Leadership theories

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This essay will approach types of power such as; to utilize and influence others, to either reward or punish, to confirm by role of an organization, and to identify with a leader such as rock or film personality. This essay will cover six categories of power and these interlink with each other and brings a better focus on theories of power.

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The functions of leadership are many and varied, depending upon the basic problem with a group must deal with, and the type of leadership style in action, which is dependent on the leaders basis of power. Power, in the case of leadership, is divided into six categories, however, each can be linked with another, as they are inter-related. Expert and Informational power are concerned with skills, knowledge and information, of which the holders of such abilities, are able to utilize, to influence others ie technicians and computer personnel. Reward and Coercive power, differ from the previously mentioned, as they involve the ability to either reward or punish persons being influenced, in order to gain compliance. Legitimate power, is power which has been confirmed by the very role structure of the group or organization itself, and is accepted by all as correct and without dispute, such as in the case of the armed forces or the police force. Referent power, on the other hand, involves those being influenced, identifying with the leader, ie. rock or film personalities using their image to enter the political arena.

Most leaders make use of a combination of these six types of power, depending on the leadership style used. Authoritarian leaders, for example, use a mixture of legitimate, coercive and reward powers, to dictate the policies, plans and activities of a group. In comparison, a democratic or participative leader would use mainly referent power, involving all members of the group in the decision-making process.

Leadership itself, has been accompanied throughout time, by numerous theories, all claiming to answer the question, Are leaders born or made? Those who accept the verdict, that leaders are born and not made, maintain,

“… that there are certain inborn qualities such as initiative, courage, intelligence and humour, which altogether pre-destine a man to be a leader … the essential pattern is given at birth” (Adler, 1991, p. 4)

Two leadership theories which concentrate on this point, are the Great man/great woman and theTrait theories. The great man/great woman theory, accordingly to Wrightsman, involves its followers believing that major events, both nationally and internationally, are influenced by those persons in power.

“A sudden act by a great man could, according to this theory, change the fate of the

nation” (Wrightsman, 1977, p. 638)

The trait theory expands further on this conjecture, by concentrating on the personal characteristics of the leader. The theory, which until the mid-1940s formed the basis of most leadership research, cited traits believed to be characteristic of leaders, the list of which grew in length over the years, to include all manner of physical, personality and cognitive factors, including height, intelligence and communication skills. However, few traits emerged to conclusively differentiate leaders from non-leaders. The traits an individual has may, increase the probability that a person will become a leader, though whether such leadership is guaranteed, is uncertain. Nevertheless, it can be seen to be true that some people are more likely than others to assume leadership positions.

“The research on trait theories of leadership has shown that many other factors are

important in determining leader success, and that not everyone who possesses these

traits will be a leader” (Adler, 1991, p. 267)

As interest in the trait approach to leadership declined, researchers focused their attention on the leader’s actions rather than their attributes, which led to the emergence of the behaviourist theories. The most widely publicized exponent of this approach was Robert Blake and Jane Mouton’s Managerial Grid, which attempted to explain that there was one best style of leadership, by various combinations of two factors regarding a concern for production and people.

Due to the disillusionment with the fore-mentioned trait theory, the situational approach suggested that the traits required of a leader differed, according to varying situations. The situational approach, which predominated in the 1950s, held that whether a given person became a leader of a group, had nothing to do with his/her personality, but had everything to do with such factors as the flow of events and circumstances surrounding a group. To put it simply, the leader was a person who was in the right place at the right time.

“Rather than a great man causing a great event to happen, the situational approach

claims that great events are the product of historical forces that are gong to happen

whether specific leaders are present or not ” (Adair, 1984, p. 8)

Unfortunately, this theory still didn’t answer, why one member of a group emerged as the leader, rather than another, or why one particular leader proved to be a better leader in some situations than another. The emergence of a related theory, the interactionist approach, attempted to explain the existing anomalies.

The interactionist theory proposed that both the characteristics of the individual, and the situation in which the group found itself, accounted for whom would become the leader. Resulting from this theory, was the view that leaders are both born and made, due to the leader requiring certain abilities and skill, but as the situation and the needs of the group changed, so to the person acceptable as leader changed.

Developing such abilities and skills requires no position of authority but does require commitment to self, commitment to the organization and its employees, action, and thoughtful, on-going self-assessment. Such a program of personal development, ideally begun as a part of the formal education process, can assist significantly in learning how to influence others, up, down, and across the organization. Thus, one can learn how to become what Cohen (1990) has called an “uncrowned leader,” a person who exerts influence over others but lacks positional authority.

The functions of a Leader are many and varied. Its hard to say the one theory is better than the other because as my research shows, it takes more than one approach to accomplish a task with overall proficiency. Each situation, each environment, and each group of people requires a different approach. If a leader is trainable to understand that different approaches are needed for different situations, then an leader can succeed. However if a born leader hasn’t had the exposure to an array of situations, then he/she will not be effective. It stands to reason regarding a leader is born is that a leader may be born but if that person isn’t exposed to an array to various situations and factors, the that born leader will become a failure. However I agree a leader may be born and a follower is a follower but a follower can influence other followers especially if that person has charisma such as wiser experience, cultured education, and mature personality. So a leader may be born but a follower by my own experience I’ve seen followers who are leaders and assist leaders to perform their best. Therefore sometimes a leader and follower can complement each other thus strengthening the environment. Therefore my own observations show that there are ranks of leaders and ranks of followers. Each side of the line can have leadership.


Adair, J. (1984) The Skills of Leadership., Gower, Aldershot Kants, England

Adler, R.B. & Rodman, G. (1991) Understanding Human Communication., Holt Rhinehart & Winston., Fort Worth, Texas

Cohen, W. A. (1990). The art of the leader. Englewood Cliffs, NJ:

Wrightsman, L.S. (1977) Social Psychology., 2nd Edn., Brooks/Cole., Monteray, California Zaleznik, A. (1992) “Managers & Leaders: Are they different?”in / Harvard Business Review, March/April 1992., p. 126-135.

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