Comparisons Of Leadership Theories Commerce Essay

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Abstract: Different theories to explain leadership and leadership behavior in any organization have been discovered and classified. This report is to compare the four types of leadership theories, and summary their strengths and weakness, which would inform people what should do and how to be a successful leader.

Keywords: Trait Theory Behavioral Theory Contingency Theory Transformational Leadership


Leadership is a highly sought-after and highly valued commodity [1]. Many people believe that leadership is a way to improve their personal, social, and professional lives. In addition, leadership has gained the attention of researchers all over the world and been studied using both qualitative and quantitative methods. Since Stogdill (1974, p.7) pointed out the definition of leadership in a review of research [2], there are thousands of people who have tried to define it, just like the word love. Although each of them has their own reason, scholars and practitioners have attempted to define leadership for more than a century without universal consensus. In the traditional view, leadership is about a position and power, which lead others to achieve organizational goals. This view restricts leadership to those who are believed to have special characteristics distinguishing leaders from non-leaders [3]. However, in the modern view, leadership is the ability or a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal [4]. As leadership theory progressed, skill levels and situational factors were studied and researchers have presented and classified different theories to explain leadership and leadership behavior in any organization. While there are many different types of theories, three major theories and one type of leadership are crucial: Trait Theory, Behavioral Theory, Contingency Theory and Transformational Leadership.

Trait Theory

To be a leader, some traits are must. But, where does trait come from? The Trait Theory, also known as "Great man/Hero" Theory assumes that leadership is inherited and attempts to identify traits that always differentiate leaders from followers and effective leaders from ineffective leaders who have failed. The Trait Theories were prominent in the literature from 1904 up to 1947, originally large lists of traits believed to be possessed by leaders were proposed in this theory [5].

Leadership traits

Trait of characteristics




Emotional intelligence (qualified)


Honesty and integrity

Leadership motivation


Job-relevant knowledge


The table above provides a summary of the traits and characteristics that were identified by researchers.

However, the Trait Theory has some serious weakness as well.

1. Sometimes all leaders do not possess all the traits, while non-leaders may possess most or all of them.

2. The Trait Theory failed to relate with situations. People who possess certain traits that make them leaders in one situation may not be leaders in another situation.

3. Relationship between leader's characteristics and success is not clear.

Behavioral Theory

The criticism of Trait Theory underpinned the birth of the Behavioral Theory of leadership in the 1930s and the perspective began to move from a belief in the inborn characteristics of leaders, to a focus on behavior which could be acquired or learned [6]. Apparently, the Behavioral Theory is based on behaviorism, where the belief is that leaders are not born that way, but are groomed to be leaders, which strongly opposes the Trait Theory. According to Behavioral Theory, the Successful leadership depends more on appropriate behavior, skill and actions and less on personal traits.

There are four main behavioral studies:

Iowa University

Ohio State University

Michigan University

Texas University



1940s and 1950s



Behavioral Dimensions

Democratic, Autocratic, and Laissez-faire styles [7]( most effective) [8]

Consideration, and Initiating structure[9]

Employee oriented, and Production oriented[10]

Managerial Grid: concern for people and concern for production[11]

Meanwhile, the Behavioral Theory still has weakness. The relationship between these behaviors and subordinate performance and satisfaction is not necessarily clear cut. The theory ignores the situation in which leadership take place.

Contingency Theory

Contingency theory is a leader-match theory, which means it tries to match leaders to appropriate situations [12]. It is called Contingency because it suggests that a leader's effectiveness depends on how well the leader's style fits the context. To understand the performance of leaders, it is essential to understand the situations in which they lead. Effective leadership is contingent on matching a leader's style to the right setting.

Contingency theory has several major strength. First, it is supported by a great deal of empirical research [13]. Second, contingency theory has broadened our understanding of leadership by forcing us to consider the impact of situations on leaders (e.g., trait approach). Third, it is predictive and therefore provides useful information about the type of leadership that is most likely to be effective in certain context (i.g. leader-member relations, task structure, and position power). Fourth, this theory does not require that people be effective in all situations. In short, contingency theory is concerned with styles and situations. It provides the framework for effectively matching the leader and situation.

Although many studies support the validity of contingency theory, it has also received much criticism [14]:

1. It fails to explain fully why people with certain leadership styles are more effective in some situations than in others. Fiedler called this Black Box Problem [15].

2. It fails to explain adequately what organizations should do when there is a mismatch between the leader and the situation in the workplace.

Transformational Leadership

One of the current and most popular approaches to leadership that has been the focus of much research since the early 1980s is the transformational approach. Transformational leadership is part of the New Leadership paradigm [16], which gives more attention to the charismatic and affective elements of leadership. It is the process whereby a person engages with others and creates a connection that raises the level of motivation and morality in both the leader and the follower [17].

Transformation takes place in one or more of the following ways [18]:

1. By raising people's level of consciousness about reward and ways to achieve them: Capable of having profound effect on followers; pay attention to concerns of followers.

2. By getting people to give up their self-interest for the sake of group/organization: Change followers' awareness of issues.

3. By raising people's focus on minor satisfaction.

4. By helping worker to adopt long term and broad perspective.

5. By helping people understanding the need for change: Inspire follower to put extra effort.

Transformational leadership is based on trait theory, because the focus of analysis is the leader's personal characteristics, which contains charisma, the ability to lead others by personal charm, inspiration, and emotion. So it treats leadership as a personality trait or personal predisposition rather than a behavior that people can learn[19].


Based on the report, the four different leadership theories have their own strengths and weakness, but they are all applicable in the business organization. In order to be a success in one's leadership role, people need not only the characteristics above, but also to put these into practice. A successful leader should learn everything about the leadership style that suits him/her best, get feedback from the group members and management team, reflect on the feedback and change anything that needs changed, then apply them in real life for optimum success.