Research Paper, 12 pages (3000 words)

Trait approach research paper examples

Analysis of Two Leaders Leadership

Studies done on early leadership revealed that leaders were different from other individuals and initiated the search for characteristics or traits which differentiated leaders from other people. Early leadership research studies indicated that great men such as Jefferson, Washington, Roosevelt and Lincoln had different traits as compared to average people (Bryman, 1996). As implied by the great man theory, leaders have specific in born characteristics or traits which separates them from other people. This led to the classification of the traits into three classes namely; physical traits (which includes muscular build, height and appearance), abilities (including speech and intelligence) and personality traits (such as self-confidence and extroversion) (Northouse, 2010). This paper analyzes the two leaders; George Washington with relation to the leadership theories namely; trait approach, skills approach, style approach, contingency theory, path-goal theory, transformational leadership theory, Leader-Member Exchange Theory and Servant Leadership. A clear discussion of the profile of each leader is given, taking note of the similarities and differences in their leadership.

Throughout history, there have been many leaders; each of them leading with distinct talents under different situations such as George Washington and Martin Luther Junior. George Washington is respected and believed to be the founding father of the U. S. His leadership was very pivotal in the development of the nation. George Washington displayed various many special leadership traits (Higginbotham, 2002). He is identified as a modest man who has a moral character, who demonstrates virtuousness, wisdom and integrity in his leadership. Although he was not brilliant or well educated, history has it that he used to read ten newspapers in a day. Washington was tall and cared much about his appearance. Over a good part of his life, he recorded his work on a daily basis. Despite being a reserved individual, as an army leader he was tenacious and brave.
Instead of using power to his own ends, Washington gave up his position as commander in chief of the forces after the revolutionary war. He provided order, reason and stability after the revolution when the U. S was in the formative stages. Washington’s evenness allowed the American people to easily predict him, leading to many considering him as trustworthy. In a general context, Washington was a prudent leader; he made sound judgments, provide wisdom and balance to the new U. S government. He was a unique leader with several distinct talents as he was great but good.
On the other hand, Martin Luther also had special characteristics or traits of a leader. He was communicative; he had a great voice projection which engaged his audience and overpowered the opponents he faced. He was also intelligent, in that he dared to approach influential individuals without any inhibition. Martin was also fearless; he lost his inhibitions in realizing his ambitions after knowing that he would be assassinated. He was also inspiring, strategic and determined. He motivated his followers to march in organized resistance which attracted mass attention. He was strategic as he focused his anti-segregation campaigns to regions where police chiefs were known to be racists; he instigated unprofessional and emotional responses bringing the officers into trouble. Lastly, he was resilient (grew mentally after imprisonment or attacks), courageous (stood for his beliefs regardless of the opposing forces) and self-confident (exerted himself very well as a leader of an oppressed group).

Skill approach

In a similar manner to the trait approach, the skills approach is a leader-oriented perspective. However the two approaches are different; over the trait approach, focus is on personality characteristics or traits which are considered to be inherent and stable since birth. While, the skills approach focuses on the skills and abilities an individual acquires, learns, and develops(Northouse, 2010). Skills are what leaders can acquire while traits are intrinsic characteristics. Therefore is skills are necessary for leadership to be effective.
In analysis the leadership of George Washington and Martin Luther, in relation to the skills approach we find that each one of them had leadership skills. This implies that they had leadership potential, and from their experiences they learnt to be effective leaders. They were involved with activities, exposure to people and activities which lead to an increase in their skills abilities and knowledge.
George Washington was a visionary leader with a lot of skills in designing and implementing an organizational culture which would ensure that his visions and ideas were attained. He developed an organization with the culture which saw the attainment of its primary goal; winning the war for independence. Washington, during the time of revolution, spent a lot of time, energy and thoughts as the administrator, organizer of the forces than when he was the army tactician and strategist. He was also innovative, as it seen that he sought innovative ways to improve his farm.
On the other hand, King Martin Luther had motivation or inspiration as key to his leadership attributes. He had the dream which inspired every individual. Luther had also great social- judgment and problem-solving skills. He managed to persuade masses of people to join hands with him and pursue his dream against segregation.
As ancient researchers ran out of steam in the pursuit of traits, they turn to the behaviors of leaders, the style in which they undertake their activities. Research shifted focus from leaders to leadership, becoming the dominant approach to leadership in the 1950’s to 1960’s (Northouse, 2010). Under the style approach to leadership are four main styles. The first style is the concern for task, where leaders emphasize on the attainment of concrete goals or objectives. Leaders seek for high productivity levels and ways of organizing individuals and activities in order to meet the set goals. Secondly, the concern for people; where followers are looked upon as people by the leaders. Leaders take into consideration the interests, needs, development and problems of their followers. Followers are not simply production units or means to justify ends. Thirdly, directive leadership; characterized by leaders making leadership on behalf of others and expecting them to adhere to instructions. Lastly, participative leadership; leaders attempt to engage other people in the decision making process.
In analyzing the leadership of George Washington, we find that Washington leadership style can be categorized into three components. First, Washington was always conscious of his shortcomings. He recognized and was even self-conscious that he lacked formal education, especially when he was compared to other leaders such as James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. Washington only spoke and read English. However, unto Washington this acted to strengthen him, since he learned as a result the wisdom of delegating power. Washington was more than seek advice and opinions, and willing to delegate power. Nevertheless, Washington also had no worries about making decisions by himself and sticking with them. This is evident when he issued the Proclamation of Neutrality in 1793. In this issuance, he defied the advice given, and the will of the American people and Congress. This gives a lead to the second component of Washington’s leadership style; deliberating but decisive.
Once Washington had made a decision, he had a single mind about it. This is evident during the revolutionary war, when he defied the strategy to keep his forces intact and alive until he had received the French support, before he could battle the British. Although Washington lost many battles than he won, he ensured the continental forces lived long enough until they were supported by the French to win at Yorktown in 1871. Washington, being the president faced a totally different French administration, although with a similar problem; how to sustain the young nation. Hamilton and Jefferson gave him a different advice, which lead to the third component of the leadership style of Washington; an impartial mediator and referee.
Washington desired to be a statesman and appear as one. He longed to stand above the fray of politics and ideologies. Washington was seen as a mediator during the design and erection of the Federal City, where he mediated rows among the surveyors, proprietors, and architects. On another instance, Washington is seen to be playing the referee role between Hamilton and Jefferson.
On the other hand, King Martin Luther has nothing much told of his style of leadership. He is said to be extremely relationship-oriented. This means that Luther was very concerned about the people. Looking into the four leadership styles, Luther is believed to be using his coaching style in most occasions. He is seen to be a very supportive individual, although he directs people using his speeches giving them directions on the way to go.

Path goal theory

The path-goal leadership theory has a similarity to the contingency and situational leadership theories. All the three theories prescribe proper leadership styles for interacting with the people. However is varies from contingency and situational theories in that the path-goals leadership theory brings in additional variables to the factors leaders considers in the relationships with followers. In a much simpler and significant way, the path-goal leadership theory involves the ay leaders motivate their followers to accomplish some designated objectives(Northouse, 2010).
This theory of leadership has several components which leaders have to assess in order to create a positive relation between the motivation of followers and achievement of objectives. The behaviors of different leaders will affect the motivation of the followers in a different way. And, this impact will rely on followers and tack characteristics (Northouse, 2010). Leadership behaviors play a significant role in shaping this theory, and may be classified into; directive leadership, supportive leadership, participative leadership and achievement oriented leadership. Directive leadership emphasizes on giving direction to the followers on way forward. While with supportive leadership, the leaders can be easily approached, are emphatic and friendly to the needs of the people and their welfare. On the other hand, participative leadership involves leaders encouraging people to engage in the decision making process. Lastly, achievement oriented, involves leaders challenging the people to act in a way which results in the best output.
In analyzing the leadership of George Washington and King Martin Luther with reference to the path goal theory, we find that George Washington was a supportive leader. He had a deep respect for every individual and he never failed anyone except on few situations. He was concerned about the people of the United States of America and this is seen when he spearheaded the enactment of the constitution to the benefit of the Americans. He understood the vital ingredients needed to establish a constitutional, republican government which is controlled by the people, with respect for the people and public virtue. Washington understood that using disrespectful and unethical ways to achieve short range goals would prevent the realization of long term goals. It is with this thought that soldiers were ordered to respect civilians and their values. In a similar way of dealing with moral issues where he did not waste thought and energy, he also did not waste his energy and thought in treating other people. He treated every person in a respectful and courteous way.
Martin Luther on the other hand was a directive and supportive leader. He directed his followers through his speeches on what to do. However, he is very supportive to the people as he is easily approached, motivates the people and gives them hope against the segregation activities in the U. S.

Contingency approach

With the challenges in analyzing the behaviors of leaders, researchers shifted to situations in which leadership is exercised and the idea that there is need for changes between various situations. Some researchers concentrated on the processes through which leaders are cultured. The determinant of leadership is the context. The central point is that effective leadership is dependent on a mix of factors. It is argued that the effectiveness of leadership depends on the leadership style and the extent to which the context grants the leader influence and control. The most important factors under the contingency approach are: the relation between the followers and the leader (if the leader enjoys love and respect, is likely that they will have support), the task structure (if the task has clearly spelled goals and performance standards, then the leader is likely to have a lot of influence), and position power (if power to accomplish some task is conferred on the leader, then the leader is also likely more influence) (Northouse, 2010).
In comparing the George Washington and Martin Luther with reference to the theory, we find that both leaders were both effective. George Washington emerged at a time when the continental forces needed a person to lead them to a victory against the colonizers; the British. Washington came in a commander who had much respect and love by his fellow soldiers since there was a good relationship between the soldiers and Washington. As a result he exerted much influence as well as power to have things done since he had guaranteed support. The mission before him spearheading the forces and as the president of the U. S was clearly stated, thus he enjoyed much influence over the people he led.
Similarly, Martin Luther was also an effective leader who had a clear goal of ending the segregation and he emerged in a context where much was desired to be done on the same. As a result, he had power to influence, people to join him in the campaigns against segregation, which guaranteed him support in return.

Transformational leadership

Of the emerging leadership theories, the transformational leadership theory has received most attention from scholars. Transformational leadership happens when leaders extend or uplift their follower’s interests. Leaders under transformational theory inspire their followers to perform highly while transcending self-interests Transformational leaders motivate their followers to change their values, beliefs, motives and capabilities in order to make the interests and personal goals of followers congruent with leader’s vision (Judge & Bono 2000).
In the concept of transformational leadership, Washington is seen as a transformational leader at all times of his tenure as the commander in chief of the continental forces and as the president of the United States of America. He consistently encourages his fellow soldiers despite the many challenges they are faced to stop at nothing until they win the war for independence. Also when he is president, he ensure the members of his government, always gives their best to benefit of the American people. Martin Luther on the other end is not seen much to be a transformational leader, only for his speeches which urges people to come out in masses, to do their best to end the segregation.

Leader-Member Exchange Theory

According to leader-member exchange theory, leaders tend to develop relationships with their followers in unique ways. It is also argued that the quality and nature of this kind of relationship significantly influence the followers’ decision, responsibility, performance, as well as resource accessibility. Furthermore, the theory also explains how organizational success could be attained through promoting positive relations between the leader and the followers (Northouse, 2010).
The leadership styles of Martin Luther King and George Washington could be clearly explained by this particular theory. For instance, Martin Luther managed to identify with his followers at all levels. Actually, he successfully identified himself as being one of them and created a sense of belonging among the group. Through this kind of relationship, Martin Luther could easily influence the decisions and performance of his followers towards realizing the goals of the group. In fact, even without his presence, after being sent to prison, his followers were still determined to attain what they had started. Similarly, George Washington also succeeded in identifying himself with the American people, and through this special connection significant development occurred in the country during his reign. Washington had greater influence on his supporters, which explains why they supported his vision for the country.

Servant Leadership

Servant leadership is considered a set of leadership practices as well as a leadership philosophy. It is a different leadership philosophy from the traditional leadership style in which power was concentrated on one individual at the top. In a servant leadership, there is power-sharing between the leader and other leaders within a group or organization (Laub, 2003). Besides, a servant-leader puts the needs of the people first. In addition, such leaders tend to encourage individuals to develop and improve their performance. Both Martin Luther and George Washington can be categorized as servant-leaders. The lives of both individuals are a depiction of extraordinary power of this type of leadership which radically transformed the nation. The two leaders had the power of speech, which they are known well for in motivating their followers to attain the goals and objectives of the larger group.


As reviewed in this paper, there are more similarities than differences among the two leaders; George Washington and Martin Luther King. Taking into consideration the leadership theories, these two leaders are seen to be leaders with exemplary trait and skills which make them outstanding. They both portray confidence and determination; once they had set some goals to attain, they stop at nothing till they earn it. The two leaders are also seen to have hard work as they went to extreme lengths to strive with their goals. Washington and Luther also had courage; despite the criticism they toiled on, charisma; they won the support of their followers and were emphatic; they care about the people. They were intelligent; although Washington was not formally educated like Luther, he demonstrated high level of level headedness and insight. Lastly, it is demonstrated in their explorations that both leaders were visionary and resilient.
Despite being similar there also existed some differences. Washington was much of a transformational leader as seen during his spell as the commander in chief of the continental forces and the president. Lastly Washington is seen to be a supportive leader who is easily approached, who listens and respect every one. Luther on the other hand is not only a supportive leader but also directive. He gives direction in his speeches.


Bryman, A. (1996). Leadership in organizations. In S. R. Clegg, C. Hardy, & W. R. Nord (Eds.), Handbook of Organization Studies, 276-292. London: Sage.
Higginbotham, R. D. (2002). George Washington: Uniting a nation. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
House, R. J. (1971). A path-goal theory of leader effectiveness. Administrative Science Quarterly, 16: 321-338.
Judge, T. A. & Bono, J. E. (2000). Five-factor model of personality and transformational leadership. Journal of Applied Psychology, 85(5): 751-765.
Laub, J. A. (2003). From paternalism to the servant organization: Expanding the organizational leadership assessment (OLA) model. Proceedings of the Servant leadership Roundtable, Regent University, Virginia Beach, VA.
Northouse, P. G. (2010). Leadership: Theory and practice. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

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