Leadership Theories

Leadership Theories

There is a wide and ever growing variety of theories to explain the concept and practice of leadership and there exists a wide variety of different theoretical approaches to explain the complexities of the leadership process. Interest in leadership increased during the early part of the twentieth century and since then leadership has been defined and conceptualized in many ways. Early leadership theories focused on what qualities distinguished between leaders and followers, while subsequent theories looked at other variables such as situational factors and skill levels.

This section on leadership theories reviews and analyzes a large number of leadership theories and our purpose of putting these theories together in this section is to provide the learners with a toolkit to apply each theoretical approach in the real-world organizations and real world leadership challenges that professionals face today. These articles will explore how leadership theory can inform and direct the way leadership is practiced in day to day life. In addition, in these articles attempt has been made to examine leadership from an academic perspective through several theoretical lenses. 

We will start with a brief overview of the generally known theories and will also discuss some of the traditional theories that are not so widely recognized or referred to and will provide the learner with tips on practically using these concepts in the workplace. Over time, a number of theories of leadership have been proposed and this section captures most of the main ideas. 

The objectives of this section are to enable the learner contrast between leadership and management and be able to list the traits of effective leaders. Define and give examples of various leadership theories and compare the various concepts proposed in different theories like contrast between trait and behavioral theories. The learner will also be able to identify situations when leadership may not be necessary and explain how to find and create effective leaders. The overall goal of “Leadership Theories” section on this website is to advance our understanding of the many different approaches to leadership and ways to practice it more effectively and practically.

We have tried to follow the same format for each of the articles in this section and structured it to include overview of theory, advantages and criticisms of the theory, practical application of the leadership theory, common leadership issues and dilemmas and some toolkits to help learner apply the approach to his or her own leadership style or setting.

This section will be beneficial to both undergraduate and graduate students of management and leadership studies, and will be very effective tool for professionals in any job or business to learn core organizational behavior along with leadership tools and will supplement any leadership-development program.

Leader Member Exchange Theory – LMX Theory

LMX TheoryLeader–member exchange (LMX) theory conceptualizes leadership as a process that is centered on the interactions between leaders and followers. This theory explores how leaders and managers develop relationships with team members and tries to explain how these relationships can either contribute to the growth of people or hold them back.

Social Learning Theories

Social Learning TheoriesThe social learning theory was proposed by Albert Bandura and is one of the most influential theories of learning and development. This article explains the social learning theory and its implications in understanding the behaviors of leaders and their followers. Understand the application of this theory to explore concept of leadership behaviors.

Group and Exchange Theories of Leadership

Group and Exchange Theories of LeadershipThe group and exchange theories of leadership are derived from social psychology. These have their roots in the exchange theory. According to this theory, leaders provide more benefits and rewards than burdens/costs to followers and in exchange followers carry out leaders' orders. Read this article to get a quick understanding of this leadership concept.

Path Goal Leadership Theory

Path Goal Leadership TheoryThis theory by House (1971) is about how leaders motivate subordinates to accomplish designated goals. As a leader, you should understand the needs of your followers and their motivation drivers to work or behave in a way that accomplishes organizational goals along with satisfy employee needs. Learn the concepts of this theory and how you can use this effectively to enhance employee performance as well as satisfaction by focusing on employee motivation.

Role Theory of Leadership

Role Theory of LeadershipRole theory of leadership as a theoretical approach borrows to a large extent concepts from the sociological role theory and applies these ideas to leader - follower relations. Learn about what is Role Theory of Leadership and understand how it works in organizational context. Understand how expectations are set for leaders through formal and informal channels based on roles and why role conflicts happen.

Practical Application of Contingency Theory of Leadership

practicalFielder’s contingency theory points out that leader are not effective in all situations. If your style is a good match for the situation in which you work, you will succeed at your job. If your style does not match the situation, you probably will fail. In this article we focus on practical applications of the theory and how you can use this theory at your workplace to be an effective leader.

Contingency Theory of Leadership

Contingency-theories-of-leadershipWhat is your natural leadership style and do you have the flexibility to change your style based on situations or environments? In this article, we will explore Fiedler's Contingency Model, and focus on particular variables related to the environment that might determine which particular style of leadership is best suited for the given situation.

Practical Application of Situational Leadership Theory

situationalpractical Situational Leadership is the most comprehensive and practical method of effectively managing and developing people. Situational Leadership is a model and a set of tools for opening up communication and helping others develop self-reliance. Learn how you can apply this model at your workplace!!

Situational Leadership

situational leadership1The theory of situational leadership was developed in the late 1960’s by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard and is one of the more widely recognized approaches to leadership. The theory was first introduced as "Life Cycle Theory of Leadership". During the mid-1970s, "Life Cycle Theory of Leadership" was renamed as "Situational Leadership theory". Learn more about the directive and supportive behaviors and how they influence leadership in various situations!!

Scientific Management Theory

scientific management1Frederick Winslow Taylor started the “Scientific Management Movement”, and attempted to study the work process scientifically. Scientific management, also called Taylorism, was a theory of management that analyzed and synthesized workflows. It is a system for increasing the efficiency of manpower to its maximum potential and streamlining production to improve efficiency. This article explores this theory in more detail.

McGregor’s Leadership Theory X and Theory Y

TheoryXYLearn about Theory X and Theory Y proposed by McGregor in 1960’s and understand what management styles they encourage respectively. Understand the contrast between the two Theories or completely different styles of management and learn how you can apply this in your organizational context.

Practical Application of Style Apporach to Leadership

practicalEarlier theories treated leadership exclusively as a personality trait and behavior approach has widened the scope by including the behaviors of leaders and what they do in various situations. Explore how you can benefit from the concepts to understand your own behaviors and what are some of the leadership tools based on the concepts defined here.

Managerial Grid Theory

managerial gridDo you know whether you are task oriented or person oriented? What is your leadership style in a given situation? Learn about the task v/s people orientation and understand “The Blake Mouton Managerial Grid” in this article and explore how you can apply these principles in your day to day leadership journey.

The Michigan Studies on Leadership Styles

bank1The Michigan leadership studies, along with the Ohio State University studies that took place in the 1950s are one of the two best-known behavioral leadership studies and continued to be cited to this day. The studies concluded that an employee orientation rather than a production orientation, coupled with general instead of close supervision, led to better results. In this article leader will understand the findings and conclusions from this studies.

The Ohio State Leadership Studies

Banco di San GiorgioThe Ohio State Studies started in the late 1940s, attempted to find what behaviors substantially accounted for most of the leadership behavior described by employees. These studies used Leader Behavior Description Questionnaire and contributed a model of programmatic construct, validation and investigation to the field of leadership studies. Read more to know the methodology, findings and conclusions from this study.

Iowa Leadership Studies

Lewin Lippitt and WhiteThis article presents a review of leadership studies known as Iowa Leadership Studies and the three leadership styles that were commissioned by Lewin, Lippitt, and White in 1939. The article discusses the methodology of the studies, the observations and conclusions drawn in a very easy to understand manner.

Behavioral Theories of Leadership

leadership theoryBehavioral theory promotes the value of leadership styles with an emphasis on concern for people and collaboration. It promotes participative decision making and team development by supporting individual needs and aligning individual and group objectives. Behavioral Theories of Leadership, also known as “The style approach to leadership” focuses on the behavior of the leader and what leaders do and how they act. Learn about the two general kinds of behaviors; task behaviors and relationship behaviors and advantages of this approach to leadership. Learn more about this theory of leadership.

Hawthorne Studies - Leadership

hawthorne-studiesIn this article learn about the leadership studies that was conducted by Mayo and Roethlisberger in an electricity factory and known as Hawthorne Studies. Learn about the experiments conducted, their objectives and their findings. This article also describes the leadership lessons that came out of these studies.

Practical Application of Skills Approach to Leadership

practicalLearn the practical strategies and tips to apply the learnings from skill model of leadership to your day to day organizational work-life. Deep dive into advantages of this theory and how you can leverage the concepts to design a self-learning leadership development plan for yourself.

Katz’s Three-Skill Approach

skillsThis article explains the Three Skills Approach to leadership as proposed by Katz in 1955. Understand the three key leadership skills; technical, human and conceptual skills. Learn some examples for all the skills types and see how you need different skills as you grow higher in organization.

Skills Approach to Leadership

skills approachIn this article we will discuss the skills approach to leadership. This approach is similar to the trait approach to leadership but is also different because in trait approach we focused on personality traits that are considered inherent whereas in skills approach the focus is on person’s skills and abilities that can be learned and developed.

Practical Application of Trait Theories of Leadership

practicalNow that the learner has the basic understanding of Trait Theory of Leadership, let’s look into various ways in which this theory can be applied in workplace and to enhance your success as a leader. Understand the various tests available in the marketplace or take the TechnoFunc’s online personality test on Traits.

Five-Factor Personality Model of Leadership

big5How well do you understand basic personality differences among the people at workplace? Understanding personality structures and their dynamics is helpful for personal professional development as well as to cultivate relationships with your associates. Read this article to gain an understanding of the basics of personality and five factor personality model of leadership.

The Major Leadership Traits

major traitsIn this article we will explore some of the major leadership traits like intelligence, self-confidence, determination, integrity, sociability, decision-maker and empathy. Although in this discussion of leadership traits we have focused only on six major traits, this list is not all-inclusive and other leadership traits listed in the previous article are also associated with effective leadership, we found these traits to be widely accepted to contribute significantly to one being a successful leader.

Leadership Traits – A great List

traitsGiven in this article is a list of some traits/skills (non-exhaustive) which is generally believed to be possessed by leaders. This list is non-exhaustive as a large number of classifications exist for traits, for example Gordon Allport, an American psychologist had identified almost 18,000 English personality-relevant terms.

Trait Theory of Leadership

people leadershipTrait Theory of Leadership is based on the assumption that people are born with inherited traits and some traits are particularly suited to leadership. People who make effective leaders have the right (or sufficient) combination of traits and great leaders has some common personality characteristics. Learn more about this theory.

The Great Man Theory of Leadership

leadership theoryThis article provides an overview and provides an understanding of the basic assumptions/premise made under the great person theory of leadership. This theory was proposed during the 19th Century and was based on the assumption that great leaders are born not made. 

Management Theories

Management TheoriesManagement theories are the set of general rules that guide the managers to manage an organization. Theories are an explanation to assist employees to effectively relate to the business goals and implement effective means to achieve the same. Read more to learn more on managment theories.



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