What are the Leadership Theories?

1. Trait theory of Leadership

The trait theory of leadership focused on analyzing mental, physical and social characteristic in order to gain more understanding of what is the characteristic or the combination of characteristics that are common among leaders.

There were many shortfalls with the trait leadership theory. However, from a psychology of personalities approach, Gordon Allport’s studies are among the first ones and have brought, for the study of leadership, the behavioural approach.

  • In the 1930s the field of Psychometrics was in its early years.
  • Personality traits measurement weren’t reliable across studies.
  • Study samples were of low level managers
  • Explanations weren’t offered as to the relation between each characteristic and its impact on leadership.
  • The context of the leader wasn’t considered.

Many studies have analyzed the traits among existing leaders in the hope of uncovering those responsible for ones leadership abilities! In vain, the only characteristics that were identified among these individuals were those that were slightly taller and slightly more intelligent.

2. Behavioral of Leadership

In the 1930s, Kurt Lewin developed a framework based on a leader’s behavior. He argued that there are three types of leaders:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

3. Contingency of Leadership

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. Leadership researchers White and Hodgson suggest that truly effective leadership is not just about the qualities of the leader, it is about striking the right balance between behaviors, needs, and context. Good leaders are able to assess the needs of their followers, take stock of the situation, and then adjust their behaviors accordingly. Success depends on a number of variables including the leadership style, qualities of the followers and aspects of the situation.

4. Situational of Leadership

Situational theories propose that leaders choose the best course of action based upon situational variables. Different styles of leadership may be more appropriate for certain types of decision-making. For example, in a situation where the leader is the most knowledgeable and experienced member of a group, an authoritarian style might be most appropriate. In other instances where group members are skilled experts, a democratic style would be more effective.