura, 2001). A person may seek leaders based on personality traits, but continue following a leader based on that leader’s effectiveness and ability to cope with the tasks at hand.
Situational variables other than leadership influence can affect the behavior of subordinates, yet the direct relationship between the leader’s style and the follower’s outcome also plays a role. An integrated leadership framework aligning the multiple leadership theories can provide more information about what entails effective leadership than simply studying one facet alone (Wan Khairuzzaman, Hussain, & Muhammad, 2011).
The integrative approach can demonstrate how the various factors combine to either create or destroy effective leadership. There is a story about blind men examining an elephant, each touching a different part of the animal and thus coming to wildly different and incorrect, conclusions about the whole creature. An integrative approach can help prevent such errors and allow a clear view of how effective leadership functions.
There is no one size fits all answer to ‘what makes a good leader’, in part because of the wealth of variety available in followers. A good leader for one situation and particular group of followers might be a complete failure when placed into a different role. Followers may claim someone is a good leader based on personality traits or influence levels, but a neutral, longer range view could show that no progress is being made due to poor management skills or perhaps the characteristics of the followers themselves.
Taking an integrative approach to leadership study provides more information on what kind of leader is appropriate for which situations in addition to what universal traits may be found in a good, effective leader. The other approaches serve a purpose in examining particular aspects of leadership, but it is combining them in the integrative approach that can truly give a bigger picture answer to the question ‘what makes a leader?’.
Suganuma, T., & Ura, M. (2001). An integrative approach to leadership and social support. Asian Journal Of Social Psychology, 4(2),
Wan Khairuzzaman, W. I., Hussain, G., & Muhammad, A. R. (2011). Integrative framework of leadership effectiveness. International Journal of Business and Social Science, 2(2) Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/904526700?accountid=35812
Yukl, G. A. (2006). Leadership in organizations (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.
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