Overview of the various leadership theories (Great Man Theory, Trait Theory, Behavioural Theory, Contingency Theory, Situational Theory, Transactional Theory, Transformational Theory, and others) that describe why certain individuals develop Leadership qualities.
- Great man Theory: Leaders are born and not made.
- Trait theory: Leaders have traits that can be inherited or acquired.
- Behavioural theory: Leaders exhibit behaviours that can be learnt.
- (Early theories ignored the situation, environment.)
- Contingent and Situational Theories: Context and situation determine leadership style. No single leadership style is best.
- (Complexity, rapid changes, disruptive technologies warrants new leadership.)
- Transactional leadership: Reward and punishment to motivate.
- Transformational leadership: Inspire and motivate to achieve significant/major changes.
What is Leadership?
There’s an old saying that the way to become a leader is to find a parade and run to the front of it. Without followers, a leader is not a leader, but the followers may come after a long wait.
However, there are various definitions, thoughts and quotes on leadership. For example, a leader is one with followers, one who has the ability to influence others (with or without authority), one who empower others.
A leader is a person who has followers, and to get people to follow you, it’s necessary to persuade and influence them: to guide their actions and opinions.
Leadership is a combination of art, science and human nature. For some, it is an innate process; for others, it evolves and is refined over time. It means, some leaders will be better at doing these things than others.
Here are some Famous Leaders
Douglas Bader – was upheld as an inspirational leader and hero of the of the second world war era, not least because he fought in spite of having both legs amputated.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – was a Baptist minister and an African American civil rights activist. He is considered one of the most significant leaders in U.S. and is considered a hero, peacemaker and martyr by many people around the world.
Nelson Mandela – is a former President of South Africa, was one of its chief anti-apartheid activists, and was also an anti-apartheid saboteur and guerrilla leader. He is now almost universally considered to be a heroic freedom fighter, respected by many around the world.
Change Leader: Ford’s Alan Mulally
In 2006 Ford was going for bankruptcy $12.7 billion loss, top down management, risk averse culture, blame culture. Mulally changed the culture to: ‘Everyone is included’, collaborative culture, consistency of purpose, honest, supportive environment, inspiring goals, ‘One Ford’, ‘One Team, One Plan, One Goal’. From 2009 onwards Ford reported annual profit outperforming Toyota and GM.
Various Definitions and Thoughts on Leadership
Leadership is something that influences people to be determined and work towards the betterment of the organization. It involves not only assigning tasks or ‘ordering’ subordinates around, but also being open to valuable feedback from the subordinates.
A good leader is the one who encourages his subordinates to be open about any difficulty faced by them while working as a part of the organization. The leader also discusses potential solutions to these problems after giving it due consideration.
There are various definitions of leadership
‘Leadership is the process of influencing the behaviour, beliefs and feelings of other group members in an intended direction.’
“Most definitions of leadership have made the assumption that leadership involves a process of influence by one person over other people.” – Gary Yukl, 2002.
‘Leadership is a set of processes that creates organisations in the first place or adapts them to significantly changing circumstances.
’Leadership defines what the future should look like, aligns people with that vision, and inspires them to make it happen despite the obstacles’. John Kotter, Leading Change
More thoughts on Leadership.
Remember the difference between a boss and a leader; a boss says “Go!”, a leader says “Let’s go!” – E.M. Kelly.
Leadership is an action, not a position – Donald McGannon
People don’t leave bad jobs; they leave bad bosses.
‘Leadership is one of the most observed and least understood phenomena on earth.’ – James MacGregor Burns (1978).
‘Leadership is a timeless subject; it has been described, discussed, dissected and analyzed by management experts (who sometimes confuse management and leadership) for centuries.’ Lieut.-General Edward M. Flanagan, Jr., quoted by Fitton, 1997
Leadership…‘has proved to be one of the most appealing and yet intractable subjects within management’. – Whipp and Pettigrew, 1993
Understanding leadership is the ‘single most important task for society today’ – Donald G. Krause, 1997
What is a Good Leader?
A Leader has good people skills, self-discipline and motivation, excellent personal qualities (honest , open, integrity and humility), excellent managing skills (fair and magnanimous), creative, assertive.
Qualities of Leadership
- The Ability to Influence Others: The ability to persuade other people to follow their lead (using tact and diplomacy)
- The Ability to Inspire Confidence: by setting an example and imposing high standards
- Managing Skills: organising, co-coordinating, communication and motivating
- Sound Personal Qualities: For others to believe in them and want to follow
- Determination / Dependability / Integrity: In abundance / doing the right thing
- A history of success and achievement
A good Leader in an organisation will be someone who is fair, of good character, a good listener, consistent, has a genuine interest in others, shows confidence in the team, gives credit where it’s due, stands by the team when it’s in trouble, keeps the team informed.
A good leader is one who Takes decisions, Implements the decision that involves Organizing resources, Assigning tasks, Staffing and Coordinating Control, and reviews the situation at hand.
In an organisation, a leader leads a group of individuals working to a common purpose, works towards achieving the team’s objectives, focuses the team on achieving its goals, sets clear roles and responsibilities for each team member, needs to be able to adapt quickly to changing circumstances.
Traits of most admired leaders: Honest, Inspiring, Competent, Fair-Minded, Supportive, Broad-Minded, Intelligent, Straightforward, Dependable, Courageous, Cooperative, Imaginative, Caring, Determined, Mature, Ambitious, Loyal, Self-Controlled, Independent.
In order to become an Effective Leader, one needs to find a role model, know one’s strengths and weaknesses, keep the objectives clearly in mind, be honest always, be consistent with decisions, stick to one’s principles and enable the team to achieve the objectives.
“Trust can take a lifetime to establish, but only a second to destroy” Anon.
In order to maintain trust within a team, the leader must be open, honest, reliable, consistent, take responsibility for one’s own mistakes.
A leader must not promise what they may be unable to deliver, raise false hope, preach what they don’t practice, blame others, endanger or jeopardize the safety of others.
Managers vs Leaders (Management vs Leadership)
Leadership and Management: Several scholars view leading and managing as distinct processes, but they do not assume that leaders and managers are different types of people.
In any organization, both management and leadership are involved in creating networks or relationships in order to facilitate the taking of action (usually to bring about some change). However, the two processes have some elements that are really not compatible with one another.
For example, Strong leadership can disrupt order and efficiency, whereas a strong focus on management can discourage risk-taking and innovation.
Leadership is about:
- Developing a vision of the future and strategies for making necessary changes
- Communicating and explaining the vision, and
- Motivating and inspiring people to attain the vision.
A Manager compared to a Leader:
- Managers manage a more diverse range of processes, using a variety of resources
- Managers work towards achieving the organisation’s long term objectives
- Managers organise and co-ordinate activities over a wide range of functions
- Managers allocate work to individuals, whose responsibilities can vary over time.
- Managers plan and implement change over time
A manager’s task is to motivate and control staff to achieve objectives. So, two important factors automatically put managers in a leadership role:
- Authority – because of your position
- Power – because you can punish or reward your staff
An organization trying to transform itself from a state owned company functioning in a monopolistic business environment to a company that can function in a competitive environment requires a strong focus on leadership.
Research (Watson 2000) shows that Managers struggle with the ambiguities of their role. Continuous, uncoordinated change can result in identity crisis.
Various Leadership Theories
The Development of Leadership Theory
- Trait Approach (Up to late 1940s) – Leadership ability is innate
- Style Approach (late 1940s to late 1960s) – Leadership effectiveness is to do with how the leader behaves.
- Contingency Approach (late 1960s to early 1960s) – It all depends, leadership is affected by the situation
- New Leadership Approach (Since early 1960s) – Leaders transform the way people feel about themselves.
Source: Brvman, A. 1992. Charisma and leadership in organisations. London Sage. P.1.
Great Man Theory
Leaders are born, not made. This approach emphasized that a person is born with or without necessary traits of leadership. These theories often portray great leaders as heroic, mythic, and destined to rise to leadership when needed.
Examples: Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln
The term “Great Man” was used because, at the time, leadership was thought of primarily as a male quality, especially in terms of military leadership. Early explanations of leadership studied the “traits” of great leaders.
A trait is what we call a characteristic way in which an individual perceives, feels, believes, or acts. Traits are relatively stable over time, differ across individuals (e.g. some people are outgoing whereas others are shy), and influence behaviour.
Trait theories argue that leaders share a number of common personality traits and characteristics, and that leadership emerges from these traits. Similar in some ways to “Great Man” theories, trait theory assumes that people inherit certain qualities and traits that make them better suited to leadership. Trait theories of leadership sought personality, social, physical or intellectual traits that differentiate leaders from non leaders.
Early trait theories promoted the idea that leadership is an innate, instinctive quality that you either have or don’t have. We’ve moved on from this approach, and learning more about what we can do as individuals to develop leadership qualities within ourselves and others.
Traits are external behaviours that emerge from things going on within the leader’s mind – and it’s these internal beliefs and processes that are important for effective leadership.
Leadership Traits: Ambition and Energy. The desire to lead. Honesty and Integrity. Self-Confidence. Intelligence. Job-relevant Knowledge.
- Abilities: Supervising Ability, Intelligence, Initiative
- Personal Traits: Self-Assurance, Decisiveness, Masculinity / Femininity, Maturity, Working Class Affinity
- Motivators: Need for Occupational Achievement, Self Actualization, Power Over Others, High Financial Reward, Job Security
Trait theory helps identify qualities that are helpful when leading others. eg. empathy, assertiveness, good decision-making, and likeability. However, none of these traits, nor any combination of them, will guarantee success as a leader. You need more than that. Also, Trait theory has little analytical or predictive value.
Behavioral theories of leadership are based upon the belief that great leaders are made, not born.
Rooted in behaviorism, this leadership theory focuses on the actions of leaders, not on mental qualities or internal states.
According to this theory, people can learn to become leaders through teaching and observation.
Patterns or actions used by different individuals determines different leadership potential
Behavior differs so do leadership.
Examples: Autocratic, Democratic and Laissez-faire.
Contingency theories of leadership focus on particular variables related to the environment that might determine which particular style of leadership is best suited for the situation.
According to this theory, no leadership style is best in all situations. Success depends upon a number of variables, including the leadership style, qualities of the followers, and aspects of the situation.
The theory that effective groups depend upon a proper match between a leader’s style of interacting with subordinates and the degree to which the situation gives control and influence to the leader.
There are basically three steps in the model:
- 1. Identifying leadership styles
- 2. Defining the situation
- 3. Matching leaders and situation
1. Identifying leadership styles
Fiedler believes a key factor in leadership success is the individual’s basic leadership style. So he created the Least Prefer Co-Worker (LPC) Questionnaire
- LPC- An instrument that tells to measure whether a person is task or relationship oriented.
- If low LPC score then the person is task oriented.
- If the high LPC score then person is relationship oriented.
Your final score is the total of numbers you circled on 18 scales
- 57 or less= Low LPC (Task motivated)
- 58-63= Middle LPC (Socio-independent leaders, self directed and not overly concerned with the task or with how others view them)
- 64 or above= High LPC (Motivated by relationships)
2. Defining the situation:
Defining key factors such as:
- Leader-member relations: The degree of trust, confidence and respect members have in the leader.
- Task structure: The degree too which the job assignments are procedurized
- Position power: The degree of influence a leader has over power variables such as hiring, firing, promotions etc.
3. Matching leaders and situation
After knowing leadership style through LPC and defining all the situations, you choose the leader who will fit for the situation.
Two ways in which to improve leader effectiveness:
- Change the leader to fit the situation.
- Change the situation to fit the leader.
Situational theories propose that leaders choose the best course of action based upon situational variable. Different styles of leadership may be more appropriate for certain types of decision-making.
Situational leadership theory/model was developed by Kenneth Blanchard and Paul Hersey.
- Use of different leadership styles dependent on the situation.
- This style allows you to analyse the needs of the situation and then use the most appropriate leadership style.
- It is dependent on employees’ competences in their task areas and commitment to their tasks
In situational leadership, it is up to the leader to change his leadership style, and followers are not expected to adapt to the leader’s style. In situational leadership, the leadership style may change continually based on the situation.
Action Centred Leadership
Action Centred Leadership is a model proposed by John Adair (1973), argued that it is not who you are but what you do which establishes you as a leader. A leader needs to balance the needs of the Task, the Team and the Individual. John Adair is a British author and a leading World authority on leadership and management.
An effective leader carries out these functions and demonstrates the behaviours appropriate to the task circles, varying the level according to the needs of the situation. The leader whilst balancing the three tasks, ‘sits above’ the process, ensuring the best possible outcome of what is happening.
The Task: Achieving the objectives of the work group, defining the group task, planning the work, allocation of resources, organising of duties and responsibilities, controlling quality and checking performance, reviewing progress.
The Team: Maintaining the morale and building the team spirit, the cohesiveness of the group as a working unit, setting standards and maintaining discipline, systems of communications within the team, training the group, appointment of sub-leaders.
The Individual: Meeting the needs of the individual, attending to personal problems, giving praise and status, reconciling conflicts between group needs of the individuals, training the individual.
House’s Path Goal Theory
The theory that a leader’s behavior is acceptable to subordinates in so far as they view it as a source of either immediate or future satisfaction.
- Leader’s provide followers with information, support and resources to help them achieve their goals.
- Leaders help clarify their “path” to the worker’s goals
- Leaders can display multiple leadership types.
Path Goal Theory
This theory states that it is the leader’s job to assist followers in attaining their goals and to provide the necessary direction and/or support to ensure that their goals are compatible with the overall objectives of the group or organization.
Participative leadership theories suggest that the ideal leadership style is one that takes the input of others into account. These leaders encourage participation and contributions from group members and help group members feel more relevant and committed to the decision-making process.
In participative theories, however, the leader retains the right to allow the input of others.
Relationship theories (also known as “Transformational theories”) focus upon the connections formed between leaders and followers.
These leaders motivate and inspire people by helping group members see the importance and higher good of the task.
Transformational leaders are focused on the performance of group members, but also want each person to fulfill his or her potential.
These leaders often have high ethical and moral standards.
“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others,” Jack Welch.
Criticism of Leadership Theories
Leadership theories are too western, too positivistic and individualistic (Ladkin, 2010; Knights and O’Leary, 2006; Turnbull, 2009)
These approaches collapse – a collective process (Brown and Hosking, 1986; Hosking, 1988) into an individually based unit (Ladkin, 2010)
“… such approaches can fool us into thinking the ingredients which constitute an entity are all that are required to create the entity.” (Ladkin, 2010: 5)
“A cake results from combining flour, sugar and eggs but its production depends on the type of oven in which it is baked and even the altitude at which it is cooked. Although from a natural science standpoint it may be possible to identify and measure all such factors, those approaches would still not be able to account for the ‘meaning’ attributed to the cake by those who eat it. The significance of a cake used as the central focus of a birthday celebration differs from that of one tucked into a rucksack for sustenance on a hiking trip.” (Ladkin, 2010: 5)
“Additionally, the ‘success’ of a cake will be judged differently depending on its purpose: the lopsided gift proudly offered by my six-year old niece will be judged differently from a misshapen delivery from a cake company I hired to produce the centrepiece at my wedding (Ladkin, 2010: 5)
“…the effectiveness of any act of leading will be judged from within particular social and historical moments.” (Ladkin, 2010: 5)
- Grint, K. (2010). Leadership: A very short introduction (Vol. 237). Oxford University Press.
- Grint, K. (2005). Leadership: Limits and possibilities. Palgrave Macmillan.
- Jackson B. and Parry K. (2011). A very short, fairly interesting and reasonably cheap book about studying leadership, second edition. Sage London
- Northouse, P. G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and practice. Sage publications.
- Schedlitzki, D. and Edwards, G. (2014) Studying Leadership: Traditional and Critical Approaches, Sage.
- Western, S. (2007) Leadership: A Critical Text, Sage
- Yukl, G. A. (2012). Leadership in organizations. Pearson Education International. Note: available as an e-book in RHUL library.
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