Leadership Theories

By: Rajen Jani

When an individual manages to influence the minds of several people to behave in a certain way towards the fulfillment of a specific or a general goal, then that individual is said to have exhibited leadership qualities, and is considered as a leader.

Theories of Leadership
Many writers have put forward their own views and formulated their own theories regarding leaders and leadership. Some of the theories are briefly touched below to give an idea of the literature on the subject of leadership.

Great Man Theory – This theory assumed that leaders are born and not made. Leaders usually were members from the aristocracy since they only got a chance to lead; hence, it was considered that good breeding contributed in making great leaders. The concept of a Great Woman was not explored and androcentric bias was never realized. In addition, the theory also states that when there is a great need, then a great leader arises, like Buddha, Jesus, Churchill and Eisenhower.

The Trait Theory – This theory assumes that human beings are born with inherited traits and the right combination of traits makes them a leader. Hence, leadership was a matter of traits whether inherited or acquired otherwise. Stogdill (1974) identified certain traits like adaptability, socially aware, achievement oriented, decisive, dominant, energetic, cooperative, assertive, self-confident, persistent, responsible, and capacity to tolerate stress. McCall and Lombardo (1983) identified four basic traits, namely, emotional composure and stability, intellectual breadth, highly developed interpersonal skills, and the capacity to admit errors.

Participative Leadership Theory – This theory assumes that the conclusion of many minds makes a better decision than the judgment of a single mind. Hence, the leader invites participation from the persons responsible for carrying out the work, since it makes them less competitive and more collaborative, thereby increasing their level of commitment. Participants may be subordinates, peers, superiors, or stakeholders. The extent of participation may vary. The leader may outline the objectives or goals and allow the team to decide how it can be achieved or the leader may allow a joint decision to be taken with respect to objectives and its method of achievement or the team may propose but the final decision is always of the leader. Many varieties exist, like consultation, democratic leadership, Management By Objectives (MBO), power-sharing, empowerment, and joint decision-making. The negative side of this theory is that when a leader asks for opinions and does not find them suitable, then it leads to cynicism, feelings of betrayal, reduced motivation and decreased level of commitment.

Lewin’s Theories – Kurt Lewin along with others conducted experiments in 1939 and came up with three styles of participative leaderships, namely autocratic, democratic, and Laissez-faire. In the autocratic style, the leader took the decisions without consulting others. In the democratic style, the leader took the decisions after consulting others or let the majority decide on what is to be done. In the Laissez-faire style, the leader lets others decide on the decisions to be taken. Lewin et al. discovered that the autocratic style led to revolution, the Laissez-faire style lacked enthusiasm and coordination, while the democratic style proved to be the most effective. Since these experiments were done on children, they still required further study and research.

Likert’s Theories – Rensis Likert (1967) theorized four styles, namely, exploitive authoritative, benevolent authoritative, consultative, and participative. In the exploitive authoritative style, the leader uses methods as threats, coercion, and other fear-based methods to enforce conformance. It is always a top-down approach and the views, feelings, of others is given no value. In the benevolent authoritative style, the leader becomes a ‘benevolent dictator’ and uses rewards to motivate performance. The leader listens to ‘rose-tinted’ views from the subordinates as they tell only what the leader likes to hear in the hope of gaining rewards. Trivial delegation of decision is done, however important decisions are always made centrally. In the consultative style, the leader seeks consultations, however, most upward flow of information is still rose-tinted and the decision is almost taken centrally. In the participative style, the leader invites participation across all levels, including the shop floor worker, and attempts to make the employees psychologically closer are made. Dissensions, arguments, feelings of betrayal all take place in this style. The leader becomes a ‘father figure’ and a ‘cult head’, whose saying ultimately becomes the final decision.

The Charismatic Leader Theory – This theory assumes that leaders gather followers simply by their charm, grace, and personality. If a leader is not a natural charismatic leader then that individual takes a lot of trouble in maintaining the image and developing requisite skills. They are usually very persuasive and use their body language very effectively. In a theatrical sense, charisma is played out as exhibited by politicians, religious and cult leaders. Conger & Kanungo (1998) have elucidated five characteristics of charismatic leaders, namely, clear vision and its lucid articulation, sensitivity to the environment, sensitivity to the needs of the members, ability to take personal risks to support their viewpoints, and ability to perform unconventional behavior. Musser (1987) noted that charismatic leaders wanted their followers to commit to absolute devotion to themselves. The charismatic leader may not want to change anything or transform anything unlike the transformational leader. If the charismatic leader is well-intentioned then they can contribute significantly to the growth of the entire group, however, if they are Machiavellian and selfish, then by the creation of cults, they can effectively rape the minds and bodies of their followers. Their own self-belief can lead them into psychotic narcissism and their self-absorption is so high, that their irreplaceability, intentional or otherwise, can guarantee no successors and thus they make a permanent mark in history.

The Transformational Leader Theory – This theory assumes that a leader with vision and passion can achieve great things by inspiring, injecting enthusiasm and energy, and thereby transform the individual or the group towards the attainment of individual or group goals. Transformational leaders have a vision and they sell their vision and themselves in the process of creating trust. They lead by example and are always in the thick of action. In order to motivate their people, they use ceremonies, rituals, and other cultural symbolism. They believe that success comes by deep and sustained commitment and are extremely people-oriented. However, transformational leaders seek to transform, and if the company has no need to transform, then they feel frustrated.

The Quiet Leader Theory – This theory states that actions speak louder than words. The leader leads quietly by his actions and gives credit to others rather than take it all himself. The quiet leader does not always meet with success and is often faced with extroverted individuals whom he simply cannot handle.

The Transactional Leadership Theory – This theory states that people work for reward and punishment. A clear chain of command with loyalty as the primary focus works best in social systems. The subordinate should only do what the leader tells to do without trying to find out the justification for it. The leader creates clear structures and the subordinates are required to follow. For successful completion of the work, they are rewarded whereas for unsuccessful completion, they are punished. The leader uses management by exception, that is, once the operation has defined performance expectations then it does not need much attention. Exceeding expectations gets praise whereas not fulfilling expectations gets corrective actions. The limitation of this approach is that it is assumed that the individual is a ‘rational man’ (a person who is largely motivated by money and hence whose behavior is predictable), which he may not be due to emotional and social factors. In such a situation, other approaches may prove to be more effective.

The Situational Leadership Theory – This theory assumes that the action of a leader depends on a number of situational factors, like motivation and capability of followers, relationship between the leader and the followers, stress, mood, etc. Yukl (1989) has identified six situational factors namely, subordinate effort, subordinate ability and role clarity, organization of the work, cooperation and cohesiveness, resources and support, and external coordination.

Conclusion
Leaders generally do not follow a single approach and they mix and match as per their needs and requirements. In critical situations, they are more dictatorial in nature as they face the prospect of failure. Leaders generally exhibit integrity (alignment of words and actions with their values), dedication (spending whatever time and energy that is required to get the job done, rather than giving it the available time), magnanimity (giving credit where it is due, accepting defeat graciously, and allowing defeated persons to retain their dignity), humility (not diminishing or exalting oneself), openness (ability to understand new thoughts and ideas), and creativity (ability to think differently).

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Few Sources:
(1) Robert R. Blake and Anne Adams McCanse, Leadership Dilemmas—Grid Solutions (Houston: Gulf Publishing, 1991); and Blake and Jane S.Mouton,
The Managerial Grid III (Houston: Gulf Publishing, 1985).
(2) Fred E. Fiedler, “Research on Leadership Selection and Training: One View of the Future,” Administrative Science Quarterly (June 1996), pp. 241–250; Fiedler, “Engineer the Job to Fit the Manager,” Harvard Business Review (September-October 1965), p. 117; Fiedler, A Theory of Leadership Effectiveness (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967); and Fiedler and Joseph E. Garcia, New Approaches to Effective Leadership: Cognitive
Resources and Organizational Performance (New York: John Wiley, 1987).
(3) Robert J.House, “A Path-Goal Theory of Leader Effectiveness,”Administrative Science Quarterly (September 1971), pp. 321–328; and House and Terence R.Mitchell,“Path-Goal Theory of Leadership,” Journal of Contemporary Business (Autumn 1974), pp. 81–97.
(4) Victor Vroom and Philip Yetton, Leadership and Decision Making (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1973). Also see Vroom and Arthur G. Jago, The New Leadership: Managing Participation in Organizations (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1988).
(5) Paul Hersey and Kenneth H. Blanchard,“Great Ideas: Revisiting the Life-Cycle Theory of Leadership,” Training & Development (January 1996), pp. 42–47; and Hersey and Blanchard,Management of OrganizationalBehavior (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1993).
(6) The concept of transformational leadership was developed by James MacGregor Burns, Leadership(New York: Harper & Row, 1978). Also see Bernard Bass, Leadership and Performance Beyond Expectations (New York: Free Press, 1985); Noel M. Tichy and Mary Anne Devanna, The Transformational Leader (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1986); and Bass, “From Transitional to Transformational Leadership: Learning to Share the Vision,” Organizational Dynamics (Winter 1990), pp. 140–148.
About the Author:
Rajen Jani is a professional freelance writer with 18+ years of experience.http://rajenjani.wordpress.com/


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