Effective Leadership Theories

Effective Leadership Theories

Unit 2: Leading

Effective Leadership Theories

Characteristics of Effective Leaders

What makes one leader more effective than another? What are the traits of effective leaders? Shelley Kirkpatrick and Edwin A. Locke identified six traits they believed as essential for success as a leader.

Leadership Traits

(1) Drive is a broad term which includes achievement, ambition, energy, tenacity, and initiative.
(2) Motivation deals with the desire to lead but not to seek power as an end in itself.
(3) Honesty and integrity are two essential leadership traits dealing with moral character.
(4) Self-confidence is a characteristic associated with emotional stability.
(5) Cognitive ability means the person has the “know how” or ability to do the job.
(6) Knowledge of the business means the person “knows and understands the business”.

Kirkpatrick, S. & Locke, E. 1991. “Leadership: Do traits matter?”
Academy of Management Executive, vol. 5 no. 2, 48-60.

Leadership Theories

This is a graph showing Blake and Mouton s five styles of managementMany research papers, articles, and books describe leadership. This will be a brief overview of five important leadership theories that every student studying management should know.

(1) The Leadership Grid developed by behavioural scientists, Dr. Robert R. Blake and Dr. Jane S. Mouton, explains five different styles of leadership based on a manager’s level of concern for people and results.

According to the grid theory, effective leaders who show a high concern for both people and results score high on the grid. Co-ordinates 9 and 9, demonstrates this leadership style.

Check out Blake and Mouton’s company Grid International, Inc. at:

(2) Contingency Theory

In 1967, Fred Fielder developed the Contingency Theory that suggests the most effective style of leadership depends on the situation. While the Grid theory, which advocates a high relationship i.e., concern for people and a high task i.e., concern for results, as the best leadership in all situations; the contingency theory says that the best style of leadership depends on three factors.

  1. Are leader-member relations good or poor? Does the group support the leader?
  2. How structured is the task? Are procedures and guidelines for the task clearly spelled out?
  3. Is the leader’s positional power strong or weak? To what degree can the leader reward or punish the group members?

In some situations, a task-oriented or authority-compliance approach can be more effective. Consider these two cases.

Case 1
Here is an example where all of the factors are unfavourable. Take the situation which results of rescue and recovery efforts after a natural disaster. The leader-member relations are usually poor, the task is unstructured, and the positional power is weak. The leader who is directing the group's efforts may not know any of his/her subordinates personally. If the leader is relationship-oriented, he/she may waste valuable time. The task-oriented leader who gets things accomplished is likely to be the most successful in this situation.

Case 2
Here is an example where all of the factors are favourable. Take the situation at a successful fast-food restaurant. In this case, there is a very structured set of systems and tasks. The manager has good relationships with the group and a lot of a positional power. A task-oriented approach to leadership works well is this situation.

In all other situations, in which some factors are favourable and others are unfavourable, a leader that is people oriented works best.

3) TransactionalLeadership

A Transactional Model states that employees are motivated by rewards and punishment. If employees do their jobs well, then they can expect to be rewarded. If employees do something poorly, they can expect to be punished. Transactional Leadership can be quite effective for short term goals with certain employees. The major disadvantage of this model of leadership is that it does not take into account that most people want more from their jobs than just a pay cheque.

(4) Transformational Leadership

Transformational Leadership is a theory of leadership that is based on visioning, enabling, and challenging followers. Studied widely in recent years, James MacGregor Burns and Bernard Bass are two prominent researchers who wrote about transformational leadership.

The theory of Transformational Leadership states that people will follow a leader who has the ability to inspire and motivate them. A transformational leader helps people to see deeper purposes behind their work, thus making them achieve high levels of motivation.

Read more about benefits and limitations of Transformational Leadership(Attached).

(5) Servant Leadership is an approach defined by Robert Greenleaf in his 1970 essay, The Servant as Leader. Greenleaf wrote that true leaders are selected by their followers. The following is an explanation of servant leadership in Greenleaf’s own words.

It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions. The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature. – Greenleaf Center

Robert Greenleaf is considered the “father” of the modern servant-leadership philosophy. However, for thousands of years this philosophy existed; and for many centuries religious organizations used it effectively.

Check out the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership website for further reading about this leadership theory at:

Check Your Understanding

  1. Which leadership theory talks about country-club and middle-of-the road managers?
  2. Leadership Grid Theory
  3. Contingency Theory
  4. Transactional Leadership
  5. Transformational Leadership
  6. Which leadership theory states that, in some situations, a task-oriented leader is likely to be more successful than a relationship-oriented leader?
  7. Servant leadership Theory
  8. Contingency Theory
  9. Transactional Leadership
  10. Transformational Leadership
  11. Which theory of leadership states that people will follow a leader who has the ability to inspire and motivate them?
  12. Servant Leadership Theory
  13. Contingency Theory
  14. Transactional Leadership
  15. Transformational Leadership

Leader or Follower

Think of a situation in which you were an effective leader or a satisfied follower of an effective leader.

Briefly describe the situation and then answer the following questions.

  1. What leadership traits did you or your leader exhibit that proved to be effective?
  2. Which leadership theory best describes your style of leadership or your leader’s style of leadership?