• Home
  • Leadership
  • Leadership Theories

Leadership Theories

Great Man Theory (1840s)

The Great Man theory assumes that the traits of leadership are intrinsic. That simply means that great leaders are born, they are not made. This theory sees great leaders as those who are destined by birth to become a leader. The theory was popularized by Thomas Carlyle, a writer and teacher. Just like him, the Great Man theory was inspired by the study of influential heroes.

Trait Theory (1930's - 1940's)

Trait theories believe that people inherit certain qualities and traits that make them better suited to leadership. Early trait theories said that leadership is an innate, instinctive quality that will make them excel in leadership roles. The trait theory of leadership focused on analysing mental, physical and social characteristic in order to gain more understanding of what is the characteristic or the combination of characteristics that are common among leaders.

Behavioural Theories (1940's - 1950's)

Behavioural Theories believe that people can become leaders through the process of teaching, learning and observation. Leadership is a set of skills that can be learned by training, perception, practice and experience over time. In the 1930s, Kurt Lewin developed a framework based on a leader's behaviour. He argued that there are three types of leaders:

    Autocratic leaders make decisions without consulting their teams. This style of leadership is considered appropriate when decisions need to be made quickly, when there's no need for input, and when team agreement isn't necessary for a successful outcome.
    Democratic leaders allow the team to provide input before making a decision, although the degree of input can vary from leader to leader. This style is important when team agreement matters, but it can be difficult to manage when there are lots of different perspectives and ideas.
    Laissez-faire leaders they allow people within the team to make many of the decisions. This works well when the team is highly capable, is motivated, and doesn't need close supervision. However, this behaviour can arise because the leader is lazy or distracted; and this is where this style of leadership can fail.


Associated Theories

 The Managerial Grid Model / Leadership Grid - Author: Dr. Robert R. Blake and Dr. Jane Srygley Mouton. The managerial grid model is composed of 7 different leadership styles. These styles(The Indifferent or Impoverished , The Country Club or Accommodating , The Status Quo or Middle-of-the-Road, The Dictatorial or Produce, Perish or Control, The Opportunistic Style or OPP (Any of the 5 Positions) and The Paternalistic Style )  were a relation between a manager's concern for people, concern for production and his motivation.

Role Theory- Author: Various sociologists and anthropologists are credited with being the founders, among them being Margaret Mead, Talcott Parsons, and Robert K. Merton.The essence of role theory is to provide a model of behaviour in a specific situation. A person assuming the character and activities of a person in a real situation will perform as if the situation were real.


Contingency Theories

Contingency or Situational models state the effectiveness of a leader's behaviour will be contingent upon the organizational situation. Different situations call for different styles of leadership, and the effectiveness of a leader's approach depends upon the needs of the specific situation. Leadership styles and situational control can be matched either by changing the leader’s personality or by changing the individual’s situational control in order to affect organization or group performance.


Associated Theories

Fiedler's contingency theory- Author: Fred Fiedler Fiedler's contingency theory is one of the contingency theories that states that effective leadership depends not only on the style of leading but on the control over a situation. There needs to be good leader-member relations, task with clear goals and procedures, and the ability for the leader to mete out rewards and punishments. Lacking these three in the right combination and context will result in leadership failure.

Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership Theory Author: Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard. This is a popular contingency-based leadership framework, which links leadership style with the maturity of individual members of the leader's team. As the name implies, leadership depends upon each individual situation, and no single leadership style can be considered the best. For Hershey and Blanchard, tasks are different and each type of task requires a different leadership style. A good leader will be able to adapt her or his leadership to the goals or objectives to be accomplished.


Path-goal theory Author: Robert House. This is referred to a leadership participation method, where the leader does what she or he can to clear a path for group members to act. This is done by delineating clearly what is to be done, removing obstacles, and rewarding those who perform well. Leadership styles in this method can vary from being dictatorial to the leader being a participant. House posits that these styles include support, directive, participative, and achievement-orientation

Vroom-Yetton-Jago decision-making model of leadership- Author: Victor Vroom and Philip Yetton, and later, Arthur Jago. The central focus of the Vroom-Yetton-Jago Decision-making Model of Leadership is to assess how the nature of the group, leader, and situation determine the degree to which the group is to be included in the decision-making process. This is accomplished by a flowchart-style decision making procedure that arrives at a style of decision-making. These styles are autocratic, consultative, and group.

Cognitive Resource Theory - Author: Fred Fiedler and Joe Garcia. The Cognitive Resource Theory main claim is that various sources of stress are blocking the use of rationality in leadership. The more cognitively acute and experienced a leader is, the more she or he is able to overcome the effects of stress.


Strategic Contingencies Theory - Author: D.J. Hickson - With Strategic Contingencies Theory, a leader depends on his problem solving skills and a projective personality that is center stage. The leader is so because she or he is in demand and others cannot solve the problems the leader faces. This gives the leader bargaining power. In that the leader cannot be replaced easily, he or she is not easily displaced, especially by popular will. Social processes depend upon the leader. Strike out the leader and the system is in danger of collapsing.

Transactional leadership Theories (1970's)

Transactional theories, also known as exchange theories of leadership, are characterized by a transaction made between the leader and the followers. In fact, the theory values a positive and mutually beneficial relationship.


Associated Theories

Leader-member Exchange (LMX) - Author: Dansereau, Graen, and Haga. Leadership focuses on the interactions between leaders and followers and understands that it is these interactions that are the centre of the leadership process. Under this theory leaders differentiate their followers based on their perception of their followers’ competence/skills, trustworthiness, and motivation to assume greater responsibilities Leaders then treat those with “high-LMX” differently and prefer them to those who have “low-LMX”.

Transformational Leadership Theories (1970s)

The essence of transformational theories is that leaders transform their followers through their inspirational nature and charismatic personalities. Rules and regulations are flexible, guided by group norms. These attributes provide a sense of belonging for the followers as they can easily identify with the leader and its purpose.


Associated Theories

Burns Transformational Leadership Theory - Author: James MacGregor Burns. In this Theory, Burns focuses upon motivations and values in assessing how a leader approaches power. This aspect of having that basic ethical system sets leaders apart from those merely aspiring to power. The first, where ethics is first, are people-centric and that latter are ego centric

Bass Transformational Leadership Theory - Author: Bernard M. Bass. This theory assumes that the leader has decent set of ethics. Followers go after a leader because of trust, honesty, and other qualities and the stronger these are, the greater loyalty they have for the leader. The leader transforms the followers because of her or his having these qualities.

Kouzes and Posner's Leadership Participation Inventory - Author: James Kouze and Barry Posner. A survey was developed and published by James Kouzes and Barry Posner in their book, The Leadership Challenge (Jossey Bass Publishers, 2002), that asked persons what characteristics of a leader they admire and would cause them to follow. Kouzes and Posner discuss five characteristics they deem essential for successful leadership. Role model, inspiration, facing adversity, getting others to act, and generating enthusiasm to act.