Definition of Leadership Theories

by Kat Consador; Updated September 26, 2017
Business People Sitting Talking in an Office Building

Leadership is a key ingredient in having effective management. All forms of leadership are important to the organization, from top management to first-line management. Whether you have a small organization or large organization, having effective leadership is essential. When leaders are effective, employees are committed, motivated and high performing.

Nature of Leadership

According to "Contemporary Management" by Gareth R. Jones and Jennifer M. George, leadership is defined as "the process by which an individual exerts influence over other people and inspires, motivates, and directs their activities to help achieve group or organizational goals."

Leaders possess power and as a result, are able to influence people. Five types of power exist: legitimate power, reward power, coercive power, expert power and referent power. Legitimate power is "the authority that a manager has by virtue of his or her position in an organization's hierarchy." Reward power is described as "the ability of a manger to give or withhold tangible and intangible rewards." Coercive power is "the ability of a manager to punish others." Expert power is "power that is based on the special knowledge, skills, and expertise that a leader possesses," and referent power is "power that comes from subordinates' and coworkers' respect, admiration, and loyalty."

Trait and Behavior Models of Leadership

Characteristics and traits contribute to effective leadership. The trait model of leadership focuses on identifying certain characteristics that cause effective leadership. Traits alone are not enough to create a good leader. Some effective leaders do not possess these traits, and some ineffective leaders possess these traits. Examples of traits that relate to effective leadership are intelligence, knowledge, expertise, dominance, self-confidence, high energy, tolerance for stress, integrity, honesty and maturity.

In the behavior model, two basic behaviors can be found in leaders: consideration and initiating structure. Consideration is behavior that indicates a manager respects, cares and trusts her subordinates. According to Jones and George, the initiating structure is "behavior that managers engage to ensure that work gets done, subordinates perform their jobs acceptably, and the organization is efficient and effective."

Contingency Models of Leadership

Contingency models take into account the situation where leadership occurs. Contingency models is a combination of the manager's traits and behavior and the particular situation.

Examples of contingency models are Fiedler's contingency model and House's path-goal theory. Fiedler's contingency model is unique because it helps explain why a leader is effective under one situation and not the other. House's path-goal theory is defined as "a contingency model of leadership proposing that leaders can motivate subordinates by identifying their desired outcomes, rewarding them for high performance and the attainment of work goals with these desired outcomes, and clarifying for them the paths leading to the attainment of work goals."

Transformational Leadership

Transformational leaders are those that transform the organization and revitalize and renew operations. These leaders are able to communicate to subordinates to make them aware of the importance of their jobs and performance toward the overall organization. Moreover, they help subordinates become aware of their own needs for personal growth.

Emotional Intelligence and Leadership

Emotional intelligence can be used toward leadership effectiveness, such as encouraging and supporting creativity among employees. Jones and George describe emotional intelligence as "the moods and emotions leaders experience on the job, and their ability to effectively manage these feelings."

About the Author

Kat Consador is a freelance writer and professional competitive Latin dancer. Her work has appeared in eHow and various online publications. She also writes for clients in small businesses, primarily specializing in SEO. She earned a Bachelor's of Arts in Psychology from Arizona State University.

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