An overview of important leadership theories.

By Published On: May 3rd, 2020Categories: Leadership
An overview of important leadership theories.

Leadership is the core of guiding towards success. It is the foundation stone of a society which determine the struggle and existence. Without proper leaders, success becomes a far cry. It is evident from the smallest unit to the biggest nation. Leaders are creating history; they will still stand until history has been vanishing from our textbooks. Leadership is an inevitable mechanism which needs your organization or unit to develop. It is the ability of an individual to guide the people towards the desired direction or influence the general public, or the team members with unique qualities. It involves articulating a clear vision, decision-making, problem-solving, creating achievable goals and providing followers with the knowledge and tools necessary to attain those goals. The truth is that there is no “mystic combination” of character peculiarities that makes a leader successful, a leader should be an ‘opportunist’ and different characteristic matter in a different situation.

What exactly makes a great leader? Do certain personality traits make people better suited to leadership roles, or do characteristics of the situation make it more likely that certain people will take charge?

For several decades, leadership theories have been the cornerstone of numerous discussions and studies. Some experts are argued that leadership qualities are inborn, which is god’s gift while others are pointed out that leadership qualities are acquired from the circumstances, society makes a leader. In practice as well as in reality, many theoreticians and social psychologists have tried to define what allows real leaders to stand apart from the mass! Hence, many theories on leadership have been tried to uncover the truth behind leadership on different perspectives, and ultimately published their leadership theories. Philosophers, researchers, professors of different domains are still interested in the area.

Here, I would like to post a summary of important leadership theories. These theories are commonly categorized by which aspect is believed to delineate the leaders the most. It seeks to explain how and why certain people become leaders. Such models frequently focus on the individualities of leaders, but some try to classify the behaviors that people can adopt to increase their own leadership skills in different circumstances. Early leadership theories focused on what potentials make difference between leaders and followers, while some theories looked at other parameters such as situational factors and ability levels. The most well-known theories are: Great Man theory, Trait theory, Behavioral Theories, Contingency Theories, and Transactional Theories.

1. “Great Man” Theory

This theory focused on “born to lead”. It is evolved around the mid of 19th century. This theory assumes that the traits of leadership are inborn. In this approach, good leaders are simply born with the essential internal individualities such as, confidence, influencing capacity, charisma, intelligence, and social skills that make them natural-born leaders. This theory says great leaders born to leaders by birth. They will show their potential qualities when they confronting certain situations, they can’t subdue their innate qualities. This theory was popularized by Thomas Carlyle, and philosopher and teacher. This theory suggests that there is no need to acquire leadership qualities because one can’t be a leader without inborn skills and talents. It has several criticisms; Herbert Spencer refuted the great man theory by questioning that Heroes are simply the product of their circumstances and their actions are based on social learning.

2. Trait theory

In some way, trait theory is identical with Great Man theory; it believes that people inherit certain qualities and traits that make them better suited to leadership. However, it assumes that people are either born or are made with certain qualities that create them excel in leadership roles. It emphasizes the role of particular traits that drives a leader towards the top of the “people pyramid”. Trait theories often identify a specific character or a personality shared by leaders. For instance, traits like self-confidence, courage, extroversion are all traits that could potentially be connected to great leaders. The trait theory focused on studying physical, mental, and social characteristic in order to increase more knowledge of what is the characteristic or the mixture of traits that are common among leaders. Gordon Allport is the prominent figure among psychologists, who studied the different personality traits that would be dominant in a particular character.

Trait theory helps us find out traits and skills such as empathy, integrity, assertiveness, problem-solving skills, that are helpful when leading others. Though these traits have no specific combination, we can’t identify these combinations that lead to success. There are plenty of people who own the personality traits linked with leadership, yet many of these people never seek out positions of leadership.

3. Behavioural theories

This theoretical perspective is based upon the belief that great leaders are made, not born. It is against great man theory, where they assume leaders are born. Behavior theories emphasize on how leaders behave. If a man acting upon the suggestions of a royal or socially committed group, he may become a great leader because he is learning the good qualities and responsibilities of the same group. So, leadership is a learned behaviour, a man is acquiring leadership qualities from his/her group or community. With response to the trait le theory of leadership, the behavioral theories are offering a new viewpoint, one that focuses on the behaviors of the leaders as opposed to their mental, physical or social characteristic

With this standpoint, people can learn to become leaders through training and observation. It focuses on training and learning. If you pick a man from a group and give proper leadership training to that man, he can acquire leadership qualities and become a great leader.

4. Contingency theory

Contingency theories of leadership argue that there is no single way of leading and that every leadership style should be based on certain situations that might determine which particular style of leadership is best suited for the context or situation. The core is that there is no one right type of leader lead to that the best leadership style depends on the situation. These theories try to forecast which style is best in which situations. For instance, when you need the complete support of your subordinates, what type of approaches you have to adopt? When do you need to make quick decisions, which style is best? Should a leader be more flexible and inclined to people-oriented? Contingency leadership theory is trying to give answers to these questions. To a certain extent, it is an extension of trait theory, in the sense that human traits are connected with situations in which the leaders exercise their leadership. Great leaders are able to measure the needs of their followers, take stock of the situation, and then modify their behaviors accordingly.

5. Transactional leadership theories

Transactional leadership involves inspiring and guiding followers primarily through appealing to their own self-interest. The leader is certain of in motivating through a system of rewards and punishment. This theory state that process by which a person interacts with others and is able to create a constant relationship that results in a high percentage of trust, that will make a solid motivational aspect between leaders and followers. When a man gets rewards, he will obey the instructions of the authority; therefore, transactional leadership focuses on designing tasks and reward structure.

Apart from these basic theories, there are other leadership theories;

• Transformational leadership theory

This theory believes that people are motivated by the task that must be performed. If an organization has a well-structured hierarchy, the greater the success. Transformational leaders show trust, integrity, and they know how to develop a robust and motivating vision of the future. They give more empathize on collective action and long-range goals that will inspire the entire team or the organization itself.

Note: Transformation leadership is the most powerful style to use in the most business situation. But it is not suitable in war-times, where the quick decision needs without consensus.

• Participative leadership theories

This theory assumes leadership style is more effective when you offer participative opportunities to the common folk in the decision-making process. So this theory also knows as democratic leadership theory. It’s more useful in the field of group therapy, social work, arbitrating and co-operative institutions. However, the leader holds the right to permit the input of others.

• Situational theories

According to this framework, leadership is based on situational variables. It is originated from contingency leadership theory, so it resembles the contingency model. Here the leader’s action plan varies according to the situation. The style may vary to the authoritarian to democratic.


Over time, so many leadership theories have emerged. However, all leadership models fall into four major categories.

• Trait theories
• Behavioral theories
• Contingency theories
• Transactional theories

Society is transforming into more and more self-oriented, therefore, the application of transactional leadership theory is fit for business and organizational settings because it focusing on individual rewards and gains.

Leadership is a highly multi-faced subject and it is a combination of many factors. We can’t assess why some people have the magical power to lead followers whereas, why others from the same environment haven’t shown such character traits. If we can’t identify the facts behind leadership, we will embrace the Great man theory.

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