The Skills approach is an interesting way to look at the study of leadership. It offers a perspective that trait approach fails to recognize, and that is that leadership goes beyond what the characteristics that a person is born with and focuses on the behaviors that make a leader successful. This is key in helping to bring a different variety of leaders to the forefront. An argument may be that some people are more naturally comfortable with being in a leadership position and do have the skills necessary to do so without extensive training.
However while a person may not display or possess the skills necessary, through training they can acquire a learned behavior. This person may understand the position they are in and work to be successful at their role. This can be seen with children early on in life that will act and behave differently depending on the situation that they are in. A child may be quiet and mild tempered at home yet throw tantrums when taken out in public. (http://www.examiner.com/article/situational-behavior-your-kids-really-do-behave-better-for-other-peopler). Learned behavior is not a new concept and has been around since Classical and Operant Conditioning.
I find this to be quite interesting as it seems that people almost pick up multiple identities. I have several coworkers that I have befriended over the years. These people will act a certain way in the comfort of their own home, i.e. easy going, relaxed, personable, jovial, etc. Yet when we return to the workplace they are task oriented, focused on the company goals and take on a more serious role. This creates an interesting dilemma for Leadership selection. If a person as a subordinate does not display leadership qualities, it may be due to being in a subordinate position. If this is the case they may be overlooked when the chance for promotion arises.
A popular example of role conformation is the Stanford Prison Experiment (http://www.prisonexp.org/). Where students played both the roles of prisoners and guards. The students acted a certain way depending on the role they held versus their normal behaviors.
This is a situation that I have been witness to on multiple occasions to a slightly less degree. The “wrong” people continue to get promoted due to their success in tasks that have no bearing on what kind of leaders they will be. People often carry the misconception that if a person excels at a particular task then they will be able to guide others in doing the same. One of the key features to the Skills approach is Katz (1955), Human factor or “people skills” (Lesson 4). Many potential leaders lack this ability otherwise known as tact.
I believe that if leadership is more accepted as a set of behaviors and not particular traits that are ingrained, appropriate assessments can be developed to select the most qualified candidates that can then continue to be trained throughout their careers to be effective and successful leaders.
Penn State World Campus (2013). PSYCH 485 Lesson 4:Skills Approach. Retrieved on June 20, 2013, from
Northouse, P. (2012). Leadership: Theory and practice. (6 ed.). Thousand Oaks,
California: Sage Publishing.