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Ivan Popov

i was once an athlete. then a journalist. now i am a ceo of an iT company. still running marathons though.

Theory of Leadership – Discussing The 4(+1) Most Popular Ones

theory of leadership

A theory of leadership sums up all the skills, traits, and interpersonal characteristics a person has or can develop to become a truly successful leader.

We’ve all heard about successful leaders. The most famous are the ones in charge of teams situated in huge enterprises and companies that pretty much shape nowadays’ business climate. Others, of course, are leading teams in much smaller, but as successful small companies and startups.

These days being a leader is an aspiring job title that many people wish to add up next to their work experiences. But surely, as you may already know, a position like this requires a handful of skills, characteristics, and virtues. The truth is that not every person is born to be a leader – some never really aim at acquiring this position, while others go to great lengths to learn and obtain every required skill.

Of course, there are people who we call natural leaders – it’s like they were born with the craft impregnated in their minds where every management decision is coming in easy.

In today’s article, I’d like to talk about some of the most important theories of leadership – in a nutshell, every one of those sums up why an individual is destined to become a leader or shapes up the list of skills required for the job. Through constant learning and development, almost every person can reach for the stars and turn their aspirations into reality.

What does it take for a person to become a truly great leader? Let’s cover the basics

leadership theories

Before we dive straight into the theory of leadership topic, let’s first cover the very basics.

Outside of every recommended list of skills and abilities, some fundamental interpersonal characteristics shape up someone’s persona and are highlighted in leadership bold colors.

So what type of a person do you think of whenever you hear the word “leader”? Let’s brainstorm for a second and find out:

  • a leader is someone excellent at communication
  • let’s add up some outstanding active listening skills
  • a great leader is surely someone punctual, proactive, and productive
  • this person is someone who believes in the power of support and appreciation
  • they would also be open-minded and willing to accept both different opinions and feedback

As you can see, the leadership fundamental qualities and skills are somewhat interpersonal characteristics that connect closely with the most common soft skills people obtain and nurture. This can only prove just how important the human factor is whenever we have to deal with communication and work with others.

In any theory of leadership, it’s important how the individual incorporates the above-mentioned characteristics and what additional aspects of education and practice can they add to the ever-growing list of abilities. In a nutshell, every leadership theory explains why a certain individual would choose a specific leadership approach or style when it comes to them executing their tasks and duties.

So once we’ve covered the very basics leadership traits, let’s now focus our attention on some of the most popular leadership theories.

The theory of leadership – discussing the 4(+1) most popular ones

Transactional vs. Transformational leadership theory

So you might be wondering why I’m combining those two. Here’s the immediate answer – both theories lead to adopting a certain approach and, at the same time, both theories are quite detrimental when it comes to their essence.

I’ve covered the topic of transactional and transformational leadership approach quite thoroughly. You can read more on the subject here.

In a nutshell, the transactional leadership approach is more based on discipline and strict hierarchy while the transformational is far friendlier and relies mainly on shifting the employee’s perspective – from a place of viewing their tasks as a regular job to accepting them as a truly inspirational experience that enables them to further develop professionally.

When we talk about the transactional leadership approach, we mainly meet traits such as:

  • having objectives that should be executed straight away
  • relying on standardized work processes with minimal interest in innovation
  • following the work protocol
  • a clear boss-employee hierarchy

While this approach was rather popular back in the day, today we witness managers withdrawing from it only to adopt the transformational style. Here’s what’s typical:

  • a minimum level of micromanagement – it is believed that everyone should schedule and execute the tasks in their own time and ways, as long as they fulfill the main project
  • bosses are saying farewell to the strict and controlling behavior and integrating themselves as a crucial part of the team
  • the boss transforms into a role model for their employees
  • everyone is open to incorporating a new and fresh approach
  • different opinions are very welcome, often leading to brainstorming and agile methodology

For a transformational leaders, team spirit is essential since they believe everyone will thrive in a positive working environment. Also, transformational managers prefer not to scold or criticize – rather, they view mistakes and failure as excellent opportunities for further development and future success.

The theory of situations in leadership

As its name suggests, this leadership theory strongly relies on the current situation and a certain context. In that sense, the situational theory is very flexible – the leader’s main goal is to deduct, based on the context, what leadership approach would be the most beneficial for the successful execution of a project.

  • situational leaders carefully observe the situation and the context, noting all the possibilities, issues, obstacles, workforce, etc.
  • they are familiar with different strategies and approaches and can implement them in different situations and contexts

The situational theory enables the leader to go outside of the box whenever they feel is appropriate. As you know, there are different projects, different deadlines, and different circumstances. There could be times when the team needs a slight change of course – the leader can take care of all those aspects when they choose to follow this theory and, essentially, approach.

The Great Man leadership theory

Right at the very beginning of the article, I mentioned the concept of natural leaders – well, the Great Man leadership theory is just that.

It states that a person either has all the leadership traits needed naturally or doesn’t. It teaches that not everybody could be a leader and that only a small number of people are born to fill in those shoes.

  • according to this theory, the leader has always been leading a group of people since this comes naturally to them
  • they also have this natural charisma that helps other people build trust and respect rather quickly
  • the “Great Man” leaders are incredibly productive and proactive, always ready to take the next big leap
  • they tend to showcase an entrepreneurial mindset

The Trait Theory of Leadership

This theory closely resembles the Great Man theory, only to further elevate and improve it.

This theory states that not only a small number of people are natural-born leaders. They also need very certain traits and skills to successfully chase their professional aspirations.

  • one of the most important traits of a leader is their never-ending motivation
  • also, they view obstacles and issues more like a challenge rather than a difficulty that may lead to failure
  • they are incredibly certain of their abilities, acknowledging their leadership characteristics
  • trait leaders don’t doubt their decisions and are capable of making them rather quickly


Anyone who aspires to be a leader should get familiar with the different approaches and theories.

This way one can widen their horizons and investigate other aspects of leadership. This additional knowledge can be incredibly beneficial, especially in the early stages of an entrepreneurial career. The future leader has the chance to find what truly corresponds to them in terms of a professional working approach.


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