May 13, 2019

Theories of Leadership

Leadership - Strategic, capable and humble

They represent vision, task execution capability and concern for people. They also represent conceptual, technical and people skills.

Leaders and Managers require conceptual, technical and people skills. It is people skills which make a person initially leader. But to remain a leader in many activities of a group, the leader must have conceptual and technical skills. Otherwise only  in limited activities a person will have a leadership role.

The article describes various

Leadership theories briefly.

In leadership theory, three studies are considered as seminal and important. In Iowa leadership studies, authoritarian, democratic and laissez-faire leadership concepts were proposed and investigated for their effect on aggressive and apathetic behavior on the part of followers. Laissez-faire approach resulted in more aggressive behavior, authoritarian style resulted in more apathetic behavior and democratic style was in between the two.

In Ohio leadership studies, a questionairre was used  on air force commanders and members of bomber crews as well as other leaders and the responses were subjected to factor analysis. Two factors emerged out of the analysis and were given the names of consideration and initiating structure.  They became more popular as task orientation and people orientation.

In Michigan studies, 12 pairs of high-producing and low-producing sections of an insurance company were studied. The conclusion was that high-producing sections were supervised in a general rather than close supervisory style and supervisors were people centered. In the case of low-producing section, the supervision was more close and task oriented.

The presently identified theories of leadership have their genesis in these studies in identifying the determinants of leadership and effective leadership.

Theories of leadership are provided in two categories: Traditional and modern.

Traditional theories are: 1. Trail theory 2. Exchange theory 3. Contingency theory 4. Path goal theory.

Trait Theories of Leadership:

Trait theories identify traits or characteristics that help in leadership.

Leaders were more intelligent than the average of the group being led, but, interestingly, the leader is not the most intelligent of the group.

Emotion quotient (EQ) characteristics such as empathy, graciousness, optimism, and being able to read the nonverbal cues in social situation are associated with effective leaders. The leader should be able to assess himself as an able person (Self efficacy).

From trait theory, this approach moved towards skills theory.

From the trait theories, a list of skills categorized as technical, conceptual and human skills needed for effective management or leadership are specified. Yukl further identified that skills such as creativity, organizing ability, persuasiveness, diplomacy and tactfulness, knowledge of the task, and the ability to speak well contribute to leader success.

Competencies is another version of trait theory.

In the language of competencies, the following competencies were identified as having a relation to leadership effectiveness.

1. Drive, or the inner motivation to pursue goals (achievement motivation).

2. Leadership motivation - the use of socialized power to influence others to succeed.

3. Integrity, the idea includes truthfulness and the will to translate words into deeds.

4. Self-confidence exhibited through impression management

5. Leading others to feel confident.

6. Intelligence – ability to process information, analyze alternatives, and discover opportunities.

7. Knowledge of the business – ideas relevant to the business are initiated.

8. Emotional Intelligence: self-monitoring personality, ability to adapt to circumstances as needed.

_____________ _____________ 

 Exchange and Group Theories of Leadership

According to this group of theories, a leader provides more benefits/rewards than burdens/costs for followers.

In a group, members make contributions at a cost to themselves and receive benefits at a cost to the group or other members. Interaction continues because members find the social exchange mutually rewarding.

(If every member of the group has to get more reward than his personal cost, the group must have synergy. The individual contributions result in bigger output due to the synergy)

In this group of theories, some analyzed the relationship between leader and the followers as one consisting of dyads, leader and each follower.  One idea that emerged from this thinking  is that leader behavior changes with subordinate behavior. When subordinates are not performing very well, leaders tend to emphasize the task and initiate structure to improve the performance. With subordinates who are doing a good job, consideration to people becomes the dominant behavior.

Some scholars in this group, emphasize the role of subordinates and this means subordinates have to be trained to be good followers so that group comes out successful. Followers have to support the leader and make leader look good.

Another aspect of leadership brought out by this line of theory is that subordinates who are committed and who expend a lot of effort for the unit are rewarded with more of the leader’s potential resources than those who do not display these behaviors. “Thus over a time the leader develops an “in-group” and an “out-group” of subordinates and these two groups are treated in different ways. The in-group reports fewer difficulties in their relationship with the leader and the out-group people have more complaints and grievances.

In this line of thought is also the idea, perceived similarity between the leader and the subordinate leads to higher quality leader-subordinate relationship.

In another dimension of this theory, it is stated that leaders try to change the self concept of the subordinate to improve the performance of the subordinate. At the same time subordinates also shape leader’s self concept or self schema through their responses.

Contingency Theory of Leadership

Fred Fiedler, presented a rigorous version of contingency theory wherein situation plays a part in leadership process.

Fiedler described the favorableness of a situation using three dimensions.

1. The leader-member relationship – cordial or opposing

2. The degree of task structure at hand – structured or unstructured

3. Leader’s position power – Formal authority of the leader

Fiedler found that when situation is very favorable or unfavorable, authoritarian leadership style delivered better results. When the situation is moderately favorable or unfavorable, human oriented or democratic leadership delivered better results. As in majority of the case, the situation will be in the middle ground, democratic leadership style is the more popular and appropriate style. 

Fiedler also came out with cognitive resource theory (CRT) of leadership. According to CRT

1. More intelligent leaders develop better plans, decisions, and action strategies than less intelligent leaders.

2. Intelligence contributes more strongly to group performance if the leader is directive and the group members are motivated and supportive of the leader.

3. Interpersonal stress distracts the leader from the task and the leader’s intelligence will contribute more highly if the leader has relatively stress-free relationship with superiors and subordinates.

Path-Goal Leadership Theory

According to this theory leaders have to understand the goals of the followers and prescribe a path that promises the fulfillment of goals to the followers.

The theory asserts that leader behavior will be acceptable to followers to the extent that the followers see such behavior as either an immediate source of satisfaction or as instrumental to future satisfaction.

Leadership behavior will be motivational and increase the effort of the followers to the extent that (1) it makes satisfaction of follower needs contingent on effective performance of the tasks planned by the leader and (2) it complements the environment of subordinates by providing the coaching, guidance, support, and rewards which are necessary for effective performance and which may otherwise be lacking in subordinates or in their environment.

Leaders can exhibit the following types of behavior as they feel appropriate to a situation. Same person can exhibit all the behaviors as appropriate.

1. Directive leadership: Leader decides the path and directs the followers.

2. Supportive leadership: Leaders friendly.

3. Participative leadership: Leader asks for and uses suggestions of followers.

4. Achievement oriented leadership: Leader sets challenging goals and shows confidence that followers will attain those challenging goals.

The activities of leader can be explained in the following steps.

1. Recognizing and arousing followers’ needs for outcomes over which the leader has some control.

2. Increasing the personal payoffs to followers for task accomplishment. This could mean providing payoffs which the follower desires.

3. Making the path to those payoffs (goals - *path-goal theory) easier to travel by coaching and direction.

4. Helping followers clarify their expectations.

5. Reducing frustrating barriers.

6. Increasing opportunities for personal satisfaction contingent on effective performance.

Path goal theory focuses on two aspects, goals of the subordinates (needs) and the path that is to be traveled for achieving those goals. Leader has to contribute to both of them or either of them at any point in time to be the leader.

Modern Theories

Charismatic Leadership Theories

Robert House suggested that charismatic leaders are characterized by self confidence and confidence in subordinates, high expectations for subordinates, ideological vision, and the use of personal examples. Followers identify with leader and his mission, exhibit extreme loyalty to and confidence in the leader, emulate leader’s values and behavior, and derive self esteem from their relationship with the leader. The leaders foster attitudinal, behavioral and emotional changes in their followers. Charismatic leaders produce performance in followers beyond expectations.

Transformational Leadership Theory

Transactional leadership involves an exchange relationship and can be interpreted as guiding followers to produce according to their values, beliefs.

Transformational leaders shift the values, beliefs and even needs of their followers. Transformational leaders help their organization and followers deliver an output that is far better or higher than than the historical trend based estimated output.

Transformational leaders have the following characteristics

1. They identify themselves as change agents.

2. They are courageous.

3. They believe in people.

4. They are value driven

5. They are life long learners.

6. They have the ability to deal with complexity, ambiguity and uncertainty.
7. They are visionaries (have grand plans).

Authentic Leadership
Servant Leadership - An Explanation

Social Cognitive Approach to Leadership

The cognitive approach emphasizes understanding. A leader has to understand himself, his needs, and his behavior and also has to understand the environment that includes followers, their needs and behaviors. Leadership is coming out with plans and actions that are acceptable to followers and achieve the objectives of the group.

The steps in this approach can be described as:

1. The leader identifies the environmental variables that control his behavior.

2. The leader spares his time to work with the subordinate to discover the personalized set of environmental contingencies that regulate the subordinate’s behavior.

3. The leader and subordinate jointly attempt to discover ways in which they can manage their individual behavior to produce more mutually reinforcing and organizationally productive outcomes.

4. The leader enhances the efficacy of subordinates through setting up successful experiences (coaching), modeling, positive feedback, and persuasion, and psychological and physiological arousal. The increased efficacy leads to performance improvement. The success of the subordinates can in turn lead to leadership efficacy through the increased confidence in leader as well as appropriate subordinate behavior to reward his leader.

Video - Keith Blanchard on Leadership

___________ ___________ 

 Conclusions that Emerge from Synthesis of Theories

Leadership theories are not mutually exclusive. Each theory to an extent supplements or complements other theories. Leaders are better individuals in various traits compared to average followers. Leaders have to provide value to followers. Their effectiveness does not depend only on their traits and performance. The behavior of followers is also an important variable in determining the outcome of the organization. Hence group responsibility needs to be stressed to attain the outcomes or objectives of the group rather the role of leader alone. Leaders have to be coaches and they have to take interest in developing their subordinates' capabilities.

Reference and Source

Luthans, Fred, Organizational Behavior

New - Visionary Leadership

Vision in Peak Performing Organizations

Kiefer and Senge (1984) and Kiefer and Stroh (1984) describe visionary organizations as ones where all members are aligned around a powerful, unifying vision. Kiefer and Stroh (1984) assert that these organizations are capable of inspired performance and have attained the highest levels in both organizational performance and in human satisfaction (p. 171) . The organization operates with conviction that it can shape its own destiny (Kiefer and Senge, 1984, p. 70). This viewpoint is grounded in the interpretive paradigm described by Smircich (1983) and Weick (1979) which asserts it is possible to affect one's sense of reality through the meaning one assigns to events. Stroh (1984), Kiefer and Senge (1984), Kiefer (1983) et al. assert that it is possible to create whatever one wants and that people and organizations need not be bound by current circumstances or limited by outside forces. For example, perhaps an organization might define a new product line developed by a competing organization as an obstacle or a limiting factor. The peak performing organization would maintain its focus on its purpose or vision, not the obstacle, and might define the obstacle as a "challenge" or "test" or "step" in movement toward the vision. In other words, the peak performing organization would use the "obstacle" to its own advantage instead of fighting it or giving up, while another organization might limit itself in the face of the "obstacle."

Kiefer and Senge (1984) state that the unifying principle of these high performing organizations is that "individuals aligned around an appropriate vision can have an extraordinary influence in the world" (p. 70) . This principle forms the basis for a coherent organizational philosophy with five primary elements:

(1) a deep sense of vision or purposefulness,
(2) alignment around that vision,
( 3) empowering people
(4) structural integrity,
(5) the balance of reason and intuition

To be successful leaders must develop an aligned vision for the group, develop capabilities to complete the tasks and take care of effective and satisfaction generating human relations.

Visionary leadership model is

Vision - Task - Satisfaction Model of High Performance

More detailed article on Visionary Leadership

Bibliography on Leadership

Leadership Theories - Bibliography

Related Articles

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The concepts of Leadership and Management
Changing Leadership Style
Successful Leadership - Effective Leadership
Social and Emotional Intelligence for Effective Leadership

Introduction to Organizational Behavior - Online Book

May - Management Knowledge Revision - Cost and Management Accounting and Organizational Behavior

Leadership Themes

Authentic Leadership
Servant Leadership - An Explanation
Team Leadership
Leadership Roles - The Concept

Video - Lecture on Leadership
_____________ _____________

 Originally published on Knol theories-of-leadership
Knol Number 25
Updated 14 May 2019, 22 November 2018,   23.2.2012, 12 May 2011

Management Articles and Concepts Directory


  1. Becoming a leader and Doing something for the group as a leader are two different phases of leadership. I think leadership theory has to focus on both phases. I do study leadership theories. I would like to do in more detailed manner now.

  2. Shall we say service only is the first step for leadership. Somebody will listen to you when your words are service to him, your acts are service to him, your thoughts are service to him, your body language is service to him.
    See the blog post.

  3. Spend 90 minutes in devotion. I could mean think and plan before you communicate with your group.

  4. Good blogpost on teaching and leadership and evidence

  5. Swami Vivekananda: Leadership: The difficulty is not in organisation and making plans; the test, the real test, of the leader, lies in holding widely different people together along the line of their common sympathies. And this can only be done unconsciously, never by trying.

  6. My comment was not accepted. But a good post. A blog worth monitoring.
    Researching aspects of Deep Adaptation to Environmental Breakdown

  7. Optimism has to be combined with humility to accept failure when it happens. Humility is recognizing that I can’t be in control of everything. Optimism is the confidence that I can replan things based on the current situation and my capabilities. Trust must be there on in one's own capabilities and capabilities of others in the group. Thank you for the message. on the post

  8. Response to a post in Linkedin.
    Leadership - Strategic, capable and humble - They represent vision, task execution capability and concern for people. They also represent conceptual, technical and people skills.