Leadership Theories

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Leadership Theories have shaped the practical application of leadership in the past and the present; and they will certainly shape leadership practice in the future.

A review of available leadership material by Exeter University reveals an ongoing and evolving series of 'schools of thought' from “Great Man” and “Trait” theories to “Transformational” leadership. While early theories tend to focus upon the characteristics and behaviors of successful leaders, later theories begin to consider the role of followers and how they relate to the leadership.

There is a diversity of leadership theories, but most would fall into the following groups:

Great Man Theory: This theory is pre-1900 and is based on the belief that leaders are exceptional people (like Napoleon, Martin Luther, George Washington), born with innate qualities, and destined to lead. The use of the term 'man' was intentional since until the latter part of the twentieth century leadership was thought of as done primarily by those male, military and Western.

Trait Leadership Theory: This theory is from the 1900 to1948 time period. The lists of traits or qualities or skills associated with leadership are abundant and the list continues to grow (physical, personal, motivational, communication, influence). The theorists draw on virtually all the adjectives in the dictionary, which describe some positive or virtuous human attribute, from ambition to zest for life.

Behavioral Theory: This theory is from the 1948 to 1950’s time period and concentrates on what leaders actually do rather than on their qualities. Different patterns of behavior are observed and categorized as 'styles of leadership'. This area has probably attracted most attention from practicing managers.

Situational Leadership Theory: This approach is from the 1950’s and sees leadership as specific to the situation in which it is being exercised. For example, while some situations may require an autocratic style, others may need a more participative approach. This leadership theory also proposes that there may be differences in required leadership styles at different levels in the same organization.

Contingency Theory: This theory is from the 1960 to 1970’s and is a refinement of the situational viewpoint and focuses on identifying the situational variables which best predict the most appropriate or effective leadership style to fit the particular circumstances. This is a shift from traits and skills to behaviors.

Transactional Theory: This approach is from the 1970’s and emphasizes the importance of the relationship between leader and followers, focusing on the mutual benefits derived from a form of 'contract' through which the leader delivers such things as rewards or recognition in return for the commitment or loyalty of the followers. The quality of leader-follower relationship affects many workplace situations.

Transformational Theory: This theory is from the 1970 to the present and the main concept here is on leaders who create change and the role of leadership in envisioning and implementing the transformation of organizational performance. There may also be brilliant technical insight as well as charismatic personality traits utilized by the leadership.

Servant Leadership Theory: This approach is from the 1970 to the present and emphasizes the ethical responsibility to the followers and influenced by the social sensitivities raised in the sixties and seventies. The notion of “Servant Leadership” emphasizes the leaders’ duty to serve his/her followers. Leadership thus arises out of a desire to serve rather than a desire to lead.

“Servant-Leadership is a practical philosophy which supports people who choose to serve first, and then lead as a way of expanding service to individuals and institutions. Servant- leaders may or may not hold formal leadership positions. Servant-leadership encourages collaboration, trust, foresight, listening, and the ethical use of power and empowerment.” (Taken from the Center for Servant Leadership web site, April 2003.)

Plurality of Leaders Theory: This theory is from the 1990 to the present. Each of the previous leadership theories takes a rather individualistic perspective of the leader, although a school of thought gaining increasing recognition is that of “dispersed” or “multifaceted” leadership. This approach, with its foundations in sociology, psychology and politics rather than management science, views leadership as a process that is diffuse throughout an organization rather than lying solely with the formally designated ‘leader’.

The key to this is a distinction between the notions of “leader” and “leadership”. “Leadership” is regarded as a process of sense-making and direction-giving within a group and the “leader” can only be identified on the basis of his or her relationship with others in the social group who are behaving as followers. This, of course, emphasizes the relationship rather than the traits of the leaders. (Center for Leadership Studies)

More Theories

Past and current leadership theory includes social responsibility, personal growth, and setting, implementing and reaching personal and organizational goals. With knowledge comes expectation by oneself and others (Ascher, 2006). The study of leadership is vast and crosses many disciplines.

Beyond the great man theory and trait leadership theory (Stogdill, 1974) of "leaders are born, not made" and behavioral theories (Skinner, 1967; Bandura, 1982) of "leaders are made, not born", the organizational theories of contingency (Fiedler, 1964; House, 1974; Vroom & Yetton, 1973, & Hersey & Blanchard, 1972) of worker and context productivity, help understand leadership.

Also the give and take of transactional leadership (Bass, 1985), the ethical and humble servant leadership (Greenleaf , 1977), and the high moral values of Burns' transformational leadership all add components toward understanding the complex nature of leadership.

More recently, transformational leadership by Bass (1985) places great value on personal development through the reciprocal interaction of leader and followers. Nested within this transformative theory are authentic leadership (Avolio & Gardner, 2005), principle centered leadership (Covey, 1992) and value-centered leadership (Secretan, 2000; Chappell, 2005).

These are theories which place a premium on creating a positive work environment for spiritual growth and development while highlighting self-awareness (Asher, 2005). These theories place a premium on transforming beliefs into action.

Nature versus Nurture Leadership Theories

Great man Theory
Leaders are born and not made. When there is a need the great leader will arise.

Trait Theory
People are born with traits that are particularly suited to leadership. People who make good leaders have the correct combination of traits such as ambition, achievement-orientation, and decisiveness (Stogdill, 1974).

Behavioral Theories
Leaders are not born they are made. Successful leadership is based in defined, learned behaviors.

Organizational Leadership Theories

Transactional Theory

Reward and punishment are the best way to motivate people. Transactional leaders work best with a clear chain of command and a clear structure for followers.

Contingency and LPC Theory
Fiedler's contingency theory is the earliest and most extensively researched. The leader's ability according to Fielder (1964) is based (contingent) on situational factors, including the leader's preferred style, the motivation and abilities of followers.

In Fielder's (1967) LPC (least preferred co-worker) theory relationships, power and task structure are the three key factors that drive effective styles. High LPC leaders tend to have close and positive relationships that are supportive and low LPC leaders put tasks before relationships.

Path-Goal Analysis

House's (1971) Path-Goal Theory was developed to provide ways in which leaders can encourage and support their followers in achieving the goals they have been set by making a clear and easy path. According to House and Mitchell (1974) leaders can: 1) clarify the path so followers know the way to go, 2) help remove roadblocks, and 3) increase rewards along the path.

Normative Model

Vroom and Yetton (1973) defined five different decision procedures and the situational factors that influence a leaders decision making strategy. Two are autocratic (A1 and A2), two are consultative (C1 and C2) and one is Group based (G2).

A1: Leader takes known information and then decides alone.
A2: Leader gets information from followers, and then decides alone.
C1: Leader shares problem with followers individually, listens to ideas and then decides alone.
C2: Leader shares problems with followers as a group, listens to ideas and then decides alone.
G2: Leader shares problems with followers as a group and then seeks and accepts consensus agreement.

Situational Leadership Theories

Leaders adapt their style to meet the developmental level of the follower (Hersey & Blanchard, 1972). Style is therefore based on the readiness and willingness of the workers to perform their required tasks with competence and motivation. There are four leadership styles (S1 to S4) that match the development levels (skills & motivation) of the followers.

S1: Telling/Directing
S2: Selling/Coaching
S3: Participating/Supporting
S4: Delegating/Observing

Relational & Ethical Leadership Theories

Charismatic Leaders use vision to build group cohesion. Conger & Kanungo (1994) describe five behavioral attributes of Charismatic Leaders that indicate a more transformational viewpoint: 1) vision and articulation, 2) sensitivity to the environment, 3) sensitivity to member needs, 4) personal risk taking, 5) performing unconventional behavior.

Burns' Transformational Leadership (1978) starts with the development of a vision, a view of the future that excites and converts potential followers, mixed with a high moral value for the group.

Bass' Transformational Leaders (1985) put vision, energy and passion into their followers being highly successful. According to Bass, a leader needs to be people-oriented and have a deep commitment to the progress and personal development of their followers.

Authentic Leadership is described as a root concept (Avolio & Gardner, 2005) that underlies positive approaches to leadership such as transformational, charismatic, and servant leadership. The idea that authentic leadership begins with is developing authenticity, that increases self-awareness.

Servant Leadership is best described by Greenleaf (1977) "as a way of being" in relationship with others. Servant-leadership seeks to involve others in decision making. The leader can only be successful if they serve those they lead.

There are 10 critical principles to servant leadership:
1) listening, 2) empathy, 3) healing of relationships, 4) awareness, 5) persuasion, 6) conceptualization, 7) foresight, 8) stewardship, 9) commitment to the growth of people, 10) building community.

Principle Centered Leadership (Covey, 1990) requires a commitment to significant self-improvement processes with long-term effectiveness change for the person in terms of their quality of work and life.

When people are committed to their personal growth and improvement they are more likely to contribute their increased potential toward their organization and career objectives.

Values Centered Leadership by Tom Chappell is conveyed in his message of leadership through an ideal of a "common goodness in others." Tom Chappell managed to keep this value of seeing the goodness in others while maintaining the financially successful business - Tom's of Maine (Keller, 2005).

Values-centered Leadership (Lance Secretan, 2000) is based on the key idea that leadership has timeless values that help us to be of service to others.

These "Primary Values" help us in our own personal growth through:
1) Mastery: Undertaking whatever you do to the highest standards of which you are capable, 2) Chemistry: Relating so well with others that they actively seek to associate themselves with you, 3) Delivery: Identifying the needs of others and meeting them with respect and a passion for being of service. (NGCSU)

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