Leadership Theories With Working Examples

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Leadership is an essential aspect of life in view of the fact that it is central to human activity. The ability to guide a group of people to achieve set goals is a fundamental aspect of organizational functioning in the face of varied internal and external challenges. It facilitates productivity and organizational growth in various contexts. Effective leadership is essential for success because by focusing on human capital, organizations can alter their paradigms on people management to achieve high levels of commitment and skill. In essence, understanding the various leadership approaches has numerous benefits in industry-driven economies.

There are five leadership approaches that are commonly applied in organizations. These are the trait theory, the skilled approach to leadership, the behavioral theory, the situational approach, and the path-goal approach to leadership. These theories propose specific mechanisms through which individuals can influence others to facilitate the achievement of organizational goals and objectives.

The Trait Approach

The trait approach to leadership bases its principles on a leader’s specific attributes. These include features such as physical characteristics, personality, values, and competencies. It is vital to note that the trait approach is designed to evaluate leadership solely from the leader’s perspective. It posits that specific traits result in patterns of behavior that remain consistent across a variety of situations. In essence, leadership characteristics are standard qualities that people are born with and remain unchanged over time.

Some of the features attributed to leaders include physical stamina, task competence, people skills, desire for achievement, courage, flexibility, and assertiveness. However, it is crucial to point out that the proposed list of features is seldom comprehensive since it does not account for the expected behavior in all possible leadership contexts. It is vital to note that the trait approach assumes that leaders are born when a number of contemporary examples prove that leaders can be made.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Trait Approach

The trait approach has numerous advantages when applied to different organizational contexts. For instance, it facilitates the prediction of leadership effectiveness because an individual can compare themselves to other successful leaders. A plant manager can utilize information from the theory to assess their position in the organization and evaluate techniques that can be used to improve. In addition, it helps leaders gain a better understanding of their true identity while highlighting their strengths and weaknesses, which is essential for the development of leadership qualities. The trait approach has certain limitations, such as the application of subjective judgment as to the traits responsible for a leader’s success. In addition, the proposed traits are commonly associated with male behavior. As a result, the theory assumes that women need to adopt masculine traits to be considered successful. It should be noted that the theory’s complexity limits its application in contemporary situations where the emphasis is placed on the belief that leaders are made rather than born.

The Skills Approach

The skills theory posits that specific abilities, knowledge, and skills that are important for leadership can be learned. It evaluates an individual’s success as a leader based on what they can accomplish. Focusing on what people can accomplish rather than who they are means that leadership is accessible to everyone. The theory further proposes that the three most important skills a leader requires are conceptual, human, and technical abilities. These traits form the foundation upon which leaders build their personalities and the fortitude required to accomplish goals.

It is vital to note that a leader’s attributes are impacted by past experiences and environmental factors outside their control. Therefore, the fact that an individual is not born with traditional leadership traits does not mean they are incapable of guiding a group of people to achieve set goals or objectives. Specific skills relevant to leadership in a given context can be developed to guarantee success.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Skills Approach

The skills approach proposes that leadership is accessible to everyone. Therefore, a nurse can rise to lead a hospital provided they take the time to learn the skills required to become a leader. The fact that they were not born with traditional leadership traits is, therefore, irrelevant. In addition, the approach offers an expansive view of leadership by incorporating a variety of components such as social judgment skills and problem-solving abilities. It is worth noting that the skills theory provides a leadership structure that aligns with most leadership education programs. There are, however, a few setbacks to applying the theory.

For instance, its overly descriptive nature fails to elucidate how specific skills contribute to effective leadership. In addition, it incorporates specific uncommon innate abilities such as cognitive ability and motivation, which may make learning leadership skills challenging. Finally, the theory’s fundamentals are generic, which reduces the precision with which the theory can be applied in contemporary contexts.

The Behavioral Approach

The behavioral theory of leadership highlights the fact that an individual’s success as a leader is premised on their behavior and not their natural traits. Therefore, an individual’s actions and mannerisms in response to specific situations determine the effectiveness of their abilities as a leader. In essence, leaders are individuals who take the time to learn and develop specific behaviors that are synonymous with leadership.

There are various types of behavioral leadership that are currently defined. People-oriented leaders are those who focus on behaviors that enable them to meet their teams’ needs, while task-oriented leaders are determined to set goals and achieve specific objectives. While participative leaders often include the entire team in the decision-making process, indifferent leaders seldom interact or communicate with their teams. Finally, dictatorial leaders are focused on achieving results rather than on people’s welfare. The comprehensive nature of the behavioral theory allows for the satisfactory evaluation of leaders in every field.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Behavioral Approach

The behavioral theory has a variety of strengths with regard to its applicability in contemporary scenarios. For instance, its proposal that leadership behavior can be learned and developed means that any individual can become a leader. In addition, it addresses fundamental questions regarding an institution’s leadership model. It explains the value of cooperation in the completion of specific tasks to achieve organizational goals and objectives. It is worth noting that the behavioral approach accurately defines an individual’s leadership style. It accomplishes the aforementioned task by highlighting specific events and the behaviors that were applied to handle situations.

Finally, experiences drawn from the behavioral approach have prompted research into leadership, resulting in the generation of insightful ideas in leadership studies. The theory’s weaknesses include the fact that learning behaviors do not guarantee that the individual will know when to use them. Finally, it faces specific contextual and cultural challenges in the sense that some behaviors are not applicable in all contexts.

The Situational Approach

The situational theory of leadership is premised on the idea that the most effective leadership style a leader uses changes depending on the situation. Therefore, success is achieved when the leader is flexible and capable of adapting their approach to fit the context. In addition, it is important to demonstrate emotional maturity in view of the fact that the four main leadership approaches used necessitate interactions with diverse people and situations. The first approach is telling, which is the use of authority to direct action. Selling refers to the leader’s attempt to convince their team to take a specific step without necessarily directing their actions. The last two are participation which refers to the democratization of the decision-making process, and delegation, where the team is assigned the decision-making role while the leader maintains oversight authority. It is vital to note that follower maturity in terms of competence and commitment determines success.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Situational Approach

The situational approach has numerous strengths when applied to the organizational context. First, leaders are able to choose a leadership style they believe best fits the situation. For instance, a school principal can use one leadership style when dealing with students and another when handling a teaching crisis. The situational approach also allows leaders to create a comfortable work environment for employees in view of the fact that the leadership style applied matches their needs. The theory is easy to apply, given that assessing situations is relatively easy.

It is vital to note that the approach determines employee development, given that it allows leaders to address specific employee skills. The situational approach has some weaknesses with regard to organizational applications. For instance, it may result in confusion when a manager constantly alters their leadership style to address specific needs. In addition, it is unsuitable for repetitive tasks because task-based environments lack flexibility.

The Path-Goal Approach

The path-goal approach is designed to ensure that a leader assists employees to achieve the organization’s goals by offering the needed direction and support. Therefore, it is vital that leaders understand the organizational context and choose the behavior that will best address the needs of individuals in a work environment. For instance, a plant manager must ensure that workers have access to proper equipment and get adequate time to rest if targets are to be met. Employee satisfaction is a priority because if their concerns are not addressed, the achievement of organizational objectives becomes challenging.

The path-goal theory proposes four leadership styles in the quest for success. The directive path-goal approach refers to scenarios in which a leader clarifies organizational expectations, while the achievement approach refers to instances where a leader sets challenging goals and expects excellent results. The participative approach describes a leader who consults employees, while the supportive leader is one who focuses on satisfying employee preferences.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Path-Goal Approach

The path-goal theory’s strengths determine its use in organizational contexts. It offers insight into leader-employee relationships by explaining how varied leadership behaviors impact work behavior and satisfaction among subordinates. It also incorporates the principles of motivation into leadership. Finally, it provides a practical model that aids leaders in identifying the most effective ways of addressing challenges faced by employees. It is vital to note that the path-glory approach has some weaknesses.

For instance, it is complex and includes varied aspects of leadership, which limits its applicability in the organizational context. In addition, the theory fails to adequately explain the link between leadership behavior and employee motivation. It also assumes that successful leadership is solely determined by the leader. The belief that the leader impacts the employee while the latter has no influence over the former is untrue in view of the fact that the leadership process is based on interactions.


Each of the five approaches has specific strengths and weaknesses. It is vital to note that the trait approach is the least applicable given that it assumes that leaders are born. The behavioral approach is the most comprehensive in view of the fact that it best explains the leadership models applied in various organizations. It is worth noting that the skills theory is the most realistic in view of the fact that it posits that every individual can become a leader provided they dedicate themselves to learning essential leadership skills.

The path-goal approach is the most complex, seeing as it incorporates varied leadership principles in explaining leadership behavior. Finally, the situational approach is the least reliable because a leader’s style changes depending on their interpretation of the situation and the context. Therefore, there is a chance that similar situations could be handled very differently by the same leader, which is unsuitable for organizational success.


Aalateeg, S. (2017). Literature review on leadership theories. IOSR Journal of Business and Management (IOSR-JBM), 19(11), 35–43. Web.

Khan, Z. A., Bhat, S. J., & Hussanie, I. (2017). Understanding leadership theories: A review for researchers. Asian Journal of Research in Social Sciences and Humanities, 7(5), 249. Web.

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