10 Critical Theories of Leadership – An Overview

Did you hear the name of Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Barak Obama, Ratan Tata, and many others? They keep coming to the newspaper, television, magazines, social media, and all the other places.

They are called leaders who channelized the energy of their company/ country into the fulfillment of specific objectives, vision, and goals. Leaders are not made in a day; they consistently improvise and try many philosophies and leadership theories for their success. This article intends to put forward various theories of leadership.

Theories of Leadership –

In the last few decades, there has been so much research and studies to understand various theories of leadership that made a mark in their field. The leadership theories keep evolving, but most scholars agree on these types of leadership theories.

1. Great Man Theory

  • Thomas Carlyle is regarded as the father of this theory where it is believed that leadership is an inherent quality and some people are born to become a leader.
  • It was proposed in the 1840s and stresses that leadership is more likely to be heroic than management skills.
  • The theory is highly criticized due to its approach centered on male supremacy. The proposer did not acknowledge the leadership of women back then. Now leaders like Angela Markel, Indira Nooyi, and others have changed their perspectives.
  • It also emphasizes that leadership cannot be learned that has become entirely null and void in current days. Many leaders get proper knowledge and use their experience to reach the top of the ladder in their field.
  • Negation of environmental and situational factors is another major drawback of this theory.

2. Charismatic Theory

  • The theory is based on the extraordinary, exceptional, or charismatic qualities of a leader. Such leaders have charm, and they lead their team by their key traits that are highly liked and loved by all.
  • Forecasting- Leaders use their skills and experience to foresee future possibilities and develop the vision to fulfill future goals. High expectations and dreams become the guiding force, and leaders do not get satisfied with their performance.
  • Empowerment- Leaders show confidence, energy, pro-activeness, enthusiasm, and other traits for empowering the team members for higher results.
  • Guidance- Support and guidance are two vital traits of a leader, and a good leader should always be ready to showcase that. This leader trusts development among followers as well as high focus and commitments towards goal achievement.

3. The Trait Theory

  • Ralph M. Stogdill brought forth this theory in the late 1940s. In this theory, it is stressed on some key personality traits and characteristics that are quintessentially a good quality of a leader.
  • As the name itself suggests, it stresses traits like physiological, social, economic, personality, intellectual, task-focused, and others.
  • We can say that this theory says people with some particular height, color, appearance, literacy level, gender, religion, and marital status become good leaders.
  • Some critics of this theory state this is a perceptional theory where one perceives things based on their understanding. Now it has become proven that leaders may come from any background.
  • Some traits are mandatory for becoming good leaders, but not all are mentioned in the trait theory. Decisiveness, dedication, business expertise, goodwill, creativity, adaptiveness, attentive drive, self-confidence, patience, honesty, and other traits help shape the future of a leader.
  • Environmental factors and the changing nature of traits are not given due importance in this theory. Besides that, getting an attribute is also possible through learning and training. So anyone can become a leader despite not having the leadership traits in him/her.

4. Behavioral Theory

Some scholars say this is the extension of the trait theory of leadership. It evolved in the 1950s, and behavior gets more significant than traits in this theory. Three major studies, Ohio State Leadership Studies, University of Michigan Studies, and Blake and Mouton’s Leadership Grid, are often quoted in the management books for reference for this theory of leadership.

The Ohio State University Studies

It found that a leader should be attentive towards their subordinates. That helps in inter-relationship building.

The study named another behavior- task-oriented behavior. The leaders, concerned more about goals, schedule, work structure, and other results, perceive their subordinates as resources. That behavior focuses on optimal resource utilization (employee & others) while ignoring the inter-personal relationship.

The University of Michigan Studies

The study found that effective and ineffective leaders can be distinguished based on their behavior. The study further concluded that support, work facilitation, interaction, and the importance of goals are good behaviors of effective leadership.

Blake and Mouton’s Leadership Grid –

Jane S. Mouton and Robert R. Blake categorized leaders into 81 and provided five different leadership styles.

  • Controlling: Staff well-being is important
  • Indifferent: Both, Work and employees are not an important
  • Task-Oriented: Good output is essential but not the employees
  • Status Quo: Moderate and equal importance to employees as well as work.
  • Sound: Work and employee both are very important.

5. Contingency Theory

As the name itself suggests, it focuses more on showcasing leadership qualities when there is a contingency or different situation. Here traits, behavior, and situation are the major factors that play a vital role. The theory is further subdivided into various models, such as.

Fred Fiedler Model

  • It is proposed by Dr. Fred E. Fiedler, who explained that pleasant and unpleasant leadership style added with work environment impacts the team performance.
  • He has created a matrix called the Least Preferred Co-worker (LPC) scale for the measurement of leadership quality. A leader’s trait, situational factor, and situation matches play a more critical role in LPC.
  • The leader uses their traits and performs better in favorable working conditions. Feeling of control and command motivates the leader for better work.
  • Fiedler also stated that situation favorableness plays a role in leaders becoming task-oriented or people-oriented. In short, A leader cannot become people-oriented when there is high pressure from the upper management to enhance productivity.

6. Situational Theory of Hersey Blanchard

  • Hersey-Blanchard stated that leadership largely depends on the maturity level of the subordinates. He classified the maturity level into four categories.
  • M1- Telling
  • M2- Selling
  • M3- Delegating
  • M4- Participating
  • A good leader makes use of telling, selling, delegating participating in dealing with various maturity levels.

To know more about this, we recommend reading a separate article on the situational theory of leadership.

7. Evans and House Path-Goal theory

  • Robert J. House and Martin Evans proposed this theory in the 1970s. The thesis asks the leader to either change the behavior of team members or be ready to change their behaviors to match the situation.
  • It guides leaders to remain flexible for better adjustment with the team members. Robber emphasized that a leader should have these four behaviors.
  • Supportive
  • Participative
  • Directive
  • Result oriented

8. Vroom-Yetton-Jago Model

  • It is also called the decision-making model as the proposer stated that the leadership style depends on the decision-making ability of the leader in different situations.
  • Team member’s contribution and activeness in the process of decision making plays a significant role so, and a leader should involve their team members in the process. The model further five leadership types which are as follows.
  • Autocratic (AI)
  • Autocratic (AII)
  • Consultative (CI)
  • Consultative (CII)
  • Collaborative (GII)

9. Transformational Theory

  • As the name itself suggests, the theory puts pressure on change or transformation of any sort. It does not necessarily require a change in the outcome; behavior, perception, and expectations are also desired.
  • The leader who possesses this theory tries to bring substantial change by directing their team members or followers to achieve the common goal.
  • Most famous political leaders like India’s prime minister, Shri Narendra Modi, President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, showcase this leadership quality. These leaders become charismatic and influential personalities by transformation through psychological, motivational, individual, inspirational, compelling, and more.
  • The leader brings a change in perception as well as mindset by applying the inherent and learned traits.
  • Team members feel a strong impact or influence of the leader that further generates positive energy for superior performance.
  • Encouragement takes a front seat rather than cohesiveness in the leadership. Leaders create a powerful impact in their surroundings.

10. Transactional Theory

  • This theory takes a practical look at leadership and emphasizes that the ultimate goal of any leader is to get outcomes and results. What is good in a leader when they cannot bring desired results for the company is the main summary of this theory.
  • A leader motivates the team members through a carrot and sticks policy.
  • Maintaining the co-ordinal relationship with the team members works for better performance and helps in meeting organizational goals.
  • In this changing and diverse work environment, experts stress becoming transactional leadership.

Final Words

From the above discussion of various leadership theories, we may conclude that we all have some or other leadership qualities. One does not need a degree from a business school to prove leadership. It requires learning, skill enhancement, experience, and eagerness to become a leader.

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