Seven Leadership Theories You Might Not Know Of

Mar 22 2023 | Observaciones

The way we think about work, our professional lives, and collaboration has changed, and continues to change, making leadership a flexible and developmental progress.

To put it simply, not every leader has the same style of leadership.

And it’s no doubt everyone has experienced this at some point.

But there are some main theories that have been identified, and can be used to understand different styles of leadership. These include:

  • The Great Man Theory

  • Trait Theory

  • Process Leadership Theory

  • Style & Behavioural Theory

  • Transformational Leadership

  • Transactional Leadership

  • Laissez Faire Theory

So, let’s delve a little deeper.

Types of Leadership Theories Explained

The Great Man Theory

Born, not made.

The great man theory suggests that some people are born with the necessary traits to be a leader, rather than individuals developing these. Those intrinsic traits include intelligence, sociability, confidence, and charisma, enabling them to assume positions of authority.

The theory suggests that certain people have a natural ability to lead, and those people naturally do so when the need arises.

Trait Theory

The Trait theory of personality is based on the idea that the personalities of leaders differ from ‘non-leaders’ through the strength of basic traits. Similar to the ‘Great Man’ theory, this concept rests on the idea of inborn, inherent traits – which means that an organization's success relies on its leaders possessing these traits.

The trait theory of leadership is established on characteristics of many leaders, both successful ones and unsuccessful ones, and research suggests that leadership effectiveness can be predicted using this model.

Process Leadership Theory

As a process theory, this concept is based on how an entity changes and develops. In this case, the entity is the leader.

The process leadership theory centers around the idea that leadership is a process to do with the relationship of the leader and the follower. That successful leadership relies on a relationship more than one person.

Being a process leader means putting your interests to the side and focusing on the good of the group, with the aim to motivate and empower everyone.

But can a leader be great if they can’t demand the respect and support of their followers? Even if they do possess the so-called ‘qualities’ of a leader? This is a key question for many, and the process leadership theory, as opposed to, for example, the ‘Great Man’ theory, suggests that the answer is no.

Instead, it suggests that what being a great leader is built on is how an individual can change and develop in order to lead a group well.

Style & Behavioral Theory

The Style theory, or more commonly known as the Behavioral theory, focuses on the actions, rather than the traits, of leaders. The theory is built on the idea that no single, particular style of leadership is effective in a given situation, but there are actions effective leaders take that improve leadership effectiveness.

These are task behaviors and relationship behaviors.

One example of a task behavior that would display leadership effectiveness is efficient delegation.

A relationship behavior that would be shown by an effective leader may be the encouragement of communication.

The Behavioral theory suggests that employing particular behaviors in a given situation is what makes a great leader.

Transformational Leadership

Picture this. You’re working in a group to come up with a solution to a problem you have been tasked to solve. One individual takes charge, identifying what the group’s goals are, what path you could take to achieve those goals, who could do what to affiliate this path. Ideas are then thrown around in the group, and you feel inspired and motivated to solve the problem. That individual might be described as a transformational leader.

Transformational leadership is a leadership theory based on inspiring positive change.

Some typical characteristics of a transformational leader include:

  • Active listening skills

  • Emotional intelligence

  • The ability to encourage others to collaborate and communicate.

  • Inspiring and self-aware

There are ways of acquiring these skills and characteristics, it’s not an innate theory of leadership. With a leadership coach, becoming a transformational leader can be easily achieved through growth and development.

Transactional Leadership

As the name suggests, the transactional leadership theory is based on the idea that effective leadership comes from utilising rewards and punishments in order to motivate a team.

This theory is based on the idea that a leader should be clear, and a chain of command should be transparent and known. Monitoring should be in place to ensure employees are hitting expectations and in order to get these expectations hit, reinforcements are made.

Although it sounds authoritarian, this leadership theory is often used in everyday business. If employees do well, they are commonly rewarded with bonuses, pay-rises, or awards. If employees underperform, they are more closely monitored, they do not receive rewards, and at times even fired. This is the very basic beginnings of a motivational system.

Laissez Faire Theory

‘Let it be’.

This theory suggests that the most effective leaders are those that have a ‘hands-off’ approach. They leave things to take their own course and frown upon micromanagement. These leaders are delegative and allow employees and team members to complete tasks in their own way.

This leadership style is often referred to as the most laid-back approach, and gives team members autonomy over workflows, strategy, and more.

It is used to instil a sense of self-motivation and build a self-sufficient workforce.

However, it can be criticised, as some suggest that this actually leads to ineffective leadership as employees become detached, demotivated, and unproductive when they perceive a leader as disengaged.

It’s safe to say that effective leadership can’t be defined by one specific type of leadership theory, especially in the current fast-paced, ever-changing, and unpredictable world. Other external factors play their part, and reacting to that or taking different approaches in different situations is likely going to lead to far more success for leaders.

However, leadership theories are important in understanding how different authorities do choose to lead. And understanding them may too shape the way you choose to lead.

In order to understand theories of leadership more, and how you can grow and develop the leadership skills within your organisation, EZRA’s expert coaches can help you navigate the approaches to leadership, help you set and manage goals in developing leadership skills, and help your organisation thrive under good, effective leaders – all with your own work environment, style, and goals in mind.

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