The Great Leader

Leaders, Leadership styles & Leadership theories

Narinder Sharma

“Leadership is one of the most observed and least understood phenomena on earth”

James MacGregor Burns

Word leader and leadership bring many pictures in our brains ranging in a wide variety of professions – political leader, mountaineer and explores, team captain executive of an organisation and so on. In an organisation, “Leadership” is the act of leading people to achieve goals and plays a vital role in improving overall performance and productivity. Leaders, in general, help others to do the right thing and succeed.  Leaders employ various tools, management skills and leadership styles to influence and motivate the masses, which I will discuss in this blog post.

Leadership refers to a vast range of roles that profoundly influence us and our daily lives. Usage of this term is so broad it almost includes anyone and everyone – a person dead or alive who significantly influences others. Consequently, many organisations have now started to promote the slogan – Everyone is a Leader”.

There are several leadership theories that seek to explain different ways of leadership, why some are more effective than others, and the skills effective leaders employ to lead. These theories also explore leadership abilities to answer if true leaders are born with such abilities or if we can mould, shape and build leaders of the future. Scholars have been researching these topics for decades to explain why some are great leaders while others are not so much.

What are the recipe and ingredients for a leader? What is the difference between a leader, a good leader and a great leader? These questions have equally troubled both psychologists and scholars throughout human history and development. Early theories mainly focused on what qualities distinguish a follower from a leader, while subsequent theories explored further and looked at the magnitude of parameters such as skill level & situation.

While many leadership theories have emerged over a period, most of these can be classified together into eight groups:

  1. The “Great man”
  2. Trait or Dispositional
  3. Contingencies
  4. Situational
  5. Behavioural
  6. Participative
  7. Management
  8. Relational

The Great Man Theories & Leadership Styles

The “Great Man” theory is a 19th-century idea that asserts leaders are born great and NOT made. It made the term “born to lead” famous, according to this theory – great leaders are born with qualities & characteristics like intelligence, charisma, confidence and, intelligence et al. Often, references to mythic & old characters who were destined to rise are made examples are Hercules, Napoleon, Alexander the Great.  The theory further goes to suggests – great men are the products of their societies and that their actions would be impossible without the social conditions built before their lifetimes

Trait Theories & Leadership Styles

These theories insist that people who inherit certain qualities and traits are better suited to be great leaders, and their core idea is similar to the Great Man theories. Theorists observed great leaders and inferred that those who possess certain qualities & traits that are also shared by great leaders have the potential to become great leaders. The study primarily focuses on measurements of traits, habitual patterns, thoughts and emotions. Traits are personality aspects that remain consistent over the period and differ across individuals. However, it falls short of explaining and answering – why people with all those qualities are still not good or great leaders.

Contingency theories & Leadership Styles

Contingency theory is an organisational theory that argues that there is no BEST way to lead a company or an organisation. Instead, the optimal course of action is contingent (i.e. dependent) upon the specifics of the situation. It insists that no single leadership style works in all cases. Researchers have suggested that it is more about finding the right balance between the followers’ behaviours, needs, and situational context. A good leader possesses the qualities to access context and needs and adjust their behaviours accordingly. Success depends upon the application of the right leadership style in a correct quantity concerning the situation.

Situational theories  & Leadership Styles

Situational theories are also known as Hersey Blanchard’s Situational theory. It is named after Dr Paul Hersey (author of – “The Situational Leader”) and Kenneth Blanchard (author of – “One-Minute Manager”). Theory advocate that there is no single best style of leadership. Effective leadership is task-relevant, and most successful leaders are those who adapt their leadership style to the cues, such as:

  • Performance readiness level (ability + willingness) of the individual or group whom they are attempting to lead / influence.
  • Type of task, job or function that need to be accomplished.
  • Other factors that contribute to getting the job done

Theory categorised leadership styles into four behaviour types, namely S1 (Directing), S2 (Coaching), S3 (Supporting) and S4 (Delegating). It also classified maturity levels into four buckets, namely M1 (unable and insecure), M2 (unable but confident), M3 (capable but unwilling) and finally, M4 (very capable & confident). Once again, to recap – there is no leadership style that is best to be used all the time, leaders choose the best leadership approach to help employees accomplish their goals by pinpointing employees’ level of maturity.

Behavioural theories & Leadership Styles

Behaviour theory put merely believes that all behaviours are the result of experience and conditioning. Any person, regardless of his or her background, can be trained to act in a particular manner given the right conditioning. This theory is the direct opposite of the Great Man theory as it suggests personal characteristics and environment are significant contributors. Thus it is of the belief that great leaders are made, NOT born. Theory stays focused on the actions of leaders in place of mental qualities or internal states. Behaviour theorist believes that people can rise to become leaders through teaching, education and observations.

Participative theories & Leadership Styles

The participative theory is also known as democratic leadership; it suggests that the ideal leadership style is the one that takes others’ input into account. Democratic is one of the four participative decision-making/leadership styles others being – consensus, autocratic and collective. I briefly touched upon these in my blog post about conflict resolution. Participative leadership makes people feel valued and involved, perform well, and are more committed. Participative leaders encourage participation and contribution, and hence their followers find a direct connection and more relevant.

Management theories & Leadership Styles

Management or transactional theories focus on the role of supervision and organisation. Leaders implements rewards (carrot) and punishments (stick) system to motivate followers. Max Weber prescribed this theory which was later explored by Bernard Bass in the 80s. Leaders rewarded employees for successes and reprimanded them for their failures. It assumes following the instructions and obeying the leader’s command is the primary goal of the followers. Leaders dictate what to do when to do and sometime even how to do it. Because of the trench between reward and punishment, employees carry out their tasks sometimes due to fear and sometimes for reward and recognition.

Relational theories & Leadership Styles

Relationship or transformational theories focus primarily on the connection/relationship between leaders and followers. Transformational leaders motivate and inspire people and sell their ideas and vision to their followers. Leaders are focused on the group member’s performance and also facilitate each person to his/her potential. This style boost people’s trust and confidence, help develop their career, establish a good and open communication channel, and finally implements a welfare and reward system. Leaders who exhibit this leadership style have high ethical & moral standards and are more popular. Employees feel valued; they understand their feeling are taken into consideration by their leaders. They feel happy with a supportive leader, and they are more productive as they are willing to go above and beyond for them.  According to James MacGregor Burns, in transformational leadership, leaders and followers make each other advance to a higher level of morals and motivation.

Leaders are people who do the right thing; managers are people who do things right.

– Professor Warren G. Bennis

Does this blog post make you think about your own leadership style or reminded you of people/leaders who exhibit a certain type of leadership, you can benefit a lot by overserving and evaluating. This will help you improve and strengths of your own leadership and overcome the weakness that you notice. Come back again I will explore topics on leadership further in my next blog posts.

References and further readings:

BENINCASA, R. (2012). 6 Leadership Styles And When You Should Use Them. Retrieved 9 April 2018, from

Chernenko, A. (2015). Leading in a changing world. Retrieved 8 April 2018, from

Cherry, K. (2011). The Major Leadership Theories. Retrieved 9 April 2018, from

Gerzon, M. (2003). Leaders and Leadership | Beyond Intractability. Retrieved 12 April 2018, from

Goleman, D. (2000). Leadership That Gets Results. Harvard Business Review, 78(2), 78. Retrieved from

Johannsen, M. (2017). Types of Leadership Styles: Twelve Worth Knowing and Using. Retrieved 9 April 2018, from

Malinowski, M. F. (2012). Leadership principles for project success. Project Management Journal (Vol. 43).

Bailey, J. R. (n.d.). The Difference Between Good Leaders and Great Ones. Retrieved 12 April 2018, from