Leadership Theories: Practical Advice for Leaders

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It is a well known fact that leadership in the business world is highly important. This is why many business schools focus specifically on the strategies and techniques designed for an effective development of various skills and traits necessary to shape a successful corporal leader. The professionals possessing such features are especially valuable in the business arena and wanted in all prosperous companies. Knowledge and application of business skills helps the professionals build successful careers and achieve a lot of benefits at work. Throughout the human history there has been a high interest towards leadership, its nature and the ways it works.

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Today, the experts distinguish between several different leadership theories that help the business professionals become better leaders and provide practical advice for the careers in corporal world. These theories are divided into groups or categories according to the main principles dominating the understanding of leadership, its nature and development (Kerr, Jermier, 2008, p. 375). Some of these theory groups are “great man” theories, behavioural theories, trait theories, situational theories, relationship theories, and power and influence theories. This paper will examine some of these theory groups and identify the kind of practical advice they provide for the followers looking to become better leaders in their business organisations.

It is also important to mention that the positions of leaders and managers are often viewed as very similar occupations, although these two notions are nor synonymous, neither they are absolutely opposite. Leadership and management complement each other (Leadership and Management, n.d., p. 1).

Based on various tests and researches, the scholars started to work on the theories and approaches that would simplify the process of training of better leaders, select the appropriate kinds of leadership for different types of organisations and minimise the obstacles and issues companies would have to face due to incompetent leadership. In order to form all of these theories, the researchers examined the traits and qualities of business leaders, their actions, behaviours and decision making style, their response to various situations and problems, their relationships with the employees, their authority, power and goals (Wilson, Lenssen, Hind, 2006, p. 2).

“Great man” group of theories are also called personality theories. They argue that certain individuals are born with specific qualities and talents that make them stand out as leaders (Bligh, 2011, p. 639). This view of leadership is quite old-fashioned, it roots back to the ancient times when males used to take all the dominant roles in the society, and this is why the group is called “great man”. According to this kind of theories, the leaders are meant for great deeds, once the destiny strikes, their special talents will be awaken and they will rise and lead. Back then leadership skills were viewed as qualities of divine nature. In the early writings the thinkers named masculinity, dominance and conservatism as some of the most important qualities of a leader (Eckmann, n. d, p. 3).

Trait theories are quite similar to “great man” group. They also emphasise that people tend to inherit special traits that make them outstanding leaders (Core leadership Theories, 2014, para. 4). From the point of view of trait theory, some individuals possess certain personality and character traits that make them different from others, make them leaders (Clawson, 2011, p. 450). According to this idea, all of the well known leaders share the same set of character traits that include self-confidence, persistence, ambition, initiative, emotional maturity, reliability, courage, analytical and critical thinking, powerful intelligence and motivation.

These traits certainly are typical for people occupying leading positions in business, yet this theory struggles to explain why many other individuals, who also possess all of these “leadership” qualities never seek for leading roles and do not have a drive to be in charge. It turns out that all every good leader has these qualities and characteristics, but not everyone who has them is a good leader.

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Behavioural group of theories mainly takes into consideration the actions and choices of leaders, their behavioural patterns and styles. In order to study this aspect of leadership multiple researches have been conducted, yet it is very hard to study this subject. There are different types of behaviours such as task-oriented, goal-oriented, or relation-oriented behaviours and one research cannot focus on all of them. The relationship between these behaviours and their interdependence are quite complicated. It is also very difficult to calculate their effectiveness (Derue, Nahrgang, Wellman, Humphrey, 2011, p. 8).

Behavioural theories as opposed to trait theories state that the successful performance of a leader is based on certain behaviours that a person can learn, but not on the traits and qualities that one either was born with or not. The leader’s behaviour directly influences their performance and authority. There are leaders of autocratic kind, they take everything under total control and rarely consult anyone making their decisions. Democratic leaders rely on the advice of their team and take into consideration all of the opinions.

There is also the kind of leadership called Laissez-Faire. It is very contradictory and experimental; it could bring great success or a big failure to the organisation (Goodnight, 2011, p. 820). Laissez-Faire leadership works through minimum invasion and requires a very reliable team of very skillful and experienced professionals to support the leader.

Situational and contingency groups of theories explore the kinds of leaderships that are the most appropriate in various circumstances. Situational factors have a tendency to influence the behaviour and decision making process of the leader, and the followers, and as a result affect the outcome. There is no certain type of leadership that is equally effective and useful in any workplace situations. This is why a leader should know when to change the course of action, adjust to the new circumstances, adopt different behaviours and shift to another strategy. This capacity is called behavioural and metal flexibility of the leader (Riggio,Murphy, Pirozollo, 2001, p. 41).

Situational approach also notes that outstanding intelligence is not the most important quality for a leader. A good boss is reliable because they know how to act in various situations, can react quickly, thrive under pressure and can protect their company from unexpected negative circumstances. A successful leader needs to be flexible because in the contemporary world the requirements for a leader vary according to situation or level (Conger, 2004, p. 138).

It is easy to notice that the attitude and approaches towards leadership and its nature have been changing quite a lot through the time and generations. All of the leadership theories formulated by various experts have their own stronger and weaker sides, and all of them contain a lot of useful information for the business world professionals willing to improve their leadership style. In the modern world some of the most important abilities of a leader are the vision for change and capacity to predict and project the future events, this vision should be based on proper evaluation of current events and strong values shared throughout the company (Standards for Leadership and Management: supporting leadership and management development, 2012, p. 4).

Trait theory in useful for the practicing leaders because it helps them distinguish the set of qualities that can be developed or empowered for a good leader. Behavioural theory can be applied for working out the best and most useful kinds of behaviours and orientations within the company. The emphasised behaviours should depend on the kinds of improvements the leader would like to introduce to the company. For example, Path-Goal theory that is characterised as a theory of behavioural group is focused on the achievements of the goals shared by the company employees. It is a well known fact that leadership qualities and performance are normally evaluated judging from the progress the leader makes and the number and quality of goals they achieve.

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Path-Goal theory implies that a successful leader describes and paves the way towards the common goal and then maintains the employees’ motivation and enthusiasm leading them to the goal (Gill, 2011, p. 78). This style of leadership pays off very well because it makes the workers appreciate their leader and it also creates more trusting workplace relations between the leader and the employees. This leadership style can then transform into a new model of leading, which is called “value-based leadership”.

This kind of leadership comes from trait theory. A charismatic leader can establish and strengthen their leadership by means of forming closer relationships with one employee or a group of workers. This would allow the leader to delegate and split their duties and rely on the help of the team of specialists. Such relationship is called value-based because it is dictated by a certain set of internalised values shared between the leader and the team or group of workers that are in close relationship with them (Winkler 2010, p. 36). In order to be able to develop and maintain such relationship the leader has to put quite a lot of effort because balancing between close interpersonal relations and workplace hierarchy and policies is very challenging.

The pieces of advice provided by the leadership theories help the leaders find new ways of communication of their power, obtaining stronger authority and empowering their employees in order to enforce the work of the whole company. By means of applying different strategies described in these theories and selecting appropriate styles of leadership the leaders of business organisations learn about the best ways of setting order and respect within the company and providing the most suitable ways of control needed for the successful operation of the business.

Reference List

Bligh, M. C. (2011). Personality Theories of Leadership. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Clawson, J.G. (2011). Level Three Leadership: Getting Below the Surface, (5th ed.), Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Conger, A. J. (2004). Developing leadership capability: What’s inside the black box? Academy of Management Executive, 18(3), 136-139.

Core Leadership Theories. (2014). MindTools. Web.

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Derue, D. S., Nahrgang, J. D., Wellman, N., Humphrey, S. E. (2011). Trait and Behavioral Theories of Leadership: An Intergration and Meta-Analytic Test of Their Relative Validity. Personnel Psychology 64, 7-52.

Eckmann, H. L (n. d.). Great Man Theory: A personal account of attraction. San Diego, CA: National University.

Gill, R. (2011). Theory and Practice of Leadership. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Goodnight, R. (2011). Laissez-Faire Leadership. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Kerr, S., Jermier, J. M. (2008). Substitutes for Leadership: Their Meaning and Measurement. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance 22, 375-403.

Leadership and Management. (n.d.). StellarLeadership. Web.

Riggio, R. E., Murphy, S. E., Pirozollo, F. J. (2001). Multiple Intelligences and Leadership. London, United Kingdom: Psychology Press.

The Standards for Leadership and Management: supporting leadership and management development. (2012). GTCS. Web.

Wilson, A., Lenssen, G., Hind, P. (2006). Leadership Qualities and Management Competencies and Corporal Responsibilities. Ashridge, United Kingdom: EABIS.

Winkler, I. (2010). Contemporary Leadership Theories: Enhancing the Understanding of the Complexity, Subjectivity and Dynamic of Leadership. Berlin, Germany: Springer Science & Business Media.

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