Theories of Leadership in Management

by Walter Johnson; Updated September 26, 2017

Dozens of leadership theories exist, and nearly all have a close relationship with business management. In general, there are five that are cited regularly: transactional, transformational, trait-based, situational and cognitive theory.


Sociologist Max Weber developed the distinction between transactional and transformational leadership. This is a fairly simple approach to leadership. These are basically bureaucratic leaders who give orders and expect others follow. It is not so much leadership but the skill in working the resources of a bureaucracy, such as a political party, corporate office or opinion group, that provides this type of leader with authority (ref 1).


This is the opposite of transactional leadership. This sort of leader is charismatic and seeks to overcome self-interest and coercion to motivate people. It is leadership based on devotion, rather than a bureaucratic structure of self-interest. This sort of leader changes minds. His authority of command is based on his likability and ability to articulate a vision. (ref 1)

Trait Theory

D. Goldman is one of the major writers in trait-based theories of leadership. This kind of leadership is based on certain ingredients good leaders must have. Leaders derive their authority from experience. Basic traits include self-awareness, social skills, self-control, motivation and empathy. These together create a leader people are willing to follow regardless of their motivation for doing so. (ref 1)


P. Hersey and K. Blanchard developed a fourfold sort of leadership. Basically, the four divisions go from the harshest of commands to mere observation, depending on the motivation of those to be led. It is a spectrum of coercion, from greatest coercion (directing) to the least (observing). The first two are directing and coaching. Directing refers to a direct command, while coaching is a “couched command,” cloaked in motivational language. It is commanding while encouraging. The last two that require the least amount of coercion are support and observation. Support is something less than coaching--it is a matter of giving the employee a small push to complete the task, while observation involves overseeing an employee already motivated and working (ref 2).


F.E. Fiedler and J.E. Garcia developed a form of trait theory called Cognitive Resource theory. It stresses the trait of general intelligence tested by experience. According to this theory, leaders who are highly intelligent direct through command. They work well under stress, and decisions made under stressful conditions provide a foundation of experience. Intelligent directors normally only operate well when dealing with complexity. They only stress one trait--that of brain power--and show that this trait is highly limited. (ref 3).

About the Author

Walter Johnson has more than 20 years experience as a professional writer. After serving in the United Stated Marine Corps for several years, he received his doctorate in history from the University of Nebraska. Focused on economic topics, Johnson reads Russian and has published in journals such as “The Salisbury Review,” "The Constantian" and “The Social Justice Review."