While there are many definitions of leadership, it is clear that different leaders, scholars, and authors struggle to agree on a concise definition. John Gardner states that leaders step outside for change and inspire people to share their common objectives. This is a view that is shared by Bass & Stogdill, who define leadership as the art of leading others to do the right thing by sharing a consistent vision. However, through assessing great leaders of the past, we can see that there are different attitudes and opinions regarding effective leadership. Revolutionist Napoleon Bonaparte is considered one of the greatest leaders of all time, as is Martin Luther King. One was a tyrant; a fearless militant, the other inspired his followers into making them believe in an ideal world.
Leadership theories are mainly categorized into Trait Theory, Behaviour Theory, and Contingency Theory. Trait theory, also known as the ‘great man’ theory, is focused on the characteristics of leaders. In 1847, Carlyle stated in his ‘great man theory’ that leaders are born, and only those who have heroic potential could ever become leaders. This has progressed into a leadership theory whereby we attempt to identify characteristics that lead to the emergence of leadership qualities, for example, intelligence, achievements, self-confidence, personality, socio-economic background, demography, and physiological appearance.
Through research, it is evident that the term ‘trait’ is the source of significant confusion and ambiguity in the literature. Behavioral theory leadership was born out of the criticism of trait leadership. This is based on the theory that leadership qualities can be learned, rather than being inherited.
However, it is argued that learning the behavior of a leader does not always translate to results, as it does not factor in how the individual executes this theory. Some also criticize the approach by stating that it emphasizes managing organizations rather than leaders. This style of leadership provides definite conclusions while overlooking the variables in management and change.
There are also differing opinions regarding the Contingency Theory, which was created by Fred Fiedler in the 1960s. This model focuses on identifying a leadership style, with two key factors addressed: situational favourableness and least preferred co-worker scale (LPC). Some argue that leadership styles are fixed, something that has caused differing opinions. Many others argue that this simply brings confusion to the workplace.
Extensive literature research shows that the widespread criticism and perceived rigidness of these key approaches overall have led to new paradigm models, including concepts such as transformational leadership, visionary leadership, and charismatic leadership.
Despite the contrasting leadership styles that are in practice today, one thing that we can all agree on is the importance of developing your own leadership approach is imperative. This is something that industry experts like Bob J Bukowski have done well, enabling them to succeed in their industries.
So there you have it: an insight into leadership frameworks and the different approaches and theories that people use today. We hope that this will give you some inspiration for your own approach to leadership.