The 10 Leadership Theories You Should Know
Are you someone who aspires to be a great leader? As someone who aspires to be a great leader, you want to make sure you understand more about leadership. You will want to know more about some of the studies and philosophies of historic figures.
There are many leadership theories on what qualities make a leader successful.
As you read this article, consider your own strengths and weaknesses. See if you agree or disagree with any of these theories and how you can improve your leadership skills.
1. Trait Theory
This idea is that all successful leaders possess certain traits or characteristics that make them succeed. This theory looks at the different personality, physical, and even social traits that leaders have in common.
Among the successful personality traits are ambition, motivation, and energy. One must also have self-confidence, a desire to lead must be built-in. You must also, of course, have a high level of intelligence and knowledge about the job and industry you are in.
There has been no conclusive evidence that all or a combination of these skills will lead to great leadership. Nevertheless, we suggest that you always work on improving these traits.
Source: This theory was developed by Ralph Stogdill.
2. Great Man Theory
This theory has studied the great men of history to determine what they had in common to become great leaders. It states that leaders are not made, but born. Other aspects such as your upbringing, education, and opportunities can shape your leadership but don’t inherently make you a leader.
Among the leaders studied were Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Julius Caesar, and Napoleon. It was determined that having a dominant personality, courage, charm, intelligence, persuasiveness, and aggressiveness were characteristics of strong leaders.
Source: Theory of Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle
3. Lewin’s Framework
In 1939, Kurt Lewin and a team of researchers determined that there were 3 basic leadership styles.
- Autocratic leaders put their foot down and make decisions and demand that others adhere to their direction.
- Democratic leaders make their decisions after hearing input and opinions from their team
- Laissez-faire leaders leave their team alone and trust that they will do a great job on their own
Think about yourself. Which style best describes you or which leadership role would you like to be? Of course, there have been many different leadership styles identified since then. Read our article “Leadership Styles” Have you ever had to jump in and play any of these roles as a leader
Source: Research by Kurt Lewin
4. Michigan Leadership Studies
The Michigan Leadership Studies in the 1950s focused on employee-oriented leadership versus production-oriented leadership and identified the principles and types of leadership styles that led to greater productivity and better job satisfaction in the workplace.
The first approach looks at the individual characteristics of employees and how to develop a unique relationship with each of them for success. The latter approach focuses on completing tasks and leading workers to accomplish these goals.
This study identified 3 important behaviors of leadership:
1) Relationship-oriented behavior that focused on being hands-off and building a strong relationship with their team.
2) Task-oriented behavior for breaking down tasks and goals and assigning them to a team; and
3) Participative behavior that focuses on building a strong team that can collaborate together.
Source: Michigan Leadership Studies led by psychologist Dr Rensis Likert
5. Ohio University Leadership Studies – the Leadership Grid
Conducted in 1945, this study came to the conclusion that a great leader must be focused on the results as well as the relationship with the team.
It identified five leadership styles that are often seen:
- Impoverished style: This is a leader who is hands-off and does not pay attention to productivity or teamwork.
- Produce or perish: This mentality is that you must find an efficient and rapid way to solve a task. Failure to do so will result in a failure for your business. This is often effective but shows that there is a high rate of turnover among team members.
- Middle of the road: This leader finds a balance between the wellbeing of the team and the tasks that need to be accomplished. While goals are achieved, they are often not fully realized.
- Country club: This style of leadership focuses on being friendly and maintaining a great relationship with your team. However, it seldom leads to great results.
- Team style: This style of leadership believes that maintaining strong relationships, trust, and respect among the team will lead to producing successful results.
Source: Check out the Leadership Grid
6. Transactional Theories
This type of leadership is strict and often, authoritarian. It puts forth very strict rules and demands obedience to these rules.
There is a hierarchy and demands that all team members know their place in the hierarchy. For instance, the juniors will be obedient to the supervisors, the supervisors are obedient to the managers, and the managers are obedient to the boss – that’s you!
One of the sources of these theories is the punishment and reward approach. This means that if a team member is able to successfully accomplish a task, they are rewarded – so there is an incentive. If they fail at their task, they are punished. This puts pressure on the team member to perform well.
7. Leader-Member Exchange Theory
This theory, also known as the LMX Theory, focuses on the growing relationship between a leader and their team. By studying this theory, you can observe and compare the relationship between you and your team members and see if it is leading to better results.
The three stages of LMX Theory are as follows:
Stage 1 is Role-taking. This occurs when a new team member joins the team. As the leader, it is your responsibility to evaluate their skills and abilities in order to decide which tasks to assign them to.
Stage 2 is called Role-making, you carefully observe the loyalty and productivity (both are crucial) of your team members. The ones who are the most loyal and the most productive become part of your inner circle and know yours and the company’s intricate details and possibly, secrets. Those who do not meet this criterion may still remain on the team, but they are part of the outer circle – workers without this insight.
Stage 3 is Routinization. At this point, the leader has to develop routines for the team. Team members also vie for the leader’s favorable opinion by working harder and attempting to produce greater results than their fellow teammates.
As you can see, this leadership theory is extremely focused on individualism and team members competing with each other. This may work for some, but may not be for all leaders. Some leaders will want their team members to comply, rather than compete. But other leaders may see this healthy competition as crucial for producing results.
8. Bass Transformational Leadership Theory
This theory was developed by researcher Bernard M. Bass. This theory puts emphasis on how the leader influences and motivates their team.
Influencing one’s team is crucial to the success of the team and helps with productivity. Bass realized that leaders influence their team in three ways:
- Increasing the awareness of the importance of task and value
- Helping the team members focus on overall team goals as opposed to individual goals
- Activate their higher-order needs
Furthermore, these influential leaders have four characteristics:
- Individualized consideration: This emphasizes what an employee needs. The leader fancies themselves as a role model for the individual team members.
- Intellectual stimulation: The influential leader is always challenging the status quo and thinking outside of the box. They are always seeking ideas from the team.
- Inspirational motivation: The leader is always reminding the team about their tasks and why that task is important. They are always trying to make the team feel special about their work.
- Idealized influence: The leader is a complete role model for the entire organization. The leader leads by example.
Think for a moment about your own leadership style. Do you exhibit any of the above qualities? Have you ever thought about being a role model and being influential to your team?
9. Leadership Participation Inventory Theory
This is a fascinating theory that studies what traits a leader has that can influence other leaders. James Kouzes and Barry Posner conducted research for 20 years around a survey that asked people what characteristics they admire in a leader and what would make them want to follow that leader.
The conclusion was that anyone can become a successful leader if they exhibit the following 5 traits:
- Model The Way: The leader should be able to create a company culture. You will set the standards and the parlance by which the team works and relates to each other.
- Inspire a Shared Vision: The leader will also instill a shared vision amongst the team. The shared vision emphasizes what the company’s goals are and what the company can evolve to.
- Challenge the process: The leader is always ready to think outside of the box and challenge the status quo.
- Enable Others to Act: The leader will encourage the team to work harder and to collaborate with each other.
- Generate Enthusiasm: The leader knows how to make each individual team member feel special by emphasizing their contribution to the project so they work with passion.
Take a moment to reflect on your leadership style once again. Do you exhibit any of the above traits? Have you ever helped someone else become a leader? What about the people whom you look up to as leaders? Do they exhibit any of the above traits?
10. Fiedler’s Contingency Theory
This theory is perhaps the most controversial on the list. This theory states that there is a different leader for every situation and the leader should be changed according to the situation.
This theory believes that a leader’s style is unchangeable. Rather than ask them to adapt or alter their style to suit the situation, it is best to change the leader altogether.
The situational favorableness is based on three factors:
- Leader-member relations: there should be a high level of trust and confidence in the leader’s abilities
- Task structure: is the task and its structure clear?
- Leader’s position power: what level of power does the leader need to have to lead the team to success?
As a leader who is considering this theory, you have to ask yourself a few things. Firstly, how willing are you to step aside if the situation needs it? Do you feel a good leader should know when to step aside on occasion?
If you do not subscribe to this theory, do you feel that you can adapt or alter your leadership style if the situation demands it? If you have a more friendly approach to leadership and your team is not meeting their deadlines, would you know how to switch to a more authoritarian approach?
Think about situations where this has happened. Look at how heads of state have differed from their predecessors. How did they approach a challenge that the nation was facing? Did they do a better job than their predecessor?
What about when one CEO steps down and another CEO steps up? Does this new CEO take the company to new heights?
If you plan on holding on to a leadership role, think about what different leadership styles you can adopt. Think about what you would need to do to make sure that you always maintain the trust and confidence of your team. What would you have to do to adapt to any situation in the organization?
If you are fine with stepping aside, think about how you would choose a successor who can better handle the situation.
What’s Your Style?
Now that you know some of the qualities that make a great leader and the different leadership theories, you should delve deeper into understanding them.
As we discussed throughout this article, the different leadership theories have their strengths and weaknesses. But by looking through them, you can develop your own leadership style. Perhaps you can study the Great Men and Women of the past, and see what you can learn from them.
Perhaps you can experiment with the different leadership styles in both the Michigan and Ohio University Leadership studies to see which produces the best results for you.
We are confident that you can learn from these brilliant theories and become a successful leader.
Be sure to subscribe to our blog and read more about leadership and how to develop your leadership skills.