Different Theories That Define Leadership


According to Google, the definition of Leadership is as follows; it is an ability to influence the individual or group of people towards the achievement of the same goal.

Now, this term is often misunderstood by Managers, these terms are used interchangeably, but are these terms synonyms of each other? Can they be used in place of one another? Let us find out with the help of a story.

X was appointed as a new manager in a big industrial plant and he wanted to impress the subordinates by showing his powers. The plant was by running a Union of workers. So the next day he went to the factory and shouted ‘ I run this plant and you work for me’

The union leader raised his hand and all the workers stopped their work and machines were turned off. He said to the manager that we all can see who runs this plant.

At this point, the union leader was the leader but without the followers, the manager was nothing.

This story doesn’t imply that a manager is not a leader or vice versa but a manager should be a leader.

According to Belbin (1997) leadership is not something that takes place birth according to the hierarchy of the organization or is just a part of the ‘job’ rather it is a quality that is present since birth or acquired after it.

Hollingsworth (1989) listed out six fundamental differences between leadership and management.

1) A manager administers, but a leader innovates

2) A manager maintains, while a leader develops

3) A manager over-look systems and structures, whereas a leader’s focus is on people

4) A manager relies on control, but a leader inspires trust

5) A manager relies on control, but a leader inspires trust  

6) A manager keeps an eye on the bottom line, while a leader has an eye on the horizon  

7) A manager does things right, a leader does the right thing.

There are various theories proposed as to how leadership is defined and approached:

The subject of leadership is so vast and perceived to be so critical, it has generated a huge body of literature. Each researcher working in the field has tried to explain leadership from a different perspective. Broadly, there are four distinct approaches to leadership, viz. Traits theory, Behaviouristic theory, Contingency theory and Charismatic theories of leadership.

1) Traits Theory:

Ask people what good leadership is, and it's quite likely you will get a response that suggests good leadership can somehow be defined in terms of traits or characteristics. Similarly, if one were to ask people to design an experiment aimed at defining good leadership, it's likely the response will be an attempt to isolate the characteristics of leaders of organizations deemed to be successful (by whatever terms that success is measured).

This is exactly what the initial, formal research into leadership was all about. There was a sense among researchers that some critical leadership traits could be isolated. There was also a feeling that people with such traits could then be recruited, selected, and installed into leadership positions.

2) Behaviouristic Theory:

The results of the trait studies were inconclusive. Traits, among other things, were hard to measure. How, for example, do we measure traits such as honesty, integrity, loyalty, or diligence? Another approach in the study of leadership had to be found.

 To measure traits, researchers had to rely on constructs that lacked reliability and, given differing definitions, also lacked validity. After the problems with the trait approach became evident, researchers turned to an examination of leader behaviours. With behaviours, researchers could rely on empirical evidence. Behaviours, contrary to traits, could be observed. It was thus decided to examine the behaviours of successful (again, by whatever means success was measured) leaders.

The initial phases of the behavioural research seemed as frustrating as the trait approach -- the number of behaviours identified was staggering. However, over time, it appeared that the key behaviours could be grouped or categorized. The most prominent studies were those undertaken by the University of Michigan and by Ohio State University.

3) Contingency theories:

 Managerial leadership has influenced organizational activities in many ways. These influences include motivating subordinates, budgeting scarce resources, and serving as a source of communication. Over the years researchers have emphasized the influences of leadership on the activities of subordinates.

This emphasis by researchers led to theories about leadership. "The first and perhaps most popular, situational theory to be advanced was the ‘Contingency Theory of Leadership Effectiveness' developed by Fred E. Fiedler" This theory explains that group performance is a result of the interaction of two factors. These factors are known as leadership style and situational favorableness.

These two factors will be discussed along with other aspects of Fiedler's theory. "In Fiedler's model, leadership effectiveness is the result of interaction between the style of the leader and the characteristics of the environment in which the leader works".

However, these theories are not bound to work 100% of the time as these theories have their disagreements attached to them which is just like an experiment. Some people are bound to think otherwise than some stated facts.

But these theories do give a real sense of leadership in its true virtue.

Written By – Chavi Goel


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