And why does it help to know?
A wide range of scholars have developed and refined the various theories and concepts of leadership over the years. There is ongoing debate and discussion about their validity and applicability in different contexts.
Leadership is a complex and multifaceted concept, and there are many definitions and perspectives on what it entails. Here are some of the most commonly cited definitions:
1 Trait theory
Leadership is a set of inherent personality traits and characteristics that enable individuals to emerge naturally as leaders. This theory suggests that some people are simply born to be leaders.
This theory dates back to the early 20th century and was championed by psychologists such as Gordon Allport and Raymond Cattell.
2 Behavioural theory
focuses on the actions and behaviours of leaders, rather than their traits. It suggests effective leadership is learned and developed through observation and practice.
Behavioural theory emerged in the mid-20th century and was practiced by the likes of Kurt Lewin, Mary Parker Follett, and Douglas McGregor.
3 Situational theory
emphasizes the importance of adapting leadership style to fit specific situations. It suggests effective leaders can adjust their approach based on the needs of their followers and the demands of the situation.
This theory was first proposed by Hersey and Blanchard in the 1960s, and has been further developed by many other scholars since
4 Contingency theory
Similar to situational theory, contingency theory suggests effective leadership depends on the specific circumstances and context in which it occurs. It proposes there is no one-size-fits-all approach to leadership, and that the most effective leaders are those who can adapt to changing circumstances.
This theory was first proposed by Fred Fiedler in the 1960s, but has since been developed by researchers such as Victor Vroom and Phillip Yetton.
5 Transformational theory
emphasizes the importance of inspiring and motivating followers to achieve a shared vision or goal. It suggests effective leaders are those who can articulate a compelling vision, inspire followers to believe in it, and empower them to contribute to its realization.
First introduced by James MacGregor Burns in the 1970s, Transformational theory has been further developed by other scholars such as Bernard Bass, and Ken Blanchard.
6 Servant leadership
This approach focuses on the leader’s responsibility to serve the needs of their followers, rather than their own self-interest. It emphasizes empathy, compassion, and a willingness to put the needs of others before one’s own.
This concept was first introduced by Robert Greenleaf in the 1970s, and has since been further developed by other scholars such as Larry Spears and Ken Blanchard.
7 Authentic leadership
emphasizes the importance of honesty, transparency, and self-awareness in leadership. It suggests that effective leaders are those who are able to be true to themselves, admit their weaknesses, and act in accordance with their values and beliefs.
This concept was first introduced by Bill George in the early 2000s, and has since been further developed by other scholars such as Peter Northouse, Bruce Avolio, and Fred Luthans.
8 Laissez-faire leadership
is a hands-off leadership style in which the leader provides minimal guidance and direction to the team. The leader acts as a facilitator rather than a manager. This approach is effective when team members are highly skilled, motivated and self-directed, and require minimal supervision. However, in situations where the team lacks direction, structure or experience, this approach can lead to confusion, lack of accountability, and poor performance.
Laissez-faire leadership was first introduced by Max Weber, a German sociologist, in his book “Economy and Society” in 1922.
9 Transactional leadership is a results-based leadership style in which the leader sets clear goals and expectations, and rewards or punishes team members based on their performance. This approach emphasizes the importance of meeting goals and objectives, and focuses on the short-term results.
We often describe transactional leaders as autocratic, as they rely on their authority to enforce rules and standards. While this approach can be effective in achieving short-term goals, it may not be suitable for complex, long-term projects that require creativity, innovation, and collaboration.
The concept of transactional leadership was first introduced by James MacGregor Burns in his 1978 book “Leadership”. However, it was further developed by Bernard Bass in his 1985 book “Leadership and Performance Beyond Expectations”, where he proposed a more comprehensive model of transactional leadership.
10 Situational leadership
is a flexible leadership style that adapts to the needs of the team and the situation. The leader adjusts their approach based on the readiness, skills, and motivation of the team members. This approach emphasizes the importance of communication, collaboration, and empathy.
Situational leaders can be supportive and empowering, as they provide guidance, feedback, and resources to help the team achieve their goals. This approach is effective in situations where the team members have different levels of experience and skill, and require different levels of support and direction.
Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard introduced the concept of situational leadership in their 1982 book “Management of Organizational Behaviour: Utilizing Human Resources”. They developed the situational leadership theory (SLT), which is based on the premise that there is no single “best” leadership style and that the most effective leaders are those who forge their own style.
I would suggest effective leadership requires a combination of inherent traits, learned behaviours, and situational adaptability.
Whatever name you attach to it, successful leaders can sometimes happen to be in the right place at the right time while if they are supremely skilled can be Situational Leaders.
What Leadership skills do you have and which of the above would you be interested in hearing more about?