About the Post

Author Information

Leadership Theory (final paper part 1 of 4)

Hello Chef Fan’s! This paper is the first part of my final paper that I am witting in parts for my Critical Issues in Leadership Class. In this part of the paper I explore the different theories behind leadership. Enjoy…

What is Leadership? Leadership has been described as “a process of social influence, in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task.”[1]  However what is not made clear by this description is what type of leader we are talking about. There are many different types of leaders for every faction of human life. There have been leaders of war or military companies, and there are also the leaders of modern business. Leadership is an idea that has been thought about for many years, with hundreds if not thousands of books written about just this one subject.  All of the books talk about different types of leaders and the practices they have used to be successful, but what these authors are really talking about is the theory behind their leadership.

When it comes to the theory behind leadership the question that has to be answered for ourselves is what ideas of leader are we going to be. This really comes down to knowing ourselves and the people we are going to be working with. In The Art of War one of the first things that you must do if you want to win is to know yourself and your enemy. Another way to look at this same situation however is from “The Prince” where it talks about having your people fear or love you. As it is clearly pointed out if your people fear you they will be more responsive to your demands but will hate you and this could breed rebellion. On the same hand if your people love you then they are more likely to be loyal and trusting, but it could be harder to get your requests fulfilled because they do not fear you. The real trick to being a leader is in knowing yourself and the people you have working for you.  Leadership was once about hard skills such as planning, finance and business analysis. When command and control ruled the corporate world, the leaders were heroic rationalists who moved people around like pawns and fought like stags. When they spoke, the company employees jumped. Now, if the gurus and experts are right, leadership is increasingly concerned with soft skills like; teamwork, communication and motivation. The trouble is that for many people, the soft skills remain the hardest to understand, let alone master. After all, hard skills have traditionally been the ones which enabled us to climb to the top of the corporate ladder. The entire career system in some organizations is based on using hard functional skills to progress, but when new executives reach the top of the organization, many different skills are required. Leaders may find that although they can do the financial analysis and the strategic planning, they are poor at communicating ideas to employees or colleagues, or have little insight into how to motivate people. This brings us back to the theories of leadership and the impacts they can have on our teams.

The theory behind leadership is wide and varied with no two people really coming to an agreement about which theory is the best. Early leadership theories focused on what qualities distinguished leaders, while subsequent theories looked at other variables such as situational factors and skill levels. “While many different leadership theories have emerged, most can be classified as one of eight major types:  “Great Man” Theories, Trait Theories, Contingency Theories, Situational Theories, Behavioral Theories, Participative Theories, Management Theories, and Relationship Theories.”[2]

“Great man theories assume that the capacity for leadership is inherent, that great leaders are born not made.”2 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. 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.”2 If particular traits are key features of leadership, then how do we explain people who possess those qualities but are not leaders? This question is one of the difficulties in using trait theories to explain leadership.

“Contingency theories of leadership focus on particular variables related to the environment that might determine which particular style of leadership is best suited for the situation.”2 According to this theory, no leadership style is best in all situations. Success depends upon a number of variables, including the leadership style, qualities of the followers and aspects of the situation. This leads us right into the next theory of leadership which could really be considered a branching out of Contingency Theory. Situational theories propose that leaders choose the best course of action based upon situational variables. One of the biggest variables that will be faced is working with the behavioral tendencies of your employees. “Behavioral theories of leadership are based upon the belief that great leaders are made, not born. Rooted in behaviorism, this leadership theory focuses on the actions of leaders not on mental qualities or internal states.”2 According to this theory, people can learn to become leaders through teaching and observation.

Participative leadership theories suggest that the ideal leadership style is one that takes the input of others into account. “These leaders encourage participation and contributions from group members and help group members feel more relevant and committed to the decision-making process.”[3] In participative theories, however, the leader retains the right to allow the input of others. This brings us to one of the most Machiavelli theory behind leadership which is Management theories. Management theories are also known as transactional theories that focus on the role of supervision, organization and group performance. “These theories base leadership on a system of rewards and punishments.”3 Managerial theories are often used in business; when employees are successful, they are rewarded; when they fail, they are reprimanded or punished. Lastly we come to one of the greatest theories of them all, and the one that will have the biggest impact of every type of leader. “The relationship theory or transformational theories focus upon the connections formed between leaders and followers. Transformational leaders motivate and inspire people by helping group members see the importance and higher good of the task.”3 These leaders are focused on the performance of group members, but also want each person to fulfill his or her potential. Leaders with this style often have high ethical and moral standards.

Understanding the theory is only half of the battle one faces when trying to understand and adapt a leadership style. The real idea is that as a leader you are probably going to use parts of all eight theories of leadership at some point or another. This is why there are so many theories in the first place. Since no two people can agree on which is the best to use and because there is not a one size fits all approach to leadership we have to look at the next part of the leadership puzzle.

The next piece of the leadership puzzle is looking at the contextual and cultural factors that are going to play a role in the type of leader we decide to be….

Since I am writing this paper in parts the last line is going to be the start of the next section stay tuned for more to come and I hope you all enjoy!


“All About Leadership.” All About Leadership. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Aug. 2012. <http://managementhelp.org/leadership/index.htm&gt;.

“Leadership.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 08 Mar. 2012. Web. 03 Aug. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leadership&gt;.

Wolinski, Steve. “Leadership Theories.” The Free Management Library. N.p., 21 Apr. 2010. Web. 03 Aug. 2012. <http://managementhelp.org/blogs/leadership/2010/04/21/leadership-theories/&gt;.


[1] Leadership wiki

[2] All About Leadership

[3] Leadership Theories

Tags: , , , , ,


  1. Leadership Thought #400 – 25 Ways Leaders Get Themselves In Trouble « Ed Robinson's Blog - August 23, 2012

    […] Leadership Theory (final paper part 1 of 4) (grantklover.wordpress.com) […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: