There are two main approaches to leadership- traitist and situationist.In the early times leadership was considered to originate from the personal qualities of the leader and insufficient attention was given to the contribution of the group structure and situation. The early studies focused their attention on certain traits to compare leaders with non leaders.
Gibb remarked that the leader traits are relative to a specific social situation and are not exhibited in isolation. He pointed out that attempts to find a consistent pattern of traits that characterize leaders had failed and said that the attributes of leadership are any or all of those personality characteristics that in any particular situation make it possible for a person either to contribute to achievement of a group goal or to be seen as doing so by other group members. The person who becomes a leader surpasses others in some qualities required by the goal in the particular situation. He writes leadership is both a function of these two interactions.
The situationist approach to leadership provides a corrective to the traitist approach which regarded leaders as uniquely superior individuals who would lead in whatever situation or time they might find themselves. This approach emphasizes that leadership is specific to a specific situation. It is a way of behaving exhibited by individuals in differing degrees in different situations. A leader in one group is not necessarily a leader in another. A leader in the class may not be a leader in the playground. Though leadership may be considered as behavior specific to a given situation yet it does not mean that there is no generality of traits on the basis of which certain persons may be rated leaders.
Carter noted that if leadership is absolutely specific to a given situation then it cannot be a subject of scientific analysis and generalization. Leader is necessarily a part of a group and leadership is status and role in that group. It is obvious that leadership can occur only in relation to other people. No one can be a leader all by himself. The relationships which the leader bears to other individuals are status and role relationships. He is part of the group structure and as such he carries on reciprocal relationship with other members of the group. These relationships define his role in the group. When leadership is viewed as a status in a group structure and a role defined by reciprocal relations with others in the particular structure it is easy to understand why there cannot be a generalization of traits characteristic of leaders.
Next: Functions of Leadership