Leadership Theory Application and Skill Development



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Comparison of Leadership Theories

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Comparison of Leadership Theories


Leadership is the ability or process where an individual has the capacity or influence over other people. They enlist these other people to come together and contribute to the achievement of a specific task. Lussier & Achua (2015) explain that leadership is essential for social welfare because leadership involves influencing people to take time out of their social and individual lives to achieve a common goal. The common goal is usually for the benefit of the entire group. Organizations and the world, in general, are ruled by people who can influence others to follow their lead. There are different ways to become a leader, but it needs to be natural and not forced. Leadership is based on individual skills, personality and characteristics. Lussier & Achua (2015) say that it is crucial to understand the elements that make a good leader have effective leadership in society. Leadership can be understood through various theoretical approaches. This paper will compare three theories of leadership; contingency theory, trait theory and Behavioural theories of leadership.

Contingency Theory

Contingency theory in leadership looks at the various factors that affect a leader’s effectiveness and how they relate to their leadership behaviour. Based on Fiedler (2005), the contingency theory argues that there is no particular leadership style that can be used for all situations but rather that leadership styles vary based on the situation presented to the leader. One leadership approach that may be effective in one situation may not be successful in other situations. Fiedler (2005) says that the effectiveness of leadership is determined by the environment, the quality of followers, and the leader’s individuality. Contingency theory explains why a person can be successful in leading one department and fail when transferred to another department. This is because the situations change, and there are new variables. Fiedler (2005) explains that the contingency theory identifies the variables that influence leadership effectiveness: attitude and personality, power dynamic, task structure, and leader’s position in the organization. Houghton & Yoho (2005) state that the contingency theory assumes that the effectiveness and the success of leadership are dependent on how favourable the situation is for the leader, and thus it permits them to succeed. This theory, therefore, defines leadership as the ability of a leader to influence others to attain organizational goals.

According to Fiedler (2005), the contingency theory defines two types of leaders, person-oriented and task-oriented leaders. Task-oriented leaders are more focused on completing a task and attaining the wanted and desired results. Such leaders focus on the work and do not focus on the team they are working with, and as such, they do not handle ineffective teamwork well. Person oriented leaders are more focused on the people and the value of their team rather than on the task. Person oriented leaders may fail to accomplish tasks because some team members may have minimal input. Houghton & Yoho (2005) explain that these two leaders thrive in different situations, but the task-oriented leaders thrive in both unfavourable and favourable situations. Thus, this theory states that personality, leaders style, and the environment in which the leader is working affect their effectiveness in leadership. If the leader is not performing in a particular situation, changing the situation and the circumstances can improve their effectiveness. Situational change can be done in different ways, such as by restructuring the power dynamics of an organization and reducing the control that leaders have over the factors in an organization. Based on this theory, finding the optimal situation for leaders to thrive leads to effective leadership.

Trait Theory

Identification of traits and characteristics of leaders is arguably one of the oldest ways of identifying potential leaders and their effectiveness. Examining the accomplishments and the characters exhibited by previously and present-day leaders provides a lens to which organizations and society can gauge good leaders. Based on Colbert et al. (2012), the trait theory argues that leadership is genetic and that a good leader is born. This theory argues that good leadership is part of the genetic composition of the leaders and that they were born leaders. Colbert et al. (2012) state that the trait theory originated from Galton’s publication heredity genius of 1869. Galton makes the hypothesis that the ability to bring change and influence others to take action to bring change is an ability that only certain special and extraordinary people possess.

Colbert et al. (2012) further state that Galton’s publication mentions that these unique abilities to influence change in others are genetic ability. As such, it can be inherited from parent to child. According to Colbert et al. (2012), this theory focuses on the ideology of naturally born leaders. This theory argues that leadership cannot be taught and attempts to explain the effectiveness of charismatic leaders. Charismatic leaders are very effective, and charisma is not something that one learns but rather something born with. Other scholars argue the credibility of this hypothesis because it is not something that has been proven medically or scientifically. The trait theory also has a component of the revival of trait theory. Based on Zaccaro (2007), the revival of trait theory is an advancement in leadership’s trait theory perspective. This approach explains that as leaders continue to grow, they portray specific characteristics that improved their effectiveness as leaders.

According to Zaccaro (2007), these traits are motivation, oral communication, integrity, creativity, self-confidence and intelligence. Based on the trait theory, influential leaders have the energy and drive required to achieve set objectives and goals regardless of how difficult they appear to be. Also, effective leaders can communicate effectively, and their oral communication in presentation or debates is very fluent and eloquent. Trait theory further suggests that effective leaders are honest and uphold integrity through working ethically and being open in communication. The approach also suggests that effective leaders are smart in that they can form abstract thought, have critical thinking skills, and are reasonable and problem solvers. They are also emotionally intelligent by having a mastery of their emotions. The theory also suggests that they are creative and highly aware, and assured of their abilities. All these factors based on this theory are qualities that one is born with.

Behavioural Theory

The behavioural theory of leadership is centred on how leaders behave. Nawaz & Khan (2016) state that the theory is based on the assumption that the traits of influential leaders can be learned and copied from other successful leaders. Nawaz & Khan (2016) state that leaders are not born effective and successful according to the Behavioural theory but instead learn to be successful through learned behaviour. Nawaz & Khan (2016) mention that this theory centres on the cations of a leader and states that the best way to evaluate a leader’s effectiveness is to look at how they act and react. The behavioural theory thus says that a leader’s actions and not their qualities make them successful. Their patterns of behaviour, known as styles of leadership, are what determines how effective or ineffective a leader is- these are what define the success of a leader based on Behavioural theory.

White (2011) says that the Behavioural theory of leadership is advantageous because it can help an organization identify what kind of actions they require from their leaders to make them successful. Additionally, leaders can identify the actions that they need to implement to be successful and become the type of leader that they want to be. Also, this means that leaders can be flexible and adapt to changes in their environments because leadership is leaned. They can learn and unlearn different ways of being leaders, which will facilitate their success. White (2011) further states that this theory says that anyone can be a leader and that you do not need to be born with some special abilities to be a leader. The theory is not without any disadvantages. The flexibility of the theory is a disadvantage because it leaves the choice of how to behave very openly and does not specify the correct behaviour for different situations. Different behaviour is therefore required for different circumstances.

The behavioural theory has many advantages, primarily that leaders can learn and decide what actions they want to implement to become the kind of leader they want to be. It allows leaders to be flexible and adapt based on their circumstances. Another great benefit of this leadership style is that it suggests anyone is capable of becoming a leader. Some disadvantages of the behavioural theory are that it doesn’t directly suggest how to behave in certain circumstances while it allows flexibility. There are dozens of leadership styles that stem from the behavioural theory, but there isn’t a right one for every circumstance. Regardless of that, this theory focuses on the actions and decision-making capacities of leaders and how they make them effective leaders.


Leadership is based on individual skills, personality and characteristics. It is important to understand the features that make a good leader to have effective leadership in society. Leadership can be understood through various theoretical approaches. There are different ways to become a leader, but it needs to be natural and not forced. Other theories highlight the different aspects of leadership and what makes a leader effective or ineffective.

















Colbert, A. E., Judge, T. A., Choi, D., & Wang, G. (2012). Assessing the trait theory of leadership using self and observer ratings of personality: The mediating role of contributions to group success. The Leadership Quarterly23(4), 670-685.

Fiedler, F. R. E. D. (2005). Contingency theory of leadership. Organizational behaviour: Essential theories of motivation and leadership1, 232-256.

Houghton, J. D., & Yoho, S. K. (2005). Toward a contingency model of leadership and psychological empowerment: when should self-leadership be encouraged?. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies11(4), 65-83.

Lussier, R. N., & Achua, C. F. (2015). Leadership: Theory, application, & skill development. Cengage learning.

Nawaz, Z. A. K. D. A., & Khan_ PhD, I. (2016). Leadership theories and styles: A literature review. Leadership16(1), 1-7.

White, R. F. (2011). Toward an integrated theory of leadership.

Zaccaro, S. J. (2007). Trait-based perspectives of leadership. American psychologist62(1), 6.



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