leadership theories tasks

Leadership Theories: How to Be the Perfect Leader for Your Team

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“ … 71% [of organizations] said their leaders are not ready to lead their organizations into the future. Only 25% of organizations said they had a ready and willing successor identified for one out of 10 critical leader positions. ” – Brandon Hall Group,  State of Leadership Development 2015: Time to Act is Now

Great leadership is like electricity.

Without study, it’s a one-shot, lightning-in-a-bottle event. However, with a solid theory to explain how it works and how to harness it, you can use it to power your team like a well-oiled machine.

That’s why it pays to know your leadership theories, and why this post from the Process Street team will teach them to you.

Using these theories of leadership you can analyze your leadership style and find out what kind of leader you are and how to more effectively manage your team.

We’ll be covering:

Great man theory

Trait theory, behavioral theory, contingency theory, transactional theory, transformational theory, situational theory, leader-member exchange theory, power and influence theory.

However, before we get stuck in, let’s have a quick recap on why these theories matter…

Why leadership theories matter

A good leader fuels better performance.

good and bad leadership

I used to work as a waiter in my village pub-restaurant. The landlord served as head chef and manager of our team of three waiters/bar staff, one sous chef and one dishwasher.

It was the perfect first job.

The landlord got on well with everyone and allowed each team (the kitchen team and the front-of-house team) to get on largely under their own steam. This meant that we each knew what the others were good at and enjoyed, what the worst jobs were, and could organize our tasks accordingly.

Tasks were shared evenly and the worst jobs were put on a rota to make things fair. Everyone was satisfied and we were recognized as the best place to eat in a 20-mile radius on Tripadvisor.

It worked because of the landlord’s relaxed leadership approach. Experienced staff members taught the newbies and the landlord could be called on if there was a dispute to make a fair judgment.

Then it all went bottoms up.

One of the waiting staff was appointed as the Head Waiter, meaning that they got paid more and were entirely responsible for delegating tasks.

This wouldn’t have been a problem, except the person appointed as Head Waiter was the newest member of the team and spent the majority of their time talking to the landlord in the kitchen.

This left the other waiting staff (myself included) feeling sidelined, making it difficult to have the same motivation for our tasks as before.

Coupled with the fact that their talking to the chef meant that food was delayed, and that them being in the back rooms meant that everyone else was forced into specific roles to keep afloat, and we soon went down the Tripadvisor rankings.

The point is, a good leader doesn’t have to always be present in their team to encourage good performance. Equally, a bad leader can easily demotivate their team and lead to a much worse performance through no fault of the employees.

Leadership theories make complex practices simple

theories of leadership

People are complicated. They’re hard to understand and predict at the best of times – that’s why psychology is a recognized (and challenging) field of study.

Leadership theories help to make things easier for you.

You can’t know how everyone will react to a specific situation but, by knowing more definitively what kind of leader you are (or what kind of leader you want to be ), you can take more confident and effective actions in reaching your team’s goals.

It’s not rocket science – it’s basic planning.

Knowing multiple theories of leadership gives you options

Why should you care about all 11 main leadership theories if you already subscribe to one?

One word. Flexibility.

Even if you only use or believe one theory of leadership at a time, knowing what options are available will prepare you for dealing with a greater variety of situations. Not only that, but you’ll be able to interact more easily with other leaders who may subscribe to a different leadership theory or approach.

Every employee responds to different approaches

This is pretty self-explanatory.

Not every employee will respond well to the same style (or theory) of leadership. Some do better with a more direct guiding hand, others find motivation in the decision-making process.

Heck, the ideal leadership style can even vary from project to project.

Having only one leadership style or theory to fall back on when assessing your next project is therefore a pretty limiting practice. If you want to make the most of your team as it grows and changes, you need to know the lay of the land and have as much knowledge as possible at your fingertips.

With that said, let’s dive straight into the main leadership theories!

Theories of leadership

great man theory

The theory is simple, and works on two assumptions:

  • Great leaders are born, not made
  • These leaders come to prominence when they are most needed

These great leaders are born with attributes that allow them to perform beyond the ability of a normal person in a leadership role. For example, they are particularly adept at managing and delegating, and are more charismatic while doing so.

They’re someone who goes above and beyond to achieve their goals despite all of the odds.

As a quick note, while this theory is generally known as the Great Man Theory due to traditional ideas of a male-dominated leadership landscape, this was later altered to Great Person theory to account for great female leaders.

Admittedly, this theory is a useful baseline when discussing leadership theories. It’s simple enough that, despite what nowadays we would consider to be fairly obvious flaws, we can at least use it as a point of comparison for the validity of other theories.

The main problem with this theory is that leaders being a result of inherent attributes (which cannot be taught) ignores all context in their upbringing, environment, and so on.

Not only that, but this also dismisses the notion of someone being tutored (or teaching themselves) to become a better leader.

The final nail in the coffin is the lack of scientific backing for the theory.

There is no evidence or verifiable explanation for how or why these leaders appear, why they’re effective or even what their inherent attributes are.

In other words, the Great Man Theory is good at making a single person feel special but this will usually come at the expense of everyone else.

Putting someone on a pedestal and saying that they’re there “because they were born for it” is a great way to alienate your team and make them feel as if they can’t do anything. They can’t strive to improve and grow into a leadership position because you’ve just told them that leaders are born, not made.

It’s important to know for the context of other leadership theories but, in practice, it’s best to stay away from Great Man Theory.

In my previous post solely looking at the behavioral theory of leadership I implied that trait theory was the same as the great man theory. This wasn’t entirely accurate.

Trait theory takes a very similar approach to Great Man Theory in also using Carlyle’s ideas as a basis. It, too, states that a great leader is so because of certain characteristics (traits).

Where they differ is how these traits are acquired. the Great Man theory states that these are inherited, while trait theory doesn’t specify where they come from.

In other words, trait theory acknowledges that leadership characteristics can be taught and improved rather than being entirely dependent on genetics. This gives it much greater flexibility and helps it to avoid the biggest weaknesses that Great Man theory suffers from.

The main traits that have been identified according to this theory are:

  • Intelligence – perhaps the most important trait for a good leader
  • Physiological factors – factors like height, weight, physique and appearance impact personality and how the leader is percieved
  • Emotional stability – leaders need to be stable and confident to be seen as reliable and dependable
  • Motivational drive – they need to be self-motivated and to be able to inspire the same in others
  • Attention to human relations – leaders depend on their team to get work done, so they must understand the relationships their team has and how they will react to different situations
  • Vision and foresight – leaders need to be able to predict trends and situations before they occur to take full advantage of them
  • Empathy – this allows leaders to understand how others think and why they think that way, thus seeing the situation from another angle
  • Fairness and objectivity – bias will quickly turn teams against their leaders
  • Technical skills – while a leader doesn’t need to be an expert in anything, they need to have a basis in the technical skills required of their team to understand the issues they encounter
  • Open mind and adaptability – leaders need to avoid being critical to encourage others to voice their point of view, even if that means adapting plans to reflect them
  • Skilled communication – communication is vital to the functionality of an effective team
  • Social skills – a leader with social skills will be able to interact with their team in a way that wins their loyalty and confidence, making them perform more effectively and trust the leader’s decisions more

However, despite being more applicable in modern times, trait theory still has a few core faults.

Namely, upon study, the traits of great leaders cannot be proven to be uniform in a significant way. There have also been leaders who fail to display some (or many) of the traits above.

Perhaps most damningly, trait theory doesn’t specify how prevalent each of these traits should be or give a way to test and measure them.

While it’s certainly possible that these traits contribute to good leadership from a logical point of view, the lack of quantifiable and measurable elements makes trait theory difficult to use practically.

leadership theories tasks

Take trait theory and completely invert it. Behavioral theory focuses on the behaviors demonstrated by successful leaders.

This discounts any inherent traits that the leader may have – it doesn’t matter what kind of person they are as long as they demonstrate the right behavior and focus on the correct aspects. Good leadership can therefore be taught to anyone with the patience to listen and practice.

The theory came about as a result of a study in the 1940s which was carried out by Ohio State University. In this study they created the Leadership Behavior Description Questionnaire (LBDQ) to assess common behaviors in successful leaders, resulting in the first two identified leadership styles (task-oriented and people-oriented) within this behavioral theory of leadership.

There are 10 main leadership styles within behavioral theory:

  • Task-oriented leaders
  • People-oriented leaders
  • Participative (democratic) leadership
  • Indifferent (impoverished) leaders
  • Country club leaders
  • Status-quo leaders
  • Dictatorial leaders
  • Sound (team) leaders
  • Opportunistic style (OPP)
  • Paternalistic style

Each focuses on the types of prominent behavior in these types of leaders, almost all being identified as the result of one of three different studies. For example, the participative (democratic) leadership style focuses on communication, collaboration, and being open to feedback.

The studies forming these behavioral leadership styles are:

  • The Leadership Behavior Description Questionnaire (LBDQ) by Ohio State University in the 1940s (task-oriented and people-oriented leaders)
  • Several studies by Dr. Rensis Likert through the 1950s, resulting in his book New Patterns of Management (participative leadership)
  • Multiple studies at Exxon performed by Dr. Jane Mouton and Dr. Robert Blake, leading to the creation of the Managerial Grid Model in 1964 (indifferent, country club, status-quo, dictatorial, sound, opportunistic, and paternalistic leaders)

leadership theories tasks

For a deeper dive into behavioral theories of leadership, check out our post on the topic:

  • Behavioral Theory of Leadership: How to Be a Better Leader

Since the theory is so broad as to encompass many different types of leaders, behavioral theory is mostly useful in identifying which type of leader someone is. This then allows them to assess whether their style can be improved or changed if the situation calls (or allows) for it.

Contingency theory was created by Fred Edward Fiedler in 1964 in his essay A Contingency Model of Leadership Effectiveness .

Contingency theory isn’t as directly actionable as other, more instructional, forms of leadership theories. This is because the entire point of the theory is that there is no singular best way to lead.

Instead, this theory states that a leader is only effective when their leadership style fits the situation. This is measured by assessing the leadership style of those in your organization, then matching them to situations that complement their style.

As you might have already guessed, due to contingency theory matching leaders to situations that suit them, it assumes that leadership styles are largely set.

You’re not trying to make your leader’s style adapt to the situation. You’re trying to identify which leader’s specific style is already well-suited to it.

Fielder’s method for assessing someone’s style of leadership was to use the Least-Preferred Coworker Scale ( LPC ). This set of questions shows whether someone is a people-oriented leader (high LPC score) or a task-oriented leader (low LPC score).

Once their style of leadership has been assessed it can be built into a leadership map of your organization.

Situations are then assessed using the following three criteria :

  • The relationship between leader and employee (Leader-Member Relation)
  • How the leader sets up the tasks (Task Structure)
  • The power difference between the leader and the employees/followers (Positional Power)

In particular, if there is a large Positional Power difference then task-oriented leaders will be better suited, whereas people-oriented leaders thrive when there is a close Leader-Member Relation.

Contingency theory is therefore great for large organizations with an array of leaders and projects.

Transactional theory is what most people think of when it comes to typical management. This is because it focuses on leading primarily with a carrot-and-stick style.

A leader subscribing to this theory motivates those underneath them by focusing on their own self-interest.

Coined by Max Weber (not that Max Weber) in 1947, this theory is made up of four actionable elements:

  • Contingent rewards – The leader sets SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely) goals and links rewards to those goals
  • Active management by exception – The leader actively monitors the performance of their team and tries to prevent as many mistakes as possible in advance
  • Passive management by exception – The leader intervenes only if their team’s performance is not up to expectations either in output or quality, sometimes giving out punishments if suitable
  • Laissez-faire – The leader gives the resources and environment necessary for their team to make good decisions and avoids interfering personally

Incidentally, if you want to set SMART goals, we have a free checklist you can use to easily do just that!

You might have noticed a common thread among these elements; at no point do they imply solid relations between the leader and their team as people.

Transactional theory’s biggest flaw is in assuming that everyone can be motivated by reward and punishment.

It’s not a terrible theory to use (and it’s certainly one of the easiest to implement for the leader) but is more useful for teams who have to perform tasks with little creative input.

The simpler the goals and processes involved, and the shorter-term the projects, the better this straightforward approach will work.

For example, a manufacturing line or quality control station would be fairly well-suited to this leadership. Performance can be easily measured in terms of the units produced or assessed, and (so long as each unit isn’t too complicated) the task for producing and/or assessing each unit is easily achievable without the leader’s intervention.

First coined by James Downton, transformational theory was further developed by (and is more often attributed to) James MacGregor Burns in the 1970s, and is often posed as the inverse of transactional theory.

Whereas transactional theory focuses on rewards and punishments, transformational theory involves a leader who works with their team to identify changes and lead by example largely through charisma and inspiration.

The focus is on creating a team that supports each other and is motivated by their interactions with the leader.

As such, a good transformational leader is usually highly respected and well-liked within their team. By encouraging creativity, listening to all feedback, and avoiding publicly putting down team members’ suggestions they can create a culture that motivates their team.

This is very similar to our leadership approach here at Process Street.

We open the floor to everyone and listen to suggestions. If someone makes a mistake we don’t blame them, we look for the part of the process they followed which caused the problem.

All of our team leaders can also lead by example, as all have performed the jobs of their team members either at Process Street or as part of their previous job.

There’s the catch though – to identify what causes a problem you need to have documented your processes to the point where you can easily bring them up and analyze them.

I’ll cover this in more detail later but it’s yet another reason why we use Process Street to power our team’s success!

In short, transformational theory can be effective if you have the framework set up to support it. Without carefully documented procedures it’s hard to work with your team and know exactly what they should be doing.

Not to mention that you kill two birds with one stone by encouraging your team to suggest process improvements .

situational leader office

While this at first sounds much like contingency theory, the difference is that situational theory doesn’t assume that a leader is set in a specific style.

You’re not looking for a leader to fit the situation. As a leader, you change how you lead your team to suit what’s needed of you.

Developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard , situational theory identifies four main styles of leadership and four approaches that each applies to.

The styles of leadership are:

  • Telling – the leader tells employees what to do and makes decisions for them
  • Selling – while the leader still makes the decisions, they persuade the team and work with them to motivate them instead of merely being directive
  • Participating – the leader works with the team and makes decisions together with them
  • Delegating – the leader allows their team to make the decisions but oversees their work

The leadership approaches are:

  • M1 – Followers have low competence and low commitment
  • M2 – Followers have low competence and high commitment
  • M3 – Followers have high competence and low commitment
  • M4 – Followers have high competence and high commitment

These are them paired together as follows:

  • Telling – M1
  • Selling – M2
  • Participating – M3
  • Delegating – M4

This allows the leader to be more flexible with their approach as their team improves or their commitment waxes and wanes.

lmx theory

More specifically, this theory focuses on the psychological effect of leaders making strong bonds with some people and not others, leading to the creation of an “ingroup” and an “outgroup”. The selection process for these groups usually happens fairly early in the employee’s (or leader’s) appointment.

Those who hit it off with the new leader naturally become more trusted, potentially being seen as more capable. These people make up the ingroup. This results in the leader giving them more responsibility (sometimes through risky projects) and opportunities to develop their skills and advance their career.

Those who don’t quickly form a bond with the leader form the outgroup. This group is usually less trusted by the leader and thus is given tasks that are less challenging and less rewarding. They often have much more limited opportunities for career and personal growth.

In identifying who makes up these groups in your team you can then go about reforming the outgroup. After all, those who are more trusted and given more opportunities will naturally be more motivated and will generally perform to a higher level.

The important thing is to assess why you’ve placed these people into the outgroup and to assess whether there’s any legitimate reason for doing so. If there is not, you (or whoever the leader in this situation is) need to take the time to build a relationship with those employees.

By speaking to them individually and finding out what they like about their position you can see what motivates and interests them. Once you know that, you can start to give them the resources and opportunities they need to improve and grow.

As a result, this is a great theory of leadership to try out if you notice that some members of your team are more distant and contribute less than the rest of the team.

It’s your responsibility as a leader to help your team to be the best they can be.

Power-and-Influence leadership theory focuses on how leaders can motivate their team by using (surprise, surprise) their power and/or influence.

The main study supporting this theory in action was conducted by John French and Bertram Raven in 1959. They identified five forms of power :

  • Coercive power
  • Reward power
  • Legitimate power
  • Referent power
  • Expert power

Coercive power is one of the least effective and most commonly abused kinds of power. It usually takes the form of threats from the leader to coerce the employee into doing something that they don’t want to do.

Reward power is much the same, except the leader motivates their team by offering rewards based on the tasks they assign. This works better than coercion and doesn’t cause the same dissatisfaction, however you then face the problem that your rewards need to consistently increase or else your team will become used to them, and therefore less motivated.

Legitimate power is a result of the team feeling responsible to management and obligated to complete their tasks. This is one of the more common types of power demonstrated in French and Raven’s study, and is usually accompanied by a traditional system of reward and punishment.

Sadly, legitimate power is only a factor for as long as the leader maintains their position. The leader loses this power as soon as they change role, and in terms of coercing employees to do tasks they don’t want to do, it’s a very weak element.

Referent power is where things start to become more universally useful. This forms where the leader can make someone feel accepted or like their work is important.

Think of referent power as a kind of celebrity factor – it primarily relies on charm or a kind of hero-worship factor. This is useful in conjunction with other types of power but is easy to abuse, which will typically result in a loss of faith in the leader.

Expert power is by far the most important. This power comes as a result of a large amount of knowledge and expertise in their relevant field, resulting in natural respect of their seniority.

Expert power makes leaders more effective in directing others and rewarding them appropriately due to their knowledge. They know what needs to be done, how difficult it is, how long it should take, and can give advice where needed.

In short, power-and-influence theory is useful for showing leaders what type of power is most effective (and for learning what type of power you wield). However, in terms of letting you improve your leadership style, the main takeaway can be summarized thusly:

  • If you want the respect and loyalty of a motivated team, you need to improve your knowledge, experience, and expertise in the area they work.

Putting leadership theories into practice

Now that you know the theories of leadership you can start to put them into practice.

Here’s where the real hard work comes in.

Why trying to enforce or alter your leadership style you need to be able to consistently keep to the principles behind the leadership theory you’ve chosen. To do that, you need to build supporting practices into your day-to-day tasks and wider goals.

That’s where Process Street comes in.

Process Street is a powerful piece of BPM software lets you build superpowered checklists to detail, control, and track exactly how you and your team achieve their tasks.

By recording a regular process as a template , these checklists can be run as single instances of that process . This lets your team follow the process to the letter while letting you actively track the progress on their specific run of the process.

For example, you could document your regular team meeting process . In this process you’d have a list of tasks to complete to carry out the meeting as effectively as possible.

You could include videos and detailed instructions to help whoever’s using the process to prepare carefully for the meeting. Then, once the meeting is in progress, a task could be set up with form fields to record notes during the meeting and provide some extra context.

If you don’t want to spend all that time setting up your process, don’t worry! We have a free premade process you can use, along with many others on every topic from employee onboarding to vehicle inspections .

This is just one of the many examples of how documenting your processes with Process Street can help you to be the best leader you can be.

Sign up for a free account today by clicking here !

What theory of leadership do you think is the best? Let us know in the comments below!

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Ben Mulholland

Ben Mulholland is an Editor at Process Street , and winds down with a casual article or two on Mulholland Writing . Find him on Twitter here .

One Comment

Very well summarized and informative as I am currently studying a Cambridge International Leadership course

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Leadership theories and styles.

Leader writing at white board in conference room

Every company, no matter what industry they’re a part of or how big they are, needs good leadership to be successful. Good leaders are a vital part of effective business practices. And for most, being a good leader doesn’t come inherently. That’s why there are entire degree programs dedicated to management and helping students become great leaders in their business.

In the world of leadership there are many theories about how leadership works, what makes good leaders, and how to be effective. There are many leadership styles that managers can employ and their impact varies based on the group they are leading and the industry they are in. These leadership theories explain how leadership styles work within a company to bring success. If you are studying to become a business leader or manager, it’s important to understand these different leadership theories and how they impact your leadership and management style.

What is a leadership theory?

Leadership theories are the explanations of how and why certain people become leaders. They focus on the traits and behaviors that people can adopt to increase their leadership capabilities. Some of the top traits that leaders say are vital to good leadership include :

Strong ethics and high moral standards

Great self-organizational skills

Efficient learner

Nurtures growth in employees

Fosters connection and belonging

Research shows that these traits are considered the most important to leaders around the world. And leadership theories help explain how leaders harness and develop these traits. Recently leadership theories have been more formalized, making them easier to understand, discuss, and analyze in action. 

Ralph Nader says “The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not followers.” This is considered transformational leadership—a leader can alter the perspective or psychology of a follower and shift them to want to become a leader too. This suggests that at the end of the day, leadership should be elevating and inspiring. Leaders should push the people they lead to new heights, helping them to grow into what they know they can become. Transformational leadership is an important psychological perspective for leaders to study and understand if they want to really influence and impact others. Different leadership theories address to create stronger and more effective leadership, helping followers become encouraged to be leaders themselves. 

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Major leadership theories.

While there are dozens of leadership theories and psychology, there are a few that are more well-known. These more common leadership theories are important to understand and recognize, especially if you currently are, or are studying to be business leader in the future. Understanding psychological and social impacts of effective leadership will help you determine the kind of leader you want to be.

--Behavioral theory. The behavioral leadership theory focuses on how leaders behave, and assumes that these traits can be copied by other leaders. Sometimes called the style theory, it suggests that leaders aren’t born successful, but can be created based on learnable behavior. Behavioral theories of leadership focus heavily on the actions of a leader—this theory suggests that the best predictor of leadership success is viewing how a leader acts. Action rather than qualities are the focal points of behavioral learning theory. Patterns of behavior are observed and categorized as “styles of leadership” in this theory. Some of the styles of leadership include task-oriented leaders, people-oriented leaders, country club leaders, status-quo leaders, dictatorial leaders, and more. At the end of the day, the actions and actual behaviors of a leader are what defines success in this theory.

The behavioral theory has many advantages, primarily that leaders can learn and decide what actions they want to implement to become the kind of leader they want to be. It allows leaders to be flexible and adapt based on their circumstances. Another great benefit of this leadership style is that it suggests anyone is capable of becoming a leader. Some disadvantages of the behavioral theory are that while it allows flexibility, it doesn’t directly suggest how to behave in certain circumstances. There are dozens of leadership styles that stem from the behavioral theory, but there isn’t a right one for every circumstance. 

A great example of the behavioral theory is looking at a task-oriented leader vs. a people-oriented leader. If there’s a problem with a team, a task-oriented leader will look at the process to see if something needs to be adjusted with the workflow. A people-oriented leader will look at the individuals and go right to them, asking what the issue is. Whatever behaviors you choose, the behavioral leadership theory helps leaders focus on their actions and utilize their decisions to be a great leader.

--Contingency theory. The contingency leadership theory, sometimes called situational theory, focuses on the context of a leader. These theories look at the situational effects of the success or failure or a leader. A leader’s effectiveness is directly determined by the situational context. While a leader’s personality is a small factor in their success, the most important factor is the context and situation of the leader. This theory takes the specific leadership styles and suggests that good leaders can adjust their leadership style situationally. It also suggests that it may be best to find the right kind of leader for a specific situation. Types of contingency theories include the Hershey and Blanchard’s Situational Theory, the Evans and House Path-Goal Theory, and Fiedler’s Contingency Theory.

The contingency theory has great advantages, including that leaders are able to be effective no matter their situational context. However, this theory does have criticism suggesting that there isn’t enough detail that goes into the context of any situation. Contingency theory focuses on the importance of a situation, but may not focus enough on the psychology of the employees or the company itself. It also may not focus enough on how leadership styles can change over time. 

There are internal and external factors that impact a leader and their situation. The type of company, the size of the team, and the innate leadership style of an individual are internal factors. External factors may include the customer feelings and the marketplace. All of these situations play a factor into the contingency theory. 

--Great Man theory. The great man theory of leadership, sometimes called the trait theory, suggests that good leaders are born. They have innate traits and skills that make them great, and these are things that can’t be taught or learned. The trait theory suggests that leaders deserve to be in their position because of their special traits. 

There is a great amount of criticism for the trait theory, mainly that leaders are either born or not, that there isn’t work or effort that is needed to be put in so you can become a leader. This suggests that social or psychological leaders are predetermined and that leaders are unable to come from the shadows—they are either chosen or not. There is also criticism that most of the traits associated with this theory are inherently masculine, and don't match the real psychology of good leaders. 

People cite Abraham Lincoln, Alexander the Great, Queen Elizabeth I, and many others as their examples of the great man theory. These social giants utilized their skills to lead nations. High levels of ambition and determination are usually seen in leaders that appear to bring this theory to life. Today, leaders that climb to the top may view their traits and abilities as part of the “great man” theory. So it may appear that leaders get to their position based on their inherit gifts. 

--Management theory. The management theory is sometimes called transactional leadership, and focuses on supervision, organization, and group performance. Transactional leadership is a system of rewards and punishments, and transactional leadership is regularly used in business. When employees do something successful, managers reward them. When they fail, they may get punished. Transactional rewards and punishments are given based on the idea that people really only do things for the reward. Their psychology doesn't allow human beings to do things out of goodness, but rather out of the promise of a reward.

The management leadership style can be extremely effective. Positive reinforcement is known for working wonders with employees, encouraging and motivating them to succeed. But there is lots of criticism around leadership that is strictly transactional as well. Consequences and punishments can decrease morale in an organization, negatively impacting employees. It can also be seen as a lazy leadership style—rewards and punishments are a relatively simple way to lead employees.

A common example of this management style is a leader that offers a cash bonus for employees who meet a goal. Or a leader who makes employees do extra paperwork if they miss a deadline. 

--Participative theory. Participative leadership isn’t as common in the corporate world. Sometimes called democratic leadership, this leadership theory suggests that employees be directly involved in decision making in their organization. The leader simply facilitates a conversation and then takes all the suggestions, and comes up with the best possible action. In this theory, everyone is very involved with decisions for the team and organization, with the leader simply helping direct the charge.

There are many advantages to this theory. Employees feel more engaged and motivated when they are directly involved in decisions and outcomes for their company. This theory is not without criticism however—some suggest that this type of style makes leaders appear weak or unnecessary. It is also a criticism that leaders in this theory don’t actually get the best outcomes, because they are too engaged in what people want more than what the company needs. 

Bill Gates is a well known example of participative theory. While this theory is still hotly debated, there are many examples of companies that work to incorporate employees more in the decision making process. In this theory, a leader may have a meeting to ask employees how to solve a particular problem. They encourage employees to be open and honest about their thoughts. They take all the suggestions, and meet with other leaders to discuss them. Leaders then make a decision based on the input from employees and their own decision making. Employees tend to appreciate this style, though it can be less effective overall. 

--Power theory. This theory looks at the way a leader utilizes their power and influence to get things accomplished. French and Raven's Five Forms of Power is a commonly known power theory of leadership. It looks at positional power and personal power and how they impact leaders choices and outcomes. 

This theory may appear to be highly effective—leaders with great power may seem highly efficient and get things done quickly. However, most employees don’t appreciate power leadership. They want a leader who doesn’t wield power over them, but works with them and encourages them. Thus the greatest criticism of this theory is that it doesn’t reach the end goal of inspiring and encouraging employees, but rather makes them feel dominated.

The power theory can be seen in organizations where hierarchy and promotion is key to success. Employees in power theory companies see that their only way to influence change or impact the company is to gain power of their own. This can result in low morale, political, and cliquey climates in the office. 

--Relationship theory. The relationship theory of leadership focuses on leaders who are mainly concerned about their interactions with others. They are often mentors for employees, scheduling time to talk to them and working to meet their needs. These kinds of leaders are focused on making work enjoyable for as many people as possible, and they want to foster a positive work environment. Studies show that this kind of leadership behavior can be the most effective for many employees. Relationship-oriented managers often get better results from their employees.

There are many advantages to this kind of leadership. Employees feel confident in their leader and want to follow them. They are also inspired to be good leaders to others. Mentorship provides great opportunities to foster growth in employees, and encourages them to stay at the organization for a longer period of time. There are some critics for this kind of leadership however, including thoughts that relationship driven leaders may be unwilling to view employees who are causing problems at face value, they can let relationships get in the way of work, and they can be guided to favor people over productivity. However, most experts agree that relationship driven leaders are actually more effective at the end of the day.

An example of relationship theory would be a manager who takes a newer employee under her wing. She works to help this employee understand how they fit within the organization, encourage them to be open about questions and problems, and create a positive working relationship. This employee then is encouraged to work hard, point out issues, and help solve problems for the company.

If you’re an aspiring business leader attending school, it’s important to understand leadership theories and how they impact you and your leadership style. Recognizing what leadership style you gravitate toward, or what leadership theory you’d like to employ, can help you determine how to be the most effective leader possible. It’s valuable to recognize leadership theories and styles in the company you work for, and understand what you can do to carry on that leadership theory or improve on it.

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Core Leadership Theories

Learning the foundations of leadership.

By the Mind Tools Content Team

Why are some leaders successful, while others fail?

The truth is that there is no "magic combination" of characteristics that makes a leader successful, and different characteristics matter in different circumstances.

This doesn't mean, however, that you can't learn to be an effective leader. You just need to understand the various approaches to leadership, so that you can use the right approach for your own situation.

One way of doing this is to learn about the core leadership theories that provide the backbone of our current understanding of leadership. We explore these in this article and in the video, below.

Our article on Leadership Styles explores common leadership styles that have emerged from these core theories. These include the "transformational leadership" style, which is often the most effective approach to use in business situations.

The Four Core Theory Groups

Let's look at each of the four core groups of theory, and explore some of the tools and models that apply with each. (Keep in mind that there are many other theories out there.)

1. Trait Theories – What Type of Person Makes a Good Leader?

Trait theories argue that effective leaders share a number of common personality characteristics, or "traits."

Early trait theories said that leadership is an innate, instinctive quality that you do or don't have. Thankfully, we've moved on from this idea, and we're learning more about what we can do to develop leadership qualities within ourselves and others.

Trait theories help us identify traits and qualities (for example, integrity, empathy, assertiveness, good decision-making skills, and likability) that are helpful when leading others. For more on this idea, see our articles, Authentic Leadership and Ethical Leadership .

However, none of these traits, nor any specific combination of them, will guarantee success as a leader.

Traits are external behaviors that emerge from the things going on within our minds – and it's these internal beliefs and processes that are important for effective leadership.

We explore some of the traits and skills that you need to be a good leader in our articles What a Real Leader Knows , Level 5 Leadership , and What is Leadership?

2. Behavioral Theories – What Does a Good Leader Do?

Behavioral theories focus on how leaders behave. For instance, do leaders dictate what needs to be done and expect cooperation? Or do they involve their teams in decision-making to encourage acceptance and support?

In the 1930s, Kurt Lewin developed a framework based on a leader's behavior. 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 don't interfere; 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 behavior can arise because the leader is lazy or distracted; and this is where this style of leadership can fail.

Clearly, how leaders behave affects their performance. Researchers have realized, though, that many of these leadership behaviors are appropriate at different times. The best leaders are those who can use many different behavioral styles, and choose the right style for each situation.

Our article "Laissez Faire" versus Micromanagement looks at how you can find the right balance between autocratic and laissez-faire styles of leadership, while our article on the Blake-Mouton Managerial Grid helps you decide how to behave as a leader, depending on your concerns for people and for production.

3. Contingency Theories – How Does the Situation Influence Good Leadership?

The realization that there is no one correct type of leader led to theories that the best leadership style depends on the situation. These theories try to predict which style is best in which circumstance.

For instance, when you need to make quick decisions, which style is best? When you need the full support of your team, is there a more effective way to lead? Should a leader be more people-oriented or task-oriented? These are all questions that contingency leadership theories try to address.

Popular contingency-based models include House's Path-Goal Theory and Fiedler's Contingency Model .

You can also use the Leadership Process Model to understand how your situation affects other factors that are important for effective leadership, and how, in turn, these affect your leadership.

4. Power and Influence Theories – What Is the Source of the Leader's Power?

Power and influence theories of leadership take an entirely different approach – these are based on the different ways that leaders use power and influence to get things done, and they look at the leadership styles that emerge as a result.

Perhaps the best-known of these theories is French and Raven's Five Forms of Power . This model highlights three types of positional power – legitimate, reward, and coercive – and two sources of personal power – expert and referent (your personal appeal and charm). The model suggests that using personal power is the better alternative, and that you should work on building expert power (the power that comes with being a real expert in the job) because this is the most legitimate source of personal power.

Another leadership style that uses power and influence is transactional leadership . This approach assumes that people do things for reward and for no other reason. Therefore, it focuses on designing tasks and reward structures. While this may not be the most appealing leadership strategy in terms of building relationships and developing a highly motivating work environment, it often works, and leaders in most organizations use it on a daily basis to get things done.

Similarly, leading by example is another highly effective way of influencing your team.

Effective Leadership Styles

As we mentioned above, transformational leadership is often the best leadership style to use in business.

Transformational leaders show integrity, and they know how to develop a robust and inspiring vision of the future. They motivate people to achieve this vision, they manage its delivery, and they build ever stronger and more successful teams.

However, you'll often need to adapt your style to fit a specific group or situation, and this is why it's useful to gain a thorough understanding of other styles. Our article on Leadership Styles takes a deeper look at the different styles that you can use.

Over time, several core theories about leadership have emerged. These theories fall into four main categories:

  • Trait theories.
  • Behavioral theories.
  • Contingency theories.
  • Power and influence theories.

"Transformational leadership," is the most effective style to use in most business situations. However, you can become a more effective leader by learning about these core leadership theories, and understanding the tools and models associated with each one.

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Home / Blog / Leadership

9 Leadership Theories to Help You Become an Influential Leader

9 Leadership Theories to Help You Become an Influential Leader | Leadership | Emeritus

In his book “ Leadership Theory and Practice ”, Peter G. Northouse explains how leadership has changed over time. Back in the early 1900s, leadership was described as having the power to compel loyalty, respect, and obedience. In the 21st century, it is compared to team and organizational management. Let’s examine the essential leadership theories and discuss how to be a strong leader.

What are Leadership Theories?

In the last 60 years, a variety of leadership styles, competencies, and characteristics have emerged. Leadership theories categorize and explain these developments. While some theories see leadership as the epicenter of group processes, others see it as a collection of particular personality traits. A few leadership theories define leadership as a situation in which the leaders have the upper hand or the ability to influence the actions and behavior of their employees and team members. More people now consider leadership to be a necessary skill set.

Types of Leadership Theories

leadership theories tasks

Great-Man Theory

The great-man theory is one of the oldest leadership theories proposed by Scottish essayist and philosopher Thomas Carlyle. He explained that leaders are born with certain innate qualities and cannot be made. Carlyle viewed leadership in the light of inheritance, in that he believed that leadership qualities are inherent. According to him, great leaders inherited their leadership qualities and did not acquire them.

Contingency Theory

This theory was created in 1969 by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard . It explains that there is no one-size-fits-all leadership style. Instead, this theory contends that leadership approaches and styles adapt themselves depending on various internal and external factors in an organization. Leaders must assess the situation, adjust to the surroundings, and accordingly apply effective leadership techniques.

ALSO READ: What is Situational Leadership and Why Leaders Should Learn it

Trait Theory

Trait leadership theories focus on certain characteristics or traits like intelligence, self-confidence, effective communication, etc, to define leadership. These traits help differentiate between leaders and non-leaders. According to the trait theory, people who have heroic or influential traits become powerful leaders. Ralph Stogdill, a major proponent of this theory, explained that charisma is one of the most significant leadership traits, distinguishing a leader from others. According to him, a leader must have the following traits:

  • Motivation to take up responsibility and complete tasks
  • Risk-taking and problem-solving
  • Persistence to achieve goals
  • Self-confidence
  • Willingness to accept consequences
  • Ability to influence the behavior of other people 

Style and Behaviour Theory

The style and behavior theory emphasizes how leaders act and behave. It focuses on two aspects: their behavior during tasks and their relationship behavior with others. Leaders must focus on goal accomplishment and maintain positive interpersonal relationships with their team members. The style of the leaders also matters, with three distinguished leadership styles: autocratic, democratic, and laissez-faire. In autocratic leadership, the leader holds complete authority and control over decision-making, while in a democratic style, the leader seeks input from the team members. In laissez-faire leadership, the team members are skilled enough for the leader to delegate work to them.

Process Leadership Theory

This theory is also known as the “servant leadership theory”. The theory explains that the sole objective of the leader is the welfare of their followers. Leaders place the development of their followers above their personal interests.

Transformational Theory

Transformational leaders can create a vision for their team members that inspires them to work toward a common goal and empower them to achieve it through personal growth and development. This theory focuses on bringing positive changes in an organization or society.

Transactional Theory

The transactional theory explains leadership styles that focus on motivating their team members by offering rewards and punishments based on their performance. It comprises the following aspects: 

  • Contingent rewards : Transactional leaders set clear expectations for their employees and reward them for meeting those expectations. Rewards may include recognition, promotions, bonuses, or other incentives.
  • Management-by-exception: Leaders monitor their employees’ performance closely and intervene when necessary to correct problems or deviations from standards. They use corrective action or punishment to address performance issues.
  • Passive management-by-exception : Leaders intervene only when a problem arises and do not actively monitor performance regularly.

Path-Goal Theory

Most leadership theories discussed above focus on leadership as a process to execute tasks effectively. However, the path-goal theory is different. Rather than focusing solely on accomplishing the tasks, the theory emphasizes enhancing the skills of the employees and motivating them. The theory explains the onus of a leader to provide a healthy and conducive environment to the team members by analyzing their behavior and encouraging them accordingly. The path-goal theory explains the role of a leader through the following steps:

  • Defining goals
  • Setting a clear path for the team members
  • Removing obstacles faced by the team members
  • Providing support and encouragement to the team members

Leader-Member Exchange Theory

Compared to the other theories, the leader-member theory provides an intriguing perspective on leadership. It defines leadership as a process based on interactions between leaders and followers. This theory states that the quality of the relationship between leaders and their employees can influence the leader’s effectiveness and the satisfaction and performance of their team members.

Top 15 Traits and Skills Managers Must Learn to Enhance Leadership Skills

 Leadership theories

Different researchers and authors like Stogdill, Mann, and Stephen J. Zaccaro have mentioned the following as essential traits for leaders:

  • Intelligence and alertness 
  • Determination
  • Sociability
  • Emotional intelligence 
  • Persistence
  • Self-motivation
  • Responsibility
  • Cooperation
  • Adaptability 
  • Extraversion

Skills Required to Become a Powerful Leader

Robert Katz, an American social and organizational psychologist, categorizes the skills required to become an effective leader into the following three groups:

Technical Skills

Technical skills refer to industry-relevant expertise or knowledge and the know-how of various tools and techniques to complete tasks effectively. These include knowledge of software, artificial intelligence or machine learning tools, programming language, agile, sigma, and project management. These skills are most important during the initial years of your career.

Human Skills

Human skills involve behavioral skills required to communicate effectively with people. Leaders must possess human skills to motivate their team members, ensure cooperation, and facilitate task accomplishment. It includes building an environment for team members to share their issues and trust each other. The following are some of the human skills you must have to become an effective leader:

  • Adaptability
  • Trust building
  • Communication 

Conceptual Skills

Concept skills refer to intellectual skills or the ability to develop creative ideas. A leader must possess conceptual skills to create an actionable plan for organizational growth. Here are some essential conceptual skills for leaders:

  • Critical thinking
  • Analytical thinking
  • Problem-solving
  • Brainstorming
  • Logical reasoning
  • Interpersonal communication
  • Predictive modeling
  • Multitasking 

ALSO READ: Top Leadership Styles and Skills You Need to Become a Future-Proof Leader

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Women in Leadership | theory

Five Leadership Theories and How to Apply Them

Center for Values-Driven Leadership August 15, 2017 Values-Driven Leaders

Women in Leadership | theory

When Kathleen Yosko, now CEO of Northwestern Medicine’s Marianjoy Rehabilitation Center, began her first job as a hospital president, there was no onboarding process planned, and no one to welcome her. Thinking it was a mistake, Yosko called her headquarters for advice. They told her, “Just do whatever a president does.”

Fortunately, Yosko was a seasoned leader and she intuited where to start. But for many others, our first forays into leadership felt much like Yosko’s first day: knowing how to start was not obvious. In many companies, individuals are promoted because of their technical skill – they are gifted engineers, accountants, or marketers – but that does not mean they are prepared for leadership. Leadership is a skill that can be learned, but it takes intentionality .

In the past half century, the study of leadership has grown, offering many new theories and frameworks for exploring what it means to be a leader, and how to do leadership well. In this article, we outline five current leadership theories, and offer resources and suggestions for integrating the theories into your own leadership practice. We will explore:

Transformational Leadership

Leader-member exchange theory.

  • Adaptive Leadership
  • Strengths-Based Leadership
  • Servant Leadership

But First, A Quick Review of Leadership History

Before we begin, we need to put leadership theory and practice in the context of history, to understand how the field of study has evolved . The earliest theories of leadership were the Great Man Theories, which emerged in the late 1800s. (Perhaps you can see one primary fault with these theories, just from their name: they assumed only half the world’s population could even be considered for leadership.) The Great Man concept evolved into trait-based theories of leadership, which defined leadership by a leader’s characteristics, most of which were considered innate. You were either lucky enough to be born with them, or you weren’t. (Starting, first, with a Y chromosome.) For many of us, our first understanding of leadership may have aligned with these theories: leaders were often men with dominant personalities. We still see this theory at play unconsciously today, when someone is overlooked for a leadership role because of a quiet personality.

In the middle of the last century, the study of leadership shifted from the study of traits to the study of behaviors: not who the leader is but what the leader does . This allowed for an understanding that leadership could be developed in others. The most prominent leadership theories today build on this understanding, and begin to integrate the perspective of followers and the contextual circumstances in which leaders and followers interact. As business, and our understanding of human nature, grows more complex, leadership theories and frameworks should evolve to accommodate the new contexts and understandings.

Defining Leadership

Before we unpack contemporary theories of leadership, we need to define the term itself. Leadership theory scholar Dr. Peter Northouse defines leadership as “a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal.” This definition makes clear that leadership is not a trait or behavior, and it is not a position. You are not made a leader by your job title, you are made a leader by your influence.

Finally, contemporary theories of leadership wrestle with the motivations of leaders: can you be a leader if your goal is selfish or even malicious? The classic question is, “Was Adolf Hitler a leader?” Theories of leadership must wrestle with the moral implications of a leader’s motivations. As you’ll see in several of the theories below, many theories would answer the question of Hitler with a firm no: Hitler was a dictator, but not a leader. He had positional authority, but did not show true leadership.

To begin our exploration of leadership theories, let’s start with one of the most researched and referenced today, transformational leadership.

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The concepts of transformational leadership were brought to prominence by political sociologist James MacGregor Burns, in the late 1970s. Burns identified two types of leadership,

  • Transactional : where a leader influences others by what they offer in exchange, the transaction;
  • T ransformational: where a leader connects with followers in such a way that it raises the level of motivation and morality.

Those two words – motivation and morality – are important, as it demands that transformational leaders be committed to a collective good. This may be a societal good, such as starting a community center or improving air quality, or a more personalized good, such as helping direct reports reach their own potential.

Activating transformational leadership:

If Kathleen Yosko, the hospital CEO who was thrown into leadership with little direction, wanted to employ transformational leadership strategies in her work, she might start with four factors researchers find present in transformational leaders. Northouse (2016) outlines these factors, which can serve as a starting place for test driving transformational leadership:

  • Idealized influence, or charisma: Transformational leaders have an uncanny ability to make you want to follow the vision they establish.
  • Inspirational motivation: Communication is a vehicle of inspiration for transformational leaders; they use words to encourage others and inspire action.
  • Intellectual stimulation: Transformational leaders stretch others to think more deeply, challenge assumptions, and innovate.
  • Individualized concern: Finally, while focused on the common good, transformational leaders show care and concern for individuals.

The concept of individualized concern has some carry-over to our second theory, Leader-Member Exchange Theory (LMX). To understand this theory, you only need to think back to junior high: almost every student could be divided into two categories, popular or unpopular.

LMX theory explains that in any group or organization, there are in-group members and out-group members. In-group members work well with the leader, have a personality that fits with the leader’s, and are often willing to take on extra tasks or responsibilities. Out-group members are less compatible with the leader; they may hold dissenting opinions, have clashing personalities, or be less willing to take on extra assignments. Not surprisingly, in-group members are more likely to earn promotions; out-group members are more likely to leave.

Activating LMX theory :

For followers, applying the concepts of LMX theory is easy: align yourself with the leader, take on extra tasks, and expect positive results. For leaders, LMX offers a greater challenge, because making your team as productive as possible will mean finding ways to turn out-group members into in-group members. Individualized concern, the final factor of transformational leadership, may offer one path to converting out-group members.

Additionally, LMX theory has important implications for improving diversity and inclusion. If minorities, women, or people with disabilities routinely identify as out-group members, the leader should ask the question, “What is required to be an in-group member here, and are we creating unintentional barriers for others?”

More on Leadership Theory

Continue learning about leadership theory in the next article in this series, where we’ll discuss Adaptive Leadership, Strengths Based Leadership, and Servant Leadership, along with the usefulness of leadership theories. >> Read more in part 2 of this series.

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Download our Leadership Doctoral Program Booklet to learn about the Ph.D./D.B.A. program in values-driven leadership, for senior executives.

Amber Johnson is the Center’s Chief Communications Officer and Senior Research Associate; she is also a doctoral student in the Center’s Ph.D./D.B.A. Program in Values-Driven Leadership.

Want more on Leadership Theory? Find an interview on why leadership theory matters, at this link. 

Northouse, P.G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and practice (7 th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publishers, Inc.

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A complete guide to understanding and implementing leadership theories

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The working environment is growing ever more volatile and uncertain. It asks a lot of us as leaders.

The recent shift to an extended period of remote work has required leaders to flex their leadership styles to fit new ways of working.

Some of us have made deliberate shifts, while others have just done the best they can during these challenging times.

Leadership theories offer an academic perspective on the many different leadership styles.

In this article, we’ll explore some common theories, help you decide which approach might be right for you, and show you how to put them into practice.

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What are leadership theories?

Leadership theories are academic models and schools of thought that present an opinion on what makes someone a leader.

These theories examine the characteristics and behaviors of leaders and offer thoughts on when and where those characteristics and behaviors would be effective.

Others can then study these models to inform their leadership style and increase leadership capability.

Despite them often being used interchangeably, leadership is different from management.

Table with 2 columns showing the difference between leadership (red column) and management (blue column)

( Image Source )

Why is understanding leadership theories important?

Understanding leadership theories is essential for improving leadership skills. Most of us have a preference for the way we lead others. This comes from training, experience, or observing others we admire.

For new leaders — or those experiencing a new working environment or culture — reading about leadership theories can be the first step toward identifying the type of leader you want to be.

For more experienced leaders, exploring alternative theories can help to show that their preferred leadership style may not work in all circumstances.

Understanding alternative characteristics and behaviors that are more effective in certain circumstances can help leaders flex their style should their working environment change.

8 key leadership theories

Now you know why understanding leadership theories can help develop and flex your leadership approach. Let’s take a look at the 8 most famous theories.

1. Great man theory

The great man theory suggests that leaders are born, not made.

This theory believes that people are born with the inherent characteristics needed to lead. These traits include charisma, courage, intelligence, confidence, and excellent communication skills.

Advocates of the theory look to famous figures, such as Mahatma Gandhi, as classic examples of this theory in action. Despite having no leadership training, Mahatma Gandhi took on a leadership role, and his non-violent approach to political activism influenced millions.

A popular theory in the 19th century, it now faces significant criticism for inferring that no real effort is required to become a leader and that leadership skills cannot be taught or improved upon.

Some people also dislike that most characteristics are inherently masculine, which leaves less space for discussion of alternative leadership styles.

2. Trait theory

Trait theory comes from the belief that certain personality traits indicate leadership — whether successful or unsuccessful.

Comparing your skills to the traits  of good or bad leaders can therefore be an indicator of your leadership competence.

3. Behavioral theory

Behavioral leadership theory is in direct contrast to the great man and trait theories discussed above. It believes that leaders are made and not born.

This theory focuses on using actions and behaviors to characterize leaders rather than traits or innate abilities.

For example, consider a leader who is more concerned with performance than people. If there’s a problem with a team, this leader will analyze processes to see where improvements can be made.

A leader more concerned with people will instead go directly to the team and ask them what the issue is and how they can resolve it.

The behavioral leadership theory is a more inclusive approach to leadership as it suggests that anyone can become a leader by focusing on the behaviors required to lead successfully.

It recognizes that different situations need different actions and behaviors. These can be learned by observing others.

4. Transformational leadership theory

Transformational  — or relationship — leadership theory proposes that significant success can be had by leaders who primarily focus on their relationships with others.

These leaders focus on creating a positive work environment, leading by example, and mentoring others. They act to inspire and empower their employees to strive for high performance.

Transformational leaders often get the best from their people. But, it’s not always an appropriate leadership approach. For example, less experienced or lower-skilled employees may need more direction and guidance than this leadership style allows.

5. Transactional leadership theory

Transactional — or management — leadership is the opposite end of the spectrum from transformational leadership. It’s a system of ‘reward and punishment’ and is common in many businesses.

For example, if an employee performs well, they may receive a bonus, but they may face disciplinary action if they underperform.

While positive reinforcement can be a significant motivator, harsh consequences for poor performance can seriously impact morale and reduce employee engagement.

Transactional leadership theory assumes that employees are solely motivated by the possibility of reward or avoidance of punishment. This differs from transformational leadership, which believes people can be intrinsically motivated or driven to perform for the benefit of a team.

6. Contingency theory

Fred Fiedler developed the contingency theory of leadership in 1958. Fiedler agreed that leaders fall naturally into 2 camps: task-orientated leaders or relationship-orientated leaders.

Fiedler identified leadership type using a somewhat controversially named scale called least preferred co-worker (LPC). When asked to describe how they feel about their LPC, relationship-orientated leaders spoke much more moderately than task-orientated leaders.

Fiedler’s model explored which of these leadership styles would work best in different situations. To judge the ‘favorableness’ of the situation, he rated 3 variables, either high or low.

  • Leader-member relations:  what is the level of trust your team has in you?
  • Task structure:  how clear is the work that needs to be done?
  • Position power:  how much authority do you have as the leader?

colorful graph showing effect on team performance in different situations

The above suggests that a task-orientated leader drives higher team performance when the situation is both highly favorable or highly unfavorable.

Relationship-orientated leaders enable the team to perform best when the situation is more moderate.

Unlike other theories, Fiedler believes the leadership style is static and cannot adapt to the situation. His advice is that the situation should be changed to meet the leader’s style, or the leader should be changed to meet the situation.

7. Situational leadership theory

Situational leadership theory believes that the most effective leaders need to adapt their leadership style to the situation they find themselves in.

Unlike contingency theory, it does believe leaders can flex their approach to leadership.

By recognizing the need to adapt their style, leaders have a much greater chance of influencing others than they would if they ignored this.

In this model, academic theorists Hersey and Blanchard categorized followers against 2 factors. They were task readiness and psychological readiness.

Task readiness was an indicator of competence — the person’s ability to do the job asked. Psychological readiness indicated their level of motivation to do the job.

Followers were categorized as:

  • D1 : low competence but high motivation
  • D2 : low competence and low motivation
  • D3:  high competence but low motivation
  • D4 : high competence and high motivation

Depending on the follower category, leaders should adopt one of 4 styles: directing, coaching, supporting, or delegating.

2 x 2 matrix showing different leadership styles based on follower's development level

8. Participative theory

Participative leadership isn’t common in large, corporate businesses. This theory centers on the notion that the leader is more of a facilitator.

Sometimes called democratic leadership, a key characteristic is that employees play an active role at all levels of decision-making.

The leader’s role is to collect input from the group and synthesize it to reach a decision. The final decision still rests with the leader, but the thoughts of others heavily influence it.

Participative leadership may be more common in innovation-led companies or start-ups with minimal organizational hierarchy.

However, Microsoft is also famous for this leadership approach.

Bill Gates delegated decision-making down to individual departments and built a strong culture of transparency, encouraging information and knowledge sharing between all employees.

How to choose the right leadership theory for you

If you’re interested in improving your leadership skills, you probably feel less affinity for theories that believe leaders are born, not made.

And, even some supporters of the great man theory would argue that inherent skills need nurturing before you can see their full benefits.

So, how do we translate theories into practice?

Understanding leadership theories is the first step in developing a leadership style that feels authentic and works for the organization and team we’re in.

Leadership styles are the observable behaviors that we adopt as leaders to motivate our teams to take action toward our vision.

Most leadership theories believe leadership styles fall somewhere on the spectrum between task-orientated — or transactional — leadership and relationship-orientated — or transformational — leadership.

Based on that assumption, here are some common leadership styles:

Circle detailing 10 common leadership styles

There are several different ways to lead.

From results-focused autocratic leadership to a more coaching style, choosing a leadership style needs to balance personal preference and what the situation requires.

How to adopt a leadership style

Now that we understand leadership theories and styles, how do we go about putting into practice our desired leadership style?

First, look over the leadership styles above. Do the descriptions match the type of leader you want to be or feel that you have to be, based on your current situation? Do you have a particular affinity for one?

What are the typical characteristics of that style?

Next, assess your current leadership ability and organizational culture.

It’s going to be much harder to adopt a visionary leadership style when your preference is to be quieter and more humble. Democratic leaders may feel less comfortable — and have to work harder — in more bureaucratic organizations.

Once you’ve identified your current skills and natural preferences, decide on the leadership style you’d like to adopt. How can you build the required characteristics for that style?

Developing your skills may come from formal or informal training, or you might experiment with different approaches to see whether they are more or less successful.

This is also a good time to look for a mentor. If there’s someone you know who leads in the style you’d like to adopt, seek them out and ask them for help.

Observe what makes them good at what they do or speak to their team to find out what it is that makes them a good leader. Try and emulate those things with your own team.

As you’re experimenting with developing your leadership style, it’s important to seek feedback on your approach.

Check in with your team about how they perceive your leadership and ask for information on things they’d like to be different. It’s worth doing this with your manager and other stakeholders too.

Finally, be authentic.

While you can experiment with different leadership styles, don’t ignore your natural preferences. There are many different types of successful leaders. Trying to be something you’re not over long periods can be stressful and is usually doomed to fail.

How to flex leadership style

There will be times that you need to flex your approach despite your desire to remain authentic and honor your specific leadership style.

This is often due to a change in an internal or external factor that causes a temporary crisis environment.

For example, say you usually lead your team in a democratic manner . Every team member’s contribution is valued equally, and you are more concerned with inclusion, innovation, and collaboration than deadlines.

However, something changes within the business that requires your team to rapidly create a product to match an emerging business-critical requirement.

In that circumstance, you’ll need to flex your leadership style to a more transactional or performance-driven approach to get the job done quickly and successfully.

Neither style is inherently more correct, and both may be appropriate for the circumstance you’re in.

So, how do you flex your style when things change?

First, assess what’s required of you in the new situation and how much of a gap there is between what’s needed and your preferred style and skill set.

Decide what you’re prepared to compromise about your preferred way of leading.

Authentic leadership is important and, if what’s being asked of you is too far away from the type of leader you want to be, it might be time to channel Fred Fiedler and look for another situation.

Once you know what you want to change, seek out others with the required style. Watch how they work with their team to get things done and what effect that has. Try it out on your team and monitor its effectiveness.

Seek feedback about how well your adopted approach is working and continue to build your skills. Reflect and adapt further over time.

How monday.com supports different leadership theories

Whatever your leadership preference, monday.com can help you get the most from your team.

You can use our feedback tracking template  to collect feedback from your employees, managers, and stakeholders about your leadership style and how you can get more from your team.

This information can be invaluable in identifying your preferences and any skills gaps.

Whether your natural style is task-orientated, relationship-orientated, or somewhere in between, monday.com has the tools and templates you need.

Plus, if you have to flex your leadership style to a new situation, monday.com can lend a helping hand.

If you’re naturally task-orientated — or having to flex to that style — monday.com makes it simple to track progress with 8 fully customizable views, including Kanban, Gantt, and timeline.

A series of graphs showing project progress metrics

You can also boost productivity through our 1,000s of automation recipes, which means mundane, repetitive tasks can be eliminated from your workflow.

Our extensive reporting functionality is ideal for leaders who prefer data-driven decision-making over intuition.

If you’re more relationship-orientated, building team collaboration and effective communication are probably of high importance.

monday.com makes collaboration simple. Working in our shared digital platform, you can easily view, share, and annotate documents, plus @tag your colleagues to receive input on something you’re working on.

In-platform message board in monday.com

Effective communication is easy with the ability to communicate in-platform or via integration with tools your team may already use.

It’s also easy to delegate work. Our colorful and intuitive boards and drag-and-drop functionality mean it’s easy to assign work to your team and create workflows that work for you.

Understanding leadership theories builds flexibility

In this article, we’ve looked at the 8 main leadership theories. Leadership theories are academic models developed to help us make sense of the different ways to approach leadership.

Our leadership style is the behaviors we adopt when we put leadership theories into practice.

We all have a natural preference for leading in a certain way, and understanding that preference can help us acknowledge when we might need to flex our leadership style.

We can also learn more about how we lead through feedback from our team. Why not build on your understanding today with our helpful feedback tracker ?

Send this article to someone who’d like it.

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Situational Leadership Theory

Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

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Amy Morin, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and international bestselling author. Her books, including "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," have been translated into more than 40 languages. Her TEDx talk,  "The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong," is one of the most viewed talks of all time.

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Verywell / Nez Riaz

Situational Leadership II

Elements of situational leadership theory, frequently asked questions.

Situational leadership theory suggests that no single leadership style is best. Instead, it depends on which type of leadership and strategies are best suited to the task.

According to this theory, the most effective leaders are those that are able to adapt their style to the situation and look at cues such as the type of task, the nature of the group, and other factors that might contribute to getting the job done.

Situational leadership theory is often referred to as the Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership Theory, after its developers, Dr. Paul Hersey, author of "The Situational Leader," and Kenneth Blanchard, author of "One-Minute Manager."

Leadership Styles

Hersey and Blanchard suggested that there are four primary leadership styles:

  • Telling (S1) : In this leadership style, the leader tells people what to do and how to do it.
  • Selling (S2) : This style involves more back-and-forth between leaders and followers. Leaders "sell" their ideas and message to get group members to buy into the process.
  • Participating (S3) : In this approach, the leader offers less direction and allows members of the group to take a more active role in coming up with ideas and making decisions.
  • Delegating (S4) : This style is characterized by a less involved, hands-off approach to leadership . Group members tend to make most of the decisions and take most of the responsibility for what happens.

Maturity Levels

The right style of leadership depends greatly on the maturity level (i.e., the level of knowledge and competence) of the individuals or group.

Hersey and Blanchard's theory identifies four different levels of maturity, including:

  • M1 : Group members lack the knowledge, skills, and willingness to complete the task.
  • M2 : Group members are willing and enthusiastic, but lack the ability.
  • M3 : Group members have the skills and capability to complete the task, but are unwilling to take responsibility.
  • M4 : Group members are highly skilled and willing to complete the task.

Matching Styles and Levels

Leadership styles may be matched with maturity levels. The Hersey-Blanchard model suggests that the following leadership styles are the most appropriate for these maturity levels:

  • Low Maturity (M1)—Telling (S1)
  • Medium Maturity (M2)—Selling (S2)
  • Medium Maturity (M3)—Participating (S3)
  • High Maturity (M4)—Delegating (S4)

How It Works

A more "telling" style may be necessary at the beginning of a project when followers lack the responsibility or knowledge to work on their own. As subordinates become more experienced and knowledgeable, however, the leader may want to shift into a more delegating approach.

This situational model of leadership focuses on flexibility so that leaders are able to adapt according to the needs of their followers and the demands of the situation.

The situational approach to leadership also avoids the pitfalls of the single-style approach by recognizing that there are many different ways of dealing with a problem and that leaders need to be able to assess a situation and the maturity levels of subordinates in order to determine what approach will be the most effective at any given moment.

Situational theories , therefore, give greater consideration to the complexity of dynamic social situations and the many individuals acting in different roles who will ultimately contribute to the outcome.

The Situational Leadership II (or SLII model) was developed by Kenneth Blanchard and builds on Blanchard and Hersey's original theory. According to the revised version of the theory, effective leaders must base their behavior on the developmental level of group members for specific tasks.

Competence and Commitment

The developmental level is determined by each individual's level of competence and commitment. These levels include:

  • Enthusiastic beginner (D1) : High commitment, low competence
  • Disillusioned learner (D2) : Some competence, but setbacks have led to low commitment
  • Capable but cautious performer (D3) : Competence is growing, but the level of commitment varies
  • Self-reliant achiever (D4) : High competence and commitment

SLII Leadership Styles

SLII also suggests that effective leadership is dependent on two key behaviors: supporting and directing. Directing behaviors include giving specific directions and instructions and attempting to control the behavior of group members. Supporting behaviors include actions such as encouraging subordinates, listening, and offering recognition and feedback.

The theory identifies four situational leadership styles:

  • Directing (S1) : High on directing behaviors, low on supporting behaviors
  • Coaching (S2) : High on both directing and supporting behaviors
  • Supporting (S3) : Low on directing behavior and high on supporting behaviors
  • Delegating (S4) : Low on both directing and supporting behaviors

The main point of SLII theory is that not one of these four leadership styles is best. Instead, an effective leader will match their behavior to the developmental skill of each subordinate for the task at hand.

Experts suggest that there are four key contextual factors that leaders must be aware of when making an assessment of the situation.

Consider the Relationship

Leaders need to consider the relationship between the leaders and the members of the group. Social and interpersonal factors can play a role in determining which approach is best.

For example, a group that lacks efficiency and productivity might benefit from a style that emphasizes order, rules, and clearly defined roles. A productive group of highly skilled workers, on the other hand, might benefit from a more democratic style that allows group members to work independently and have input in organizational decisions.

Consider the Task

The leader needs to consider the task itself. Tasks can range from simple to complex, but the leader needs to have a clear idea of exactly what the task entails in order to determine if it has been successfully and competently accomplished.

Consider the Level of Authority

The level of authority the leader has over group members should also be considered. Some leaders have power conferred by the position itself, such as the capacity to fire, hire, reward, or reprimand subordinates. Other leaders gain power through relationships with employees, often by gaining respect from them, offering support to them, and helping them feel included in the decision-making process .

Consider the Level of Maturity

As the Hersey-Blanchard model suggests, leaders need to consider the level of maturity of each individual group member. The maturity level is a measure of an individual's ability to complete a task, as well as their willingness to complete the task. Assigning a job to a member who is willing but lacks the ability is a recipe for failure.

Being able to pinpoint each employee's level of maturity allows the leader to choose the best leadership approach to help employees accomplish their goals.

An example of situational leadership would be a leader adapting their approach based on the needs of their team members. One team member might be less experienced and require more oversight, while another might be more knowledgable and capable of working independently.

In order to lead effectively, the three skills needed to utilize situational leadership are diagnosis, flexibility, and communication. Leaders must be able to evaluate the situation, adapt as needed, and communicate their expectations with members of the group.

Important elements of situational leadership theory are the styles of leadership that are used, the developmental level of team members, the adaptability of the leader, communication with group members, and the attainment of the group's goals.

  • DuBrin AJ. Leadership: Research, Findings, Practice, and Skills. Mason, OH: South-Western, Cengage Learning; 2013.
  • Gill R. Theory and Practice of Leadership. London: Sage Publications; 2011.
  • Hersey P, Blanchard KH.  Management of Organizational Behavior — Utilizing Human Resources . New Jersey/Prentice Hall; 1969.
  • Hersey P, Blanchard KH. Life Cycle Theory of Leadership. Training and Development Journal.  1969;23(5):26–34.
  • Nevarez C, Wood JL, Penrose R. Leadership Theory and the Community College: Applying Theory to Practice. Sterling, Virginia: Stylus Publishing; 2013.

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

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What does leadership look like in practice?

When we imagine what a leader is, what they look like, and what they do, there are a few traits that they have in common. Most of us think of leaders as confident, decisive, and future-minded. But when it comes down to the day-to-day work of leading and managing others in the real world, those traits might feel a little nebulous. 

Depending on the view of leadership you’ve embraced, you might believe leadership comes from within. You may have been told that leaders are “born, not made.” Or you might believe that everyone has the potential to step up and lead at any time. 

You may think that becoming a leader takes a lot of study and the right education. Conversely, you might believe some version of trial by fire, that leadership emerges through doing. Perhaps it requires practicing skills and techniques under the tutelage of a great leader. Perhaps it requires self-knowledge and self-mastery through a lot of Inner Work®. 

That’s all great — and none of these leadership theories are wrong , exactly. But where does that leave you if you’re leading a team? What exactly do you do? And if none of it is wrong, how do you know what you’re doing is right?

The fact is, there are all kinds of ways to lead. It isn’t about choosing one right theory over others. As people, we learn the best by example. It’s one of the reasons we enjoy reading the stories of other leaders so much. We’re inspired by their example. But a leader is influenced by more than the people they’re leading. They change their strategy to fit the circumstances they find themselves in and the goals they want to accomplish.

To keep up in the modern-day workplace, we can’t cling to just one kind of leadership. The world is changing fast, so leaders, managers, and professionals have to stay agile and change with it. A solid understanding of leadership theories — and what each one entails — can help you pivot in changing circumstances. It can also help you be a more inclusive leader , at ease when working with different types of people. Here are seven key leadership theories that every manager should know and understand.

What are leadership theories?

Great leaders inspire others to achieve high standards. They are good role models, make sound decisions, and provide emotional support. But what does it take to become a “great leader?”

Leadership theories are philosophies that explain what defines a leader and makes them successful. There are many schools of thought, and some contradict one another. But studying these approaches provides valuable insight that leaders can use as they grow.

Formal attempts to define the qualities of a successful leader date back to the mid-19th century. At that time, scholars and philosophers believed that certain personality traits determined whether one could lead. These traits were linked to specific individuals who had demonstrated effective leadership. The concept of “leadership development” was non-existent at this point, since you either had it or you didn’t.

As the study of leadership evolved, researchers began to identify a sort of leadership spectrum. Now, it’s widely accepted that leadership isn’t based on a finite set of characteristics. The best leaders are able to adapt their approach to meet the needs of their team and the challenges ahead.

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Why study leadership theories?

As a manager, you likely want to be a good leader. And while there's no one perfect way to lead, studying leadership theories can give you some tools and ideas to try out. By becoming a student of leadership skills and approaches, you’ll be more well-rounded. You’ll also find that you’re better equipped to help others succeed as well.

The more experience you have with different theories, the more agile you’ll be as a leader. After all, even though there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to leadership, you’ll have a style of working with others that you tend to default to. To be an agile leader, you’ll need to develop the ability to switch approaches quickly. 


How many leadership theories are there?

There are many different leadership approaches — and with every new book on the topic , another one is born. Many leadership researchers, authors, and organizations have distinct models of leadership. However, most fall into one of the seven major theories below:

Trait theory

Trait theory posits that people are born with certain traits and that these traits lead to successful leadership. For example, a leader might be born with charisma, which enables them to rally people to their cause. The idea behind this theory is that it can help managers identify potential leaders within their ranks. However, it should be noted that not everyone who possesses the “necessary traits” will make a good leader; it takes more than just raw talent.

This theory has been (largely) debunked, since notions of what comprises "leadership traits" are not even agreed upon. They’re often based on data or ideas about management and authority from the last century. These outdated ideals don't reflect a more diverse and mobile global workforce. They also don’t adapt well to the changed conditions and demands on the leadership of a digital, technology-driven, exponential business environment.

However, just because we know something isn’t true doesn’t mean we don’t believe it. Some people feel that those who are introverted or shy aren’t strong leaders. These biases can lead others to overlook people who might not be the “obvious” choice for leadership roles.

Behavioral theory

One of the most well-known leadership theories is the behavioral theory, which posits that leaders can be made, not born. This theory looks at what leaders do, rather than their traits or inner qualities. One key tenet of this theory is that there is no one perfect way to lead and that the best approach depends on the situation. To be an effective leader, then, you need to be adaptable and have a range of different leadership styles in your toolkit.

Contingency theory

Contingency theory posits that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to leadership. Instead, the style of leadership that is most effective depends on the situation at hand. Contingency theory is also known as situational leadership theory. 

Generally, task-oriented leadership is more effective when the team is both skilled and motivated. Relationship-oriented leadership is more effective when direct reports need more support and guidance. Leaders shift their approach to suit the needs of their team and organization.

Transformational leadership theory

Transformational leadership creates positive change in both the followers and the leader. This change can be something small, like improving work habits, or something big, like developing a new product. Leaders who use this style of leadership motivate and inspire their followers to achieve greatness. 


Transactional theory

A transactional leadership style helps keep teams moving quickly. Rewards and consequences are clearly communicated. The idea is that there’s an exchange — a role to be played — by both parties. The leader is responsible for keeping the rewards flowing and punishments consistent. The other party (generally an employee) simply needs to “keep their end of the bargain.” 

This “cut-and-dried” type of leadership gets results — but often at the expense of employee engagement. Participants in these settings are less likely to take an active role in the decision-making process. They tend to eschew responsibility for outcomes beyond their immediate roles.

Great Man Theory

This theory arose during the 19th century and was popularized by Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle. The great man theory argues that history is shaped by a select few great men, who are born with the natural ability to lead and influence others . 

While this theory has been largely discredited, it still offers some insights into the concept of leadership. For example, the idea that leaders are born rather than made suggests that leadership ability can’t be taught or learned — or at least, that many people believe that to be true. This theory also places a great deal of emphasis on individual achievement and greatness. It downplays the importance of team effort or group dynamics.

Coaching theory

In terms of leadership, coaching theory views leaders as skilled supporters, who work with team members to help them reach their desired goals. A coaching leadership style is collaborative and focused on the skills of the individual. Managers can use coaching by setting clear expectations for what people are supposed to do, modeling desired behaviors, providing ongoing feedback on how well those expectations are being met, and discussing potential opportunities for improvement.

What is the best leadership theory?

There is no one best leadership theory. Instead, there are several different theories that can be useful in different situations. The key is to know which theory will work best in a given situation and to be able to adapt your leadership style as needed. 

Instead of trying to figure out which theory of leadership is best, learn to adapt your managerial style to a variety of situations. Knowing that you have the tools to handle anything that comes your way will help boost your self-confidence.


How do you apply leadership theories?

BetterUp’s research has identified that one of the most important qualities that a leader can have is future-mindedness. A future-minded leader can think through multiple, possible outcomes and anticipate what to do in each situation.

As you look to integrate the key points of the main leadership theories, it’s a good idea to develop your power of prospection. Think through: What could happen? Who would be involved? What would success look like, and how could we achieve it in the face of the worst-case scenario?

1. What could happen?

Grace under pressure is a trait associated with many successful leaders, and rightfully so. Doing something new and taking risks often means dealing with a high level of uncertainty. When ambiguity is handled poorly, it can foment mistrust and fear in even the most connected work environment .

A leader that’s confident and self-assured (trait theory) can inspire trust and confidence in their team — for a time. But if it’s not backed up with action (behavioral), people begin to feel that their leaders are keeping secrets or out-of-touch.

In ambiguous situations, let your direct reports see you work through possible scenarios (situational theory). Show them that you’re aware of both their concerns and the worst-case scenario. Don’t be afraid to bring in outside help. Asking for help can seem scary, because it means admitting that there’s something you don’t know. But the very act is proof that a plan is underway.

2. Who would be involved?

Many leadership theories agree that a leader’s greatest responsibility is to their people. That’s because the position of a leader implies trust. People “follow” because they believe that a leader is taking them somewhere that they couldn’t go on their own.

Leaders have a commitment to the “bottom line” as well as their teams, but it’s a good idea to try to seek a win-win in the process (transformational leadership). For example, if a company is looking to hire for a new role, is it possible to promote an internal candidate (coaching)? If there will be layoffs, will employees still have access to healthcare and wellness perks? Even when the outcome isn’t favorable, a leader who’s invested in their team will seek to minimize impact.

Furthermore, strong leaders communicate early and often. They let group members and stakeholders know what changes are coming down the line and how the team may be affected. This type of leader often earns a high degree of trust and loyalty from their team. People know that even if circumstances look bleak, they have someone looking out for their best interests.

3. What would success look like?

There are many paths to success. A strong leader knows that the first, second, and even third plans may not work out. They focus on the encouragement and empowerment of their team, keeping them energized as they work towards the end goal.

This is where agility is most important. If you have a clear vision of what a successful outcome looks like, and you’re not too attached to how you get there, you have a greater chance of achieving it. The contingent theory emphasizes this type of leader behavior . It helps teams respond quickly under changing conditions to meet the goal.

Perhaps the biggest strength of this leadership style is that it empowers other people within the organization to step up and lead. These leaders manage by delegating responsibility to others. They give their direct reports opportunities to grow even as they work to complete tasks. Individuals on the team grow their communication skills, problem-solving abilities, and other core leadership competencies . Transformational leaders tend to be the most adept at this. They coach their teams “on the field” to improve their skills as they achieve outsized results.

Be the best leader you can be

In order to develop into a successful leader, you don’t necessarily have to memorize every leadership theory. You have to have a clear understanding of what you’re working towards, a sense of responsibility to your team, and willingness to grow.

All of these skills are rooted in self-awareness . Leadership theories are part of what helps us cultivate that awareness. We learn from the example of those around us. Then we internalize and develop based on what we learn. In that way, becoming a leader isn’t an art or a science, but a continuous process of intentional growth.

If you want support in developing leadership skills and understanding what it means to be future-minded, reach out to BetterUp for a demo today.

Allaya Cooks-Campbell

BetterUp Associate Learning Experience Designer

What is a leadership development program and why do you need one?

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  • Volume 4, Issue 4
  • Your leadership style: why understanding yourself matters
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  • http://orcid.org/0000-0003-0110-2378 Clare Felicity Jane Price-Dowd
  • People Directorate , NHS England and Improvement , Leeds , West Yorkshire , UK
  • Correspondence to Dr Clare Felicity Jane Price-Dowd, People Directorate, NHS Improvement, Leeds LS1 4HG, West Yorkshire, UK; clare.price-dowd{at}improvement.nhs.uk

Understanding of personal leadership style has been shown to be a key part of effective leadership practice. It has been a topic of interest for many decades as we have tried to understand, and replicate, what makes those considered to be ‘great leaders’ so successful. This article gives a brief introduction to different leadership ‘theories’, leadership ‘styles’ and the effect they have on the ‘climate’ in organisations. Having an understanding of the different approaches can help leaders be more effective through comprehending how and why they do what they do, as well as helping them identify where and when they need to adapt their style. By considering how our understanding of leadership has evolved, it is possible to show how effective leadership is not linked to one approach. It is a combination of knowledge, attitudes and behaviours with a focus on both the task in hand and concern for those undertaking that task. Furthermore this understanding supports impactful personal development, which creates positive climates in organisations where compassionate and inclusive leadership behaviours can, and do result in better outcomes for staff and patients.

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Who, when flipping through a publication has not been tempted by the ‘personality quiz’, hoping to get the ‘mostly A, B or C’ that indicates we have the attributes for long and successful careers or lots of friends? While this level of ‘knowing how we are’ could be dismissed as flippant, when it comes to leadership, understanding our personal approach can be invaluable. If you asked people around you ‘what sort of leader do you think you are?’ they would most likely answer in the singular ‘I lead by example,’ ‘I build relationships with people,’ or ‘I don't tolerate underperformance’. They are unlikely to say ‘I do this here, and that on other occasions’ yet the most effective leaders are those who attune to their context, consciously adapt their practice and have an awareness of how their own style effects others. This article introduces the different theories and styles of leadership and how they can be used to create positive work climates. The key terms are given in table 1 .

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Evolution of leadership theory and understanding of style

A desire to understand what makes a successful leader is not new. For centuries there has been debate about what differentiated leaders from non-leaders, and leaders from followers. In a comprehensive review of leadership theories by Stogdill, 1 a number of categories were identified and in the 80+ years since Lewin et al 2 published their theory on patterns of behaviour in 1939, we have seen an evolution from trying to identify ‘common traits’ based on inherent characteristics of ‘great men and women’ through to the what we now understand to be the successful combination of person, place and approach. Looking further into this evolution, although this is not a comprehensive list, it is possible to group the stages of development as follows:

Trait theory—for example as seen in the work of Carlyle 3 and Stodgill 1 is concerned with the type of person that makes a good leader and the innate qualities and associated leadership traits they have. A meta-study by the Centre for Excellence in Management and Leadership 4 identified over 1000 leadership traits in the literature, which they distilled to 83 more or less distinct attributes. While no specific trait or combination was found to guarantee success, trait theory did help in identifying qualities that are helpful when leading others such as integrity and empathy.

Later, behavioural theory identified what good leaders do—effectively how they ‘lead well’. Examples include the Tannenbaum and Schmidt continuum 5 —seven stages of reducing control namely Tells, Sells, Suggests, Consults, Joins, Delegates and Abdicates; the Action-Centred Leadership Model of Adair 6 which sets out the three responsibilities of the leader—‘achieving the task, managing the team and managing individuals’ and the Blake Mouton Managerial Grid 7 also referred to as ‘The Power to Change’ which outlines two behavioural dimensions: Concern for Results and Concern for People.

Situational and contingency theory: looks at the leader in the context of where they lead. By considering how the leader’s success is directly influenced by their environment, it became possible to identify the conditions that support or constrain leaders as seen in work including Feidler 8 Vroom and Yetton 9 Yukl 10 ; Hersey and Blanchard 11 ; Thompson and Vecchio. 12

Transactional theories—as seen in the work of Weber 13 and later by Bass, 14 focuses on the leader getting results by using process and structures while applying reward and penalty in response. Within this are power and influence theory, exchange and path-goal theory by House 15 16 which concentrate on the relationship between leader and led as a series of trades or ‘leader-member exchanges’.

In more recent years, while the transactional and positive view of hero leadership has never entirely gone away, the notion of ‘Hero to Host’ 17 which describes the move to transformational and ‘new wave’ styles outlined by Burns 18 Bass 14 and Kouzes and Posner 19 among others. Transformational leadership not only serves to enhance the motivation, morale, satisfaction and performance of followers, but also sees the leader role model compassionate and inclusive behaviours, which are valued. In ‘Good to Great’ by Collins, 20 the Level 5 leader is described as possessing both indomitable will, but also humility and is often self effacing and shy, the opposite of what we might have previously described as leadership traits!

Relevance for leaders

Every day, leaders in healthcare must constantly analyse complex situations, engage, motivate, empower and delegate. Many leaders now operate within complex adaptive systems—organisations that are an interconnected whole of many parts, which may and may not function effectively together depending on changing circumstances. This calls for leadership skills and behaviours that can move between each required activity with seemingly effortless ease and without loss of effectiveness.

Having an appreciation of different theories and styles also helps us identify our reaction to these changing situations. In considering the global COVID-19 pandemic, the leadership behaviours required, and experienced, may be different to anything encountered before. The effect of leadership in this situation is profound and will have a lasting impact. Displaying command behaviours may be necessary but uncomfortable, while teams may not be used to being directed with minimal consultation. Sustained pressure may have a negative effect, but it does not follow that leadership behaviours slide into being disrespectful or non-inclusive—it is about the leaders focusing on the task and ensuring individuals and teams are clearly instructed on the part they have to play; consulted where possible and informed of when and when they need to do as instructed.

However, knowing about ‘how we are’ is only part of the picture, equally important is understanding the effect we have on other. Goleman 21 found that the one of the biggest mistakes leaders make was to default to a style of personal choice rather than responding with the most appropriate in the situation, while Blanchard 22 suggests that 54% of leaders only ever apply one preferred leadership style regardless of the situation. The result is that almost half of the time, leaders are using the wrong style to meet their current objective or lead the people around them well.

The danger here is trying to be the most popular leader and everyone’s favourite, rather than developing an authentic repertoire of skills. If you have never considered your leadership style or the types of leadership behaviours you have there are a number of tools to help such as the National health Service Healthcare Leadership Model. Based on research of the behaviours of effective leaders, Storey and Holti 23 defined nine domains (Inspiring shared purpose: leading with care: evaluating information: connecting our service: sharing the vision: engaging the team: holding to account: developing capability and influencing for results) against which can leaders can self assess and gain pointers on how to strengthen their style.

Relevance for the work environment

Research by KornFerry Hay Group 24 shows an up to 70% of variance in climate and an up to 30% increase business performance can be directly attributable to the climate leaders create through their style of leadership. This includes feeling included, supported and having a role that is meaningful. To help leaders create a positive climate, Goleman 21 defined six leadership styles—see table 2 —which he then correlated with the type of climate each created for those around them. Those able to deploy the styles in the left column have been shown to create high performing teams in positive climates.

Leadership Styles and the climate they support (adapted from Goleman 21 )

These are not the only leadership styles: others include Autocratic leadership where leaders/managers make the decisions and employees follow orders as previously stated; laissez-faire leadership where the manager empowers employees but gives them few rules to follow with little oversight or direction: bureaucratic leadership where hierarchies and job titles to determine responsibilities and rules and servant leadership which focuses on the needs of employees, seeing them as the organisation’s most important resources and often treating them as clients, but only the six here were included by Goleman.

The effects of the leadership styles displayed and the effects they have on the climate within organisations has far reaching impact for team members. The ability to flex your leadership style and create a positive climate has been shown to create greater job satisfaction and pride in work, greater collaboration and creativity. Having an awareness of the effects of personal style, is therefore an essential part of a leaders toolkit and something every leader should have awareness of

In practice

Delivering health and care is highly complex and effective leadership calls for a match of style and approach to context and presenting challenge. Leadership styles is not a neat category of things, the increasingly interconnected world with ever-evolving technology has dictated a need for leaders who can adapt effortlessly as the situation dictates. Daniel Goleman 21 likens leading to being a golfer—one game but choosing the right club, at the right moment, for the next shot. Lets think about what this could look like: again, thinking about the COVID-19 pandemic the deteriorating clinical condition requires a leader who draws on all their experience, interprets the situation, takes control and ‘tells’ in order to get the best outcome for the patient—transactional and it’s wholly appropriate. At other times, that same leader will need to take time to build relationships and coach others in order to give the best care possible.

We all have a natural tendency towards our preferred style and when under pressure, there is evidence that we ‘revert to type’, relying on the most comfortable part of our personality to see us though. Unfortunately this means using fewer of the leadership skills that usually provide balance. Skilful, mature leadership is about leading ourselves as much as leading others. This level of understanding our style helps us recognise triggers that support adopting the right style for the given situation.

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Different situations require different leadership style and each style can be considered a tool in itself. How we lead needs to be a combination of concern for the task in hand and also the people undertaking it, as both individuals and collectively as teams. We have looked briefly at small number of the plethora theories and styles that can help us understand how we lead. Leaders who understand themselves and can move effortlessly between a range of styles in response to changing situations have been found to have more positive outcomes for their teams and patients.

  • Stogdill RM
  • Lippitt R ,
  • Carlyle T ,
  • Tannenbaum R ,
  • Blanchard K
  • Thompson G ,
  • Wheatley M ,
  • KornFerry Hay Group
  • Newstrom JW ,
  • Griffin MA ,

Twitter @clarepricedowd

Contributors CFJP-D completed all part of this paper:

Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

Competing interests None declared.

Patient consent for publication Not required.

Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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  • Getting Ahead

6 Major Leadership Theories

8 min read · Updated on December 18, 2022

Robert Lyons

What makes a great leader? Are they born or made, or do they simply adapt to meet the occasion?

What makes a great leader is a question that has occupied scholars and philosophers through the ages. It's led to countless behavioral studies in search of the qualities and circumstances that give rise to impactful leadership.

Is it a list of specific personality traits that make people innately prepared to be leaders? Do circumstances of the moment dictate what types of people can best lead the team?

As the interest in leadership psychology has intensified, a variety of leadership theories have emerged to explain how certain people become great leaders and why some leadership styles are effective.

What is a leadership theory?

Leadership theories are concepts that seek to explain successful leadership. To that end, there are analytical leadership theories and leadership approach theories. 

Analytical leadership theories are hypotheses of why certain types of people become leaders. These theories focus on the traits , characteristics, and behaviors of successful leaders and the circumstances that have produced them. 

Leadership approach theories put forth proposals of which leadership approach will lead to the most success. They advocate for leaders to emphasize different aspects of management, such as team-building or rewards-based motivation, as ways of achieving team success.

What are the 6 major theories of leadership?

Analytical leadership theories, 1. "great man" theory or trait theory.

The Great Man Theory of leadership purports that great leaders are born, not made. It proposes that there are those who are simply born with the personality traits and attributes that set them apart and predispose them to great leadership skills. Similar to the trait theory , it suggests that these traits are responsible for individuals assuming positions of power.

The theory is the result of studies of great leaders throughout history, mapping both their personality and physical traits. Some of the natural qualities of a successful leader that have been identified are:

Drive to achieve

Desire to lead

Political skills

Business knowledge 

Emotional Maturity

Strong leaders, it claims, fill the "hero mold," possessing courage and the ability to influence the masses.

It maintains that these traits can be observed in leaders across time, cultures, and locations. As such, all great leaders will share these characteristics regardless of when and where they lived or what place in history they held.

The theory does allow that leadership is still more art than science. Even if there are certain inborn qualities that make one a good leader, these natural talents must be developed and the individual must learn to skillfully apply leadership techniques.

The pushback on the theory is that a great deal of emphasis is placed on physical characteristics, like height and appearance, in its description of “great men.” Many of the traits cited are typically masculine traits and are now viewed as outdated. 

2. Contingency Theory 

The contingency theory of leadership states that effective leadership is contingent upon the specific situation at hand. According to this theory, a leader can be effective in one circumstance and ineffective in another. It simply depends on whether their leadership style fits the given situation.

There are factors, it suggests, that determine whether a particular leader or leadership style will be effective in a situation: the task, the project scope, the leader's personality, the size and composition of the team, resources, and deadlines.

For example, some teams function better with a more autocratic leader and other teams thrive with more hands-off guidance. Different projects require different leadership styles. Some tasks demand innovation, others just need a charismatic and motivational leader to help a team to achieve its goals.

The lesson of this theory is two-fold. On the one hand, it's imperative to find the right leader for the given circumstance. On the other hand, great leaders know that they must be willing to adapt their leadership style to the situation.

3.  Behavioral Theory

The behavioral leadership theory , as the name suggests, focuses on how leaders behave. More significantly, it postulates that these traits can be learned by observing and copying other leaders. Therefore, effective leadership is a learned behavior . In other words, as opposed to the Trait or Great Man theories, leaders aren't born, they're made. 

The behavioral leadership theory puts forth that there are multiple “styles of leadership,” founded upon specific behavioral patterns. Some of the styles of leadership include:

People-oriented leaders: encourage innovation, empower employees, reward success

Task-oriented leaders: initiate projects, clarify instructions, organize processes

Participative leaders: facilitate communication, take suggestions, foster collaboration

Status quo leaders: distribute tasks evenly, enforce company policies, remain neutral

There are several more styles, but the key idea of this theory is that, in the end, the actions and actual behaviors of a leader are what define success.

As an example, let's say a challenge arises at work. The task-oriented manager will begin with workflow processes, looking to solve the issue with system management. The people-oriented leader, however, will start with their team, searching for a solution by talking through issues with their employees. They believe that prioritizing a back-and-forth dialogue will generate the optimal solution.

Behavioral leadership theory evolved through behavioral studies of CEOs, project managers, and other leaders across industries as they responded to situations. The common result was that successful leaders consistently conformed to the behavioral standards of one of these leadership styles.

Each of these leadership styles relies on key behaviors, such as strong structure, setting goals, empowering employees, and so on. These traits don't come naturally to everyone, but, as behavioral leadership theory claims, these skills can be learned and strengthened with a bit of work and observation. Once a manager decides what kind of leader they want to be, they can work towards adopting and implementing the associated behavior. 

Leadership approach theories

4. participative theory.

Participative leadership theory teaches leaders to listen to their employees and involve them in the decision-making process. It encourages an inclusive mindset, proactive communication, and the willingness to share power with team members.

Participative leadership promotes collaboration by highlighting accountability across the board and emphasizing finding solutions collectively. Advocates say that this approach remarkably reduces finger-pointing when problems arise. When every member of the group has a say in decisions, then the group as a whole carries responsibility for the outcome. You can't blame the manager, because everyone is on the same level. 

The leader's role is primarily to facilitate conversation, gather input, and choose the best plan of action. Participative leaders place great value on the team's opinions. Participative workplaces thrive through creativity, innovation, and a collaborative spirit.

5. Transactional Theory

Transactional leadership theory is based on a straightforward system of rewards and punishments as motivators for the team. This approach to leadership, one of the most common in the business world, insists that a structured system of prizes or demerits is the most effective way to get optimized performance from employees. 

In this case, the personality and capabilities of the leader are far less important than the strength of the system and adherence to it. This style places great emphasis on structure, organization, supervision, hierarchy, performance, and outcomes. The leader's main priorities are facilitating tasks, assessing performance, and administering rewards or punishments.

6. Relational Theory

Relational leadership theory is all about the process of bringing people together to accomplish change or achieve a goal that benefits the common good. 

In other words, the relational leader focuses primarily on their interactions with the team members. They make time to talk to their employees, listen to their needs, and develop an enjoyable work environment. Studies show that relationship-oriented managers often get better results from their teams. Employees feel confident in their leader and want to follow them. They are also inspired to be good leaders to others. 

A common evolution of RLT, as it's also called, is that leaders take on mentorship roles with employees. Mentorships foster growth and encourage employees to stay with the company for longer. Relational theory follows the philosophy that great leadership develops more leaders rather than more followers.

RLT also places great value on ethics, inclusivity, and diversity in the group. It strongly believes that promoting diverse talents and perspectives amongst group members elicits the highest quality of group productivity.

The bottom line

Leadership theories, like leaders themselves, come in all shapes and sizes. Some zero in on traits and characteristics and some emphasize the need to adapt to circumstances. Leadership, however, is multi-dimensional. There are many aspects to becoming a great leader. If you aspire to lead, it's important to understand the variety of leadership theories out there to determine what kind of leader you can be.

If a new management role is on your horizon, why not submit your resume for a free resume review to ensure that it's highlighting your leadership potential? 

Related reading

13 Free Resources That Will Make You a Better Leader

Corporate Culture and How It's Impacted by Leadership Styles

8 Traits of Highly Effective Leaders

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Leadership theories and how they are influencing

October 5, 2020 by Amal Torres

Leadership is the achievement of a goal/task through the direction of human assistants.  It is the process of being active and organized to attempt big tasks. The man who successfully collaborates his human collaborators to achieve particular ends is a leader. A great leader is a man of work who can do so day after day, year after year, in every circumstance. During this process, leadership leads to productivity (Dugan & Komives, 2011).

Multiple leadership theories refer to understand a particular leadership style. Every person is different and separate personality traits, and their perspective is others towards time situations. Leadership theories describe how and why certain people become leaders.

Such theories focus on leaders’ characteristics, but some attempt to identify the behaviors that people want to adopt to improve their leadership skills. However, successful leadership theory can work in many different situations(Schyns & Schilling, 2011).

The Path-Goal Theory of leadership

It is one that can be successful.  The leader must motivate those under them to want to achieve a common goal.  In this, the leader must be willing to participate in achieving the goal.  A leader who delegates responsibility but does nothing to motivate others will have difficulty finding people who will work hard under them.  The Path-Goal theory focuses on encouraging and supporting to achieve success.  In this theory, the leader is showing the subordinates that they care about their welfare. It will allow the followers to feel supported and a sense of loyalty to their leader (Cherry, 2012).

The Great Man Theory

The great man theory is the earliest leadership theory. The great man theory of leadership states that some people are born with the necessary attributes that set them apart. These traits are responsible for their assuming positions of power and authority. A leader is a hero who accomplishes goals against all odds for his followers (Cherry, 2012).

Contingency Theory

The Fred Fielder develops this theory, he divided leaders into two kids. One is task-oriented, and the second id relationship-oriented. Task-oriented leaders work on productivity and deadlines to achieve the goal. At the same time, relationship-oriented leaders focus more on the people and the concerns (Cherry, 2012).

The Trait Theory

Trait theory refers to the characteristics of a particular person who has strong abilities. These abilities determine an excellent leader. It focuses on identifying different personality traits that are linked to successful leadership across a variety of situations. For example, Nelson Mandela served his life for the African and their rights (Cherry, 2012).

The Charismatic Theory

Charismatic leadership encourages particular behaviors in others in terms of communication, persuasion, and force of personality. In Charismatic leadership, leaders motivate followers to get things done or improve the way certain things are done.  In the process, the charismatic leadership style has its basis in the form of heroism.  This leadership style is almost the same as the transformational theory (Cherry, 2012).

The Situational Theory

This theory does not follow the specific framework of the rules and limits. The belief of this story is change according to the need of the time. Leaders adapt their leadership style according to the suitable demand of the task, people, and project (Cherry, 2012).

in conclusion, leaders differ from others in terms of motivation, directions, and ability to maintain the task on time. These theories influence people from different perspectives. All ideas can influence others and create interpersonal skills, which leads to trust-building. Almost everybody comes across the influence of the leadership theories that help to understand the time requirement in different aspects of life.

Cherry, K. (2012). Leadership theories.

Dugan, J. P., & Komives, S. R. (2011). Leadership theories.  The handbook for student leadership development , 35-57.

Schyns, B., & Schilling, J. (2011). Implicit leadership theories: Think, leader, think effective?.  Journal of Management Inquiry ,  20 (2), 141-150.

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What Is Leadership Theory?

Coach Mike

"There has never been and will never be one single leadership theory that completely explains why leaders succeed. There is no silver bullet and no substitute for context and experience. " - Michael Hauge

It might feel like there are more books about Leadership in the book store than there are stars in the sky. Everyone has their own take on Leadership. Everyone has their own definition of Leadership. The concept isn’t something that we can agree on across cultures, countries, personalities, and even time horizons.

To me, that is exactly what makes it so fascinating. And frustrating. And puzzling. And endlessly exciting.

In this post, we’ll present a brief introduction to some of the main Leadership Theories. If you do want a deeper dive into these Leadership Theories, I can’t help but recommend ‘The Leadership Challenge,’ by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner - it’s a phenomenal introduction to Leadership and guide book that has influenced countless executives and where I first encountered the idea of Leadership Theory. Anyways, let’s dive right in!

What Is Leadership Theory and why does it matter?

Leadership Theory is the approach to Leadership that typecasts the leader as an individual with the vision and capacity to provide guidance and motivation to others towards a common goal. Leadership Theories hold that the successful leader has certain traits, behaviors, and mindsets that make them unique and effective. By understanding these traits and characteristics, we can better understand, train, and develop effective leadership.

Of course, there are a variety of Leadership Theories that enable leaders to be successful. Some of these include:

  • Trait Theory.
  • Behaviorist Theory.
  • Interactions Theory.
  • Contingency Theory.
  • Task vs. Group Theory.
  • Path Goal Theory.
  • Normative Theory.

Let’s examine each of those one by one and then how we might apply our newfound understanding of Leadership Theory.

What is Trait Theory?

Trait Theory believes that effective leadership is determined by specific characteristics that leaders possess. These traits include intelligence, assertiveness, honesty, charisma, creativity, and emotional intelligence among others. Knowing these traits can help to identify and develop potential leaders, although some people may not possess all of the desired traits.

What might this look like in a real-world scenario?

Let’s say that the leader of a company is trying to oversee a project that requires creative problem-solving. They could use the Trait Theory to identify potential candidates who excel at creative thinking. This would include people who are particularly intelligent, assertive, and emotionally aware. This approach means that the leader can select the ideal person for the job, focusing on their traits rather than their experience or qualifications.

What are the benefits and drawbacks of Trait Theory?

A key benefit of Trait Theory is that it allows leaders to quickly identify candidates who possess the most desired traits. This allows them to select the right person for the job, saving time and resources in the process. The drawback, however, is that it may fail to recognize people who possess other useful qualities, such as experience, which Trait Theory may not prioritize.

What is Behaviorist Theory?

The Behaviorist Theory of Leadership is based on the idea that leadership is not just about a leader’s traits, but about their behavior or actions as well. Leaders must act in a certain way to be effective, such as providing clear direction, setting goals, and motivating their team.

Let’s say that a leader is trying to manage a group of employees. Using the Behavioral Theory, the leader must be aware of their actions and how they are influencing the team. This means setting clear expectations and boundaries, providing feedback and support, and rewarding team members for their hard work. The behaviorist approach allows the leader to create a positive environment for their team members and maximize their performance.

What are the benefits and drawbacks of Behaviorist Theory?

Behaviorist Theory can be a great way for leaders to ensure that their behavior is having a positive influence on their team. By being conscious of how they act and react, leaders can create an environment that is conducive to success. However, Behavioral Theory does not take into account the team’s responses and reactions, which may limit its efficacy.

What is Interaction Theory?

Interaction Theory states that good leadership is determined by how the leader interacts with their team. Leaders must create a positive environment, give positive feedback, and provide support.

Let’s say that a leader is trying to manage a large team. Using the Interaction Theory, the leader must foster positive interactions with their team. This could include providing clear instructions and expectations, offering guidance and support, and having frequent meetings with their team to ensure progress towards the goal. Interaction Theory allows the leader to create an environment where employees feel supported and valued.

What are the benefits and drawbacks of Interaction Theory?

Interaction Theory is a great way to ensure that leaders are fostering positive relationships with their team. By interacting frequently and openly, leaders can create an environment that is conducive to both individual and collective success. The downside of Interaction Theory is that it may be time consuming, as multiple interactions are required for success.

What is Contingency Theory?

Contingency Theory holds that leadership depends on the specific circumstances. Effective leaders must understand their team and environment, as well as be able to adapt as circumstances change.

Let’s say that a leader is trying to manage a project with a tight deadline. The Contingency Theory would dictate that the leader must first assess the environment and team to understand their strengths and limitations. From there, the leader can adjust their approach as needed, making sure that their team has the resources they need to complete the project within the deadline. This approach allows the leader to respond quickly to changes in the environment and adapt their leadership style accordingly.

What are the benefits and drawbacks of Contingency Theory?

The benefit of Contingency Theory is that it allows leaders to be flexible and adjust their style depending on the situation. This can help leaders stay effective and successful in a variety of different contexts. The downside of Contingency Theory is that it may be difficult for inexperienced leaders to know when it’s best to change their approach.

What is Task vs. Group Theory?

The Task vs. Group Theory looks at leadership from two angles, either focusing on individuals within the group or tasks that need to be completed. Leaders must decide how to balance the needs of the group with individual tasks and the completion of tasks.

Let’s say that a leader is trying to manage a project with a tight deadline. The Task vs. Group Theory would dictate that the leader must balance both the individual needs of their team members and the completion of the task at hand. This could include delegating tasks according to each team member’s strengths, managing expectations, and providing support and guidance throughout the project.

What are the benefits and drawbacks of Task vs. Group Theory?

The benefit of Task vs. Group Theory is that it allows leaders to focus both on the task and the team members, making sure that each aspect is given the attention it deserves. The downside of this approach is that it can be time consuming and may need frequent re-evaluation.

What is Path Goal Theory?

Path Goal Theory is the idea that good leaders provide guidance and support to their team, helping them reach their goals in an effective and efficient manner. Leaders must provide the resources needed for their team to succeed and ensure that their team understands the desired outcome.

Let’s say that a leader is trying to manage a team on a specific project. Using Path Goal Theory, the leader must ensure that the team understands the desired outcome and provide the resources and guidance needed to reach this goal. This could involve setting clear expectations, providing feedback, and offering support as needed. The Path Goal Theory allows the leader to ensure that their team is on the same page and working towards the same goal.

What are the benefits and drawbacks of Path Goal Theory?

The benefit of Path Goal Theory is that it allows leaders to guide and support their team towards success. By providing resources and setting expectations, the leader ensures that the team is on the right track to reaching their goal. The downside of Path Goal Theory is that it may be difficult to manage when there are multiple paths to success. Additionally, this approach may not be effective in environments where team members are not all striving for the same outcome.

What is Normative Theory?

Normative Theory is the idea that effective leaders use certain social norms , such as trust and respect, to influence their behavior. Leaders must create a supportive and encouraging environment where people feel comfortable and respected and are motivated to work towards a common goal.

Let’s say that a leader is trying to manage a team on a specific project. Using Normative Theory, the leader must ensure that everyone works together and that trust and respect are fostered within the team. This could involve setting clear expectations, providing feedback, and offering support as needed. The leader should also ensure that everyone is on the same page and working towards the same goal.

What are the benefits and drawbacks of Normative Theory?

The benefit of Normative Theory is that it allows leaders to foster a supportive and encouraging environment. By creating an atmosphere of trust and respect, team members can better work together towards success. The downside of Normative Theory is that it may be difficult to implement in certain contexts, as social norms may differ from organization to organization. Additionally, some team members may be reluctant to work together if their norms don’t match with the leader’s.

Whew! That’s a lot of Theory for one day. It sounds (and is!) pretty overwhelming.

The first question I’d like you to think to yourself is, “ After reading some of the more popular leadership theories above, what is your personal leadership theory? ” or “ Do any of these theories above resonate with you? ”

For most people, one or more of the theories listed above will jump out to them as recognizable. For others, it’s a blend. Remember, there is no one Leadership Theory that is automatically superior to others! The point here is to recognize the benefits and drawbacks of each and begin to identify patterns in your own leadership style to see which theory is most suitable for your specific situation.

While we could probably write volumes and volumes on the topic, let’s just tackle one more key question for today:

How do we know which Leadership Theory to apply?

The answer is simple, but not easy: context and experience. Each Leadership Theory is designed for a different context, so it’s important to assess the situation before deciding which Theory to use. Your own experience is also a great asset as you can draw on it to choose the best Leadership Theory that fits the specific environment and team. In our experience, a strong leader is often flexible and is able to apply the different theories depending on the needs of the team and the situation. Like we said: simple, but not easy.

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8 Major Leadership theories: Strengths, Weaknesses and Examples

  • Post author By Rohant Zalani
  • Post date November 30, 2019
  • 17 Comments on 8 Major Leadership theories: Strengths, Weaknesses and Examples

Leadership is a multifaceted subject, and a combination of various factors determine why some people are successful leaders. The theories of leadership are the studies and views of experts, scholars, and researchers that describe the aspects that make a great leader.

Different schools of thought have varied opinions on how can you become an extraordinary leader. Some theories suggest that you need to have inborn traits, some advocate you to shape your persona as per the situation, while others emphasize on effective behavior.

However, there are some common characteristics of exceptional leaders. Analyzing the takeaways from these theories can help you understand them and evolve as a leader.

Let’s have a look at the eight major theories, along with their strengths, weaknesses, and examples.

1) Great Man Theory of Leadership: Leaders are born, not made

The great man theory is one of the earliest ways to look at leadership. It states that some people are born with the traits of a leader; they have the gift of unique qualities. These attributes separate them from the masses and make them reach the position of power and authority.

Thomas Carlyle, who is associated with much of the work on this theory, said,

“The history of the world is the biography of great men.”

For example, people like Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Joseph Stalin did not receive leadership training. However, they took on leadership roles and captured the imagination of the masses. These leaders had an unexplained tenacity to rise to the top when a lot of similar people were experiencing almost identical circumstances.

However, Herbert Spencer, a noted philosopher, was not in favor of this theory. He said, leaders are the result of their conditions; before they alter society, society has to make them.

For instance, people like Mahatma Gandhi, who were not trained in leadership but became great leaders, had leadership styles that were an extension of their personal experiences and life story.

2) Trait Theory of Leadership: Measure your leadership potential

The basis of Trait theory is the premise that ‘leaders are born not made.’ It is an extension of the Great Man theory of leadership.

The theory states that the comparison of your leadership characteristics to the list of the traits of many successful and unsuccessful leaders can be used to predict your leadership effectiveness.

The following figure gives us a list of a few traits of great leaders:

leadership theories tasks

You can use the traits mentioned in this theory as a yardstick to assess your ability as a leader. Since these are personality traits, you can use personality assessment tests to identify your strengths and weaknesses.

Critics of this theory suggest that the list describing the leadership traits of successful leaders is very long – more than a hundred different traits. Also, situational factors, like social and economic inequities that impact your ability to lead, are not taken into account.

3) Contingency Theory of Leadership: Match your leadership style to the situation

Contingency theory, developed by Fred Fielder in 1958, assumes that leaders are either task-oriented or relationship-oriented. Task-oriented leaders assign tasks, set deadlines, and follow structural processes. Relationship-oriented leaders focus on people and are considerate.

Your success as a leader, according to this theory, lies in finding out the leadership style and situation in which you would flourish.

There are eight possible combinations for three situational variables, as shown in the following figure:

leadership theories tasks

A good leader-member relation means your group members like you. High task structure implies that you are directing a well-defined job, and a strong position power would mean you have a position of high authority. The favorableness of a situation is the extent to which the situation allows you to influence your group.

For example, imagine you are a newly appointed store manager in one of the leading apparel brands. You will be poor on leader-member relations as you are new to the job. Task structure will be high as there will be clear operating procedures on how to deal with customers. You will be strong on the position of power as you can reward or punish employees as a store manager.

Now, how do you decide on your leadership style? That brings us to the second part.

As per the theory, task-oriented leaders perform well in situations that are very favorable or unfavorable, and relationship-oriented leaders perform well in situations that are intermediate in favorableness, as shown in the following figure:

leadership theories tasks

Hence, as per the Contingency theory, the best way to approach your new job as a store manager is to use a relationship-oriented style.

What are the other situations in which you can apply contingency theory?

It can also help you identify the right talent for leadership openingsin your organization. You can compare the leadership style of the aspirants to the situation for which you need to hire a leader if they match you employ the person else you reject.

Though the contingency theory is quite dynamic, there are some downsides to it.

You need to fall under only a set of leadership styles to apply this theory. Also, there can be scenarios where you may want to change the situation rather than match your style of leadership to it. The contingency theory will not help you in these circumstances.

4) Situational Theory of Leadership: Adapt to the situation

Dr. Paul Hersey and Kenneth Blanchard developed the Situational Theory of leadership. It states you cannot have one leadership style for all situations. The leadership style you adopt, depends on circumstances.

According to the theory, you should follow four primary leadership styles as per the readiness level of your subordinates:

Telling (Autocratic approach) : You can adapt this style for the ‘Readiness 1 level’ of subordinates; these people lack the ability as well as the willingness to do the job.

For instance, if you are a leader in a war or an emergency room of a hospital, you need to adapt to telling (authoritative) style of leadership.

Selling (A little Democratic approach) : This style is suitable for the ‘Readiness 2 level’ of subordinates, i.e., for people who lack the ability but are willing to do the job. Example: To lead a team of millennials in a software organization, you will have to use the selling style of leadership.

Participating (Democratic approach) : You should use this method when your subordinates have the ability but lack the willingness to do the job.

Delegating (Hands-Off approach) : You need to delegate work to people who have the ability, as well as the willingness to do the job. You can use this style in case you are working on an urgent assignment, and another task pops up, you will need to ‘delegate’ it to a competent subordinate.

The following figure explains the leadership styles according to the behavior of subordinates :

leadership theories tasks

Do the above situations sound familiar? Go ahead and apply this theory to your workplace. Here is how you will grow as a leader:

You will be flexible to adapt to a variety of situations. Your awareness level will rise as you always need to be familiar with the situation around you. It will also lift the morale of your group members and give them a comfortable work environment.

However, you need to be cautious that this theory focuses on short term needs rather than long term goals. You may lose sight of your organizational objective and end up responding to immediate requirements only.

Another issue is that, even with the variables mentioned for various situations in this theory, it is difficult to ensure that you will analyze the situation the same way as other leaders. As a result, outcomes can vary.

5) The behavioral theory of Leadership: Leaders are made not born

This theory states that if you condition your behavior for the response to any given situation, you can be a leader. It focuses on your behavior and actions rather than traits or abilities.

According to the theory, your behavior as a leader determines your performance. Through teaching and observation, you can train yourself to behave as a leader. Thus, the theory concentrates on leadership and not the leader, i.e. it treats leadership as a characteristic that you can develop through practice. 

Kurt Lewin explained one of the behavior leadership theories in the 1930s. He identified three types of leadership behaviors, as described in the figure below:

leadership theories tasks

In case you need to focus on the profit margins of your organisation or achieve stringent deadlines, you should apply the authoritative behavior of leadership. You can allocate tasks, arrange formal lines of communication, and set up quick turnaround time for your group members.

However, various researches on Lewin’s theory showed mixed results as most leaders used some part of either of the three leadership behaviors.

To help leaders decide on what behaviors to choose, Robert Tannenbaum and Warren H. Schmidt devised a continuum of leader behaviors (see below figure):

leadership theories tasks

The continuum ranges from boss centered leadership to subordinate centered leadership along with what behavior you should display. You move from autocratic to democratic behavior as you go from boss to subordinate centered leadership.

Another behavior theory of leadership is the Ohio State leadership studies. It describes leader behavior in two dimensions, as explained in the figure below:

leadership theories tasks

Initiating Structure behavior: You define what is expected of group members, set up formal lines of communication, and determine how subordinates will perform tasks.

Consideration behavior: You are concerned about subordinates and establish a warm and friendly work environment like you allow flexible working hours to your employees or set up daycare for infants in your organization. This approach is subordinate oriented and can help create the right environment for increasing productivity.

You need to be patient while applying the behavioral theory. The difference between knowing the behavioral styles and actually applying them takes repeated failures and lots of practice.

6) Participative theory of Leadership: The democratic dimension to lead

This theory says that the ideal leadership style takes input from others. According to the theory, you need to facilitate discussion. After collecting relevant inputs from everyone, synthesize the given information to arrive at a decision.

Following figure represents the process to effectively apply participative theory of leadership:

leadership theories tasks

The theory attempts to remove the hierarchical distance between you and your group. It involves collective involvement and responsibility to achieve the goal.

For instance, Microsoft’s founder Bill Gates has empowered his key employees to make crucial decisions of significant departments like innovation and marketing.

He has set up strong digital channels for facilitating communication within the company. Also, people who need specific information about the organization can access it. Open sharing of information and knowledge has helped Microsoft grow leaps and bounds.

Are you planning to bring new policies in your organization?

Use the tools of participative theory. The implementation of new policies becomes easier with this method as decisions arrive with consensus. Also, group members perform well, even in your absence, because their morale is high, and they feel valued and accountable.

You need to be aware though that the decision-making process may take a lot of time, which can affect the efficiency of your group. Taking input from every group member can also cause indecisiveness on some points.

7) Transactional theory of Leadership: Do or die

Max Weber and Bernard M. Bass described this theory. The basis of the theory is the concept of rewards and punishments. The group gets a reward or punishment depending on whether it achieves the goal set by you.

To understand further, you should know the hierarchy of human requirements.

According to psychologist Abraham Maslow, human needs can be represented in the form of a pyramid, as can be seen in the figure below. The needs at the bottom are the most basic ones like sleep, food. As you go up the pyramid, needs become difficult to achieve.

leadership theories tasks

As a transactional leader, you concentrate only on the bottom of the pyramid for your group members. You ensure to fulfill the physiological needs of your group, along with financial security.

Sounds mean?

Well, it’s true that with this leadership style, the relationship between you and your group is transitory, with no emotional bond. Also, the creativity of your employees takes a hit as you do not encourage new ideas.

However, this type of leadership motivates your group members by engaging them in their self-interest. Also, the productivity of your group members increases as they try to achieve their targets in a shorter duration. If your project requires undeviating and specific processes, you can use this style to accomplish the desired results.

8) Relationship theory of Leadership: Transformation through association

Leadership expert James MacGregor Burns initially introduced this theory. Also known as transformational theory, the basis of it is the relationship between you and your group. According to the theory, you need to build the trust of your subordinates by building quality relationships with them.

You need to have four behavioral components to be a transformational leader, as explained in the figure below:

leadership theories tasks

Charisma gives power to you as a relationship leader. Individualized consideration means your ability to increase the growth of the group. Inspiration refers to your quality to inspire group members. Intellectual stimulation allows you to build awareness of problems and solutions.

According to a  study by the University of Cologne , Germany, transformational leaders result in well being of their group.

Here is how you can bring a positive change with this leadership:

By following this approach, you not only look at the bigger picture but also help individual group members attain their potential. You transform the culture of your organization and achieve goals. Your employees will show a higher level of performance and satisfaction because they feel inspired and empowered.

However, transformational leadership will not work if you have a group of less-skilled members, as they require direction and guidance in an authoritarian style.

A classic example of a transformational leader:

Steve Jobs was truly transformational. He inspired employees to think beyond what they had already done. His passion for innovation, perfection, and simplicity drove Apple to achieve unbelievable results. He challenged his employees and made them create things that the world had never seen before.


The ‘Great Man’ theory and ‘trait’ theory suggests that leaders have leadership traits by birth. It is imperative, though, that you groom and develop these qualities. The inspiration to lead may come from within, but you need to train yourself to appeal to the masses. Also, note that intrinsic qualities are a matter of choice and not chance. For example, being virtuous or dishonest to your group is an option.

You need the right psychological make-up to step in the shoes of a leader. Analyze the circumstances in which you are supposed to lead and prepare yourself according to the situation. Once you are aware of the circumstances and the qualities you need, use the tools described in leadership theories to set your leadership approach.

What are the qualities that you wish to acquire as a leader? How would you apply leadership theories to develop them? Do let us know in the comments below.

17 replies on “8 Major Leadership theories: Strengths, Weaknesses and Examples”

This is a very informative article.Thanks for sharing such great knowledge which will go a long way to making efficient and effective leaders the world needs today.

Thanks a lot, Francis 🙂 Appreciate you taking out time to read and share your feedback!

Thanks for this very informative article.

This is good information about leadership theories.

Rich article thank u so much have benefitted a lot.

Informative it helped me in revising for my examination Thanks

Thank you! very informative

Very informative especially to us who write a lot about leadership. Thank you.

[…] 8 Major Leadership theories: Strengths, Weaknesses and Examples […]

[…] Zalani, R. (2019). 8 Major leadership theories : Strengths, Weaknesses and Examples. Turned Twenty. https://turnedtwenty.com/leadership-theories/ […]

Wow,thanks for the intelligent article it really helps especially when studying Fundamental Business skills in Health and safety for management, it helped and inspired me to understand what im doing.

Excellent Read. The article has all the ingredients, that an aspiring leader should master. Well done.

Hello! I realize that I need to improve my charismatic and inspiring side…

Excelente artigo, muito informativo obrigada por disponibilizar contribuindo para nosso aprendizado.

parabéns, informações maravilhosas ,para formação do líder

Obrigada. Excelente conteúdo. Ajudou bastante na compreençaõ da percepção de liderança.

Aqui se vê a descrição de uma teoria não trazida na sessão principal: 7) Teoria Transacional de Liderança: Faça ou morra Extremamente rica a explanação!

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leadership theories tasks

Leadership Theories: Strengths and Weaknesses

  • POSTED ON June 21, 2021
  • by Hazel Santos

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Wondering how an individual becomes a leader? There are many ways that will help you become a good leader; these include factors like skills, personality, attributes, mindset, and more. In explaining what a good leader is, leadership theories help break this down. Learn in this article the different leadership theories and their strengths and weaknesses. 

What are leadership theories?

Leadership theories refer to the various schools of thought that aim to explain why someone becomes an exemplary leader. These theories emphasize the traits and behavior any aspiring leader can improve on to develop extraordinary leadership skills .

Leadership theories were developed to prove what makes leaders great. They answer the big why and how someone becomes a leader at the fundamental level. Learn how you can be a better leader with this online class: The Science of Leadership .

The leadership theories  

Here are the different leadership theories, including their strengths and weaknesses you should know about:

1. Great Man Theory of Leadership

The great man theory states that certain people are born with leadership traits. This implies that their abilities are innate, not learned. These qualities make them stand out in a crowd, making them become an individual of authority. The intrinsic leadership skills include intelligence, confidence, sociability, and charisma.

During the 1800s, the term “great man” was used in this theory as leadership before was primarily given to males. This was especially true in military leadership. In this leadership, you either possess excellent leadership, or you don’t.

  • The theory began the scholarship of traits and qualities that make extraordinary leaders.

Weaknesses :

  • The great man theory lacks scientific support.
  • It only considers men in authority.
  • Time has proven that anyone can learn leadership.

2. Trait Theory of Leadership

The trait theory is an extension of the great man theory. This theory was founded on the leadership characteristics of both successful and unsuccessful leaders. The theory predicts leadership effectiveness by comparing the leader’s attributes to the list of characteristics of the theory. 

The existing traits to compare to in this theory include intelligence, confidence, determination, integrity, self-assurance, decisiveness, initiative, and sociability. In this theory, the leader is believed to be the driving force of the leadership process. This makes it critical for leaders to possess the given trait for effective leadership.

  • The trait theory has supporting studies.
  • It is intuitive and understandable.


  • The trait list may be endless and subjective.
  • It’s not relevant for training purposes.
  • The theory fails to consider situations and followers.
  • The list of characteristics tends to be masculine, making it a bit biased.

3. Behavioral Theory of Leadership

This theory of leadership suggests that individuals can learn to become good leaders through teaching and observation. It states that if you condition yourself to become a great leader, you can become one. It concentrates on actions and behavior more than abilities and traits.

 In the 1930s, Karl Lewin identified three types of leadership behaviors which include:

  • Autocratic leadership

The leader directly controls all the activities; the team members don’t have much significant participation.

Participative Leadership

In this leadership, leaders push team members to participate. However, they still hold final decision-making power.

Laissez-Faire Leadership

The leader gives autonomy to members, providing them little to no guidance.

  • The view of leadership is broadened from being trait-based to action-based.
  • This is easier to teach.
  • The theory has strong evidence.
  • Behavioral theory has no links to desirable work outputs.
  • There is no proven successful behavior identified.
  • The team management tends to be not the best.

4. Contingency Theory of Leadership

Developed in 1958, this leadership theory suggests that leaders are task-oriented or relationship-oriented. The former assigns tasks, sets dues, and follows structural processes. On the other hand, the latter is more considerate to people. In this theory, the leader makes decisions based on context and external factors.

The contingency leadership theory believes that leaders match their approach to the competency and commitment of team members. In this theory, the right leaders can fit in the right situation. 

  • Behavioral theory is popular, easy, intuitive, and practical.
  • It is commonly used in leadership training.
  • It promotes tailoring of member treatment based on progress.
  • The theory defines what you should and should not do in different situations.
  •  The behavioral theory lacks strong evidence; the development process is ambiguous.
  • It doesn’t consider the demographic differences and how these influence prescriptions.

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leadership theories tasks

5. Participative Leadership Theory

The participative leadership theory suggests that the best leadership gets inputs from other members of the team. In this theory, leaders should facilitate the discussion. Upon getting relevant input from team members, you will consider these in making decisions. 

This theory aims to cut off the hierarchical gap between a leader and team members. It believes that collective involvement will help the team achieve its goals.

The participative leaders function by following this leadership process:

  • Initiate the conversation.
  • Share knowledge openly.
  • Encourage team members to share ideas.
  • Collect and assess all information gathered.
  • Make the best decisions out of all information.
  • Inform the team about the final decision.
  • Team members feel valued.
  • They are also more motivated.
  • Members can freely perform even when the leader isn’t around.
  • There is pressure to conform to the group’s decision.
  • It takes time to arrive at a final decision.

6. Transactional Leadership Theory

The ultimate basis of transactional leadership theory is the concept of reward and punishment. The team will reap a reward or get punishment depending on the outcome of their goals. This emphasizes the basis of exchanges between the leader and followers. It believes that it is transactional in nature.

The best example of this theory is when managers extend promotions to employees in exchange for exemplary work. 

  • The transactional theory is common.
  • It highlights the importance of monetary rewards.
  • The transactional theory simplifies people’s varied motivations.

These are six of the most common leadership theories that explain how good leaders are made. You can learn more leadership tips by looking at Skill Success’s vast array of courses here . 

Ready to become a better leader? Click here to get started.

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7 leadership theories you should learn to become a great leader.

leadership theories

Have you ever wondered why some people go on to become inspiring leaders while others live their entire lives being a follower? Researchers have come up with leadership theories try to address this question by mainly focusing on the characteristics of a leader. These theories reveal behaviors that you can adopt to polish your skills and become an effective leader.

In this age, when there’s a shortage of good leadership it becomes essential to understand these philosophies and that is exactly what we are going to do in this article. Continue reading and learn about seven leadership theories that will help you blossom into the most effective leader you thought you could never be.

7 Leadership Theories You Should Learn To Become a Great Leader

Here are seven leadership theories that you must master to become a great leader.

1. Management Theories

Popularly known as transactional theories, management theory lays a lot of emphasis on supervision, organization and teamwork. The management theory establishes a system of reward and punishment, which means if you do well, you will be rewarded and if you don’t, you will be penalized.

A task management software like TaskQue can help you in implementing this system by letting you track task progress and hold your employees accountable for their action.

2. Relationship Theories

Relationship theory is also known as transformational leadership theories. It revolves around the bond between leader and follower. The stronger the bond the better will be the results. Transformational leaders inspire and motivate their followers and keep them on the same page.

Such leaders usually have high ethical and moral values and would never compromise on these values irrespective of what the situation might be. They want to achieve their goal but also want each member of their team to contribute and perform at the potential.

3. Behavioral Theories

When it comes to leadership, the world is divided into two different camps. One thinks that leaders are made, while other camp believes that leaders are born. Behavioral theory sides with the people in the former camp and challenges the notion that leaders are born. As a result, it completely ignores all the qualities that set natural leaders apart from their trained counterparts. This theory puts its weight behind actions of leaders and advocates the fact that people can learn from their experience, observation and teachings to transform into a good leader.

4. Participative Theories

Leaders can be divided into two broad categories. One that follows the autocratic leadership style and makes decisions on their own. On the other end of the spectrum are those leaders who take input from others.  Participatory theory backs the approach of the latter.

Leaders who follow participative theory welcome suggestions from team members and encourages them to speak up. As a result, the team members think that they have their say in the decision-making process. Although, the leader reserve the right to stop taking input but in most cases, they don’t exercise that right.

5. Trait Theories

As the name suggests, leaders inherit certain  leadership qualities and traits that make them stand out from the crowd. These leadership abilities propel them to leadership status. The trait theory focuses on these personality traits. For instance, commitment, integrity and confidence are characteristics that are usually associated with a great leader.

By linking certain qualities with leadership, you are literally limiting its scope. What about people who possess these qualities but are not leaders. On the other hand, there are many examples of leaders who don’t possess these qualities but still lead the team well. Ronald Reagan summed it up brilliantly when he said, “ The greatest leader is not one who does greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do greatest things. ”

6. Situational Theories

Situational leadership theories encourages leaders to act by critically analyzing the situation. It argues that instead of following a single leadership approach, leaders should change leadership approach based on the situation. For instance, there is a situation where a leader is the most knowledgeable and experienced, they should opt for an authoritarian style of leadership and take a decision on their own. On the flip side, they should let team members handle the situation if they are subject matter experts by following a democratic leadership style.

7. Contingency Theories

Contingency theory takes things to the next level and proposes leaders to take action based on certain variables instead of looking at the situation as a whole. Take all the variables influencing the situation into account before choosing a course of action.

According to leadership experts White and Hodgson, “ Effective leadership is about striking the right balance between needs, context and behavior .” Great leaders focus on the needs of the followers, analyze the situation and tweak their behavior accordingly. Success in leadership hinges on multiple factors such as leadership style, relationship with followers and the situation.

I hope that this summary of leadership theories might have helped you in developing a better understanding about leadership. Which leadership theories do you use? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Johnson Learns on the Job, Drawing the Ire of the Republican Right

The new House speaker is facing complaints from his members that his leadership is no different from his predecessor’s. His style, however, is in stark contrast.

Speaker Mike Johnson in a dark suit and red tie.

By Annie Karni

Reporting from Washington

Speaker Mike Johnson struggled to defend himself at a recent private party meeting on Capitol Hill when some House Republicans confronted their new leader asking for any evidence that he was leading them in a new direction or taking hits on their behalf.

“Just Google my name and you’ll see,” was Mr. Johnson’s reply. He had been besieged by unflattering media coverage since winning the gavel (much of it focused on his evangelical Christianity and hard-line stances against abortion rights and same-sex marriage), the Louisiana Republican told his colleagues. He had even been mocked on “Saturday Night Live,” he noted, by not one but two different comedians.

Mr. Johnson, a fairly anonymous lawmaker before his election last month , has struggled to adjust to the new level of scrutiny that has come with his sudden ascent to the post second in line to the presidency. Some Republicans thought his response at the meeting reflected his steep learning curve as he settles into the job.

A mild-mannered Christian conservative who does not curse and rarely raises his voice, Mr. Johnson has pleaded for “grace” from his fellow Republicans as he has made some of the same moves that led them to oust his predecessor, Representative Kevin McCarthy of California.

Hard-right conservatives were enraged by his decision last week to team with Democrats to push through legislation to avert a government shutdown , which meant leaving out the spending cuts and policy changes they demanded. A group of them protested the move by blocking a separate spending bill from being considered the following day, even as Mr. Johnson implored them to give him a break and fall in line.

“Speaker Johnson was on the floor of the House today, basically begging for forgiveness, frankly, from some of us in the Freedom Caucus who were giving him a lot of grief, trying to fight him and push him into the right direction on this spending bill,” Representative Chip Roy, Republican of Texas, told constituents during a recent virtual town hall meeting.

“I love Mike,” Mr. Roy said, according to a recording of his remarks obtained by The New York Times. “I told him on the floor of the House today, I said, ‘Mike, this is strike one. It might even be strike two. You’re not going to get any hall passes on this. I’m not going to hold you differently than I did Kevin McCarthy or anyone else.’”

“He’s been put on notice,” he added. “You now need to do your job. Let’s fight now.”

Mr. Johnson’s allies concede he is learning on the job, but they argue he is running the House in a far more functional way than his predecessor did — and even demonstrating courage in doing so.

“He’s got a spine of steel,” Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the majority leader who had a toxic relationship with Mr. McCarthy but has a longstanding rapport with Mr. Johnson, said in an interview.

“Mike’s style is a lot different,” Mr. Scalise said of the change at the top. “He seeks input, and then when he makes a decision, he sticks with it. He’s willing to lean in and take the heat and then go out and sell it.”

Taylor Haulsee, a spokesman for Mr. Johnson, said the speaker was “committed to building consensus by empowering the Republican leadership team and seeking counsel from members across the conference.”

Mr. Johnson, who for decades has championed his hard-line views on social issues in opinion pieces and public speeches, has left plenty to dig through to show the heavy influence his religious beliefs have on his policy stances and political worldview .

Since winning the gavel, his openness about how he practices his faith has also drawn considerable attention, leading to the Google hits he referred to behind closed doors with his colleagues.

In a recently surfaced video clip that was mocked on late-night television , for instance, Mr. Johnson explained how he and his eldest son relied on a third-party service to incentivize them not to view pornography online . The company, Covenant Eyes, which says it helps customers fight “the lure of pornographic content online,” monitors a user’s browsing and notifies their designated “accountability partner” — Mr. Johnson’s is his son, Jack, and vice versa — if they view forbidden content. It’s a common practice among evangelical Christians, who often pair up to support each other’s spiritual development, including the avoidance of sexual temptation.

On Capitol Hill, Mr. Johnson has not tried to hide from or apologize for his evangelical views. In his first meetings as speaker, he started off with a prayer asking God for cooler heads and unity to prevail; he has since led some meetings without doing so.

It’s a stark stylistic change from Mr. McCarthy, whose references were based more in pop culture than in scripture. When the California Republican wanted to make clear he would not hold grudges against lawmakers who had tried to block him from the speakership, for instance, Mr. McCarthy quoted from “Ted Lasso,” telling his members that the happiest animal in the world was the goldfish, which was blessed with a 10-second memory.

On Capitol Hill, Mr. Johnson also is developing a reputation for a more collaborative approach than his predecessor’s. Unlike Mr. McCarthy, who did not solicit feedback from his top lieutenants and shot down ideas so routinely that they eventually stopped even raising them, Mr. Johnson regularly seeks input from Mr. Scalise, as well as from Representative Tom Emmer of Minnesota, the majority whip, and Representative Elise Stefanik of New York, the party’s No. 4.

But hard-right Republicans and their allies outside the government are concerned that Mr. Johnson is veering toward the same pragmatism and establishment tendencies that drove Mr. McCarthy and his predecessors in the job, despite describing himself as an “arch-conservative” and pledging his allegiance to former President Donald J. Trump .

Mr. Johnson has told colleagues he wants to meet regularly with the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus to keep them apprised of his strategy, even if they disagree. For now, that is exactly where many of them find themselves. In a recent meeting, described by multiple people familiar with the exchange, Mr. Johnson tried to defend his legislation to avert a government shutdown, which they vehemently opposed, by arguing that it would ultimately help them achieve their goals.

“I’m doing this for your own good,” he told the group, which had been pressing for deep spending cuts that were not included in the bill.

Many Republicans are concerned that Mr. Johnson’s lack of experience is also leading him to make politically questionable choices.

His first substantive legislative decision was to tie $14 billion in aid to Israel to cuts to Internal Revenue Service enforcement, a deeply partisan move that was aimed at appeasing his far-right flank. But Mr. Johnson ultimately got nothing in return for that move. In the end, the measure predictably fell flat in the Senate, and the right wing still revolted over spending.

At the same time, Mr. Johnson has tried to assure more mainstream Republicans from competitive districts that he is pragmatic more than dogmatic, and that he recognizes he no longer just represents a deep-red district in a heavily Christian state. While he has opposed sending more aid to Ukraine, he has told Republicans that he is now willing to bring up a bill to do so — but that he wants to leverage it to extract concessions from Democrats on border policy.

As he has angered his right flank, Mr. Johnson has won some early praise from Democrats. Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, commended Mr. Johnson in a statement for embracing a bipartisan measure to keep government funding flowing. “If he keeps doing that, I think we can get a lot done that will help a lot of people,” Mr. Schumer said.

For now, while there may be brewing frustration with Mr. Johnson from the right, most Republicans do not think there is any appetite to oust another speaker before the 2024 election.

“He started in a very difficult situation,” Mr. Scalise said. “I can tell each week he’s definitely got a fuller grasp of the job.”

Ruth Graham contributed reporting.

Annie Karni is a congressional correspondent. She was previously a White House correspondent. Before joining The Times, she covered the White House and Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign for Politico, and spent a decade covering local politics for the New York Post and the New York Daily News. More about Annie Karni

A Divided Congress

Latest News and Analysis

Speaker Mike Johnson’s decision to publicly release thousands of hours of Capitol security footage  from Jan. 6, 2021, has fueled a renewed effort by Republican lawmakers and far-right activists to rewrite the history of the attack.

Johnson visited former President Donald Trump  at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, making his first pilgrimage to see the Republican presidential front-runner since his surprise elevation to the top post in the House.

By working with Democrats to avert a government shutdown , Johnson seemed to put himself on the same path that doomed his predecessor. “The Daily” explains why things could be different this time .

The New House Speaker

Mike Johnson, the little-known congressman from Louisiana  who won the speakership after a weekslong deadlock, has a staunchly conservative record .

The new speaker is facing complaints from the Republican right that his leadership is no different from his predecessor’s. His style, however, is in stark contrast .

Three weeks before he was elected speaker, Johnson joined a prayer call during which he talked about church attendance and L.G.B.T.Q. youth. His comments offered an up-to-date distillation of his views .

Battling a Louisiana abortion clinic in the 1990s was a career-making move for Johnson, then a young lawyer with conservative bona fides. Here is how it shaped his path to speakership .

Could the elevation of Johnson, who played a pivotal role  in efforts to try to overturn the 2020 election, allow him to succeed in undermining the  2024 contest?


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Biden-Harris Administration Approves Sixth Offshore Wind Project

Empire Wind project offshore New York and New Jersey will power more than 700,000 homes

Date: Tuesday, November 21, 2023 Contact: [email protected]

WASHINGTON  — The Biden-Harris administration today announced its approval of the Empire Wind offshore wind project – the sixth approval of a commercial-scale offshore wind energy project under President Biden’s leadership. Today’s announcement supports the Administration’s goal of deploying 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy capacity by 2030.

Empire Wind US LLC proposes to develop two offshore wind facilities, known as Empire Wind 1 and Empire Wind 2. The lease area is located about 12 nautical miles (nm) south of Long Island, N.Y., and about 16.9 nm east of Long Branch, N.J. Together these projects would have up to 147 wind turbines with a total capacity of 2,076 megawatts of clean, renewable energy that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) estimates could power more than 700,000 homes each year. The projects would support over 830 jobs each year during the construction phase and about 300 jobs annually during the operations phase.

“Under President Biden’s leadership, the American offshore wind industry is continuing to expand rapidly — creating good-paying union jobs across the manufacturing, shipbuilding and construction sectors," said  Secretary Deb Haaland . “Today’s approval of the sixth offshore wind project adds to the significant progress towards our Administration’s clean energy goals. Together with the labor community, industry, Tribes, and partners from coast to coast, we will continue to expand clean energy development in a manner that will benefit communities, strengthen our nation’s energy security, and address climate change.”

“BOEM and our partners have already achieved so much in pursuit of the Administration’s goal of reaching 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy capacity by 2030,” said  BOEM Director Elizabeth Klein.  “Extensive engagement with Tribes, other government partners, ocean users, concerned citizens, and more has helped us to avoid or reduce user conflicts while facilitating the responsible development of offshore wind projects. We look forward to continuing our work with them as we move this industry forward.”   

Bidenomics and the President’s Investing in America agenda are growing the American economy from the middle out and bottom up – from rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure, to driving over half a trillion dollars in new private sector manufacturing and clean energy investments in the United States, to creating good-paying jobs and building a clean energy economy that will combat the climate crisis and make our communities more resilient. 

Since the start of the Biden-Harris administration, the Department of the Interior has approved the nation's first six commercial-scale offshore wind energy projects. BOEM has held four offshore wind lease auctions, which have brought in almost $5.5 billion in high bids, including a record-breaking sale offshore New York and New Jersey and the first-ever sales offshore the Pacific and Gulf of Mexico coasts. BOEM has also advanced the process to explore additional opportunities for offshore wind energy development in the U.S., including in the Gulf of Maine and offshore Oregon and the U.S. Central Atlantic coast. The Department has also taken steps to evolve its approach to offshore wind to drive towards union-built projects and a domestic-based supply chain.

Invaluable feedback was gathered through nation-to-nation consultations with Tribes, input from federal, state and local agencies, and from public meetings and comments in analyzing the project’s potential environmental impacts and developing possible alternatives and mitigation measures.

The Record of Decision includes measures aimed at avoiding, minimizing, and mitigating the potential impacts that may result from the construction and operation of the project. Among those measures, Empire Wind, LLC has committed to establishing fishery mitigation funds to compensate commercial and for-hire recreational fishers for any losses directly arising from the project.

The Record of Decision will be published in the  Federal Register  in the coming days and can be found on the  BOEM website .

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Backlash builds after Elon Musk called an antisemitic conspiracy theory the ‘actual truth’

leadership theories tasks

Elon Musk has encouraged extremists and white supremacists throughout his yearlong tenure as the owner of X, formerly Twitter, but this week he still managed to push the limits of what behavior mainstream users — and advertisers — will tolerate.

On Wednesday, Musk endorsed a post from an X user accusing Jewish communities of spreading “dialectical hatred against whites.” The statement was itself a reply to a different X post sharing a PSA video from the Foundation to Combat Antisemitism along with criticism of anonymous users who post “Hitler was right” online.

“I’m deeply disinterested in giving the tiniest shit now about western Jewish populations coming to the disturbing realization that those hordes of minorities that [they supported] flooding their country don’t exactly like them too much,” the X user wrote in response. “You want truth said to your face, there it is.”

Musk replied: “You have said the actual truth.”

leadership theories tasks

The post Musk went out of his way to praise invoked the same white nationalist conspiracy theory espoused by Tree of Life synagogue shooter Robert Bowers. Minutes before the shooting, Bowers posted on the far right social media site Gab that the Jewish American nonprofit HIAS that provides aid to refugees “likes to bring invaders that kill our people.” “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered,” Bowers wrote, moments before killing 11 people at the Pittsburgh synagogue.

The comment from X’s owner and CTO is increasingly attracting widespread condemnation. On Friday, White House Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates responded to Musk’s most recent endorsement of white supremacy on his own platform.

“We condemn this abhorrent promotion of Antisemitic and racist hate in the strongest terms, which runs against our core values as Americans,” Bates said, citing the Tree of Life tragedy and Hamas’ deadly attack in Israel on October 7. “We all have a responsibility to bring people together against hate, and an obligation to speak out against anyone who attacks the dignity of their fellow Americans and compromises the safety of our communities.”

The fallout from Musk’s support for antisemitic and racist conspiracies spread further on Friday afternoon, with Apple announcing a “pause” on all of the company’s advertising on X, according to reporting from Axios . Disney has now also paused its advertising plans on X, along with Lionsgate, Warner Bros. Discovery, Paramount and Sony Pictures.

IBM similarly pulled its ads from the platform on Thursday following a Media Matters for America report that found advertising from a number of companies being displayed alongside hate speech.

X is leaving up antisemitic and Islamophobic hate, new report shows

The tweet Musk called “the actual truth” also echoed the broader Great Replacement conspiracy theory, which white nationalists have popularized to sow fear about non-white people displacing white population majorities in countries like the U.S.

The X owner has engaged with antisemitic figures before. Musk previously welcomed Kanye West onto X after the musician was restricted on Instagram after invoking antisemitic tropes. Less than a day later, West infamously tweeted his intention of “going death [sic] con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE” and later posted a Star of David merged with a swastika. X suspended West’s account in December but reinstated it over the summer.

A year ago, Musk reinstated a number of accounts previously suspended for spreading hate, including infamous neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin, who created the white supremacist website The Daily Stormer. Upon his return, Anglin probed Twitter’s new rules in a reply to Musk: “Ye caught a 12 hour suspension for tweeting a Star of David with a swastika in it… Whatever the rules are, people will follow them. We just need to know what the rules are.”

Musk has made a habit of engaging with self-declared white nationalists and other hate figures on X. In September, Musk liked a tweet from a self-described “raging anti-semite” who started a campaign to ban the Anti-Defamation League from X. Musk accused the ADL, a Jewish civil rights organization, of being “the biggest generators of anti-Semitism on this platform” and threatened to sue the group over lost advertising revenue from its criticism of rising of hate speech on X under his leadership.

In spite of Musk’s well-documented history, X CEO Linda Yaccarino defended her company on Thursday, stating that X has “been extremely clear about our efforts to combat antisemitism and discrimination.”

Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz offered some sardonic commentary about the situation on Threads, Meta’s X competitor. “Xitter CEO Linda Yaccarino faces her biggest test yet as she decides whether to terminate her antisemitic CTO or risk losing even more advertisers,” Moskovitz wrote. “How will she handle this tricky, yet morally unambiguous situation?”

A researcher critical of X under Elon Musk will fight for his account in court


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    Leadership is the achievement of a goal/task through the direction of human assistants. It is the process of being active and organized to attempt big tasks. ... Multiple leadership theories refer to understand a particular leadership style. Every person is different and separate personality traits, and their perspective is others towards time ...

  20. What Is Leadership Theory?

    Contingency Theory. Task vs. Group Theory. Path Goal Theory. Normative Theory. Let's examine each of those one by one and then how we might apply our newfound understanding of Leadership Theory. What is Trait Theory? Trait Theory believes that effective leadership is determined by specific characteristics that leaders possess.

  21. 8 Major Leadership Theories: Strengths, Weaknesses & Examples

    1) Great Man Theory of Leadership: Leaders are born, not made The great man theory is one of the earliest ways to look at leadership. It states that some people are born with the traits of a leader; they have the gift of unique qualities. These attributes separate them from the masses and make them reach the position of power and authority.

  22. Leadership Theories: Strengths and Weaknesses

    The former assigns tasks, sets dues, and follows structural processes. On the other hand, the latter is more considerate to people. In this theory, the leader makes decisions based on context and external factors. ... Transactional Leadership Theory. The ultimate basis of transactional leadership theory is the concept of reward and punishment ...

  23. 7 Leadership Theories You Should Learn to Become A Great Leader

    Here are seven leadership theories that you must master to become a great leader. 1. Management Theories. Popularly known as transactional theories, management theory lays a lot of emphasis on supervision, organization and teamwork. The management theory establishes a system of reward and punishment, which means if you do well, you will be ...

  24. 5 Essential Year-End Tasks Every Manager Needs To Complete

    Communicate these priorities to your team so that everyone is on the same page and aware of what is expected of them before the close of the year. 5. Stay Informed On Trends For 2024. To be a ...

  25. Mary's Place prepares for leadership transition

    RVC's co-leadership structure remains an experiment, Sampath says. "In Stage 1, (the four co-leaders) were forming as a team, learning our own roles, figuring out meeting practices," she says.

  26. Johnson Learns on the Job, Drawing the Ire of the Republican Right

    Taylor Haulsee, a spokesman for Mr. Johnson, said the speaker was "committed to building consensus by empowering the Republican leadership team and seeking counsel from members across the ...

  27. Biden-Harris Administration Approves Sixth Offshore Wind Project

    Date: Tuesday, November 21, 2023 Contact: [email protected] WASHINGTON — The Biden-Harris administration today announced its approval of the Empire Wind offshore wind project - the sixth approval of a commercial-scale offshore wind energy project under President Biden's leadership.Today's announcement supports the Administration's goal of deploying 30 gigawatts of offshore ...

  28. NVIDIA Supercharges Hopper, the World's Leading AI Computing Platform

    November 13, 2023. SC23— NVIDIA today announced it has supercharged the world's leading AI computing platform with the introduction of the NVIDIA HGX™ H200. Based on NVIDIA Hopper™ architecture, the platform features the NVIDIA H200 Tensor Core GPU with advanced memory to handle massive amounts of data for generative AI and high ...

  29. Backlash builds after Elon Musk called an antisemitic conspiracy theory

    Musk faces fallout after praising a tweet that invoked the same white nationalist conspiracy theory espoused by the Tree of Life synagogue shooter.