Topic 2 Leadership Theories

The leadership has evolved from Trait theories to Transformational leadership.

Thus, the early focus was upon the characteristics and behaviours of successful leaders, and later – on the role of the contextual nature of leadership. Each leadership theory comes with personal characteristics of the successful leader and the best environment they should be applied for the best results.

Despite the theories, people are different and may engage more and operate better under different leaders and leadership styles. Some may find that having clear instructions and expectations, certain rules, and behavior (Authoritarian Leadership Style), is better for them and stimulates all their energy to perform the best. Others, on the other hand, may find this restricting and may need more freedom and creativity in their work (Democratic Leadership), to perform better and to achieve the goals. There are people that would prefer the leader to be a part of the process of finding solution and execution, to help and support them, to discuss and participate (Participative Leadership).

To be a good leader of your own and others demands more than knowing the leadership theories and styles. It needs to know more about yourself, more about people in general (biology and psychology) and more about business and life. It sounds complicated but we can start from the very first thing we have in hand – ourselves.

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2.1 Great Man Theories and Trait Theories

According to these points of view, great leaders are born with the necessary internal characteristics such as charisma, confidence, intelligence, and social skills, or some traits like extroversion, self-confidence, and courage that make them natural-born leaders.

Such theories suggest that people cannot really learn how to become strong leaders. It’s either something you are born with or born without. It is very much a nature (as opposed to nurture) approach to explaining leadership.

Question: What traits of yours you recognize in these theories?

2.2 Contingency and Situational Leadership Theories

These theories focus on variables related to the environment that might determine which leadership style is best for a situation, because they may vary a lot. Here it is not just about the qualities of the leader, but the right balance between behaviours, needs, and context. These theories offer to leaders to choose the best course of action based upon situational variables. The right style of leadership depends greatly on the maturity level (i.e., the level of knowledge and competence) of the individuals or group:

  • Low maturity of people requires a leader that tells people what and how to do;
  • Medium maturity requires the leader to inspire (to sell the idea) and to involve people;
  • Medium maturity requires a leader that encourage people to take an active role in coming up with ideas and making decisions;
  • High maturity requires more delegating leadership style and so-called hands-off approach.

Question: Remember situations in which you were in some of the described situations above? What were the circumstances?

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2.3 Behavioural Theories

Unlike the first two groups of theories, behavioural theories of leadership are based upon the belief that great leaders are made (people can learn to become leaders through teaching and observation), not born.

The leadership theory focuses on the actions of leaders, not on mental or personal qualities, or internal states. In this case the leadership is a skill, that can be practiced and develop.

2.4 Participative Theories

These theories suggest that the best leadership style involves the others by encouraging participation, contribution, and commitment to the decision-making process from the group members. As you have read above, it requires certain level of maturity – both leader and the others. Despite the natural preference to one or another leadership style, the participative approach could be used on purpose in most of the situations in life. You can build relationship and strong connections with people around, showing them respect and encourage them to grow by sharing. This approach is also a powerful source of learning for everybody, including the leader.

Question: Can you remember a situation when you were asked to share your opinion and give suggestions to a problem/situation? How did you feel back then?

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2.5. Management / Transactional Theories

This approach emphasizes the importance of the relationship between leader and followers, focusing on the mutual benefits derived from a form of contract through which the leader delivers such things as rewards or recognition in return for the commitment or loyalty of the followers.

In these theories you discover new elements like supervision, organization, group performance, contract, benefits.

Here we have a manager and team members. No matter the leadership skills and potential of the leader, the team still could perform on high level, depending on the maturity and professionalism of everybody. Hopefully the organizations develop leadership skills of their employees.

2.6. Relationship / Transformational Theories

These theories focus upon the connections between leaders and the people. Here, finally, we find leaders that motivate and inspire people by helping them to see the importance and the higher good of their efforts. And by helping them to develop their own potential. Leaders with this style often have high ethical and moral standards.

Question: So, at the end you see that leadership is a complex mixture of many environmental factors, personal treats, sometimes chance, that help determine why some people become great or better leaders than others. Learning more about the subject is a way of improving and developing your own skills and potential to be a leader of your life.

Are you curious?

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