An in-depth understanding of leadership theories is essential for career advancement in different industries, and especially so if you want a position that requires you to lead, interact with, and manage groups of people. By finding out what constitutes a good leader, you can take the necessary steps to become one. Learn more about the different established leadership theories and their foundations in this guide.
A leadership theory explains the characteristics, qualities, and behavioral patterns that enable some people to become excellent leaders. By analyzing these various aspects, you can get better insights into leadership and leadership development practices. You can integrate different theories to create an effective leadership model that can help you to identify context and situations to resolve real-life workplace issues.
Foundational concepts of leadership
Foundational concepts of leadership enable a better understanding of leadership theories. Here are some of them:
- Character: The characters of successful leaders generally comprise of socially approved ethics, morals, values, and traits, and they try to lead others with responsibility, accountability, humility, and integrity. As they seem to possess moral authority, people are more willing to listen to them and follow their influence and direction. That makes it easier for them to guide their followers into adopting specified methods to achieve desired goals for group benefit. Top companies understand the importance of character, especially when it comes to managing projects and making the right business decisions. That’s why they hire personnel for character and train them for skills.
- Characteristics: Successful leaders have distinct characteristics that they are born with or develop. These include intelligence, extroverted personality, self-awareness, confidence, and ambition. Other traits common to most leaders are the ability to commit to something, to stay motivated, to be persistent, to be persuasive, to take well-thought-out decisions, to remain calm, and to display courage in front of setbacks.
- People practices: Depending on the situation, good leaders will have the ability to institute different practices. They will be able to influence their followers into performing specified roles to achieve desired outcomes. The leaders might lead by example or offer rewards or punishments to get the work done. They must be able to select the right person for a position, and monitor and evaluate their performances regularly. They must understand how to support and direct them as needed, and must be open-minded enough to take inputs from them, when necessary, for work improvement.
- Institutional practices: For effective leadership within an institution, the leaders must have a sound understanding of the institution’s structure, its goals, the direction it wants to take, and the work practices it must implement. They can then come up with the right systems, policies, and procedures for institutional development.
- Context: Leadership happens within a particular context and prevailing situation. Leaders can produce good results only if they are able to adjust their strategies to the social, economic, geographic, demographic, and regulatory environment that they and their followers are in. To succeed, they must understand the current situation and also be ready to deal with the changes that could occur in the future.
- Outcomes: Organizations put people in leadership positions to achieve the outcomes the organizations desire. A leader might employ different strategies and improve team performances to get tangible results. A measure of a successful leader is their ability to get things done and deliver what they promise.
Types of leadership theories
Some people assume that a leader is born, not made. Certain innate qualities like intelligence, intuition, charm, and courage enabled some people to stand out from among their peers and become leaders. However, more modern trait theories suggest that people can become strong leaders if they can develop their emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills, enabling them to be more motivated and driven to get things done.
According to the transformational theory, successful leaders tend to cultivate good work relationships and maintain open communication with their employees in the organization. They explain the significance of the work they want them to undertake, motivate them to do well, and lead by example.
In transactional theories of leadership, the focus is on maintaining the organizational hierarchy to achieve the desired outcome. The leaders supervise projects and motivate their team members to complete allotted tasks in a given order. They might offer rewards to spur the teams to finish projects successfully, on time, and on budget. In contrast, they might impose penalties if the team performance is subpar.
To be effective, leaders must adjust their behavior and their strategies to suit the current circumstances. They may have to depend on their intuition, collected data, existing skills, or previous experience to judge how to proceed in a given situation. They must remain flexible and adopt different methods to deal with any eventualities that might arise.
Importance of leadership theories
Theories of leadership are important as they provide insights into why some people become leaders. You can examine their personal characteristics and behavior patterns and find out how these influenced their followers. You can adopt the leadership principles that suit your situation and develop your own leadership skills.
Strong leadership is vital for the survival of any organization, and people with leadership potential tend to be successful and hold high, decision-making positions that can affect the livelihoods of others. Hiring managers often look to hire capable people who can lead teams and complete projects without delays and on budget. If you are applying for jobs, you may have a higher chance of impressing the interviewers and being selected for a position if you can demonstrate leadership potential in addition to your other qualifications.