Leadership and Motivation: Principles and Theories


Employees who work without the guidance of a leader do not have a direction or a set purpose explaining their efforts. Those who are left without proper management are not working to their full capacity. Hence, leadership’s goal is to motivate the employees, while managers work to enhance the productivity of the latter’s work. Over the years, there have been several theories that explain the nature of leadership and the underlying principles of the employees’ motivation. This paper will explain the principles and main theories of leadership and motivation and their connection to management and development.

Leadership and Management

The fundamental element of understanding the difference between a manager and a leader is in comprehending the role that one plays in setting tasks and ensuring that the employees are productive with their work. Essentially, the manager’s task is to ensure that the employees work in a way that benefits the organization. However, not all managers display the characteristics of leaders since the latter are more concerned with motivation and ensuring that their followers are productive. As a result, a leader creates a vision and sets goals that are more valuable for the followers as opposed to the manager’s ability to outline tasks. Effective management implies the need to employ leadership competencies to enable effective and productive work and guarantee the success of an organization.

One can categorize the existing leadership theories into four distinct types, the ones that focus on the role of the situation and environment when adjusting the leadership style, the ones that emphasize the specific traits of a leader, behavioral theories, and theories that address the power and influence dynamics in an organization. Contingency theories suggest that a leader’s style must be adjusted depending on the context (Indeed Editorial Team, n.d.; “Leadership theories,” n.d.). Trait theories, on the other hand, are based on the idea that leaders have a set of common characteristics and behavior patterns that provide them with the basis of their leadership. Behavioral theories show how certain actions, such as a dictatorial approach to influencing people, affect the leader’s influence on their followers. Power and influence theories are related to the methods of obtaining power and desired results that leaders can use. Thus, in terms of leadership theory, there is a broad array of concepts that can be applied by one to explain the ways in which leaders operate in an organization.

One of the central contingency theories is the principle of an alignment between the situation and the leader’s selected style. The contingency of the leader’s effectiveness is based on whether or not their leadership qualities and methods they choose suits a specific situation (“Leadership theories,” n.d.). Hence, a person can be a very effective and productive leader in one organization and fail to produce any valuable results in another merely because they have not adjusted their style to the new conditions. Moreover, the Contingency Theory suggests that none of the leadership styles is universally applicable to all business scenarios, and therefore, leaders should be flexible when selecting their methods of work. Therefore, a leader has to consider the many variables that characterize the work environment to find an approach that is the most suitable in these situations.

A variation of the Contingency Theory is the Situational Leadership theory that leaders have to assess the situation and choose a style that will allow them to maximize the effectiveness of their work. For example, one may analyze the nature of the tasks at hand and the qualities of the followers to find the most suitable approach (“Leadership theories,” n.d.). Under Paul Hersey’s interpretation of this theory, the leadership style, and the followers’ maturity levels, and the main issues that must be considered (as cited in “Leadership theories,” n.d). There are four levels of maturity, where at the first one the followers do not have the motivation and skills to complete the tasks, while level four followers can successfully complete projects because they possess all the necessities for this. Therefore, Situational Leadership is based on the followers’ preparedness to complete tasks and requires the leader to adjust their approach based on these maternity characteristics.

Trait theories of leadership were the early developments of scholars in the business and management field, which were based on the idea that one’s inborn characteristics predefine their aptitude towards becoming a leader. For example, the Great Man Theory is based on the assumptions that leaders are born and, therefore, no actions and efforts can train one to become a leader (“Leadership theories,” n.d.). The Trait Theory, in particular, emerged as a result of assessing the characteristics of successful and unsuccessful leaders (“Leadership theories,” n.d.). Under this approach, one can compare their own character qualities to the set defined by this theory and predict their potential for becoming a good leader. The set of qualities relates to the physical appearance of the person, including their height and weight and their intelligence (“Leadership theories,” n.d.). Therefore, the Trait Theory is an example of early scholarly development in the field of business and leadership research. Evidently, the issue with the Trait Theory is that it excludes people who do not possess these inborn qualities from the potential perspective of becoming a leader, and it does not imply that some of the qualities and skills can be developed and improved to achieve this goal.

Behavioral leadership theories address the gaps of the trait theories because, unlike inborn traits, actions and knowledge about appropriate ways of behavior can be learned and adjusted. CFI states that one has to master the three categories of skills, “technical, human, and conceptual” (“Leadership theories,” para. 1). The technical skills are related to the intelligence and the understanding of the nature of an organization’s work that allows one to create an environment where the strategic direction of the company is followed. Human skills are the ones that relate to communication and the ability to maintain healthy interpersonal relationships with the followers. Finally, conceptual skills are the ones that allow the individual to come up with ideas and new developments that will help transform the company or society in general. Thus, under the Behavioral Theory of Leadership, all of the skills and actions that make a person a great leader can be learned.

Transformational leadership theory is the most flexible approach that is suitable for most business environments and allows the leader to adapt their approaches to work. The goal of such a leader is to inspire and motivate individuals under the assumption that these two elements are what enables effective work (Cherry, 2020). These types of leaders possess the qualities of energetic individuals and creative thinkers. According to Cherry (2020), they “inspire positive changes in those who follow” (para. 1). Moreover, the goal of such leaders is to ensure that every member of the group succeeds alongside the organization, which means that transformational leaders are generally concerned with the development of their employees. This theory was originally introduced by Burns, who argued that leaders and followers motivate one another to advance and reach goals (Cherry, 2020). Later, Bass expanded the theory and concluded that such leaders “garner trust, respect, and admiration from their followers” (para. 16). Therefore, among the leadership theories that exist today, transformational leadership is the most flexible and follower-oriented, while also the application of this theory’s principles also suggests that continuous development and transformation of the organization and its employees is inevitable.

Motivation Theories

There are two core motivation theories that explain why people choose to do certain things or avoid them. The first one is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which categorizes the different needs of a person, including the basic necessities and the higher-tier needs such as self-actualization (Master Class Staff, 2020). Maslow’s theory is a set of five core needs that a person has to address, beginning at the first level ones. Under this approach, if the needs from the lower hierarchies are not addressed, an individual cannot proceed towards fulfilling their self-actualization and personal development (Master Class Staff, 2020). The specific categories that Maslow defined are the “physiological needs, safety needs, love, and belonging needs, esteem needs, and self-actualization needs” (Master Class Staff, 2020). Thus, under one of the primary theories of motivation, an individual’s drive towards something is linked to their ability to fulfill their basic needs and move towards the needs that are of the higher category.

For a manager, this hierarchy means that the employees have to work and live in conditions where their basic needs are met in order for them to grow and develop personally and professionally. In Maslow’s theory, this principle is referred to as the “deficiency needs,” which are the basic necessities such as food or shelter (Master Class Staff, 2020). Hence, if an individual is not capable of addressing these, they will also fail to excel in their “growth need,” these are the higher-level needs that encompass the self-actualization of the person. Hence, leaders should focus on ensuring that the work environment and conditions in which their staff members complete tasks are sufficient and nurture the intrinsic motivation of a person to grow and develop.

Another approach to the principles of motivation that a leader and a manager can use is the distinction between the internal drivers and the external factors that force a person to complete assignments. For example, an external motivation may be the financial reward one receives for their work, which they need to address their living expenses. On the other hand, a person may choose a job that is not as well-paid as the alternatives since they are motivated intrinsically to be a part of an organization that helps others. This is an example of an intrinsic motivation that an employee uses when choosing between two positions. Sennett (2021) defines the intrinsic approach as the motivation to complete a task because it benefits the employee. On the other hand, the desire to receive an outside reward or avoid punishment is the defining characteristic of extrinsic motivation (Sennett, 2021). Evidently, managers and leaders can leverage both categories of motivation factors to help enhance the work productivity of their employees.

When examining the issue of employee development, one can argue that managers should hire people who are internally driven to continue improving their knowledge and skills. Such people naturally possess the qualities and characteristics of an intrinsically motivated individual, which means that the leaders will not have to employ extrinsic forces, such as rewards, to help their employees develop. Sennett (2020) argues that extrinsic motivation, although effective in some cases, does not facilitate the level of commitment and engagement that is needed for most companies to succeed. These factors typically help address the tasks that are unpleasant to complete and which the individual tries to avoid, where the use of a reward or a punishment will force them to work on an assignment. Hence, leaders should use the intrinsic motivation of the employees to support their development and effective work. Some ways of achieving this are by providing positive feedback and encouragement, which will show the employees that their contribution is valuable and appreciated.


Overall, this paper addresses the question of employee motivation and the role of leadership and management in facilitating this motivation. There are four distinct categories of leadership theories that address the different facets of motivation. For example, the trait theories imply that leaders are born, while behavioral approaches focus on the actions, knowledge, and skills one can learn to be an effective leader. Other theories address the environment and situation that a leader works in where one has to adjust their leadership style to maximize efficiency. The motivation theories examined in this paper are Maslow’s needs hierarchy and intrinsic and extrinsic motivation principles.


Cherry, K. (2020). Transformational leadership. Web.

Indeed Editorial Team. (2020). Understanding the Contingency Theory of leadership. Web.

Leadership theories. (n.d.). Web.

Master Class Staff. (2020). A guide to the 5 levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Web.

Sennett, P. (2021). Understanding intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Web.

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