Organizational Leadership. Theories of Leadership

Subject: Leadership Styles
Pages: 10
Words: 3220
Reading time:
12 min
Study level: PhD


Leadership can be defined as a process of social influence through which a person gets people to do what they would not have otherwise done. Leadership is therefore a mechanism through which people are governed. In the organizational context, leadership remains relevant because it integrates and maximizes the available resources in the organization. This paper seeks to analyze the various leadership theories which have emerged in support of the various leadership styles.

Theories of Leadership

Theory attempts to explain or support the natural occurrence through the use of empirical sciences. It may also use the philosophical, mathematical and logistical techniques to support the argument. There are various leadership theories that are mostly used in the leading scholarly works.

The trait theory

The theory assumes that leaders are born but not developed. The theory argues that for one to be an effective leader there are some key leadership traits that ought to be inborn. It emphasizes that although one can acquire competence through practice and intelligence through education, it is hard to acquire honesty and forward-looking traits. The theory therefore acknowledges that those leaders who do not possess inborn leadership traits eventually fail in one way or another. The trait theory believes that leaders are driven by some extraordinary powers in their pursuit of excellence. Traits are believed to be genetically acquired since they are based on genetics and other environmental factors. The inherited genes are therefore assumed to influence most of the personality traits within a leader (Lussier & Achua, 2009, p.33).

The people in possession of leadership traits are also termed as charismatic leaders. Such leaders usually have the ability to influence their followers as they fully dedicate their lives and time to the task before them. This type of leader can therefore uplift the organizational standards since they can easily motivate their followers towards attaining their set targets (Daft, 2007, p.360). In most cases, these leaders can easily and effectively convince masses, thus influencing their way of thinking. These leaders are also easily accepted by the communities since the society believes in them. Finally, there are the ideas leaders who do not necessarily possess the high positions in the organization. This group of leaders has excellent creativity skills which can assist the organization to increase its productions even more and these leaders are best known for problem-solving process since they possess the arbitration quality. In addition, they have the ability to analyze events and use current trends to anticipate future changes in the organization (Northouse & Northouse, 2009, p.17). The ideas leaders usually recognize the organizational opportunities and potential problems through their inductive and deductive power of reasoning. The leaders are therefore crucial in the organization’s decision-making process. Besides the fact that the trait theory recognizes the driving force which guides and controls the leaders, more emphasis is laid on the management.

Among the key traits that the organization’s management expects in the leader include self-confidence, ability to conceptualize ideas and use diagnostic measures in the prevention of organizational problems. In addition, the leaders should be efficiency-oriented and proactive in order to assure good management during their era. The theory also seeks to address some of the greatness that accrues to the actual leaders or the born leaders (Kliem, 2004, p.44). As a leader, it is vital also to possess good oral presentation skills as it guarantees perfect representation which adds to the organization or company’s reputation. Moreover, a thorough use of socialized power in the management of the organizational groups within the company enables the leader to gather critical information from the staff There have been a lot of criticisms in the trait theory as scholars object to the notion that leaders are born. The critics argue that it is very difficult to get the relative importance of the traits and as a result of these limitations, leadership measure varies between different people (Northouse & Northouse, 2009, p.26). It is also argued that the trait theory discourages interactions and their effects on leadership. However, interactions have a major impact on leadership as many leaders always learn through others’ experiences. Cultural factors also continue to raise issues in the trait theory argument mainly because different communities and regions have different perceptions towards leadership. The cultural difference therefore limits the universalism of the trait theory.

The behavioral theory

The proponents of this school of thought are on the view that successful leaders are made and not born, i.e. they can learn leadership skills just like any other art. In this theory, a proper analysis of the different patterns of leadership is used to check on their efficiency. Indeed, the theory therefore concentrates on the actual performances other than the qualities. The theory has enormously won the support of many managers in the current operations as it upholds the functional reality. According to the theory, the social efficiency in people is mainly a result of continued social learning. Such can also be acquired through direct or indirect personal experiences (Kliem, 2004, p.126). The theory appreciates the fact that leadership styles can be improved through learning and observation methods. Everyone who aspires to become a leader can do so through learning as opposed to what the trait theory indicated. The behavioral school argues that if it is possible to define success in terms of actions, then it should be relatively easy to make people follow similar actions. It is therefore practical to teach leadership behaviors in an attempt of improving the quality and capabilities within a person (Fairholm & Fairholm, 2008, p.52).

The theory indicates that it is possible to statistically correlate some behaviors with success and by so doing; one can identify the behaviors which contribute to failure and often avoid them.

The main purpose of the behavioral theory is that it gives chance to those who would not have otherwise had to become leaders. As a matter of fact, the theory opens leadership positions to any determined and focused individual.

The contingency theory

The contingency theory is also referred to as the situational theory? The theory assumes that different situations result in different actions. According to the theory, there is no any optimal leader in the world, i.e. all that a leader does in the organization wholly depends on the characteristics of the situation he or she operates in (Northouse & Northouse, 2009, p.89). The success of any particular leader is therefore determined by the climate under which he or she is exercising his authority. The theory argues that the environmental conditions usually dictate the behavior of leaders (Fairholm & Fairholm, 2008, p.11).

In most cases the organizational behavior dictates the leadership style to be used in governing the operations. There are those behaviors that encourage a participatory form of leadership while others support dictatorial leadership. Therefore, the organizational environment is one of the main determinants of leadership techniques to use to govern the followers. Complete ignorance of it can cause a lot of rebellions from the follower (Griffin & Moorhead, 2009, p.5). In order to support their argument, the situational theorists analyzed the authoritarian, democratic and the laissez-faire leadership styles, and in their analysis they noted that the authoritative type of leadership usually works in the crisis period but eventually fails in the day-to-day management of the organization. For instance those managers and supervisors who have a one-on-one contact with the employees can easily lead them towards achieving a specific organizational objective (DuBrin, 2009, p.133&134). The democratic leadership on the other hand adequately wins the support of many as it requires the creation of consensus in many organizational decisions. However, laissez-faire leadership is the most appreciated form of leadership as it increases the staff’s degree of freedom in the workstation (Martin, 2006, p.44). The various models of contingent theory used in the recent years are discussed in the following section.

Fiedler Contingency model: The model indicates that outcomes of the group performance are mostly determined by the leader’s psychological orientation in the group. The group atmosphere enables the leader to manage the team well without attracting rebellion from his or her colleagues. The leader’s power position and the task structure acts as a guide to the group. According to this model, the performance of the group is mainly dictated by the integration of two factors, i.e. the leadership style and the situational favorableness (Priest & Gass, 2005, p.246). Moreover, the model indicates that the leadership effectiveness is determined by the interaction between leadership styles and the environment through which the leaders work. Nevertheless, it is considered that a low influence of a leader on his or her followers certainly results in uncertainties and anxiety in the workstation. This is because the environment might prevent the attainment of the objectives (Grint, 1997, p.132).

Path-goal theory: The theory argues that in order to ensure leadership efficiency, close coordination should be encouraged in the workplace. Leaders should therefore engage in behaviors that complement the subordinates. By so doing, the subordinates will feel motivated and satisfied thus increasing their output. The theory also identifies the key behaviors which lead to successful leadership in the organization. The participative, supportive, directive and achievement-oriented behaviors are some of the key behaviors in the path-goal theory (Fairholm & Fairholm, 2008, p.11). The leader can therefore adopt any of the four behaviors depending on the environment of work

Heresy-Blanchard situational theory: The theory acknowledges the leadership development levels in the organization. The development is based on the willingness of the follower the perform a task. The theory therefore advocates close relationship between the leader and the follower. As a leader, it is quite important to ensure followers’ participation in the task since it increases the productivity level. Delegations and observations should also be encouraged among the leaders as it assists them to develop their talents and skills (Landy & Conte, 2006, p.510).

The Vroom-Yetton decision model: The advocates of this model, also known as the normative decision theory, argue that the effectiveness in the decision-making process depends on the various situations to which the leader is subjected to. This entails among others, the quality and acceptance of the decision by the interested parties, how well is the connection between the leaders and the subordinates in terms of information flow, the level of decentralization of decision making and the likelihood of the decision acceptance and lastly, the magnitude of conflicts in decision making. Vroom also advocated on follower’s motivation as it can greatly influence his or her performance at work environment (Miner, 2007, p.73).

The transformational theory

The theory argues that effective leadership can be attained through subordinate’s inspirations. The school believes that subordinate’s talents can be gradually developed to that of the organizational leader. The theory encourages exchange of knowledge and skills between the leaders and the followers. The transformational leaders usually offer moral rewards to their followers while the transactional leaders offer tangible rewards. Among the basic concepts that the transformational theory uses include, first, the individualized consideration, where the leader act as a mentor or coach to the followers. He therefore supports and encourages his followers in order to ensure personal development. The approach assumes that the follower or the junior tends to get most skills and experiences from the senior leader also known as the mentor. The trend is similar to the parent-child relationship, where the child learns from the parent’s actions and behaviors (Bass & Riggio, 2006, p.112).

The intellectual stimulation is the second transformational theory concept that is mainly used by the leaders. The concept determines the extent to which the leader challenges the assumptions and the ideas of his followers. By so doing, the leader therefore encourages creativity amongst his followers and also nurtures and gradually develops the abilities and talents of his followers. For such leaders, the followers are always opportunities to learn more.

Third, the inspirational motivation concept involves playing the role model function or portraying an appealing impression that tends to win over the interest and aspiration of the followers. Such leaders always challenge the followers with high abilities and emphasize an optimal output on the task at hand. For the follower to succeed in the task a strong sense of purpose and energy is required at all times (Northouse & Northouse, 2009, p.180)

The fourth and the final concept that is commonly used by the transformational leaders are the idealized influence. The concept provides the sense of mission and vision in the followers’ minds. In addition, it instills pride and trust of the followers in the organizational operations.

The transformational theory is therefore intended to establish new leaders from the existing company or organizational workers. In this model of leadership, the leaders allow the followers’ personal growth and development, and it is one of the best leadership styles as it guarantees hierarchy rise for those in the lower levels of the organization.

How the theories information contributes and strengthens the field of organizational leadership in the 21st century

It is evident that throughout the 20th century to date, subordinates and other professional workers still require coercion, manipulation and control in order to function efficiently. In order to appreciate the above, open systems and the theory of the new science have emerged. The theory emerged in order to counter the loopholes generated by the older theories. According to the newly developed theory, the top-bottom bureaucratic administration has greatly failed in its search for work efficiency. The theory also acknowledges the fact that humans and organizations are flexible from time to time. Since the world has been characterized by a lot of industrial revolutions more advanced leadership styles ought to be developed. The new theories nevertheless base some of their arguments from the old theories but have more accommodative processes (Rost, 1993, p.182). Administration changes are therefore inevitable so long as the human leaders continue to control and guide the organizational operations. Despite the management changes which have been observed in the organizational leadership, some local school systems and districts are still lagging behind as far as reforms are concerned. A situational leader therefore ought to be created in order to deal with the prevailing downfalls in the various schools. The areas which have adopted stricter leadership and supervisory techniques have greatly improved the performance level of their districts.

The critical theory which has recently emerged in the 21st century requires the top management to undertake the decision-making process. The trend has been practiced by most organizations in the current times since the team controls the information. Although the decision-making process is done by the top management, there is a proper communication channel laid down to ensure acceptance. In case the organization needs a change, these communication channels are used to explain the importance of accruing from it. Charismatic leaders in the contemporary organizations have continued to come up with viable and very effective decisions which have made their companies perform better (Hiebert & Klatt, 2001, p.142).

The critical theory therefore opposes the empowerment of the employees in the organization’s key decision-making process. Consequently, the theory indicates that the administrators lack the trust in employees. The move therefore ends up leaving the bureaucracy to run the profession. To some extent such system works in the best interests of the public as freedom to the workers may result in laxity and poor services (Rettig, 2004, p.4&5).

It is true that the trait theory still dominates even in the 21st century as many organizations seek some personality traits while recruiting their leaders. Most of the current organizations seek to focus exclusively on the leaders and not the followers or the situations during their recruitment process. The main reason why the organization goes for the personality trait is the belief that such leaders will effectively manage their resources, thus maximizing productivity. Such charismatic leaders have proved to be efficient in the current organizational leadership.

When it comes to the recruitment of expertise body of the organization, the traits and skills used have been adopted from the trait theory and the behavioral theory. The 21st century has therefore integrated the two theories in order to come up with more effective leaders. According to the current organizations, expertise is a result of knowledge, skills and talent. Some specific conditions also go hand in hand with the expertise and such conditions include; cognitive skills, decisions strategies, knowledge and task characteristics. The conditions therefore work together in order to develop resourceful and effective leaders in the current organizations (Wallace, Sweatt & Acker-Hocevar, 1999, p.26). It is also important to acknowledge that a leader gains expertise through education and training processes. In addition, such leaders ought to have self-enhancement attributes in order to ensure efficiency. Such attributes include drive, ambition, ability to improve and judge, self-confidence and charisma (Germain, 2008, p.2)

The great man theory, also known as the trait theory, together with the transformational theory has been used by the political leaders in the 21st century. It is true that Roosevelt and Hitler were great leaders and similarly the two used different transformational approaches in their leadership. For instance, Roosevelt based his leadership on human rights, democracy and social justice while Hitler based his on dictatorial, social injustices and social discrimination. Even in the 21st century, politicians are using the same great man theory and transformational theory to further their political agendas (Christie & Lingard, 2001, p.6&7). Democracy, respect for human rights, social justice and equality have been among the key transformational factors that guide the current political leaders. The move has Marjory come as a result of the people’s awareness of their rights and power in controlling their respective governments. The followers have also designed a rejection mechanism upon which they oppose a specific leadership. This move arises if the subjects suspect that their leader just uses them in achieving his or her selfish goals. Among the major importance of the theory in the current educational leadership is that it provides perfect framework and guidelines in the decision-making process (Bush, 2003, p.23).

Some political leaders still follow the old theories such as the contingency and transformational theories to furnish their selfish dictatorial and cruel regimes. Many political leaders have continuously used the environmental advantage to exploit the poor citizens in their nation. Cruel, harsh and unjust means have been exercised by such leaders in attempt to frustrate and shut the oppositions and human rights activists in such nations (Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation, 2003, p.26)


Leadership theories have continued to emerge even in the 21st century. All the developments and changes aim to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of leadership. However, it is also evident that old theories’ information still continues to be used even in the 21st century. It is therefore good to acknowledge the various schools of thought which came up with the original leadership theories. Nevertheless, most of the organizations in the 21st century have opted to integrate the various theories in their search for leaders, the main reason for this integration is to maximize the organizational productivity and output. The changes are also aimed at accommodating the changes in time, situations and technology. It is therefore true to say that the 21st-century leadership theories are much more accommodative compared to the older theories. Indeed, people who could not have otherwise become leaders are given a chance of exercising their leadership aspirations in the current generation.


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