Leadership Theories


Leadership is a notion resulting from the interaction between a leader and followers, andnot a position or title within the organization (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, 2009). 

By looking atleadership in this manner, leadership practitioners can see leadership as a process in which allmembers of a group or organization perform different roles. 

Still, there are many other theoriesof leadership that allow looking into this phenomenon from different perspectives, providing alsoinsight into the different characteristics of leaders and how they behave.

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Researchers have also started to consider a theoretical link between practical wisdom,derived from lived situations, and authenticity in leadership practice (Kupers & Statler, 2008).

This explains why many leaders are capable of contextualizing their experiences to manage organizational events very effectively. 

The following ten modern leadership theories illustratethe wide range of leadership theory and provides a framework to understand the new approachesto leadership that are examined in the latter section of this article.

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The Trait Theory of Leadership

Under this theory, there are certain individuals that have the physical, emotional, andpersonality traits that make them more likely, or predisposed, to be leaders (Rubenstein, 2005).

This theory holds the notion that some individuals are born with the necessary traits to becomeleaders. This theory identifies physiological (appearance, height, and weight), personality, self-confidence, intellective, task-related, and social characteristics with the effectiveness of anindividual as a leader (Rubenstein, 2005). 

Additionally, given that under this theory traits are relatively stable over time, the innate capabilities for leadership remain with the individualthroughout his or her life.

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The Style Approach

Under this theory of leadership, the behavior adopted in a specific circumstancedetermines the leadership approach. The style approach focuses on the behavior of the leader;addressing what they do and how they act in any given situation (Rubenstein, 2005).

The typical leadership activity styles include Authority-Compliance, Team Management, Impoverish Management, and Country Club Management (Rubenstein, 2005). This theory focuses on the behavior that leaders follow in different situations, with the notion that leaders can choose to respond with these specific styles of management.

The Situational Approach

Under this theory, individuals in leadership positions are capable of reading intosituations to decide if they need to use supportive or directive behaviors (Rubenstein, 2005).Some of the behaviors that leaders can select are supporting, coaching, and directing.

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This theory supports the idea that leaders adapt their leadership behaviors based on the situation andtheir leadership role (Rubenstein, 2005). Effective leaders can act as a coach to an under performing team-member, while they can also offer clear and decisive direction to a groupor business unit struggling to define objectives.

The Contingency Theory

Under this theory, leaders select a particular leadership style based on three types ofleadership situations: the relationship between members and the leader, the structure of the tasks,and the leader’s position of power in relation to the group (Rubenstein, 2005). This theory focuses on the impact that the successful use of a certain style of leadership has on each situation.

Effective leadership demands reflection on the dynamic relationships between theleader and the followers when aiming towards a future outcome (Ahn, Ettner, & Loupin, 2011).

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Path Goal Theory

Considered the motivational theory of leadership; this theory is based in the assumptionthat leaders’ major goals are to provide satisfaction and stimulate performance among themembers of a group (Rubenstein, 2005).

Some of the behaviors leaders follow under this theoryinclude setting goals and ensuring subordinate buy-in; allocation of resources and training;monitoring of all activities while providing strategic outlook, and the establishment of new goals and continuous process improvement.

Leader-Member Exchange Theory

Under this theory, followers determine the status of a leader and his or herresponsibilities. Followers not only share power within the group, but their ability alsoinfluences the effectiveness of the leader to exert authority and lead (Rubenstein, 2005).

Leadersunder this theory have characteristics that allow them to effectively meet goals through teams as they pay attention to group norms, juggle managerial duties, and manage market demands efficiently (Rooke & Torbert, 2009).

Transformational Leadership

Under this theory, researchers perceive leadership as a process that transforms individualsand groups. Under this theory, the role of leaders is to assess the needs of their followers and ask for input from the group through out all stages of the relationship (Rubenstein, 2005).

Leaders are agents of change and can promote transformation and improvement for the benefit of theorganization and the followers as whole. This theory allows leadership practitioners to see leadership as a process that initiates with the self and projects outwards to influence other individuals and organizations towards improvement (Sen, 2010).

Team Leadership

Under this theory, leaders help the group or team determine which goals and tasks theywant to achieve while also enabling processes that keep the group supplied with appropriate resources, adequate development and training, and work supplies.

Leaders also diagnose andremedy group deficiencies, while coordinating the internal functioning of the group in relation toother groups within the organization (Rubenstein, 2005).

Psychodynamic Approach

Under this theory, leaders understand the psychological makeup of their followers as wellas their own. According to this theory, leaders should be able to understand the impact of psychological factors such as family origin, level of maturity, and personal desires on thefollowers’ attitude and responses to leadership actions.

Leaders must also understand thepsychological relationship and psychodynamic interplay that exists between them and theirfollowers (Rubenstein, 2005). This theory deals with emotional intelligence and the attempt tocreate feelings of safety on followers.

When followers feel unsafe they create walls around themand withhold their talents, instead of using them for the greater good of the team or organization(Sen, 2010).

By understanding the psychological relationship they have with their followers, leaders can guide them in ways that are more effective.

Leaders of Leaders

This theory centers in making a distinction between regular leaders and those leaders wholead other individuals with leadership characteristics. Leaders of leaders are visionary individuals who create a vision that guides other leaders to act as leaders within their respective environments.

Leaders of leaders, help their followers to solve their own problems while making decisions that are sound and in alignment with the overall vision of the organization (Rubenstein,2005).

The types of leaders under this theory act much more differently when creating and communicating a vision to others. A great example of these types of leaders was Arthur Houghton Jr., CEO of Corning Glass.

Houghton was trying to announce the world that he didnot want his company to be perceived as a specialized art glass company but instead as an industrial producer of common cookware and glass-based manufacturing materials.

In order todo so, he grabbed a lead pipe and smashed more than $100,000 worth of fine crystal in front of cameras, reporters, and company stockholders (Bell & Smith, 2010). He was a leader of leaders, and he communicated his message loud and clear.

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