Important Leadership Theories in the Realm of Management Sciences

Scientific Essay, 2012

12 Pages, Grade: none





What is Leadership all about?

Great Man Theories

Trait Theories

Contingency Theories

Management Theories
Transactional Leadership

Relationship Theories
Transformational Leadership Theory
Special Note

Situational Theories

Participative Theories
Path-Goal Theory

Behavioral Theories
Managerial Grid Model

Leadership Member Exchange Theory




This paper is aimed at providing the students of management with a holistic view of modern leadership research in the field of management sciences. It introduces the students to the basic understanding of leadership in a general way. Next, leadership in relation to business economics, organization and governance is explained. Then, we discuss on different categories of leadership theories. These are: Great Man Theories, Trait Theories, Contingency Theories, Management Theories (with special reference to Transactional Leadership Theory), Relationship Theories (with special reference to Transformational Leadership Theory, Situational Theories, Participative Theories (with special reference to Path-Goal Theory), Behavioral Theories (with special reference to Managerial Grid Model) and Leadership Member Exchange Theory. The individual theories, which are especially important and have attention from the academicians, have been separately mentioned under their respective categories. The paper ends with a suitable conclusion and an authentic reference list.


For several years academicians have wondered that what leadership is all about and how the leaders lead. In the ancient world, there were highly influential spiritual and military leaders who had paramount importance in the civilized world. From that perspective, Pharaoh Ramases of Egypt, Chandragupta Maurya of India, Jesus Christ, etc. can be regarded as ideal and distinguished leaders.

However, with the lapse of time, economic activities of the humans increased manifold and trade and commerce became more and more important. Even in the middle age, business leaders were seldom distinctly mentioned in the academic world but they had become practically influential in the courts of Ottoman Empire, Mongol Empire, Byzantine Empire, etc. In the modern age, academicians started reflecting on the desired qualities of a business leader more seriously. The pre-existing theories regarding military and spiritual leaderships were used as the basis of the construction of modern leadership theories in the context of business economics and organization.

In this paper, we will concisely reflect on the various leadership theories existing in the modern academic world with authentic references to business and management literature. The main aim is to introduce the readers to the basic concepts of the various leadership theories in the context of scholastic and academic purposes.

What is Leadership all about?

In business, leadership is concerned with multidimensional managerial and administrative aspects principally related to industry, commerce, economics, technology, and political far sightedness. Of late, leadership has become perhaps the most attention grabbing area of management sciences. It will not be completely wrong if we define leadership in the following way: Leadership can be defined as a sustained process that helps an individual to derive desired results with the help of his or her followers, superiors, subordinates, and peers and deliver optimum performance for the well being of the society and the world at large. Leadership theories basically focus on the qualities that create the difference between a person who is a leader and a person who is a follower but not a leader. In special circumstances, a follower may also behave like a leader. For example, suppose you know French but don’t know German and I know German but don’t know French. Now, we enter a language exchange. In doing that, you will have to use your leadership qualities while you would teach me French. And I will have to use my leadership qualities when you would sit to learn German from me. In this way, leader-follower roles may get interchanged. Also, during crisis, a subordinate may lead his or her superior without even a proper permission or formality. A widely known example is Napoleon Bonaparte of France. On an occasion in his early career, regardless of his authorities and without waiting for instructions, Napoleon had opened fire on a hostile mob with explosives and canons.

Experts like Bass (1985) have extensively interrelated leadership and performance. In modern business economics, leadership has to be performance oriented and lots of things directly depend on his or her organizing and optimizing capabilities. Leadership theories have been divided into various categories. In the following sections, we will attempt to generally explore these categories and concisely reflect on the most popular leadership theories related to them.

Great Man Theories

In this category of leadership theories, a leader is regarded as a person gifted with special or exceptional capabilities that help him or her to become a pathfinder. Great man theorists hold that leaders have inherent talents and his or her pedigree plays a significant role. Carlyle (1888) has been one of the most important and earliest proponents of this thought. He regarded leaders as “heroes” (Carlyle, 1888, p. 1). Woods (1913) held that the monarchs were especially gifted by nature to lead. To prove this, he investigated the cases of 386 administrators and rulers from the West Europe whose tenures spanned in the period from 12th century to 18th century. However, libertarians like Herbert Spencer criticized and attacked such a conception of leadership qualities (Carneiro, 1981) and in business; a leading entrepreneur may have humble, non-business backgrounds too. Since great man theories glorify and justify the leader, adoption of this approach leads to a command and control business environment.

Trait Theories

Trait theories also assume that individuals inherit certain traits which make them more suited for a leadership role. Trait theorists attempt to find out specific behavioral or personality features which are exhibited in common by the leaders. Allport (1960) is a proponent of this theory. According to him, humans have three major traits. First, the cardinal trait attributes to their tendency to rule or dominate. Second, the central trait describes the common characteristics present in every individual at least to some degree. Third, the central trait describes the characteristics of a human that are situational and primarily responsive to the external circumstances on certain occasions or crises. In his efforts to construct the trait theory framework, he can be considered to have been influenced by Sigmund Freud (Allport, 1961).

Contingency Theories

Contingency theories regarding leadership center on certain variables that are correlated to the environmental factors that might ascertain which particular method of leadership would be best suitable for the situation. In accordance with this category of theoretical thought, no single leadership style can be best to tackle all situations. Accomplishment depends upon several variables, including persona of the followers, leadership style, and situational aspects. Fiedler (1967) put forward this theoretical framework in researching on the question that how leadership can be adequately effective in handling the various situations in an organization.

Management Theories

Management theories emphasize the role of organizing ability, supervisory, and the group’s cumulative performance. The management theories describe leadership as a process that has a reward and punishment system, which can be simply described with the help of an attitude to either perform or perish. Managerial theories are time and again applied to business. In this model, performing subordinates are rewarded and non-performing subordinates are demoted or sacked. Bass (1985) developed this theoretical approach with the help of his extensive research in the sphere of business leadership.

Transactional Leadership

Transactional leadership theory pertains to the category of management theories and it is an effective leadership approach in industry and commerce. Transactional leadership theory has the prospective to build up innovative models for use in the contemporary and futuristic managerial practices. Some principal concepts are:

1. People perform in an optimum way when the commands or instructions are definite and clear.
2. A reasonable arrangement of punishment and reward stimulates the workers.
3. Monitoring and mentoring the subordinates is essential to fulfil business expectations.
4. Compliance should be guaranteed among the subordinates.

(Bass, 1985)

This kind of theoretical approach might appear to be supported by the older customs, conventions, and belief systems. On the other hand, re-emergence of this theory in the realm of current management research can be perceived in the works of Harman and Britz (2008). In accordance with them, the number of research projects that hold knowledge management and leadership as logical variables are inadequate. Hence, practitioners in the future may contemplate on exploring the basic concepts of transactional leadership and its scope in relation to the relatively new field of knowledge management.


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Important Leadership Theories in the Realm of Management Sciences
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Great Man Theories, Trait Theories, Contingency Theories, Management Theories, Situational Theories, transactional leadership, transformational leadership, path-goal theory, behavioral theory
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Arghya Ray (Author), 2012, Important Leadership Theories in the Realm of Management Sciences, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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