If you’ve seen an orchestra, you would have noticed the conductor who directs the musicians throughout the performance. Usually, every musician in an orchestra is fully capable of playing their instruments, but a conductor is still needed to ensure they remain synchronized. Similarly, without a leader, teams with highly skilled members may not be able to function smoothly. Let’s see how leadership and theories of leadership improve collaborative effort.

What Is Leadership?

Leadership is the art of motivating people to work towards a common goal. But motivating others isn’t enough. Leaders also need to connect with people. They work towards a vision through effective collaboration and communication. Leadership is defined and influenced by business goals and workplace culture. Therefore, leadership can be interpreted in different ways.

Effective leaders are expected to drive employee performance. But you may wonder, isn’t that the role of the management? While the words ‘leadership’ and ‘management’ are often used interchangeably, they are not the same thing. Leaders are expected to do much more in addition to fulfilling their managerial duties. Leadership requires patience, flexibility and resilience. It’s a difficult balancing act between employee engagement, organizational success and developing existing structures.

Anyone can become an effective leader if they know and practice the necessary skills and learn new approaches.

What Are Leadership Theories?

For many years, leadership has been a topic of contention among psychologists. Researchers and scholars have tried to discover the qualities and behavioral patterns that successful leaders share. Various theories of leadership have emerged in the process as people have tried to answer the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of great leadership.

Early leadership theories assumed that leaders are born with innate qualities that help them guide and influence others. Subsequent theories relied more on external factors and skill levels. These theories assumed that individuals can develop leadership skills over time. Therefore, different schools of thought led to multiple leadership models and theories.

Types Of Leadership Theories

No matter how much leadership theories differ from one another, each theory is instrumental in developing leadership skills. Here are the five major types of leadership theories:

  1. The Great Man Theory

The Great Man theory assumes that leadership abilities are in-built. Conceptualized in the 19th century, the theory asserts that some people are ‘born to lead’. Great leaders possess ‘natural’ characteristics like intelligence, social skills, charisma and confidence. The ‘Great Man’ is someone who is resilient in the face of challenges. Leadership, therefore, is seen as a product of a heroic act.

One of the key problems with this theory is that not all people who possess ‘natural’ leadership qualities become great leaders. If leadership is supposed to be an inborn quality, then everybody with innate personality traits would become leaders.

There are other criticisms to this theory, namely:

  • It has no scientific backing or legitimacy

  • It ignores environmental and situational factors that often influence people’s behavior and attitudes

  • The focus is primarily on males with the idea of the heroic man

  1. The Trait Theory

Similar to the Great Man theory, the Trait theory of leadership states that an individual must possess key personality traits and attributes to become a good leader. Some of the core leadership traits based on this theory are:

  • Physiological traits such as appearance, height and posture

  • Personality traits such as honesty, self-confidence and extroversion

  • Intellectual traits such as knowledge, decisiveness and emotional intelligence

  • Task-related traits such as dedication, determination and initiative

The Trait theory was criticized because it doesn’t account for external factors such as the immediate environment. Hence, even if people have the qualities needed for good leadership, they may not always end up becoming effective leaders.

  1. Behavioral Theory

The Behavioral theory of leadership emerged in the 1950s when the research focus shifted from personality traits to human behavior. It sharply contradicted the Great Man theory that focused on inherent qualities. Instead, this theory prioritized the external factors that influence an individual’s capacity to develop leadership qualities. In other words, the theory proposed that leadership is the result of learned or acquired skills. People can master leadership skills through proper guidance and observation.

The Behavioral theory states that one can learn three essential skills to be a powerful leader:

  • Technical skills such as hard skills, knowledge base and competency

  • Interpersonal skills  such as networking, communication and collaboration

  • Conceptual skills such as vision, mission and milestones

  1. Contingency Theory

The Contingency theory maintains that leadership comprises three core elements—traits, behavior and situations. It states that a leader’s behavior depends on the situation and changes according to the immediate requirements. This theory proposes that there’s no single leadership style that works for every situation. Good leaders should be able to take stock of the situation, assess the needs of others and adjust their behavior accordingly. Success depends on leaders finding the right balance between multiple variables.

  1. Path-Goal Theory

The Path-Goal Theory of leadership was proposed in the 1970s. It suggested that leaders select specific behaviors that are best suited to others’ needs and circumstances. According to this theory, leaders are responsible for providing people with information, support and other resources that can help them achieve common goals. Additionally, this theory assumes that good leaders are flexible. They should be able to adjust their behavior and change their approach according to the situation. A leader must help everybody fulfill their objectives and provide the necessary direction and support. Efficient leaders minimize roadblocks and make the journey towards goals much easier.

Use Leadership Theories At Work

Learning and adopting various theories of leadership can help you identify strengths and weaknesses that can further improve your leadership qualities. You can adjust the theories and styles to suit your current environment. Ask yourself which leadership theory you agree with and would like to follow. Here are some ways in which you can evaluate your choice:

  1. Know Your Personality

To decide the type of leader you are or aspire to be, assess your personality. Pay attention to the dominant characteristics of your personality. Reflect on the words that your peers and colleagues use to describe you. Take time to understand what drives your choices and decisions. Think about how you react to situations and resolve problems. Understanding your behavior and responses can help you guide your team better.

  1. Identify Your Weaknesses

A true leader is someone who makes space for vulnerability. To err is human, and you must identify and acknowledge your weaknesses. Once you accept them, use the knowledge to improve your leadership style. When you’re transparent about your flaws, it will set an example and inspire others to follow in your footsteps.

  1. Assess Your Ability To Delegate

Delegation of authority is the ability to entrust somebody else with the responsibility of completing a task. There are times when leaders have to pay attention to multiple projects at the same time. In such scenarios, leaders delegate their work to other team members. This shows that leaders trust their employees and are willing to share responsibilities. You should be able to judge when to delegate your responsibilities so that you can fulfill multiple business objectives simultaneously. It’ll also help you determine your leadership style.

  1. Ask For Feedback

Encourage people to give you constructive criticism about your leadership style. Getting your coworkers’ and employees’ opinions about your professional relationship will help you improve your leadership style. It will give you a better idea of your strengths and areas for improvement. When you establish a culture of feedback in your team, you will be able to recognize people’s changing needs.

  1. Observe Your Leaders

People influence us every day, but true leaders inspire us to bring about change in our lives. From parents and teachers to managers and founders, we take lessons from their lives and principles. If you’re trying to figure out what type of leader you want to be, think about the qualities you’ve learned from your leaders or what you expect from them. Be the change you want to see.

Harappa Education’s Leading Self course will help you discover your inner leader. The Performance Equation framework will teach you how to identify interferences or obstacles that prevent you from utilizing your full potential. The Balcony and Dance Floor framework will teach you how to balance action and observation and intervene whenever necessary. Sign up for the course today to become the leader that gets things done!


Explore our Harappa Diaries section to know more about topics related to the Lead habit such as What is Leadership, Leadership Qualities, What is Mentoring, Humility & Patience vs Self-Control.

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