Faith, Family & the Mac

Literature Review

Chapter 2


Despite the vast amount of research on leadership, there is still more to be learned. The study of leadership commenced in the late 19th century with the focus on “Great Men” (Bass, 1974). This theory examined the lives of great leaders in history. Primarily these were men, however, some women leaders were included in these studies. Some examples are figures such as Moses, Winston Churchill, Thomas Jefferson and many others who have shaped the course of history for good or evil (1974).

From these early studies of great leaders of history, researchers and theorists in the early 20th century identified traits that set these great leaders apart from the average person. Later empirical evidence revealed that these lists of traits were inconclusive and failed to capture the essence of leadership or provide a solid framework to identify effective leaders (Johns & Moser, 1989). Through the rest of the 20th century to the present time, researchers have formulated variety of theories in an attempt to explain how leadership works and what distinguishes effective leadership from the ineffective. These theories addressed questions of leadership behavior, effects of situations on leadership, and the relationship between leaders and followers. Among these were those that focused on the leader, on how the leader influences the followers, and how the leader effects change and is changed personally through the process of leadership (Van Seters & Field, 1990).

Leadership continues to be a subject of study in the modern world (Zaccaro, 2007). The extensive research during the past six or seven decades has not exhausted the topic of leadership, on the contrary, it has discovered new aspects of leadership and opened uncharted territory for further study and research (Bennis, 2007).

To set the stage for the study of the leadership approach of Steve Jobs, this chapter reviews the development of leadership theory. Peter Northouse (2004) in his book, Leadership: Theory and practice, provides a chronological overview of leadership theory. This chapter follows the chronology of leadership theory development set out by Northouse, however, it also organizes leadership theory into thematic categories. Leadership theory developed over time but with much overlap. Thus, presenting a truly chronological review of leadership theory development is difficult. Nevertheless, it is helpful to combine both chronological and thematic aspects of organization in this review of leadership theory development.

The chapter places leadership theory into three categories that focus on the leader, the leadership environment and the leadership relationship. These categories explore the leader traits, skills and styles that are found in the literature on leadership. Further, the chapter reviews theories that address situational, contingent and path-goal leadership approaches. To complete the review of leadership theory development, a portion of the chapter focuses on the leader-member relationship, transformational approach and team leadership.

Beyond the leadership theory, this chapter explores the leadership of several distinguished leaders and entrepreneurs in the area of technology. Among these leaders is Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft which developed the Windows operating system used by millions on their personal computers. The leadership of David Packard is examined, who is the co-founder of Hewlett-Packard (HP) technology company which has been in the technology business for many years and manufactures personal computers and printers. Finally, Michael Dell, who is the founder of Dell the manufacturer of personal computers and innovator in computer hardware distribution.

In the end, the chapter explores possible connections between theory and practical leadership. It attempts to synthesize and draw parallels between the characteristics observed in the three modern leaders in the area of technology and the theory on leadership that has developed over a number of years.

The study of leadership continues to be a popular endeavor. Although much has been written about leadership and many studies have been conducted to examine effective leadership, the importance of leadership and its study has not diminished. In his introduction to a series of articles that were published in American Psychologist, Warren Bennis (2007) claims that “leadership always matters, and it has never mattered more than it does now” (¶1). Bennis goes on to point to examples of how leadership plays a vital role on both the national and organizational level. National leaders can affect the lives of their citizens for both good and evil. These leaders determine whether pharmaceutical drugs are safe, whether the courts protect the rights of minorities, and make decisions about many other aspects of daily life (2007). Corporate leaders can have as much and sometimes more influence on the lives of ordinary citizens. One example is the collapse of Enron and other large companies. The effects of poor leadership have been far reaching in the lives of those who worked for Enron, their families and communities (2007).

Since leadership is so vital in both times of war and peace, it is clear that the study of leadership must continue. Such study must examine broad leadership characteristics as well as evaluate the leaders who set a positive example of effective leadership.


Development of the Leadership Theory

Exploring the Leader

Early leadership theory centered around the leader. It focused on who the leader was, what characteristics or traits the leader possessed, which skills the leader needs to have and what styles of behavior should the leader employ. Even during this early period of leadership theory development, leadership theory moved from asking, “What traits does a leader need?” to “How does the leader interact with those who follow?”

Leader traits. The body of research on leadership that endeavored to identify the traits of great leaders is referred to as the Trait Theory. Some of the pioneering work in this area can be attributed to professor Tead from Columbia University during the mid 1930s (Johns & Moser, 1989). Professor Tead outlined a series of traits that leaders possessed. The work of professor Tead and others was based on the assumption that “leaders possessed certain traits more than nonleaders” (p.116). Among these traits were included characteristics, such as “sense of purpose and direction, enthusiasm…, integrity, technical mastery, decisiveness, intelligence…” and others (p.116). Some researchers went on to compile more exhaustive lists of such traits. One such researcher, Bird, compiled a list of as many as 79 traits (Bass, 1974, p.38).

Identification of leader traits helped to describe current and past leaders. However, this approach was unable to predict effective leadership. Because of the notion that these traits were inherited at birth, minimized the application of this research in training new leaders or helping current leaders become more effective (Northouse, 2004). As further research was conducted, “the evidence was clear that leaders do not possess common traits and that it is not possible to predict a potential for leadership on the basis of personal traits” (Johns & Moser, 1989, p.121).

However, the trait theory should not be completely dismissed as irrelevant and useless. The study of leader traits has produced some helpful insight into what characteristics leaders possess. “[It] has provided some benchmarks against which individuals can evaluate their own personal leadership attributes” (Northouse, 2004, p.33). In recent years, trait theory seems to be regaining popularity. Some researchers have redefined trait in more broader terms and have steered away from the notion that traits are personality attributes that are hardwired at birth and therefore cannot be altered (Zaccaro, 2007). Zaccaro contends that yes, “some leader traits have more distal influences on leadership processes and performance,” however, “others have more immediate effects that are integrated with, and influenced by, situational parameters” (p.14).

The trait theory, although imperfect, established a foundation and opened avenues for new inquiry and research. As this theory was tested by numerous studies, “research began to challenge personal trait and undimensional views of leadership” (Johns & Moser, 1989, p.116). These studies “suggested that leadership is a dynamic process, varying from situation to situation with changes in leaders, followers, and situations” (p.116).

Leader skills. As mentioned above, one of the results of the trait theory was the clear realization that further study of leadership from new angles is necessary. One such new angle was to ask the question, “What do effective leaders do, rather than who they are?” Robert Katz (1955) proposed a new way of looking at leaders. In an article for the Harvard Business Review, he outlined his Three-Skills approach to leadership (1955). Katz stated that he had a more useful approach to selecting and developing leaders. His approach was “based not on what good executives are (their innate traits and characteristics), but rather on what they do (the kinds of skills which they exhibit in carrying out their jobs effectively)” (p.33).

Katz’s (1955) perspective that leaders are not defined solely by who they are but by what they do was in response to the notion espoused by the Trait Theory that leaders are defined by certain personality traits. He suggested that “effective administration rests on three basic developable skills” (p.34) which, he said, are technical skill, human skill and conceptual skill. Katz put the emphasis on the fact that these skills are developable; they can be learned. This notion placed leadership within closer reach of those who desired to be leaders. It indicated that leadership is not tied to personality characteristics or traits that are unchanging and nontransferable.

At a much later time, Mumford and colleagues developed a skills-model of leadership. Their model included five components which focused not only on skills, but also considered performance, career experience and environmental influences (Northouse, 2004). Although this model recognized that effective leadership depends not only on the leader’s skills but also external influences, it still focused primarily on the leader.

The skills approach to leadership, moved the focus away from the leader’s personality to the leader’s abilities. This approach presents leadership as accessible to those who are willing to develop the necessary skills. However, this approach does not address the questions of leader interaction with the leadership situation and followers.

Leader style. The above two bodies of leadership study focused on the leader’s personality characteristics and abilities. The style approach takes the concept of leadership in a new direction. The emphasis of the style approach is on the leader’s behavior. This approach attempts to explain the ways a leader can interact with subordinates in the attainment of a goal (Northouse, 2004).

One of the major contributors to this concept of leadership was the work of Blake & Mouton (1964) and the subsequent development of the managerial grid (See Appendix A). This grid outlined five management styles, which varied in their reliance on a combination of people oriented and task oriented behavior (Blake & Mouton, 1964). The managerial grid does not prescribe a certain kind of behavior to ensure effective leadership. Rather, it helps to describe leadership behavior that may be chosen by leaders in various situations.

By focusing on behavior, the style approach deviates from the trait and skills approaches. However, it is similar in that it focuses primarily on the leader. The grid developed by Blake & Mouton (1964) can be a helpful tool to evaluate leadership behavior. Conversely, it is not a tool that prescribes behavior that would lead to effective leadership.

The early leadership theories focused primarily on the leader. These theories described leaders’ personality traits, skills, abilities and styles of behavior. One body of research built on the previous one. In the following review of other leadership theories it will be clear that new research is built on the findings and advances of prior studies.

Exploring the Leadership Environment

Leadership theories that examined the leadership role as it manifests itself in various situations and under a range of environmental influences were primarily born during the latter half of the 20th century. These theories attempted to explain how the environment in which the leader leads influences the performance of that leader. The environment can be the physical location, social interaction and relationships, as well as emotional attitudes.

Situational leadership. As the title suggests, situational approach to leadership argues that a leader’s behavior must correspond to the needs of the situation. Thus, it implies that leaders must continually evaluate the situation in which they are leading and determine which behavior is more effective.

The largest contributor to the situational leadership theory is the work of Hersey & Blanchard (1988), which was based on the work of Reddin (1967). Reddin developed what he called the 3-D management style theory. This theory synthesized the research that is referred to as the style approach to leadership. Hersey & Blanchard used Reddin’s work as the basis for their theory of situational leadership.

The situational theory as developed by Hersey & Blanchard (1988) consists of two parts, leader behavior and follower readiness. The theory suggests four leader behaviors, which are placed on two axes representing task behavior and relationship behavior (See Appendix B). These behaviors are delegating, participating, selling and telling. Each behavior corresponds to the follower readiness level. These levels range from high readiness to low readiness (1988).

Unlike prior leadership theories, situational leadership theory prescribes leadership behavior based on the leadership situation. If a leader finds that the follower readiness level is low, the theory prescribes a telling leadership behavior. Conversely, if the follower readiness is high, the theory prescribes a delegating leadership behavior. Thus, situational leadership theory assumes a new role in the study of leadership. Rather than just describe leadership, this theory prescribes behavior based on certain situational factors. Situational leadership theory calls leaders to evaluate the environment in which they find themselves. Based on that assessment, leaders must alter their behavior.

Contingency leadership. Contingency theory in some ways appears similar to situational theory, however there are some significant differences. The situational theory presents a framework that prescribes leader behavior based on follower readiness. The contingency theory claims that leader effectiveness depends on the right match between the leader’s style and the situation. Contingency theory provides a framework by which leaders can be effectively matched with appropriate situations (Northouse, 2004).

The most widely recognized contribution to this theory is the work of Fiedler & Chemers (1974). They acknowledged that “the situation plays an important part in any attempt to understand leadership” (p.56). Based on this realization, Fiedler & Chemers outline three factors that are critical to matching leader style to the leadership context. These factors are leader-member relations, task structure, and position power (1974). The performance of the leader will change based on how well that leader’s style is matched to the situation. The level to which the above described factors are present in a situation will determine the effectiveness of the leader (1974).

Contingency theory shifts the focus away from the leader and onto the leadership context. Instead of considering what traits or skills a leader must possess, contingency theory draws a link between the leader and the leadership context. It says the environment or situation plays a role in determining the effectiveness of the leader (Northouse, 2004).

Path-goal leadership. Situational theory prescribed that leaders change their behavior based on follower readiness. Contingency theory placed the emphasis on matching the context with the leader’s style. If such a match does not exist, the theory advocates for change in the context or the placement of that leader. In contrast, path-goal theory emphasizes “leader behaviors that enhance subordinate empowerment and satisfaction and work unit and subordinate effectiveness” (House, 1996, Introduction section, ¶ 2). Thus, if the situation does not produce desired results, the leader must change the environment in such a way that would enhance the satisfaction of the subordinates. Path-goal theory links subordinate satisfaction to effective performance (Northouse, 2004). Therefore, it places the responsibility on the leader to ensure that the environment in which he or she leads is optimal for subordinate satisfaction.

The main concern of this theory is with “relationships between formally appointed superiors and subordinates in their day-to-day functioning. It is concerned with how formally appointed superiors affect the motivation and satisfaction of subordinates” (House, 1996, The scope of the theory section, ¶ 1). This orientation proves the theory to be very practical and useful in leadership situations (Northouse, 2004). Many leaders find themselves in formally appointed leadership positions. Path-goal theory provides a framework to increase the leader’s effectiveness in such situations.

Summary. The theories discussed in this section, in one form or another, address the situational aspect of leadership. These theories attempt to capture and evaluate leadership as it occurs in context. Situational theory prescribes behaviors that can best match the environment defined by follower readiness. Contingency theory points out that leadership can be effective when the leader is appropriately matched to the situation. Finally, the path-goal theory addresses the leader’s ability to establish links for subordinates between the goals of the organization and their satisfaction.

Exploring the Leadership Relationship

The study of leadership is a broad subject area. Many theories have explored certain aspects of leadership. Some have emphasized the role of the leader, the leader’s skills, abilities and behavior. Others have placed emphasis on the leadership environment, or the situation where leaders finds themselves. Yet, others have chosen to explore the interaction between leaders and followers, the transformational power of leadership and the effectiveness of leadership in work teams.

Leader-member exchange. When defining leadership, Northouse (2004) mentions that leadership is a process by which an individual “influences a group of individuals” (p.3). Inherent in the definition of leadership is the realization that leadership does not occur in a vacuum and a leader is not a lone ranger. Leadership occurs in a group of individuals. The leader-member exchange theory takes this aspect of leadership and focuses on the interaction between leaders and followers. Other leadership theories that have been discussed thus far focused on the leader and how one behaves toward the followers.

In contrast, the leader-member exchange theory attempts to understand the interaction itself between the leader and the group. In prior leadership theories, “researchers treated leadership as something leaders did toward all of their followers” (Northouse, 2004, p.147). Such perspective seems to indicate that the leader would treat the entire group in the same manner. This theory, however, moves away from this notion and presents the possibility that the interaction between the leader and each of the followers may be different (2004).

The leader-member exchange theory suggests that followers fall into two categories. These categories are the in-group and the out-group. Those who are in the in-group usually are more dedicated and are willing to do more than their job description requires. In return, they receive greater responsibility and opportunity. Those who are in the out-group generally perform only what is expected of them based on the job description. In return, these members of the team do not receive greater opportunities and responsibilities. The leader working with the in-group can normally accomplish more and with greater efficiency. The reverse would be true for the out-group (Northouse, 2004).

The leader-member exchange theory advocates that leaders should work with all of their followers to make them feel that they are part of the in-group. By doing so, leaders will ensure maximum cooperation and dedication from their followers. This would require nurturing “dyadic relationships” with every member of the group. In this way, the theory emphasizes the need to differentiate the interaction for each individual group member (Northouse, 2004).

Transformational leadership. Throughout the development of the leadership theory, researchers have found that leadership is a very complex subject. To describe leadership and identify strategies for effective leadership, it is not enough to just list the traits of great leaders. Leadership encompasses factors that influence the leader, the followers and the situation. And to complicate matters even further, these factors influence each other, producing a complex weaving of personality, behavior and context.

The transformation leadership theory views leadership as a process of change. In his work, Burns (1978) asserts that “the premise of this leadership is that, whatever the separate interests persons might hold, they are presently or potentially united in the pursuit of ‘higher’ goals, the realization of which is tested by the achievement of significant change that represents the collective or pooled interests of leaders and followers” (p.425). Transformational leadership mobilizes the leader and followers to pursue significant change.

Other leadership theories focused on accomplishing organizational goals through effective leadership. Transformational leadership not only accomplishes goals, it transforms the followers in the process. Bass (1985) describes the transformational leader as someone who “sharply arouses or alters the strength of needs which may have lain dormant” (p.17). This type of leader effects change not only in the organization, but also in the followers and sometimes in oneself (Burns, 1978). Transformational leadership can have different levels of scope. It can influence followers individually, entire organizations and even cultures (Northouse, 2004).

Leadership is described as charismatic and visionary by the transformational leadership theory. In a sense, this theory goes back to the roots of leadership theory development and describes the kind of leader the trait theory researchers studied. It claims that leadership produces change; it exerts profound influence. Transformational leadership theory describes leaders as charismatic, visionaries, influential, inspirational, intellectually stimulating and innovative. As Burns (1978) said, “the result of transforming leadership is a relationship of mutual stimulation and elevation that converts followers into leaders and may convert leaders into moral agents” (p.4).

Team leadership. Team leadership involves the study of human groups and group dynamics (Northouse, 2004). Teams are becoming an increasing part of organizational life and functioning. Effective leadership in these teams is critical to the success of organizations that use such teams to accomplish organizational goals. Zaccaro, Rittman, & Marks (2001) describe the role of team leadership as one of “linking teams to their broader environment” (p.454). Thus, this “requires that leaders be attuned to developments and events outside of the team” (p.454). Team leadership theory addresses the issue of how leadership maintains “effective team interaction and integration” (p.452). The focus here is on leader-team interaction. The leader influences the effectiveness of the team and the team influences the effectiveness of the leader.

This theory takes on a similar perspective to leader-member exchange theory and transformational leadership. The influence between the leader and the team is reciprocal. Leadership is not one-way. The leader does not just influence the followers, but the leader can also be influenced by the followers.


Leadership is an exchange between the leader and the members of the organization or group, as described by the leader-member exchange theory. Leadership is also a process of change. Transformational leaders influence their followers individually, organizations corporately and sometimes even entire cultures. As the work environment changes and many organizations begin to use the work-group model, effective team leadership is increasingly important. Leadership theory has examined many aspects of leadership, starting with identification of key traits that effective leaders possess and moving to their skills, behavior, interaction with followers and ability to effect change.

In many cases, leadership theory has been tested through observation and collaboration with leaders in real organizations. The study of leadership necessitates the practical application of derived theory. Some theories may be more practical than others. Certain theories, such as the trait theory, described the traits of great leaders but were unable to extend these findings into practical application. Other theories, such as the situational theory, prescribed certain leadership behavior based on the researchers’ findings.


High Tech Leaders of the 20th Century

Examining leadership theory is only one side of the coin. Leadership theory is rooted in the study and observation of real life leaders. The focus of this research project is on Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple Inc. Apple Inc. is a technology company with business ventures in the personal computer, media and consumer electronics markets. Thus, it is appropriate to examine other entrepreneurs and leaders in the technology industry.

The leaders that are examined in this section are Bill Gates of Microsoft, David Packard of Hewlett-Packard and Michael Dell of Dell Computer Corporation. All of these leaders have achieved business success through visionary innovation, decisive actions and willingness to embrace change.

Bill Gates

At an early age, Bill Gates expressed intense fascination with computer technology (Brands, 1999). Later in life he dropped out of Harvard and created a company that now is known as Microsoft. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Bill not only displayed a great interest and aptitude in computer software engineering, but also a keen eye for business. Bill Gates demonstrated his ability to seize business opportunities when he offered to write the operating software for a new computer created by MITS in 1974. At the time, the offer to write this software was much more than Bill and his partner Paul Allen were able to deliver. However, he took the risk, which turned out to be a success (Brands, 1999).

Under Bill’s visionary leadership, Microsoft grew from a small software engineering company to a major player in the world of computer technology and software engineering (Lesinski, 2000). From the very start, Bill Gates led his company to new business opportunities. In 1980 Microsoft partnered with IBM which, at the time, was a leading manufacturer of mainframe computers, to write a collection of computer programs for IBM’s new business venture into the personal computer market (2000). Through these and many other business partnerships and innovative creations, Bill led Microsoft to the place of prominence and wealth that it enjoys now.

David Packard

The story of leadership and business success began a little different for David Packard. In college, David expressed interest in electrical engineering. He graduated from Stanford University during the Great Depression. In the late 1930s, David Packard and Bill Hewlett started a company producing electronic measuring devices. The company is now know as HP. They were always committed to producing products that would be innovative and useful (Packard, 1995).

David Packard’s commitment to innovation propelled HP to develop new and exciting products. HP developed technology that used light emitting diodes, which is commonly referred to as LED. This technology was ready for use in the 1960s. However, at the time few found it useful. Nevertheless, HP continued to work on it. And now this technology is used in automobile tail lights, computer monitors and large flat TV screens. At a time when others did not see a potential for the LED technology, David Packard insisted on its development, which years later proved to be useful in a variety of applications (Packard, 1995).

Over the years, HP has moved away from its roots of developing electronic measuring devices. However, HP continues to hold to the vision of David Packard of innovation and usefulness. HP now manufactures personal computers, laser and ink jet printers, as well as scanners and other electronic devices. David Packard not only had a vision for innovation, but also for superior customer service and social responsibility. HP founders David Packard and Bill Hewlett believed that companies have a responsibility to the communities in which they operate. HP as a corporation leads philanthropic efforts that total in the tens of millions of dollars. Beside steering his company to contribute to society, David Packard and his wife have contributed to society through their foundation (1995).

Michael Dell

Identifying an opportunity and acting on it was the key to Michael Dell’s success. As a teenager, he sold postage stamps through a self-made catalog. Later, he took this idea of selling directly to customers and applied it to computers. During his freshman year of college, Michael upgraded computers for local business people in his dorm room. Later, Michael expanded this idea of eliminating the middleman and selling direct to distributing upgraded computer models at a lower price. Initially, this was done through printed catalogs and newspaper ads. When the Internet first began to surface and gained popularity, Michael Dell moved his business online (Dell, 2000).

Applying simple concepts about commercial opportunity that he learned from his mother, Michael Dell envisioned a new way of distributing products. He recognized that by eliminating the middleman, he would sell the same products that were found on store shelves but at a lower price. He chose to focus on computers. In doing so, he has revolutionized the way people purchase computers (Dell, 2000). With a direct distribution model, customers can customize the computer they purchase. This allows greater flexibility and more choice to the customer. It also reduces cost to the seller, which allows for lower pricing.

Customer relations is a very important aspect of how Dell does business. Michael Dell sees customer relations and customer service as key components of successful business. However, Dell takes this concept even further. Michael Dell stresses the need to learn from customers. At Dell Computers, customer feedback is actively solicited and taken very seriously when obtained. This concept is taken to a level where whole teams of Dell employees work solely with one customer (Dell, 2000).


It is evident from even a brief overview of modern leaders that successful leadership requires certain behavior, skills, abilities and even traits. These leaders discussed above have all to certain degrees displayed the ability to embrace change, to be agile, to adjust to new situations and seize opportunities. They have a vision for their organizations and were able to take decisive action to move toward that vision.

From the above discussion, it is apparent that these leaders share some common characteristics. Those most evident can be called: embracing change, shared vision, decisive action and social responsibility.


Integrating Theory and Practice

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the study of leadership is the task of integrating theory and practice. The following paragraphs attempt to draw some connections between leadership theory discussed at the onset of this chapter and the modern day leaders in the area of technology. This discussion will focus on four ideas: embracing change, shared vision, decisive action and social responsibility.

Embracing Change

As one considers the transformational leadership theory, it becomes obvious that change is an integral part of leadership. Burns (1978) speaks of transformational leadership as leadership that converts followers to leaders and leaders to moral agents. This kind of language speaks of none other than change. Transformational leadership embraces change and produces change.

Innovation can be a form of change. To innovate is to be willing to explore new opportunities, to be willing to change. In the above three illustrations, Bill Gates, David Packard, and Michael Dell have all embraced change through the process of innovation. Each through their organizations have contributed in innovative ways to the world of technology. Bill Gates through Microsoft has produced one of the most widely used operating systems of all time. David Packard through HP has contributed to the development of calculators, laser printers and computer technology. Michael Dell has revolutionized the way computers are distributed. In all of these cases, innovation was possible through embracing change, which produced further change for these organizations and the world at large.

Shared Vision

As the skills approach to leadership developed, two models emerged. One of these models was the Three-Skills Approach, which identified technical skill, human skill and conceptual skill as necessary skills for any level of leadership. The conceptual skill in particular is described as the ability to see the big ideas and concepts and be able to construct a vision (Northouse, 2004).

David Packard, with his partner Bill Hewlett, developed a vision for their company that focused on innovation and utility. This vision gave them the persistence to follow through with a new technology that at the time did not seem to be useful or innovative (Packard, 1995). They were able to see past the present and assess this newly developed technology in the light of what it may hold in the future.

In the same manner, Michael Dell recognized an opportunity to deliver products to customers at a lower price and envisioned a new way of distribution. He took this new vision and applied it to computer hardware at a time when no one else seemed to see the potential. Dell continues to be the only computer company that relies on direct distribution as its only way of delivering a product to customers.

These leaders were able to develop a vision and then move toward accomplishing this vision. Not only did they move there themselves, but were also able to bring their organizations with them.

Decisive Action

The earliest leadership theory endeavored to identify traits that great leaders possessed. Although this theory did not lead to an effective method of identifying future leadership potential, it did help describe existing leaders. Some of the common traits that proponents of this theory identified were intelligence, self-confidence, determination, integrity and sociability. Although having these traits may not guarantee great leadership success, these are admirable traits that most followers would love to see in their leaders.

When Bill Gates learned that MITS was developing a new computer, which did not yet have software to run it, he did not delay to act upon the opportunity. He demonstrated self-confidence, determination and acted decisively to offer his services in writing an operating system that would run this new computer. He later demonstrated the same decisive action by partnering with IBM to write the operating system that would run their personal computers (Lesinski, 2000).

In a similar way, Michael Dell demonstrated the ability to identify business opportunities and act on them decisively. He began at an early age when, as a teenager, he sold collectable postage stamps through a self-made catalog (Dell, 2000). Later, contrary to his parents’ wishes, he dropped out of college to start Dell Computer Corporation. Many students drop out of school to pursue a variety of goals. However, a keen eye for business opportunities and decisiveness to seize these opportunities has paid off in more ways than for countless other college dropouts.

Social Responsibility

Bill Gates, David Packard and Michael Dell seem to show a commitment to making a positive contribution to society. This is evident in their commitment to developing quality products, providing superior customer service and through philanthropic efforts.

HP as a company is among the most generous for-profit organizations. During the fiscal year of 2006, HP contributed over $45 million in resources to communities and non-profit organizations around the world (, 2008). The commitment of HP to donate resources to communities and organizations around the world came from a personal sense of responsibility to society by David Packard. For his own part, David Packard spent three years working as the deputy secretary of the Department of Defense, which he viewed as his service to the country. He later established a foundation that provided resources to various social causes (Packard, 1995).

Michael Dell is highly committed to providing a quality product and a superior service to his clients. Dell is committed to serving their clients to the best of their ability and continually improving that service and products (Dell, 2000). In a similar way, Microsoft is committed to quality products and services. However, Bill Gates has taken a more personal approach to effect change in society and the world. Through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, he is working to help the poor in third-world countries lift themselves out of poverty. Further, the foundation directs funding to provide medical treatment to poor children in developing countries and to new medical research. Finally, the foundation not only directs resources to communities around the world, but also to those in the United States, focusing on providing equal access to education for the poor in this country (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, 2008).


It appears that leaders in the modern times are not only great business people, but are also social change agents. The leaders described in this chapter have been on the forefront of innovation and success. They have embraced change, they have a strong vision for their companies, they are decisive in their actions and they take their responsibility to customers, society and the world very seriously.



Leadership is a complex concept and subject of study. Burns (1978) in his book, Leadership, observes, “leadership is one of the most observed and least understood phenomena on earth” (p.2). Researchers have studied the subject for decades. Although some progress in describing leadership and formulating effective theories has been made, much more is left to learn. Leadership continues to be an important subject to study (Bennis, 2007).

From the review of literature on leadership, it is clear that the leadership theory has expanded in its scope over the years. Early researchers studied personality traits of great leaders. This study led to the study of leader skills and behavior. With every new theory, it became evident that further research is necessary. Leadership theory development continued to move to the study of the influence that the situation and interaction between leader and followers had on the effectiveness of leadership. Theories, such as the situation approach, prescribe leader behavior for certain situations based on follower readiness. Other theories, such as leader-member exchange, focused on the interaction between leaders and followers. It emphasized the importance to treat followers as individuals, whereas prior theories implied that leaders behaved in the same manner toward all followers.

Leadership is an integral part of daily life. Leaders at the organizational and national level make decisions that influence the life of their constituents. This review has examined leadership as a concept from a theoretical perspective. But also, it has focused on three leaders in the world of technology who, through their ability to envision the future and dedication to innovation, have influenced the people in their organizations and millions of others who use their products. They have also extended themselves and their organizations to contribute to social causes in order to effect change in the lives of those who cannot do so themselves.

To be effective, leaders of the future must not only be students of leadership theory, but also examine and evaluate the leadership of contemporary leaders. The study of leaders who have contributed to society and the world will prove useful in drawing out lessons of success to emulate and lessons of failure to avoid.


Next: Chapter 3 – Method


  1. Hi can I get the list of references

  2. Can i have the List of References please thank you. It was a good read.

  3. The review was good. Is it possible to have a list of the references used? Thanks

  4. The Review was good, can I have a list of references used?

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