Top Leadership Theories Every Manager Should Master in 2021

Leadership skills have always been seen as something people are born with. Early discussions and debates on psychology suggested that leadership skills were more like abilities and that some people were just ‘born leaders’. Studies after that figured that there is no particular ‘leadership skill’, but rather a few different traits that some people possessed that made them better leaders than others. Different situations and work experience played a significant role in making good leaders.
 
Recent studies and behavioural analysis point towards certain behaviours and habits that can be modified and learned or unlearned to make people better leaders. Within an organisation, people try to distinguish between a good leader and a good manager. It is nearly impossible to be the latter without being the former.
 
You need to be a good leader if you want to be an effective manager. It includes leading and managing all business stakeholders in a way that inspires, engages and empowers them. It is what ultimately leads to a successful organisation.
Today, many different leadership theories have been coined. They aim to sharpen your leadership skills and make you a more impactful manager.
 
 

What makes a Good leader?

Organisational interest in psychology has significantly increased over the last 100 years. Psychologists and researchers have analysed different traits and qualities that good leaders possess and studied different behaviour patterns. Some aspects considered are:
  •  Personality traits
  •  Actions
  •  Environment 
  •  Situations they are faced with
  •  Decision-making process
  •  How they perceive instructions
  •  How they maintain relationships
Based on how much power is given to the different stakeholders for making a decision, many different leadership styles have been identified.
  • Coach – Helping people set goals, giving feedback, identifying strengths and weaknesses
  • Visionary – Guiding using inspiration and ambition
  • Servant – Helping team members feel fulfilled
  • Autocratic – Making decisions with little or no room for others’ feedback
  • Laissez-faire – Delegating most tasks with minimal supervision
  • Democratic – Giving everyone an equal representation
  • Pacesetter – Using high performance as a metric for result analysis
  • Bureaucratic – Implementing strict processes and hierarchy that everyone must follow
 
While some leadership theories focus on the qualities you need to polish, others stress different variables such as skill development, situations, etc. Here are the major leadership theories that you should know and master.
 

1- Contingency Theory

This theory stresses that no single leadership style is well-suited to all situations. It focuses on other variables that affect a situation and recognises that a leader must take those variables into account while choosing the next course of action.
Leadership researchers White and Hodgson suggest that effective leadership is not derived solely from the leader’s qualities, but must strike a balance between behaviours, needs and context. Good leaders can understand their team’s needs, analyse the situation at hand and make decisions accordingly. This decision’s success depends on variables such as the leader’s level-headedness, the quality of followers, work experience, and the complexity of the situation.
 
 
 
 

2- Situational Theory

 
The Situational Theory of leadership states that leaders must choose the best course of action based on the situation, rather than applying one leadership style to all situations. Like Contingency Theory, this theory also stipulates that no leadership style can be applied to all situations.
Professor Paul Hersey and leadership guru Ken Blanchard proposed this theory. It is a combination of two factors — the leadership style and the maturity level of the followers. Different circumstances demand different styles of leadership. A good leader must analyse the situation and take charge accordingly.
For example, in a situation where the leader has more knowledge about a subject than any of the followers, a more autocratic leadership style should be followed. On the other hand, in a situation where the team members are skilled experts, a more democratic leadership style is required.
 
 
 
 

3- Transformational Theory

 

It is also known as Relationship Theory. The Transformational Theory of leadership focuses on the relationship between the followers and the leader. It centres around a leader who is seen to be inspirational and charismatic. They motivate their followers using passion and enthusiasm and apply the same standards to themselves and their followers.
 

4- Great Man Theory

 
One of the classic leadership theories, the Great Man Theory of leadership, focuses on ‘born leaders’. It states that leadership skills are inherent and cannot be learned or taught. According to this theory, a person capable of leading others has a leader’s traits, including charm, confidence, intellect, communication skills and sociability. The name ‘Great Man’ was chosen because, at that time, leadership was seen as a male quality, with specific reference to military leadership.
However, most modernists and researchers today have dismissed this theory. Many leaders themselves have iterated that they weren’t born with the leadership skills they have, rather they developed them over time. However, it is still interesting to see that what was considered as charismatic leadership so long ago remains unchanged today.
 
 

5- Trait Theory

Trait Theory follows the path shown by the Great Man Theory. It stipulates that leadership skills are something you are born with and cannot learn. Trait Theory assumes that certain qualities are simply inherited such as extraversion, self-confidence, courage and communication skills, which makes specific individuals better suited for leadership positions.
One major drawback of this theory is that it does not conclusively state what leadership traits means. Many people have these leadership skills but don’t seek out leadership positions. Several people don’t have these traits still, make excellent leaders.
 
 
 
 
 

6-  Behavioural Theory:

This theory is in sharp contrast to the Great Man Theory. Under the definition of Behavioural Theory, the focus lies on leaders’ behaviour, not their internal state or personality traits and stipulates that leaders are made, not born. It proposes that leadership can be taught through observation, practice and teaching. Experience and agility are two major factors that determine whether a manager can learn to be a good leader or not.
 
 

8- Transactional Theory:

Transactional Theory is also referred to as Management Theory or Exchange Theory of leadership. It focuses on the role of supervision, organisation and group performance. This theory bases good leadership on an effective system of rewards and punishments.
 
Management Theory is often used within the workplace, where success is applauded and rewarded. On the other hand, bad behaviour or failure to produce results is reprimanded or punished. It aims to correct the followers’ behaviour to make them work harder to achieve good results, both for the joy of getting rewarded and the fear of getting punished.
Transactional Theory is used in many training sessions to change behaviour to a more acceptable outcome.
 
 

Why Are Leadership Theories Important?

 

Many different ways of thought perception have resulted in the leadership theories as we know them today. Some focus on a person’s inherent traits, while others focus on the actions and behaviours. Leadership is rooted in behaviourism and is, therefore, highly multi-dimensional.
Being a good leader is of the utmost importance both from an individual and organisational standpoints and requires consistent learning. No matter what level you are at, a good leader can elevate an organisation to a whole new level, while a bad leader can bring down the entire team’s performance. To boost your managerial capabilities and leadership skills, enrol in Koenig’s PMP Certification training program.