The 8 Major Leadership Theories

1.   Great Man Theories

Have you ever heard of Natural Born Leaders? That stems from the Great Man Theories that was originally proposed by historian Thomas Carlyle. The belief is that leadership ability is a natural gift or talent of the individual and that the right leader will emerge from nowhere at the right time.

2.   Contingency Theories

Contingencies theories puts the emphasis on leadership styles depending on the situation they find themselves in. There is no one style of leadership that is effective in all situations and factors that affect contingency theories include the behaviours and abilities of the people who choose to follow the leader. One leader may be very effective in certain situations but ineffective in others.

3.   Trait Theories

Traits theories looks at the personality traits and behaviours that contributes to leadership. The main focus is on the key personality and behavioural traits that great leaders share. However, the problem is that individuals may share similar traits but still end up as totally different leaders. In some cases, one may become a leader while the other remains a follower, irrespective of their commonality in personalities or behaviours.

4.   Situation Theories

Situational theories, like Contingencies theories, sees leaders adapt to the situation they find themselves in. The difference is that the leader is looked upon to change their leadership style in accordance with the change in situation. They include the change in the motivation of the leader as well as the capabilities of individuals who are followers. The leader may change their opinion about their followers, their situation, and their emotional and mental state of mind. All these factors contribute to the decisions that the leader make.

5.   Participative Theories

The inclusion of others in the decision making process of the leader is vital in participative leadership theories. Leaders would actively seek contribution and opinions from other people. This process engages people and makes them feel valued in the end decision that is made. Followers are therefore more committed to the process as they have been a key part of it. It needs to be said that the leader retains the right to give or empower their followers to participate.

6.   Behavioural Theories

With behavioural theories, the belief is that leaders are nurtured, not born. Mental characteristic are not the primary determinant, rather, leadership is learned through observation and teaching. As with other behaviours, it is believed that leadership also can be learned and developed.

7.   Tranformational Theories

The focus of transformational leadership theories is not only on the goals and performance of the group but also on ensuring that the individuals in the group reaches their fullest potential. The leader motivates and inspires his or her followers in the achievement of the task by making followers understand the significance and benefits. The relationship and connection between a leader and their follower is the main focus, as is high moral and ethical standards in the growth and development of the follower.

8.   Transactional Theories

This is the most common form of leadership observed in the workplace. Transactional theories is based upon a system of performance management of the individuals by leaders where success is rewarded and failure is reprimanded. The role of the leader oversees the expectations set on the individuals in a team and the team collectively.

With these eight theories, it highlights that there are many different ways one can lead. It is hard to expect that there would be any degree, course or workshop that a person can attend and expect to come out qualified as a leader. Therefore, the emphasis should be less so on creating leaders in a particular mould and more so on developing leaders who understand how they, individually and uniquely, can best lead.

A great starting point is to look at how you’ve led in the past, or more precisely, how you’ve demonstrated influence. Here are the 3 things to focus on:

  1. Identify a scenario or example where you’ve influenced the outcome.
  2. Who were the people you had to lead? Were they your team members, partners, boss etc?
  3. What were your thought processes, before, during and after.

Now if I were to ask you to retell the above scenario to me as if you were telling a story, how would the story go? As corny as it sounds, you may wish to start by thinking in terms of “Once Upon A Time, there was a…”

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