Theories to Understand the Basics of Leadership

MissionSelf Staff Sep 23, 2018
Leadership theories explain the concept and practices adopted to become a leader. Let us discuss some of these theories here.
"Leadership is ultimately about creating a way for people to contribute to making something extraordinary happen"―Alan Keith of Genentech
Leadership can be termed as the most relevant aspect of all organizational aspects, and its exact definition can depend upon the situation. Various leadership theories are produced by students taking into consideration the situation, behavior, power, charisma, intelligence, and function. Let us take a look at these theories and models.

Great Man Theory

One of the leadership theories that often figures in various leadership books, the Great Man theory states that there are two basic assumptions; that leaders are born and not made, and that great leaders will come up when there is a need.
This theory was developed from early research which included the study of great leaders. Early leaders came from the privileged class and held hereditary titles. Very few people from the lower class had the opportunity to lead. This theory was based on the idea that whenever there is a need of leadership, a Great Man would arise and solve the problems.
When the Great Man theory was proposed, most of the leaders were males and therefore, the gender issues were not negotiable. Even the researchers were male, which was the reason for the name of the theory being 'Great Man Theory'.

Trait Theory

The trait theories of leadership assumes that leaders have inherited traits in them which make these people suitable for leadership. Many say that leaders are people who can fully express themselves while others cannot, and this is what makes them different from other people. A leader has the right combination of traits which makes him a good leader.
When this theory was pronounced, it was based on the study of the characteristics of successful leaders. The researchers also made an assumption that if people found these leadership traits, they would also become leaders. While researching, certain traits and characteristics were listed.
John Gardner researched many leaders of North America and listed the attributes and characteristics of leaders.
These traits are as follows:
  • Intelligence and judgments based on actions
  • Physical stamina and a vital driving force
  • Task competency
  • Better understanding of the followers and their demands
  • Avidness to accept responsibilities
  • Ability to deal with people
  • Capability to motivate people
  • Trustworthy
  • Conclusiveness
  • Flexibility
These are some of the few qualities and attributes of a leadership. When this theory was researched earlier, researchers believed that a leader has all the listed traits in him/her. The meaning of this theory is that the same leadership attributes are applicable for leadership on a battlefield and leadership in a school.
If a person has some of these traits, then it is not possible for him to be a leader! Apart from this, there was again the problem of gender in a leadership. Even if you make an exhaustive list of leadership traits, these attributes are defined taking into consideration a male leader. This gave rise to the new leadership theory called the behavioral theory.

Behavioral Theory

After the trait theory, researchers started exploring the behavior of leaders, and made assumptions that traits and leadership qualities are not inherited, but can be learned and mastered by any person. Thus, this theory meant that leaders are not born, but can be made, and so it became a famous management leadership theory and practice.
In the behavioral theory, you need to assess a successful leader along with the actions of that particular leader. As a successful leader is assessed, a leader with failure is also assessed, therefore, a second aspect of this theory was built.
Apart from the leadership theories and styles which were pronounced earlier, the basic leadership ideas remained the same. While researching, patterns of behavior were found and according to these patterns, leadership styles were created. Here are the four styles of leadership based on the behavioral theory:
Concern for People
As the name suggests, this style of leadership reflects the characteristics of leaders who aimed at solving the problems of their followers and looking after their needs, development, and problems. The leader who has the concern of people as his priority will always strive for the betterment of his people or followers.
Concern of Task
The leader with the concern of task is more focused on his achievements and level of productivity. Also, the concern of task style reflects the ability to organize people and arrange activities, in order to meet the desired objectives and goals.
Directive Leadership
This leadership style includes the characteristics of leaders with the ability to be decisive and expect followers to act according to his decision.
Participative Leadership
Unlike directive leadership, in participative leadership, the leader and his followers take a decision by sharing the views and decisions together.

Situational Theory

One of the relatively lesser known theories is the situational leadership theory. Researchers found that leaders emerged as a result of different situations. Therefore, researchers assumed that leadership qualities were developed depending on the situation.
However, there are people who believe that there are different styles of leadership which changes the situation. There are three basic things in a situational leadership; the foremost thing is that the relationship between the followers and the leader must be healthy. The followers must like the leader and support him/her in his goals.
The second thing is that the task which is to be accomplished must be known, and the leader should set the goals as per the task to be done. Along with the tasks to be accomplished, the methods and standards to accomplish the task must also be specified in details, as this will make an impact on the followers.
The third thing that is important is that the organization must confer the responsibilities of the task upon the leader, as this will strengthen the position of the leader.

Transactional Theory

This leadership theory is dependent on that one thing is traded for the another. A transactional leader knows what he wants and ensures that his followers perform well for giving the expected output. When the expected output is accomplished by the people of the organization, the leader must exchange rewards and make future promises for the people's efforts.
Also, the leader must see to it that the immediate self-interests of the people are met with proper work done. This means that the needs of the people must be catered to by the leader along with the fact that his work is getting done.

Transformational Theory

In the transformational theory of leadership, the assumption is that people are inspired from the leader and the leader must have passion about his leadership. This is a great way of putting in enthusiasm and energy in the followers to get the work done. In short, the people are encouraged, and converted into potential followers.
This was all about the various theories of leadership. The style adopted by the leader must fit into the expectations of the followers, no matter what style or theory is utilized to do so.