The styles of leaders differ and there is no one approach to leadership. According to the philosopher Plato, the ideal leader is one who uses reason and order to rule. And according to Machiavelli, a leader could adopt deceit and threats to achieve the end of ruling with authority. And there is the Gandhian approach of using nonviolence to achieve his ends. Leadership theories try to make sense of various approaches to leadership.


There is no one definition of leadership. A leader influences a group and is also influenced by the wishes of the group. Leaders aim to use their leadership position to accomplish certain goals. The earliest theories of leadership focused more on the hierarchical role of a leader in commanding workers. Workers were expected to execute the orders without thinking.

Leadership Theories

Leadership theories typically define leaders based on their characteristics or their style. Some theories surmise that leaders have certain characteristics that make them suitable for the role of leader. For example, they may be charismatic or heroic. The style theories put forth the view that leaders’ behaviors make them suitable for their leadership role. There are also situational theories of leadership that also take into account the situation of each leader.

Understanding Leadership

Whatever the approach, the purpose of different leadership theories is to make sense of leadership roles. Leadership roles involve dealing with people, as well as with hard inputs. Leadership theories try to put it all together so as to understand how managers, for instance, approach their roles as leaders. Even though a lot of research has been done on leadership, it is still difficult to pinpoint how leadership impacts factors such as the output and performance of subordinates.

Development of Leadership Potential

Another purpose of leadership theories is to develop leadership. A business manager should be aware of these theories to better hone his approach to be successful. Not only business managers, but leaders in other fields, such as politics and the military, could play their roles better by gaining an understanding of leadership theories.