Emergence of Traditional Leadership Styles

by Kermit Burley; Updated September 26, 2017

Max Weber was the first person to define traditional leadership. He described three leadership styles: charismatic, bureaucratic and traditional. Traditional leadership is defined as a style where power is given to the leader based on traditions of the past. Current examples would be kings, dictators and many of today's business leaders. In the past, almost all leaders were considered traditional and their power was tied to their past leaders. Many of these leaders inherited their power from their predecessors. Today, traditional leaders rise to power through large organizations.

Origins of Traditional Leadership

Modern traditional leadership had its origins in the industrial revolution when workers were led by a manger who had total authority. Much of traditional leadership borrowed its concepts from the military and formed a "top down" type of leadership. This type of leadership places mangers at the top and the workers at the bottom rung of power. Managers make decisions on the work and issue orders or directions for how the work is completed.

Modern Examples

Modern examples of traditional leadership are found in many corporations. Organizational charts with a manger at the head are indicators that traditional leadership exists in a company. Power is held by an executive or executive board and all decisions are made by those in command. Today's military is an excellent example of traditional leadership. Officers, or leaders, make decisions and those under their command execute the orders. Police and fire departments are also modern examples of traditional leadership.

Traditional Leadership Traits

Some traditional leadership traits are the ability to use power and influence in order to lead. Decision making abilities and a willingness to act are also important skills for the traditional leader. Followers are loyal to the position and what it represents rather than who happens to be holding a particular office. Other traditional leadership traits are an ability to take action and give energy toward realizing goals and objectives. All efforts are directed at achieving what is expected and results are the most important evidence of success.

Pitfalls of Traditional Leadership

Traditional leadership does come with some problems. New ideas are not always welcomed by the traditional leader as he is usually the source for all new business and ways of operating. Without input from her team, the traditional leader is often unaware of changes and problems and is slow to react to change. The traditional leader also has a tendency to have frequent turnover among his team. Employees grow frustrated at not having input into their work and frequently leave when better opportunities arise.

References

  • • "Management of Organizational Behavior”; Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard; 1982
  • • "The Extraordinary Leader”; John H. Zenger & Joseph Folkman; 2002
  • • "The Skills of Management"; A.N. Welsh; 1981

About the Author

Based in Bethlehem, Pa., Kermit Burley has been writing articles for over 30 years. His articles have appeared in "Training" magazine, as well as numerous company publications throughout the course of his career. Burley holds a Masters of Education in instructional design from Penn State and is certified as a trainer and instructional designer.