Leadership Theories & Models

Theories behind leadership suggest that particular traits, behaviors and influential abilities determine whether a leader is effective or not. Some leadership styles are better suited than others for certain tasks and projects; other leadership styles are better suited for working with larger groups. Since there are a lot of factors that go into leadership, it is important to examine what the leadership theories entail.

Traits and Behaviors

Theories on leadership are usually broken down into two types: trait and behavioral. Trait leadership theories and models focus on the personal qualities and characteristics of leaders, whereas behavioral leadership theories and models examine how leaders behave. Theories behind trait leadership styles suggest that these types of leaders are born with natural leadership skills and abilities, whereas behavioral leadership theories consider leadership qualities as being learned and obtained.

Employee and Production Oriented Leadership

Employee-oriented leadership is a behavioral leadership theory that describes leaders as being focused on interpersonal relations. Employee-oriented leaders are concerned with their employees’ needs and tend to have empathetic personalities. In contrast, production-oriented leaders tend to be more technically focused, and are mostly concerned with accomplishing tasks and project outcomes. This type of leadership is less involved with employees on a personal level, as their interest is outcomes-based.

Path-Goal Theory

The path-goal theory of leadership examines how leadership styles impact and influence employee motivation and productivity. According to the Fall 1996 issue of “Leadership Quarterly,” Robert House, who founded the path-goal theory, explains that the path-goal leadership model is primarily a theory of person- and task-oriented leadership behavior. As such, there are four types of leadership behaviors that support the path-goal theory: directive, supportive, participative and achievement-oriented. In directive and achievement-oriented styles of leaderships, the leader is not involved in the employee’s personal or daily affairs unless they are work affiliated. These are distant, impersonal styles of leadership. Based on the path-goal theory, directive and achievement-oriented leadership are not likely to enhance employee motivation or production. Supportive and participative leadership, however, are leadership styles that help build and maintain effective interpersonal relationships, which House identifies as being a contributing factor in employee motivation and productivity.

Relations-Oriented Leadership

The relations-oriented leadership style focuses on boosting subordinate trust and confidence, developing their careers, emphasizing the importance of communication, implementing rewards systems and using consideration tactics to ensure that employees know their feelings are taken into consideration by their leader. In this style of leadership, the theory goes that the more considerate, friendly and supportive a leader is, the more likely subordinates will be loyal and committed to their leader and to their work. According to the June 2008 issue of “Leadership Excellence,” Terry Bacon explains that employees are happier with supportive leaders, and when employees are happy, they are more productive.

Transformational Leadership

Transformational leaders are infamous for being agents of change, and do so by guiding employees to work toward accomplishing targeted objectives. According to the Sept. 2009 issue of “Community College Enterprise,” Cheryl Hawkins describes transformational leaders as visionaries and role models, and usually having unswerving commitment that keeps them going. More specifically, this type of leadership is very goal-oriented.


  • “Community College Enterprise”; Leadership Theories: Managing Practices, Challenges, Suggestions; Cheryl Hawkins; September 2009.
  • “Leadership Excellence”; Balanced Leaders; Terry Bacon; November 2008.
  • “Leadership Quarterly”; Path-goal Theory of Leadership: Lessons, Legacy and a Reformulated Theory; Robert House; Fall 1996.

About the Author

Kyra Sheahan has been a writer for various publications since 2008. Her work has been featured in "The Desert Leaf" and "Kentucky Doc Magazine," covering health and wellness, environmental conservatism and DIY crafts. Sheahan holds an M.B.A. with an emphasis in finance.