Four Types Of Leadership Theories Commerce Essay


Leadership is a highly attractive and important wealth (Northouse, 2011). Majority people consent that the leadership can improve their individual, social, and vocational lives. Therefore, researchers paid attention to leadership and been studied with both qualitative and quantitative methods. Since Stogdill(1974) pointed out the definition of leadership in a review of research, 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 it for more than a century without common 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 born to be leaders and believed to have special characteristics distinguishing leaders from non-leaders (Bass, 1990).

However, in the modern view, leadership is the ability or a process whereby a person influences a group to achieve common goals (Northouse, 2011). As leadership theory progressed, skill levels and condition factors were studied and researchers have presented and summarized different theories to explain leadership and leadership behavior in any institution. While there are three major theories and one type of leadership are crucial: Trait Theory, Behavioral Theory, Contingency Theory and Transformational Leadership.

Trait Theory

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To be a leader, some traits are must. But, where do these traits come from? The Trait Theory, also known as "Great man/Hero" Theory assumes that leadership is inherited and tries to identify characteristics that always differentiate leaders from followers and capable leaders from ineffective leaders. The Trait Theories were remarkable in the culture from 1904 to 1947, initially large quantities of traits considered to be possessed by leaders were presented in this theory (Spotts, 1976).

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 classified by researchers.

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

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

2. The Trait Theory failed to relate with situations. A person who has certain traits that make him/her a leader in one situation may not be leader in another situation.

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

Behavioral Theory

The criticism of Trait Theory laid a foundation of the birth of the Behavioral Theory in the 1930s and the viewpoint began to move from a faith in the inherited traits of leaders, to a focus on behavior which could be acquired or learned (Uma , 2006). Apparently, the Behavioral Theory is founded on behaviorism, where believe that leaders are not inborn that way, but are learned to be leaders, which strongly opposes the Trait Theory. According to Behavioral Theory, the successful leadership depends more on suitable behavior 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 (Lewin & Lippitt, 1938)( most effective)(Bass, 1990)

Consideration, and Initiating structure (Kerr et al, 1974)

Employee oriented, and Production oriented (Cartwrifhr, 1960).

Managerial Grid: concern for people and concern for production (Blake& Mouton, 1964)

Meanwhile, the Behavioral Theory still has weaknesses. The relationship between these behaviors and dependent performance and satisfaction is not inevitably clean cut. The theory ignores the circumstance in which leadership occurs.

Contingency Theory

Contingency theory is a leader-match theory, which means that it attempts to match leaders to proper circumstances (Fiedler, 1974). It is called contingency because it indicates that a leader's efficacy depends on whether the leader style adapts the qualification. To understand the enforcement of leaders, it is necessary to understand the surroundings in which they lead. Effective leadership pivots on matching a leader's style to the appropriate situations.

Contingency theory has several major excellences. First, it is supported by a large number of empirical researches (Peter, 1985). Second, contingency theory has extended our understanding of leadership by driving us to consider the influence of situations on leaders (e.g., trait approach). Third, it is provides helpful information about the leadership that is most likely to be available in certain conditions (e.g. leader-subordinate relations, position power and task structure). Fourth, this theory does not need that people be effective in all situations. In a word, contingency theory is very much involved with styles and situations. It establishes the structure for effectually matching the leader and situation.

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While many studies support the availability of contingency theory, it has also received many comments (Northouse, 2011):

1. It fails to explain entirely why people with some leadership styles are more effective in some circumstances than in other conditions, which is called Black Box Problem by Fiedler (Fiedler, 1993).

2. It fails to explain totally what institutions should do when there is an incongruity between the situation and the leader in the working spot.

Transformational Leadership

Recently, one of the highly sought-after ways to leadership that has been studied by many researchers since the early 1980s is the transformational approach, and Transformational leadership enters into the New Leadership exemplification (Bryman, 1992), which attracts more attention to the charismatic and emotional factors of leadership. It is the approach whereby individual engages with others and establishes a relationship which improves the level of morality and motivation in both the leaders and their members (Northouse, 2011).

Transformation occurs in one or more of the following approaches (Bernard et al, 2006):

1. By improving people's level of consciousness about payment and methods to accomplish them: have the ability of profound influence on followers; take care of concerns of followers.

2. By making people give up their own interests for the sake of group/organization: Change followers' understanding of problems.

3. By getting people to concentrate on secondary satisfaction.

4. By helping followers to adopt prolonged and wide perspective.

5. By helping people realize the need for change: encourage workers to make further efforts.

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 regards leadership as personal characteristics or personality traits rather than a behavior that people can acquire from learning (Bryman, 1986).


Based on the report, the four different leadership theories have their own strengths and weaknesses, but they are all applicable in the business organization. In order to be successful in one's leadership role, people should not only possess the characteristics that mentioned, but also put these into practice. A successful leader should learn everything about the leadership that fits him/her best, get feedback from the management team and his/her group members, think over the feedback and change anything that needs to change, and then apply them in actual business for optimum achievement (Leadership Theory and Practice, 2012).