Leadership Research Paper on Leadership Theory

Leadership Theory

Leadership is one of the most intriguing aspects of human relationship. It has, and continues to elicit production of literature from different quarters of human life. The most intriguing aspects of the concept of leadership is the lack of consensus on when and why an individual becomes a leader while the others become followers. The very subject of leadership invokes debate given not only the importance of the position of a leader, but also the fact that there are several theories fronted in explaining leadership. No universal theory on leadership exists, and even the existing leadership theories do not agree on some aspects of leadership. What, however, is congruent across the different theories of leadership is the vital role that the position and the person in the position plays in organization and management of resources, both human and economic. In their differences, each leadership theory has its approach in vision setting and strategy formulation, and each of these aspects affects stakeholders within the organization differently. In choosing a leadership approach, it is therefore important to consider the impact of such actions on not only organizational performance, but also the societal stand of the organization and the leader.

Leadership approaches and theories have come a long way revealing an evolution in the succession of theories explaining leadership. According to Harrison and Klein (2007), early leadership approaches and theories focused on the character and personality of leaders (successful) and the behavior of the leaders. In investigating leadership, the early theories enumerated qualities and behaviors that ‘good’ leaders had, using such qualities as a yardstick in explaining leadership. By making a list of the qualities and behaviors, the early theorists viewed the said aspects as the mandatory qualities requisite for success as a leader (Harrison & Klein, 2007).

Early leadership theories saw these qualities/traits as inherent in a leader, and that the traits were largely innate rather than acquired. The theorists made a list of the basic qualities successful leaders needed to possess. Bolden et al (2013) mention honesty and integrity; emotional maturity; motivation; self-confidence; cognitive ability; and achievement drive as the traits requisite for a leader according to early leadership theorists. Known as trait theories, the early theories therefore insisted on the behavior and qualities of the leaders as the main determinant of a successful leader.

Despite the insistence of the trait theories on the qualities possessed by a leader, recent leadership theories have looked to what the leader can do rather than the qualities the leader possesses. Informing the recent leadership theories is the fact that while many leaders in the past in military and political spheres had the said personas, there were significant exceptions that consequently damaged the repertoire of early leadership theories’ insistence on behavior and character (Bolden et al., 2013). Apart from trait theory, the Great Man theory was also among the old theories, which assumed the capacity for leadership was inherent. Through such an assumption, the Great Man therefore view leaders as heroic, mythic beings that were infallible and destined to rise above others as leaders.

With a growing need for leaders in organizations, there has been a development of theories and methodologies relying on acquired/learned behaviors instead of innate traits that an individual may or may not possess. These theories are therefore outward rather than inward looking in finding the potential leader. The theories are outward looking in the sense that they accept that leadership characteristics are acquirable through learning, training and experience, rather than being inherent in a few people earmarked as leaders (Bolden et al., 2013; Northhouse, 2016). Among the new theories of leadership, include behavioral and transformational leadership approaches.

Trait theories, also referred to as Big Man theories, were among the first theories developed in the study of leadership (Northhouse, 2016). At their conception, there was an assumption that leadership was innate, and that certain people had the inherent capacity to rise to leadership positions. While there are indeed leaders who distinctively showed innate leadership capability such as Mohandas Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln and Napoleon Bonaparte among others (Northhouse, 2016), it is especially dangerous to cast such a blanket assumption on leadership.

Vision setting is one of the most important aspects of leadership. Leaders have to set a vision for their organization and work towards the achievement of the vision. Following the trait approach, leaders relying on this theory are inherently ambitious. The ambition of leaders using the trait theory is visible through their approach in vision setting. According to Kirkpatrick and Locke (1991), such leaders set hard and challenging visions for themselves and their organizations. Ambition is usually the drive behind setting such visions, most of which look beyond the leader into the future (Kantabutra, 2009).

With much of the concentration on the leader, leaders using the trait approach are likely to be at the forefront of strategy formulation. Wang, Chich-Jen ans Mei-Ling (2010) contend that leaders using trait approach have the tendency of using their personal style in strategy formulation. This means that such leaders take part in every process of strategy formulation, coming up with the strategy, the means of its execution and monitoring. Thus, although such leaders may involve others in the strategy formulation, they remain at the top of everything, ensuring that all the processes have their approval before their execution (Wang, Chich-Jen ans Mei-Ling, 2010).

Although the trait approach allows the leader to be at the center of everything, such an approach may not necessarily sit well with stakeholders within the organization. Wang, Chich-Jen ans Mei-Ling (2010) enthuse that a leader should play the role of a tactician and train the staff. Additionally, the leader must be able to involve all the stakeholders favorably in building the organization. Hogging the limelight denies employees the opportunity to grow, build relationship and learn on the job.

Trait approach in leadership looks at the personality characteristics of the leader, however, behavioral approach looks at the actions of the leader, and the leader’s performance of the actions (Northhouse, 2016). In looking at the behavioral approach, two aspects/ behaviors come to the fore: task and relationship behavior. Northhouse (2016) informs that task behavior help in the facilitation of goal accomplishment through assistance in the achievement of group objectives. On the other hand, relationship behavior works towards bringing comfort among followers, the organization and situation that they find themselves in, as well as comfort within themselves (Northhouse, 2016). Behavioral approach, therefore, seeks to use the two to influence the followers’ efforts towards achievement of organizational goals.

The two aspects (task and relationship behavior) of behavioral approach have a great influence in the setting of organizational vision for this approach. According to (Kantabutra, 2009) behavioral approach helps in setting a future oriented vision. The vision in this case focuses on the long-term perspective of the organization and the environment within which the organization operates. As the base on which the vision stands, the two aspects of behavioral approach are instrumental in setting clear and precise visions that are not only acceptable, but also understandable to everyone, while at the same time incorporating all the overarching goals of the organization (Kantabutra, 2009).

The behavioral approach uses the two attributes to appeal to the organization’s stakeholders towards the achievement of organizational goals. Kantabutra (2009) informs that through behavioral approach and creation of a vision that includes everyone, customers are bound to feel the impact through improved performance. With the staff motivated and committed towards the attainment of organizational objectives, there is improved organizational performance, which has a positive impact on investor returns. Using the behavioral approach, the leader can therefore influence employee, customer and investor satisfaction.

Recently, leadership literature and scholars have given praise to a new way of leadership approach. Since the early 80s, transformational leadership as a leadership approach has gained cognition for its attention towards the affective and charismatic elements of leadership (Northhouse, 2016). The growth and focus on transformational leadership directly relates to the leadership’s approach insisting on intrinsic motivation and the development of employees within the organization (Northhouse, 2016). The focus on employees as proposed by the transformational leadership approach caters for the needs of the present day employees who require inspiration and empowerment for both organizational and individual success. The success of transformational leadership hinges upon four factors of the leaderships approach including individualized consideration, intellectual stimulation of employees, the leader’s inspirational motivation, and idealized influence and charisma (Northhouse, 2016).

As a type of leadership that involves the other parts of the organization, particularly the employees who are vital to the execution of business strategy and achievement of organizational vision, transformation leadership involves the employees in both the formulation and setting of the strategy and vision respectively. Northhouse (2016) enthuses that transformational leadership hinges upon creating a connection with the purpose of increasing the level of motivation and morality in both the leader and the follower. Thus, in formulation of the strategy and setting of organizational vision, transformational leaders ensure that employees are first motivate enough to see the vision that the leader wants the organization to achieve, then formulates the strategy responsible for achieving the vision. In such a case, followers own both the vision and the strategies formulated towards achievement of the vision. Such form of leadership sits well with organizational stakeholders. Transformational leaders do not only seek to bring employees on board the vision they want to create, but also the investors towards the satisfaction of the customers. Transformational leaders see customers as part of the larger organization, whose concerns should also be catered for.

Leadership has come a long way from an age that viewed workers as mere factors of production, to the current approach where workers are an important part of the organization. Traditional approaches such as the behavioral and trait approaches place emphasis on what the leader did and his/her inherent traits. While such approaches worked for a short time, they had inherent weaknesses, particularly trait approach, which insisted on the idea of specific people being leaders due to the inherent traits. Transformational leadership on the other hand, has gained popularity due to its different approach of leadership. It aims at building a relationship between the leader and employees for the betterment of the organization and the employees as well. It is perhaps the more reason that transformational leaders have been able to take organizations to higher heights of organizational performance.



Bolden, R. et al. (2013). A Review of Leadership Theory and Competency Frameworks. Dunsford Hill, Exeter: Center for Leadership Studies

Harrison, D., A. & Klein, K. (2007). What’s the Difference? Diversity Constructs as Separation, Variety, or Disparity in Organizations. Academy of Management Review, 32

Kantabutra, S. (2009). Toward a Behavioral Theory of Vision in organizational Settings. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 30(4), 319 – 337

Kirkpatrick, S., A. & Locke, E (1991). Leadership: DO Traits Matter? Academy of Management Executive, 5(2), 48-60

Northouse, P. G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and Practice (7th ED). Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Wang, F., Chich-Jen, S., & Mei-Ling, T. (2010). Effect of leadership style on organizational performance as viewed from human resource management strategy. African Journal of Business Management, 4(18), 3924-3936. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/1663920369?accountid=1611