More Theories of Leadership

Theories of Leadership  

There are a number of theories of leadership however a simple definition of leadership is that: leadership is the art of motivating a group of people to act towards achieving a common goal.

The art of influencing others to achieve their maximum performance, and to accomplish any task or objective


Notice the term “Art ”rather than science.

Put even more simply, the leader is the inspiration and director of the action. He or she is the person in the group that possesses the combination of personality and skills that makes others want to follow his or her direction and that is a key element of modern theories of leadership.

Leaders know that people will follow if they have clear direction. Therefore, when they develop the goal and strategic plans, they know these plans must be conveyed and understood thoroughly by the people who will execute the plan. The strategies must be clearly defined and easily understood for everyone to buy into them. True leaders also know that by defining every step of the mission and connecting it in a way that leaves no doubt about what's expected, is the only way to gain everyone's confidence. With these assets in place, the goal will be achieved.

Increasingly leadership is defined by those that choose to follow not by organisational position in the hierarchy .

In business, leadership is welded to performance. Effective leaders are those who increase their company’s' bottom line.

A couple of fundamental theories of leadership

The transactional leader (Burns, 1978) is given power to perform certain tasks and reward or punish for the team's performance. It gives the opportunity to the manager to lead the group and the group agrees to follow his lead to accomplish a predetermined goal in exchange for something else. Power is given to the leader to evaluate, correct and train subordinates when productivity is not up to the desired level and reward effectiveness when expected outcome is reached.

This is still the predominate model in current theories of leadership in my experience.

The transformational leader (Burns, 1978) motivates its team to be effective and efficient. Communication is the base for goal achievement focusing the group on the final desired outcome or goal attainment. This leader is highly visible and uses chain of command to get the job done. Transformational leaders focus on the big picture, needing to be surrounded by people who take care of the details. The leader is always looking for ideas that move the organization to reach the company's vision.

Doesn’t have to be wholesale enterprise wide transformation. A transformational leader can transform a team or work group. Taking change perspective modern transformation leaders are there to produce constructive or adaptive change.

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 This is about the classic tripod of leadership :


1.  Establishing direction

·      Long timeframes

·      Big picture

·      Calculated risks

2.  Aligning people

·      Integration of goals

·      Consensus-building

·      Commitment

3.  Motivating and inspiring

·      Empowers

·      Out-of-the-box

·      Energises


Kurt Lewin's Leadership styles

One of the more straightforward theories of leadership is attributed to Kurt Lewin He identified three different styles of leadership:

  • Autocratic
  • Participative
  • Laissez-Faire

Autocratic or Authoritarian Leaders

Under the autocratic leadership style, all decision-making powers are centralized in the leader, as with dictator leaders.

They do not entertain any suggestions or initiatives from subordinates. The autocratic management has been successful as it provides strong motivation to the manager. It permits quick decision-making, as only one person decides for the whole group and keeps each decision to himself until he feels it is needed to be shared with the rest of the group. This style is not uncommon but is highly situation dependant and is found in other theories of leadership like Situational Leadership.   

Participative or Democratic Leaders

The democratic leadership style favors decision-making by the group. The leader gives instruction only after consulting the group.

They can win the cooperation of their group and can motivate them effectively and positively. The decisions of the democratic leader are not unilateral as with the autocrat because they arise from consultation with the group members and participation by them. See Bass’s theory of leadership and the style consultative leadership.

Laissez-Faire or Free Rein Leaders

The phrase is French and literally means "let do", but, in a leadership context, can be roughly translated as "free rein".

A free rein leader does not lead, but leaves the group entirely to itself as shown; such a leader allows maximum freedom to subordinates, i.e., they are given a free hand in deciding their own policies and methods.

Different situations call for different leadership styles. In an emergency when there is little time to converge on an agreement and where a designated authority has significantly more experience or expertise than the rest of the team, an autocratic leadership style may be most effective; however, in a highly motivated and aligned team with a homogeneous level of expertise, a more democratic or laissez-faire style may be more effective. The style adopted should be the one that most effectively achieves the objectives of the group while balancing the interests of its individual members.

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Here is an attempt to distil most of the wisdom from several modern theories of leadership into nine leadership summary points


If you are to remember anything about leadership, remember the following:


1)     Practise good communication with your followers.  Good communication involves listening to what people have to say.  Use your active listening skills, making sure that you really have understood your follower.  Ask appropriate questions to help you understand and gather the information you need.


2)     Be flexible with your leadership style.  Inexperienced followers will need a more directive style than experienced followers.  Empower and trust experienced followers – give them some slack.  Involve more experienced followers in your decision making if it affects them.


3)     Build trust with your team Without trust there is no relationship and you have no means of exercising influence with your direct reports. Do as you say you will and act with integrity. Be human and authentic in your dealings with them.


4)     Set goals with your followers.  Give them a vision something to strive towards.  With inexperienced followers you may set the goals for them, with more experienced followers discuss the goals.  Make sure the goals you set are specific, challenging yet attainable.


5)     Communicate the expectations.  Let people know what is expected of them and check that they understand.


6)     Diagnose your follower’s development level for any particular task they have to perform.  Figure out what it is that they need from you as their leader - do they need direction or do they just need you to get out of the way and provide some support from the sidelines?


7)     Monitor your followers appropriately.  Inexperienced followers will require closer monitoring than more experienced followers.


8)     Give your followers feedback –based on their results.  Feedback can help people specifically with the tasks they are involved with and also make them feel valued.  Everyone likes to feel that what they are doing is worthwhile and valued.


9)     Keep your followers informed.  Give them the “big picture” - engage their hearts as well as their minds!


A Final word about theories of leadership…….


Buckingham and Coffman state (authors of the best selling book “First, Break All the Rules”, 1999) a great leader is one who says:



“You come to work with me and I’ll help you be as successful as possible: I’ll help you grow: I’ll help you make sure you’re in the right role; I’ll provide the relationship for you to understand and know yourself.  And I want you to be more successful than me.”




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