A brief overview of perspectives on leadership and leadership development
There is a long and rich history of research related to leader effectiveness (DeRue & Myers, 2014; Yukl, 2012). Theoretical models regarding leader effectiveness have evolved over time, beginning with the perspective of understanding what traits make leaders different. This is referred to as the ‘great man’ approach (Carlyle, 1907). The focus eventually shifted away from traits and towards behaviour, including theoretical models that describe how effectiveness of a given leader behaviour depends on the situation or context, as represented by situational or contingency leadership models (Hersey & Johnson, 1997;
Leister, Borden & Fiedler, 1977). Interest expanded to the study of more enduring leader styles, such as charismatic leadership (Conger & Kanungo, 1998) and the broader transformational leader style. The perspective shifted again when leadership was seen as a process of social exchange, including attention to the dyadic relationships that emerge from leader interactions with followers (Graen & Uhl-Bien, 1995) and most recently to complexity models (Uhl-Bien & Marion, 2008) that envisage leadership as a complex, iterative process of behavioural exchange between leader and followers.
Each of these approaches to leadership analysis has contributed to our understanding of leader effectiveness in some way (for a comprehensive review, see Bass & Bass, 2008). For each, there are different implications for which attributes may lead to success. Unfortunately, the list is seemingly endless. There is evidence that a large variety of attributes may influence leader effectiveness. These can include (but are not limited to) stable traits such as conscientiousness, drive and intelligence (Blair, Gorman, Helland & Delise, 2014; Judge, Bono, Ilies & Gerhardt, 2002; Kirkpatrick & Locke, 1991), styles like charisma and transformational leadership (Conger, Kanungo & Menon,
2000), various skills, including interpersonal and information processing (Mumford, Campion & Morgeson, 2007; Riggio & Tan, 2014), and a long list of narrowly defined behaviours, such as providing coaching, teaching and assigning tasks (Borman & Brush, 1993; Tett, Guterman, Bleier & Murphy, 2000; Yukl, 2012; Yukl, Gordon & Taber, 2002).
The cross-cultural applicability of some of these theories and related individual attributes has been examined (Chhokar, Brodbeck, House, 2013). As part of the GLOBE research project, an etic approach (using an existing theory from outside the cultures being studied) to develop a new universal model of leader effectiveness was then tested in 62 countries (House et al., 2004) to explore how cultural context influences the relationship between individual attributes and leader effectiveness. Beyond the cross-cultural applicability of the various leadership perspectives, new individual attributes are being proposed for leaders operating in a global context (Holt & Seki, 2012). As with the general leadership models, the challenge is that there are myriad perspectives and frameworks regarding how to incorporate global demands into models of leader effectiveness (Holt & Seki, 2012; Inceoglu & Bartram, 2012).
While studied less commonly than leader effectiveness, factors that influence individual effectiveness at developing leadership skills (Day et al., 2009; Derue & Wellman, 2009; Dragoni, Tesluk, Russell & Oh, 2009) are also relevant to the question of what to assess when using assessments for development. Theoretical perspectives from three research domains outside leader effectiveness are most relevant: general models of learning and expert skill acquisition (Ericsson, 1993; Goldstein, 2006); constructive leader development models related to adult development theories (McCauley et al., 2006); and identity (Avolio, 2007; Burnette, O’Boyle, VanEpps, Pollack & Finkel, 2013). From these theoretical models, various meta-cognitive skills and motivations related to learning and behavioural flexibility have been identified as important to leader development effectiveness. These include goal orientation (DeGeest & Brown, 2011; Dweck, 1986), learning agility (DeRue, Ashford & Myers, 2012), adaptability (Pulakos, Arad, Donovan & Plamondon, 2000), and self-regulation (Burnette et al., 2013).
The model that best integrates these varying perspectives and is specific to leader development is Avolio’s developmental readiness model (Avolio, 2007) which includes learning goal orientation (engage in task to learn and grow), developmental efficacy (level of confidence in ability to develop), self-concept clarity (self-awareness), complexity of a leader’s self-construct (leader mental model elaboration) and meta-cognitive skill (skill at thinking about thinking). These attributes are often important to assess when the purpose of assessment is prediction of potential and whom to invest organizational resources in (Silzer & Church, 2009).
Overall, each theoretical perspective and framework contributes a unique facet to our overall understanding of what makes a leader effective in current or future roles. Metaanalyses have supported the basic premises of some of these models (DeGroot, Kiker & Cross, 2000; Ilies, Nahrgang & Morgeson, 2007; Judge et al., 2002; Judge, Colbert & Ilies, 2004; Judge, Piccolo & Ilies, 2004; Rockstuhl, Dulebohn, Ang & Shore, 2012), and are summarized in Table 17.1. The challenge remains to integrate these perspectives to help decide which individual attributes should be assessed.