Overview of Leadership Theories in Organizations


Like Albert Einstein put it “The only source of knowledge is experience.” Arguably this has been one of the earlier fundamental paradigms of the built environment. Skills were passed on from the expert to the learner, from generations to the others; the built environment in the past was a set of skilled constructors and artists in their own way. The evolution of industrialization, large-scale undertakings and a huge drift to profit-orientation have over time changed the very nature of the way of the built environment operates nowadays. In yester years, management focused on the induction of skills to maintain a pool of skilled artists; however nowadays the management focuses on reducing the construction durations, cutting down on costs and efficiently use resources (Boussabaine 2008, 35).

Thus, just like other industries companies in the construction industry have been forced to adopt a more client and market approach. Several initiatives have been taken to achieve this, but the key factor in achieving these organizational objectives is highly dependent on the management style, that is, the structures of mind that direct individual and collective actions (Fenn & Gameson 1992, 53). However, with the current developments questions have been raised as to whether the old management approaches can create the new business, or whether leaders in the construction industry can ignore old approaches.

Leadership roles and theories

Leadership is an ongoing process to encourage people to behave and take action towards a general goal. The leader is the stimulation and administrator of the achievement. Adair (2003, 23) claims that good leadership includes accomplishing the job at hand, putting together and upholding the team and improving the individual. There are several traditional perceptions on the role of leaders and there are numerous theories that are linked to leaders and how they exercise their leadership strategies.

The built environment, more so in the 21st century is faced by many challenges and it is upon the management to adopt management theories that best suit their industry. Especially, with a decreasing skilled workforce (a survey by Kritsonis (2004, 15) on some lead constructors, approximates range from 40 percent to up to 70 percent of the skilled workers retired within the next 15 to 20 years), thus the management needs to harness their experience and knowledge.

Leadership roles are broadly categorized into three groups: first, interpersonal roles. This involves communicating with people inside or outside the organization and managing engagements in the workplace and acting as the figure-head in the organization. Secondly, information role; this involves seeking and conveying information within the organization. Thirdly, task implementation; this involves makes decisions and how they are implemented.

According to Barrett & Sutcliffe (1993, 5), there are eight major leadership theories that leaders can use to achieve different results that they need. These eight theories are: ‘great man’ theories, trait theories, contingency theories, situational theories, behavioral theories, participative theories, management theories, and relationship theories. In reference to Clawson (2006, 31), good leaders lead with the well-being of their subordinates in mind this also means that a leader must choose and exercise his leadership depending on the exceptional requirements of the organization. Being a leader does not only mean being successful but also entails earning accomplishments and achievements to the employees and organization. However, there is no a right or wrong way when it comes to leadership as it all depends on the individual, and the situation not to mention the organization.

‘Great man’ Theories

According to Mack (2010), ‘Great man’ theories imagine the capability for leadership is innate that is to say leaders are born not made. This theory believes that a leader can not be made but a leader has to be born with certain characteristics that enable the person to become a leader. This theory was centered on men only holding the reigns to leadership and their word was law and these men were the elite in the society which led to the notion of assuming that leadership was associated with procreation. This however is wrong as there are some leaders who have come from humble backgrounds. The word ‘man’ was used since it believed that only men could be leaders.

This however is not true as women are as good and great leaders as the men counterparts. There are changes in the construction industry culture, we have seen an increasing number of women climb up the leadership ladders. We have seen great women start their own construction companies and steer them to success. We have also seen many people, rise up the leadership ladders from just foremen or constructors to heads, as seen in many construction firms there is no person who just woke up head a firm without working his or her way up (Frens et al. 2004, 53).

The fact that the theory states that leaders are born only is also wrong individuals can learn how to become leaders by observing other leaders who are their role models it is not necessary to be born with certain leadership characteristics but these characteristics can be learned and acquired as one grows up. As put above by Albert Einstein, construction leaders have to learn, they have to there on the site to see and learn. Experience is an intellectual wealth of a more so of a construction leader.

Trait theories

In reference to Stogdill (1974, 23), trait theories have the following presumptions that individuals inherit some persona and attributes that make them leaders, some attributes are specifically suitable for leadership positions therefore individuals that are great leaders have a good combination of attributes. These theories suggest that a child of a leader can be a leader as he/she inherited some of the characteristics of the parent who is a leader.

This is not necessarily true, as some children born of leaders end up being subordinates and not leaders as people may expect, just because their parent was a leader it does not mean that someone will become a leader. Leaders who use trait theories in organizations put emphasis on realizing traits that they have inherited, through observing other leaders, with the aim of if other people had the same traits they too could be great leaders.

The use of trait theories helps other people observe leadership characteristics from leaders and they practice these attributes at the end of the day becoming leaders themselves. Trait theories are important to use in organizations as they give the leaders the role to become role models to their subordinates. Leadership in the construction industry as of now is more on dependent on knowledge rather than the old traits that one might have had. It takes time to learn and experience things as they are. One cannot rise up to the ranks of a leader in this industry without a prior knowledge of the fundamentals of the industry (Tannenbaum & Alport 1956, 61).

Contingency theory

The Yukl (2001, 49) states that, contingency theories concentrate on specific alterable things dependent on the environment that may decide on a leadership style in a certain situation. This theory concludes that different circumstances require different leadership approach and no one approach can be used for all situations. A leaders ability to lead depends on the leadership style the leader uses, situations when leadership is put into action, the attitudes of the people being led just to mention but a few. Sims (2002, 13) argues that the state of affairs determine which leadership technique would be most efficient.

Contingency theories belong to the group of behavioral theory that put emphasis on the fact that there is no a specific way that is best when it comes to leadership and a certain style that worked in a certain situation will not necessarily work in another. When it comes to organizations whose leaders use this theory, their roles of leadership are affected as the leader chooses the way forward after assessing situation and after having carefully thought which of the leadership styles would be best suited in a certain situation. Arguably, in the construction industry people, situations and environments are essential factors in leadership maturity. In addition, leadership is an emergent development; many leaders in the construction industry say that their zeal for more knowledge was often more essential than the leadership tag on its own.

On the other hand, the roles of leaders are affected when the leaders are transferred to another section and the dynamics around them change then they may not be as effective as expected and may at times be looked as leaders who were once successful but they became failures after some time. The construction industry is dynamic, and a lot has changed on its operations forcing the management to be adaptive and contingent to emerging trends to march up with business.

Situational theory

In reference to Hersey, and Blanchard (1977, 71), situational theory suggest that leaders pick the most excellent option to act on deeds based on the alterable aspects of state of affairs hence, there is no one best leadership style. The theory argues that efficient leadership is task based and great leaders adjust their techniques of leadership according to the sensibleness of the people they are leading. That efficient leadership depends on the people being led, the task at hand, and the end product.

These theories are advantageous as they are easy to understand and use. It is argued that the construction industry is a project-based venture, which delivers one-of-a-kind goods, for instance buildings. Certainly there are no two buildings, which are alike but they may appear similar by a look, even for instance the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. Thus, this calls for adaptation and use of the most appropriate approach in each project.

Leaders may have to use different ways of encouraging people to change after they have agreed on the need for change and it is centered on the actions of the person in the leadership position. Newton, Hampson & Drogemuller (2009, 68), state that; this theory encompasses that the roles of the leaders are based on their ability to change their leadership styles according to the people they are leading and the different situations at hand this then shows the versatility of the leaders and their leadership styles. This translates to the how mature the people being led are as the leader needs to match the levels of maturity of the people he is leading.

Behavioral Theories

According to Bass et al. (2003, 34), behavioral theories are founded on the conviction that leaders are made and not born. This theory suggests that individuals can be nurtured into leaders through teaching and mentorship. Like the name suggests leaders are determined and defined by how they behave and the behavior characteristics they posses. The theory centers on improving leadership as compared to looking for innate traits that one is born with. A leader will be named or asked to lead on how they carry themselves around people and more so on how they act.

This means that in organizations when it comes to promoting individuals to leadership positions, the management will assess and look at how each of their candidates behaves. Therefore the candidate who is more likely to get the promotion is the one with the most outstanding behavior and has a wonderful record of behavior among his peers, subordinates and also leaders. Roles of leaders who use the behavioral theory to lead need to be aware that they are acting as role models for others so their behavior should be of good quality. For example an employee who comes to work on time everyday is likely to get a promotion sooner than an employee who is always late and has excuses everyday. Examples of behavioral theories include; role theory and the managerial grid.

Participative theories

Steers, Lyman and Gregory (1996, 59) state that, participative theories imply that good leadership is the type of leadership that takes the feelings and contributions of other people in consideration. These theories push for the involvement of all members of the team when it comes to decision making; in this case the participation leads to much a better perception of the subject at the moment and improved dedication between the members of the team.

For example this type of leadership in an organization will require a leader to consult with his subordinates when it comes to making decisions, and also to work hand in hand with his subordinates for the better results for the company as a whole. This kind of theory requires an organization to work as one both leaders and subordinate to work as a unit so as to prosper as a unit, as it calls for and requires the affected people to be included in the actions undertaken by the company.

Lewin’s leadership styles and Likert’s leadership styles are examples of participative theories. Construction undertakings involve a set of resources, workforce, contractors, and leaders working in unison by sharing complementary attributes and no single individual can deliver to the client and the market. However, there is emerging concern that new leaders in prefer to stay in their offices and use computers to monitor undertakings, rather than go to the sites and participate in the act.

Relationship theories

Relationship theory, also known as transformational theory is also based on the associations between the leader and the adherents. These theories assert that, for employee potential s to be realized, leaders must encourage them to appreciate their in put in the organization. These theories state that leaders are crucial when it comes to instigating the employees regard, loyalty and devotion by means of an eloquent comprehensible and persuasive visualization. These theories concentrate on budding reciprocated trust, nurturing the leadership capabilities of other people, and establishing aims that go ahead of short term requirements of group work.

The theories also learn how leaders come up with ideas for an organization, how they present the idea to the employees and how the leaders carry out the vision together with the employees. In the construction industry, you need total cooperation between the leaders, subcontractors and the workforce, and it is the role of the management to foster a workable relationship among the participants in order to succeed the project. Leaders need not be harsh and assertive with the people, but negotiate and consult where necessary (Waterhouse & Crook (1995, 138).


Leadership is an ongoing process; a leader should breathe life into the organization and motivate it towards objectives. The unenthusiastic yearning for success is converted into a burning zeal for achievement. Construction leadership is something that an individual acts, not something that is inert. Leadership is something which is nurtured. However, there are various traditional perceptions on the role of leaders, which have been elaborated by the many leadership theories.

These leadership theories encompass different leadership styles and these leadership styles are put to use at different times, different situations and by different leaders. It can be held that not all theories would work best in all situations and leaders should critically assess situations before deciding on how to deal with it. To build up these theories in the construction industry, leaders should realize their roles and the leadership approach to adopt. Construction firms need to recognize these leadership theories, know their strengths and weaknesses and the best situations when to put to use leaders may have a vast knowledge of leadership roles and responsibilities.

With the ongoing development in the construction industry, the roles and functioning of leaders has undergone transformations. Leaders in functioning as managers are vital to these firms. They assume a pivotal role in establishing rapport in the organization as well as outside the organizations. In addition, they plan, control and organize and also disseminate and seek information for the organization. For a leader in the construction industry one needs to be a competent manager in the present business world as one has to work together with other managers of other firms as no firm that exists on its own; every construction organization needs the other for specialized services or products.


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