Theories of Leadership
Scholars tend to hold two mutually exclusive views about leadership and strategic management. One school of thought holds that leaders are born (Grint, 2000, Nietzsche, 1969) and that the qualities they embody are subconscious (Lowen, 1975), while the other posits that human beings need to work hard to develop these qualities before they can emerge as leaders (Henrikson, 2006; Kakabadse&Kakabadse, 1999; Kakabadse& Myers, 1996). Interest in leadership increased during the early part of the twentieth century. Early leadership theories focused on the qualities that distinguished between leaders and followers, while subsequent ones looked at other variables such as situational factors and skill levels.
‘Great Man’ Theories
The ‘great man’ theory (Carlyle, 2007; James, 1880) is interested in the personality traits which leaders intrinsically possess (Kakabadse and Kakabadse, 1999). This approach assumes that a “great man” naturally holds the essential skills which allow him to perform as a leader. By identifying these essential traits, others can emulate them through simulated versions of leadership (Lawler, 2005). When applying this approach, scholars analyse specific tasks or problems and provide leadership typologies for addressing them (Mullins, 2003; Hersey and Blanchard, 1993; Bass and Avolio, 1990). Many scholars have explored the behaviour of leaders, the impact of context or “situation” on leadership (Yukl, 2006), the function of leadership (Shamir, 1995), as well as “contingency” and dynamic processes (Baker, 2007; Fiedler, 1967). Both the behavioural perspectives as well as the economic model examine leadership as a role whose purpose is to assist an organization to adapt. That is how an individual practising leadership can help an organisation to effect adaptive change (Kotter, 1990; Heifetz, 1998; Nanus, 1995). Great man theories assume that the capacity for leadership is inherent – that great leaders are born and not made. These theories often portray great leaders as heroic, mythic and destined to rise to leadership when needed. The term ‘Great Man’ was used because, at the time, leadership was thought of primarily as a male quality, especially in terms of military leadership.
Trait leadership theories
According to Carlyle, effective leaders are those with the gift of divine inspiration and the right characteristics. Distinctive traits certainly arise in the profiles of effective leaders, and in the ways that followers believe they should be led. However, a reliable and definitive list of leadership ‘traits’ has yet to be established and agreed by researchers and thinkers on leadership, and there are no signs that this will happen soon. Traits can perhaps define effective leadership for a given situation, but if alone, they do not adequately explain what effective leadership is nor how it can be developed. A traits-based approach can certainly assist in identifying future leaders, and in the leadership development process. However, traits are just a part of the profile and behaviour of an effective leader. To understand and measure leadership more fully, we must broaden leadership criteria to include other factors beyond traits (Kotter J., 1990).
Behavioural ideals leadership theories
Blake and Mouton’s grid theory suggested ideal ‘team style’ behaviour are very reasonable in an ‘ideal world’. However, as James Scouller and others have noted, the model does not naturally or fully address two particularly important dimensions of leadership: the need to adapt behaviour/style/methods according to different situations, and the psychological make-up of the leader (Blakes and Mouton, 1978). The style of leadership adopted by a leader will among other factors determine the success or failure of strategy implementation. Leadership styles that encourage participation and open communication contribute positively in the successful implementation of corporate strategies. Those that discourage involvement and open communication hinder successful implementation of strategy.
Situational/Contingency Leadership Theories
This sub-group of leadership theories is based on an important assumption, that: there is not one single ideal approach to leading because circumstances vary. So, situational leadership theory says, effective leaders must change their behaviour according to the situation (Fielder, 1997). These particular ‘situational’ or ‘contingency’ models/theories offer a framework or guide for being flexible and adaptable when leading (Bass, 1985).
Fiedler’s contingency theory
Fred Fiedler’s contingency model was the third notable situational model of leadership to emerge. This model appeared first in Fiedler’s 1967 book, A Theory of Leadership Effectiveness. The essence of Fiedler’s theory is that a leader’s effectiveness depends on a combination of two forces: the leader’s leadership style, and ‘situational favourableness’. Fiedler called this combination (of leadership style and ‘situational favourableness) Situational Contingency (Fielder, 1997). It is commonly utilized in war situations by military generals who are constantly faced with dynamic situations in the war front to execute their war strategies. However, in the competitive business, the theory come to play in strategy execution given the ever changing external business environment.
Integrated psychological approach
The integrated psychological leadership approach is a relatively very recent development in thinking on effective leadership. The terminology ‘integrated psychological’ in relation to leadership was firmly established, if not originated, by leadership author, James Scouller. Scouller’s theory itself reveals the logical reasoning for the term. Scouller, J. (2011) says that his ‘Three Levels of Leadership’ model (featured in his 2011 book, The Three Levels of Leadership: How to Develop Your Leadership Presence, Know-how and Skill), aims to offer a practical view of leadership that helps individuals become more effective leaders. In addition, it enables leaders to apply three of the most talked-about leadership philosophies in the 21st century: ‘servant leadership’, ‘authentic leadership’ and ‘values-based leadership’. Moreover, it combines the strengths of earlier theories (traits, behavioural ideals, functional and situational/contingency), while addressing their possible weaknesses. Part of Scouller’s approach has been to examine and present the strengths and weaknesses of earlier models of leadership theory.
Also known as managerial leadership, it focuses on the role of supervision, organization and group performance. This theory of leadership was first described by sociologist Max Weber, and further explored by Bernard M. Bass in the early 1980s. In transactional leadership, rewards and punishments are contingent upon the performance of the followers. The leader views the relationship between managers and subordinates as an exchange – you give me something for something in return. When subordinates perform well, they receive some type of reward. When they perform poorly, they will be punished in some way. Rules, procedures and standards are essential in transactional leadership. Followers are not encouraged to be creative or to find new solutions to problems. Research has found that transactional leadership tends to be most effective in situations where problems are simple and clearly-defined. While transactional leadership can be effective in some situations, it is generally considered insufficient and may prevent both leaders and followers. To remain focused on the successful execution of a corporate strategy, a leader must put in place rules, procedures and standards that guide the organization systematically to achieve the desired objectives.
Bass (2002), expanded upon Burns original ideas to develop what is today referred to as Bass’ transformational leadership theory. According to Bass (2002), transformational leadership can be defined based on the impact that it has on followers. Transformational leaders, Bass suggested, garner trust, respect and admiration from their followers. Similar in some ways to ‘Great Man’ theories, trait theories assume that people inherit certain qualities and traits that make them better suited to leadership. Trait theories often identify particular personality or behavioral characteristics shared by leaders. If particular traits are key features of leadership, then how do we explain people who possess those qualities but are not leaders? This is one of the difficulties in using trait theories to explain leadership.
Cherry (2009) notes that Kurt Lewin model gives three basic leadership styles including:
. Authoritarian leadership, also known as autocratic leaders, provide clear expectations for what needs to be done, when it should be done, and how it should be done. There is also a clear division between the leader and the followers. Authoritarian leaders make decisions independently with little or no input from the rest of the group. Abuse of this style is usually viewed as controlling, bossy, and dictatorial. Authoritarian leadership is best applied to situations where there is little time for group decision-making or where the leader is the most knowledgeable.
1. Participative leadership (democratic) – is generally the most effective leadership style. Democratic leaders offer guidance to group members, but they also participate in the group and allow input from other members. Participative leaders encourage group members to participate, but retain the final say over the decision-making process. Group members feel engaged in the process and are more motivated and creative.
2. Delegative (also known as laissez-fair leadership). Delegative leaders offer little or no guidance to group members and leave decision-making to them. While this style can be effective in situations where group members are highly qualified in an area of expertise, it often leads to poorly defined roles and lack of motivation.
Dr. Kellen Kiambati holds a PhD in business administration with a focus on strategic management from JKUAT and an MBA from KEMU. She is a certified business associate (CBPA) and a member of the Institute of Human Resource Management of Kenya. She is also the author of business Research Methods and can be reached on email@example.com