Ten Leadership Theories in Five Minutes

Ten Leadership Theories in Five Minutes

Kurt Lewin, the renowned psychologist
and researcher, said it well: “There’s nothing so practical
as a good theory.” Well, how about
ten good theories? To improve your
ability to lead, here are ten of the best
known leadership theories in five minutes. First there’s what was originally
called “The Great Man Theory.” It postulated that great
leaders are born, not made. You either have
it or you don’t. And then it tried to identify
the set of attributes that all of these natural
born leaders have in common. While it’s now become
clear that leadership is actually learnable. There’s indeed truth to
the notion that some people inherently have more
leadership gifts than others. So this was a good start. It spawned something called “The Trait Theory of Leadership,”
a line of research that examines which individual
characteristics we should pursue to lead effectively. The upside is that it’s
easy to understand– be like this and people
will follow you. But the downside is that it’s identified dozens of traits, and no
single set has emerged as the ideal for all circumstances. So it can be overwhelming
to attempt. Somewhat related is “The
Skills Theory of Leadership”. Just like trait theory it
tries to identify a set of key attributes, but in this
case practical skills rather than just general
qualities of a leader. The bottom line on this one
is that if you want people to follow you, you need
technical skills in your field– that is you need to be
good at what you’re doing so you have some credibility. You need people skills like persuasion
and diplomacy and affability. And you need conceptual skills–
the ability to see the big picture and to think strategically. Next there’s the theory that leadership
style is the key to success– styles like “be autocratic
and demanding” or “be democratic and participative” or “be laissez faire and leave people alone.” Probably the best known
style-based theory is called “The Managerial Grid”. Adopt a leadership style
that’s both people-friendly and uncompromising
on performance. It’s a solid foundation,
but there’s a bit more to leadership effectiveness. That’s where these next
couple theories came from. “Situational Leadership” theory argues that there is no “one-size-fits all” model. Certain traits and skills
and styles fit better in one situation than another,
so the leader must adapt. For example, coaching a high
school boys’ team may imply a somewhat different approach
than coaching high school girls. Same objectives and standards,
perhaps, but to get great results might require more of a
disciplinarian for the boys, but a highly relational
coach for the girls. A closely connected idea is called “The Contingency Theory” of leadership. Whereas the situational
leadership approach assumes that the situation is static
and leader should adapt to it, the contingency
theory assumes that the leader’s default style is also pretty much fixed– maybe he’s much more task-oriented
than people-oriented. So the trick is to fit the
right leader to the situation. Bottom line: effective
leadership is contingent on matching the leader’s
style to the setting. In the coaching example, it
would mean to find and install the right coach, rather than
hoping the current coach will adapt his or her
style to the situation. “Transactional Leadership” and
Transformational Leadership” are two theories that we
can consider together. As the term implies,
“Transactional Leadership” means that there’s a
reciprocity of behavior between the leader
and the follower. People will follow based
on the incentives in place, so the leader’s job is
to find the right mix of rewards and
punishments and then closely monitor what’s going on. The theory of “Transformational
Leadership,” by contrast, says that leaders gain buy-in
and commitment not as much from the quid pro quo
approach as they do from encouraging their followers– caring for them, inspiring
them toward a vision. In short, they get results
by proactively transforming the environment and
the relationships. Cultivating followership
rather than paying for it or punishing non-compliance like the transactional leader does. “Leader-Member Exchange
Theory” is a bit like transactional theory because
it suggests that leadership is basically about a
fair exchange between the leader and the led. But, it goes further to say
that the exchange creates an in-group and an out-group
with respect to the leader. And that, in turn, affects
people’s performance and willingness to stick around. In a way, it’s just like
being back in high school– there was the in-crowd and then
there were the rest of us. And that can have some
dysfunctional consequences. So, the theory suggests
leaders may want to address their tendency to
alienate people. And then there’s
“Servant Leadership Theory, which is kind of a blend
between transformational and transactional leadership. Boiled down to its essentials,
it says that if a leader makes a priority of identifying
and meeting followers’ needs– serving rather than being served– that leader creates an environment of trust and cooperation and reciprocal service… and ultimately higher performance. It’s been popularized in recent
decades by many researchers, but it goes back a lot
further than that. Much of Jesus’s influence, for
example, was and still is a result of compassion and
service and sacrifice. People follow out of love
and gratitude rather than out of compulsion or fear. All right, that’s ten of the
major theories in leadership and there are
important truths in each. The better you know them, the
better you’re likely to lead.


  1. Great leadership video. Amazing to get a useful description of 10 different paradigms into just 5 minutes! As a theorist who helps leaders maximise their effectiveness in new situations, I particularly like your assertion that knowing a lot of theories is helpful.

  2. Ugh, disgusting. I was promised discriptions for ten leadership theories in five minutes. VIDEO WAS 5:04 MINUTES!

    (relax, i'm not being serious haha)

  3. Great video on leadership theory!. Thank you. You have made my work in collage a lot easier.

    The best,
    Felix Persson, Sweden

  4. unfortunately id have to disagree with the last one…. many ppl follow and worship Jesus because it was either beaten into them (slavery) or forced upon them (the crusades)…. but I definitely enjoyed the rest of the video.

  5. Jesus is the greatest leader who is still followed by millions across the world every day.
    I really liked the mentioning of Jesus in this video.

  6. Great video and helpful insights.

    This brief literature overview on leadership psychology I found quite interesting as well. Check it out


  7. This video was a quick way for to learn about leadership theories helpful to me completing a classwork assignment.

  8. Productivity Management – Cooperation – Dealing with Men – F.W. Taylor

  9. The difference between coaching boys or girls at high school…. I really don't get the different approach in that

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *