How to lead people, 12 leadership theories you should know and use

Published Categorized as Featured, Leadership
leadership theories
leadership theories

So why take advantage of leadership theories? The word lead means ‘to guide on a way by going in advance’ (Longman New Universal Dictionary). So its safe to say that leading involves taking someone on a journey from their current position to somewhere else.

The journey can be physical as when Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt or psychological as where a leader turns around the attitudes of a group of workers. Whichever it is, it involves change. You can’t be a leader unless you lead change of some kind.

That’s what leaders do, they change things.

Unfortunately we’ve all experienced leaders who change things just to enhance their CV. They implement a major change and then leave before the effects of their actions kick in and they get blamed for another monumental cock-up. Good leaders always have a purpose in mind when they make a change and the best leaders will only make changes that help the organization achieve its objectives.

But how does the leader bring about change? They can’t do it on their own. They need the help of others. This turns leadership into a process which involves influencing others to work towards the achievement of your aims and objectives. Leadership is not about power or force, it’s about influence. You don’t want an army of conscripts as followers; you want an army of volunteers.

The leadership theories in this article are largely in chronological order but only trait theory predates 1930. Some you will be familiar with, such as Hersey and Blanchard’s situational leadership; others, like leader member exchange, may be new to you.

In recent years, transformational leadership (TL) has become the leadership style of choice for many organizations. For that reason, and because of how the theory evolved in three phases, I’ve used three entries to explore this important leadership theories. This means that you need to read the entries on Burns, Bass and Bennis and Nanus to get a complete picture of how to use this theory.

Whichever leadership theories you decide to adopt there is one characteristic you must exhibit at all times if you are to convince people that you are worth following, and that is self-confidence. If you lack faith in your own abilities or the leadership approach that you adopt why should anyone place their trust in you? It’s essential that you always appear self confident and optimistic — especially when you’re terrified. To achieve this ‘Act as if yea have faith and faith will be given to you’, or in other words always act with confidence and before long the act will become reality.

Besides, it’s not how you feel that is important, it’s how you are perceived by your staff/followers that matters. Many great leaders have been wracked with nerves and self-doubt.

Indeed it’s probably only the mad and megalomaniacs who are free from doubt. Good leaders face their fears and triumph over them. You can do the same. Besides, if being a leader was easy everyone would be doing it. It’s the challenge that makes it worth doing.

Here is the list of leadership theories ordered chronologically:

  1. Trait Theory
  2. Basic Style Theory
  3. Blake and Mouton’s Leadership Grid
  4. Adair’s Action-Centered Leadership
  5. Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership Theory
  6. Fiedler’s Contingency
  7. Burns’ Transactional Leadership Theory
  8. Dansereau, Graen and Haga’s Leader Member Exchange Theory
  9. House’s Charismatic Leadership Theory
  10. Burns’ Transformational Leadership Theory
  11. Bass and Transformational Leadership Theory
  12. Bennis and Nanus Transformational Leadership Theory

We chose Hersey and Blanchard as our favorite

Many theorists criticize Hersey and Blanchard because their theory not been subject to rigorous academic research. So what? Situational theory has provided thousands of leaders with a simple and effective way to lead staff.

Hersey and Blanchard’s books have been best sellers worldwide and every year thousands of training events, based on their theory, are run. The theory has proved its value in the toughest research environment possible – the marketplace. It’s easy to understand; easy to use and intuitively it feels and sounds right.

Take it out for a spin and see what you think.

Conclusion on Leadership Theories

In any leadership situation there are two parties, the leader and their followers. The more you know about yourself and your followers the better leader you will be. In many ways it’s easier to dig up information and insights on your followers, knowing ourselves is the hard bit.

We don’t even know what we look like because we have never seen a three-dimensional image of ourselves, so is it any surprise that we know even less about our personality and how we are perceived by other people. The only way to get an idea of what you are really like is to ask others. Use Johari windows theory to help you kick-start the process.

However, it’s worth remembering that in management perception is reality. As a leader how you are perceived by followers is more important than how you feel. So identify how you want to be perceived and then act accordingly. The more you do this the quicker you will become the type of leader you want to be.

Leadership Style

Your actual leadership style is determined by how you behave and it’s always possible to change your behavior. Even ingrained habits can be changed in about six weeks according to clinical psychologists. By all means identify and use a specific default management style but remain flexible and remember that circumstances change decisions/actions.

You are free to adopt the most suitable style at any given time. This will require you to access and emphasize particular aspects of your character to meet the need of the job. Using your full range of skills is not the same as being insincere. You may not like accessing your inner b****** but that characteristic is within you and sometimes is required.

Dealing with staff

When dealing with staff, always remember that mutual benefit is a better basis for an on-going relationship than resentment and bubbling bile. In any transactional situation start by making a reasonable offer (constructive transactions) and only resort to sanctions (coercive transactions) as a last resort.

As a leader you should never base your judgements of staff on how they look, their gender, personality, how much you like/dislike them or who in the organization they are related to. The only criterion should be how good they are at their job. This is particularly important if you adopt theory. Of course if they do a great job but their personality drives the rest of the team to near violence you’ll have to do something about it.

If you are a middle manager and want to use transformational leadership theories with your team you must align your agenda with the organization’s overall aims. If you fail to do so you’ll find yourself fighting an uphill battle which can only ever have one winner.

Transformational leadership theories are based on integrity. Don’t pretend to be something you’re not. You will be found out. If you demonstrate integrity people will be drawn to you because they think that they can trust you. The quickest and easiest way to destroy their trust in you is to be hypocritical.

How many politicians have made a career out of ‘family values’ only to be destroyed by revelations of three in a bed or taking the dog for a walk at midnight on the common? So never pretend to be something you’re not.

Real life example

Any vision you have for your team needs to be simple, clear, meaningful and explainable in one sentence. See if you can match NASA’s. During the 1960s a Congressional Committee was visiting NASA and one of them asked a cleaner what his job was. Without missing a beat the cleaner replied, ‘Putting a man on the moon’. Now that’s a successful vision.

Every leader needs a certain amount of power and influence to drive through the changes they want to implement. You must be willing to use the full range of resources available to you to gain control of the situation. The quickest, easiest and most legitimate way to access the power you need is to explicitly align your aims with the Organization’s agenda. That way your actions are legitimized in the eyes of both your staff and the organization’s hierarchy.

Finally, as a leader You should always remember that if you stand for nothing you will be willing to stand for anything.

Image courtesy of Freepik.

By Alex Puscasu

I am a Project Management practitioner with more than 5 years experience in hardware and software implementation projects. Also a bit of a geek and a great WordPress enthusiast. I hope you enjoy the content, and I encourage you to share your knowledge with the world.