Interested in leadership theories?
Want to know what the most
important theories of leadership are?
Here's one of the educational
leadership articles from the PD Guy
Read about e.g. transformational
leadership theory ...
... situational leadership theory, management
... contingency theory, trait theory of leadership - and
Leadership Philosophy and Theories
Because effective leadership is so vital
to businesses and corporations of all sizes some very smart people have given it
a lot of thought, and many studies have been conducted on the subject.
Everyone wants to know what styles of leadership are best and what type of
people make the best leaders. You, too, right?
Well, lots of leadership
theories have emerged that help answer some of these questions and concerns.
Those leadership theories may not be all that relevant to the perfect born
leaders, but since there are so VERY few of those, these leadership theories are
good to know for the rest of us.
So, let's take quick a look at a number
of these theories of leadership. My goal here is to give you an overview ... and
- in time - give you some in depth information on the most relevant and
important kinds of leadership philosophy and leadership theory.
Great Man Theory
The Great Man theory believes that leaders are born and they
fulfil their destiny by becoming great leaders.
The great leaders are
viewed as heroic figures, somehow better than merely normal humans.
is an old leadership theory (belief) that has gone by the wayside now but it
used to be popular, particularly during times of military conflict.
fact the word 'dictator' stems from the old early Roman Empire (the republic). A
dictator was a person people trusted (say, a judge) who was temporarily invested
with absolute power - typically in times of serious conflict - for instance to
counter an enemy invasion.
As we all know today, the problem is finding a
person who has enough integrity to let go of that absolute power again once the
threat is over ...
Are You Born with Great Leadership Traits?
Trait Theories of Leadership
Trait theories of leadership have much in common
with the great man theory, and they, too were popular at one time. These
leadership theories contend that leaders all share common traits and rise to
greatness because of their natural qualities.
Some of our greatest
thinkers and writers (e.g. Plato in 'The Republic' and Plutarch in 'Lives' ...
plus much later Thomas Carlyle and Francis Galton) have subscribed to this line
And of course there is a lot of truth in this.
What makes a
is an extremely interesting question.
The primary problems
with these you-are-born-to-lead theories are:
- many people are born with
the same qualities manifest and they do not naturally become leaders
people who are not born with these qualities manifest are able to acquire them
and rise to greatness.
- those who lead well in one situation do not
necessarily lead well in a different situation.
So, there is some point
and truth to the trait theories of leadership, but they don't tell the whole
truth - not by a long stretch.
What we now know that pretty much anyone
has the capability to be a leader (even if most people don't use - or want to
use - those capabilities). Leadership ability and good leadership skills can be
taught, practiced and learned.
leadership theory arose partly because of the obvious flaws inherent in just
looking at the person (which is what the early trait theories did). Now, the
focus changed to the actions - the actual behavior of the leader.
what do good leaders actually do? asked the researchers (like e.g. Kurt Lewin).
These researchers lined up three basic leadership styles ...
leadership style (authoritarian leadership style)
(the leader makes all
decisions, demands obedience + rewards & punishes)
leadership style (participative leadership style)
collective decision processes are used)
- laissez faire leadership style
(free rein leadership style)
(the leader doesn't interfere at all unless
specifically asked to)
... and evaluated work performance under each kind
of work climate.
The results indicated that the democratic climate was
preferable. So 'leader only' (autocratic leadership style) and 'no leader'
(laissez faire leadership style) aren't as good as somewhere in between
(leader-assisted democratic leadership style).
This of course is hardly
surprising, seeing as how we humans - physically speaking - are a form of social
herd animal. All else being equal we actually prefer for someone to take the
lead ... just not too much. :-)
People Orientation + Process
Goal Orientation + Production Orientation
of looking at leaders is looking at what they are oriented towards: People and
production or goals and production.
One such model, the managerial grid
model, was developed in the 1950s (by Robert Blake and Jane Mouton) and has
since been developed further. This model uses a grid based on an x-axis of
'concern for production' and an y-axis of 'concern for people'. Within this
framework seven styles of leadership behavior are described:
indifferent leadership style
(low concern for both people AND production,
focus: avoiding mistakes)
- The opportunistic style of leadership
(low concern for both people AND production, focus: personal gain)
accommodating leadership style
(high concern for people, low for production)
- The dictatorial leadership
(high concern for production, low concern
- The paternalistic style of leadership
alternates between the accommodating and the dictatorial leadership styles)
- The status quo leadership style
(compromise between company goals and
- The sound (or: team) style of leadership
concern for both people and production)
Since the managerial grid model
focuses on behavior it is also based on a behavioral theory.
Situational Leadership Theory
A challenge to all kinds of behavioral
leadership theory is that behavior is not always the same among all leaders, and
not even for one leader over time. In fact, one particular leader must usually
change his behavior to match the task at hand.
theory originally appeared as a reaction to the trait theory of leadership. Some
theorists (e.g. Herbert Spencer in the 1880s) claimed that different times call
for different kinds of leaders - and so no optimal profile of a leader exists,
because the leader is actually a product of the situation.
course, is also only half of a truth. You cannot just focus on behavior and
leave the person out of the equation. And so we, once again but now enriched by
knowledge of actual behavior, have to focus on the traits of a good leader.
The Leader Attribute Pattern Approach
Leadership trait theory is not
'dead', and neither should it be, because, like I said, there is in fact some
truth to it.
Modern theorists (like for instance S. J. Zaccaro and R. J.
Foti) have started to look at patterns of traits, leading them to start viewing
leaders as integrated wholes rather than just as a bunch of traits.
Obviously this seems like a good idea, because hey, leaders are individual human
beings, and the whole is usually more than just the sum of its parts.
Certain qualities are more important to leaders than others and the traits of a
good leader can in fact be described - as I have endeavoured to do on the
'mother page' of this one,
What Makes a Good Leader
Just remember: You
don't have to be born with those traits, to a large extent they are choices, and
most of them can be learned.
The Contingency Theory of Leadership
Contingency theory is the modern version of situational leadership theory
mixed with some modern trait leadership theory, more or less.
theory assumes that different situations call for different leadership styles
and so no one leadership style is always effective. In other words:
People are adaptable and what makes a good leader is the ability to switch
traits and leadership styles to fit the need as it arises.
theories include for example: the Fiedler contingency model; the Vroom-Yetton
decision model; the path-goal theory by Robert House; and the Hersey-Blanchard
Functional Leadership Theory
As a side order,
we might briefly look at functional theory (e.g. J. R. Hackman & R. E. Walton in
the 1980s and J. R. Hackman & R. Wageman in 2005). This branch of leadership
theories are focused on the work group and maintain that the job of the leader
is to make sure the group functions well.
Since an organization is
essentially a large work group these leadership theories can be applied to
leadership in general as well. A leader is expected to perform 5 functions when
promoting organizational effectiveness:
a) monitoring the surrounding
b) organizing the activities of the work force
and coaching people
d) motivating people
e) intervening actively in the
work of the group or organization
Transactional Leadership Theory
- and Its Cousins, the Simplified Management Theories
Analysis (by Eric Berne who died 1970) is: a) a theory of personality, b) a
systematic psychotherapy and c) a theory of communication. It is applied for
change and growth. It can be applied to both systems, organizations, groups,
families and individual people (the main focus).
A few of the tenets of
Transactional Analysis are that 'people are OK', 'everyone can think', 'people
decide their story and destiny, and these decisions can be changed'. The aim is
to move towards freedom and presence in the here-and-now.
The focus of
transactional leadership is the relations between a group and its leadership.
The theory maintains that a leader has power because the group agrees to follow
the leader - to reach a predetermined goal.
Ergo: The group (or:
organization) empowers the leader to lead. This includes the power to evaluate,
correct and train group members, plus reward effectiveness.
makes a great deal of sense. We all have free will, and in truth nobody can
force us to do something we do not choose to do. We can be punished, tortured or
killed, yes, but we cannot be forced.
Simplified versions of
transactional leadership theory (i.e. some other management theories) focus more
on how to organize the employees and how they perform. Rewards and punishments
are meted out accordingly. Staff members are told what to do and are expected to
do it without brining new ideas or individuality to the task.
theories like this are still often used in business; even though they probably
produce less than optimal results. Perhaps they can be seen as a transition from
old school authoritarian leadership to more advanced leadership models.
Transformational Leadership Theory
Transformational leadership theory
(introduced by James MacGregor Burns in the late 1970s) is focused on change,
both in individuals and in systems and organizations. (Transformational
leadership theory is sometimes called relationship theory as well).
Communication is a very important tool for the transformational leader, and the
whole point is to motivate and build up employees, so they'll identify with the
mission and take responsibility for their work.
leader is supposed to not only be a role model, but also to know and understand
the employees / group members. With understanding of their strengths and
weaknesses the leader may assign the employees tasks and challenges which
optimize both their performance and their development.
All members of the
group have a voice and are made to feel highly valued so they are compelled to
work for ethical reasons as well as a paycheck.
leadership should make employees / group members into leaders themselves - if
nothing else, leaders of their own work lives.
Apart from that the focus
of the transformational leader is vision of the organization (the big picture),
and working out the details is assigned to others.
Most Basic Theory of Leadership
In my opinion the most
important thing in leadership are these very simple things:
Love what you
do and do your very best at it. You need a vision, some goals to go with it and
some people to help you. The more you can make these people love what they do,
the more they, too, will do their very best.
Yep, that's simplified. But,
hey, the most important things in life are simple. And sometimes it's good to be
reminded of that. :-)
Leadership Theories: The Conclusion
are some of the main leadership theories being used in the corporate world
As for theories of leadership that suggest leaders are born, it
should be emphasized that leaders can certainly also be made. Some people may
have natural abilities that make them, say, better speakers, better organizers
or better nurturers, but these skills can also be learned.
In fact, many
corporations have training programs in place that teach various leadership
theories along with the practical skills needed to implement them.
Educating current staff and promoting change and development from within is a
great way to foster loyalty, employee satisfaction and productivity.
then, which leadership is the best? Obviously the newer, more modern leadership
theories have advantages over the old ones because they're actually built upon
them and also incorporate more experience and know-how. But it really isn't
possible to single out one leadership theory that is best for all.
leadership style that is best suited for a company or situation depends on a lot
of things such as (e.g.) the nature of the business, the organization, the
marketplace, the employees and the current situation.
Perhaps the most
important thing that can be learned from all these leadership theories is that
one specific method or theory won't work in every circumstance, so to be the
most effective, presence and flexibility is needed.
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