The theories or an approach of leadership is categorized under three approaches. These are;

  1. Trait Approach (Theory)
  2. Behavioral Approach (Theory)
  3. Contingency Approach (Theory)

1. Trait theory

It is the oldest theory which dominated the field of leadership till 1940s. This theory assumes that ‘leaders are born, not made’.

To be a leader a person must possess certain qualities. It emphasized that a person is born with necessary traits of leadership.

The theory suggests that leaders differ from followers with respect to a small number of key traits and these traits remain unchanged across time.

Leadership success is largely a matter of personality. The theories consider personality, social, physical, or intellectual traits to differentiate leaders from non-leaders.

The important leadership traits that contribute to leader effectiveness are;

Why trait theory failed?

  • Traits of successful leaders is not consistent
  • No universal list of traits for leaders
  • Leadership is not a function of trait alone, is composed of leader follower relation and situational variable

2. Behavioral Theories (Late 1940s to 1960s)

Theories proposing that specific behaviors differentiate leaders from non-leaders. Important theories included in this category are:

  1. The Ohio State Studies and
  2. The Leadership Grid (Managerial Grid)            
    1. Trait theory:
      Leaders are born, not made.
    2. Behavioral theory:
      Leadership traits can be taught.

i. The Ohio State Studies

During the 1940 and 50’s, a team of behavioral scientists at Ohio state university launched a project to study the leadership behavior. From their study two dimension of leadership behavior were identified: Initiating structure and consideration.

Initiating Structure (IS): The extent to which a leader is likely to define and structure his or her role and those of sub-ordinates in the search for goal attainment.

Consideration (C): The extent to which a leader is likely to have job relationships characterized by mutual trust, respect for subordinate’s ideas, and regard for their feelings.

IS and C in different combination

Findings of Ohio State Studies

  • Higher structure behavior resulted in higher performance of employees, but lower level of their satisfaction.
  • Higher consideration behavior resulted in lower performance of employees, but had fewer absences from work.
  • Thus, high structure and high consideration style was the best all round style. This high style embraces the best of both the categories.

Managerial Grid

Managerial/Leadership Grid developed by Blake & Mouton. There are 81 (9×9) different styles on grid. 9.9 is the ideal team approach on grid-balance of task and relationship. Its finding indicates that 9, 9tends to be the best in terms of leader performance.

The grid has two behavioral dimensions:

  1. Concern for people
  2. Concern for production

The importance styles are:

  1. 1.1 Management (Impoverished Style): Very little concern for people or production.
  2. 9.9 Management (Team Builder Style): High concern for both people and production. This is the best style.
  3. 5.5 Management (Middle of the Roader style): Balanced concern for people and production.
  4. 1.9 Management (Country Club Style): Very high concern for people, and low concern for production.
  5. 9.1 Management (Task manager): Very high concern for production and low concern for people.
  • Contribution of the Managerial Grid Theory: The theory can be applied in day-to-day situations. It helps to improve people’s attitudes. The grid helps mangers to identify their own style and can improve them. Many organizations have adopted training programs to develop 9, 9 managers which proved successful.

3. Contingency Theory of Leadership

Contingency theories advocate that situation affects leadership. Leadership effectiveness requires a fit between the style of leader and the demands of the situation. The interaction between leaders, the followers and the situation are important for leadership.

The important contingency theories are:

  1. Fiedler’s contingency theory
  2. Path-Goal theory

i. Fiedler’s Contingency Theory of Leadership

Fiedler offered the first comprehensive model for leadership also known as ‘contingency’ model because the leader’s effectiveness is partially contingent upon three major situational variables:

  • leader member relation
  • the task structure, and
  • the leader’s position power

To identify the leadership style Fiedler developed a scale called LPC (esteem for least preferred co-worker). LPC is a set of 16 adjectives pairs (16 items in the scale 1 to 8) and is quite often referred to as the ‘heart’ of the research program. Leaders are asked to think of a person with whom the leader has worked least well.

Then asked to describe on scale:

  • Friendly 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 unfriendly
  • Enthusiastic 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 unenthusiastic
  • Cooperative 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 uncooperative

A high LPC score represents that the leader has human-relations orientation.

A low LPC score represents the task directed style.

                Figure: Fiedler’s contingency model of leadership

Situational variables

a) Leader-member relations (group atmosphere and degree of confidence, loyalty and attraction for the leader): good or poor.

b) Task structure (degree of task requirements clearly spelled out): structured or unstructured.

c) Position power (amount of authority to reward or punish): strong or weak.

Situational favorableness: Good relations, highly structured tasks, and strong position power.

Situational unfavorableness: Poor relations, unstructured tasks, and weak position power.

Assessment of Fiedler’s Model

  • Positives:
    • Considerable evidence supports the model, especially if the original eight situations are grouped into three
  • Problems:
    • The logic behind the LPC scale is not well understood
    • LPC scores are not stable
    • Contingency variables are complex and hard to determine

ii. Path Goal Theory

Popular contingency theory that tries to explain leadership effectiveness as a function of the situation. Developed by Robert J. House which takes key elements from Ohio state leadership research on initiating structure and consideration and the expectancy theory of motivation developed by Victor H. Vroom. According to this theory, subordinates are motivated by their leaders to the extent that the behaviors of the leader influence their expectancies.

Leader’s Behavior/Style:

According to House, leaders can perform four strategic functions by adopting the following four different style of behavior

  • Directive style: Leader informs subordinates what is expected of them, schedules work to be done, and gives specific guidance as to how to accomplish tasks- similar to initiating structure from the Ohio state studies
  • Supportive style: The leader is friendly and shows concern for the needs of subordinates-like consideration from the Ohio state studies
  • Participative style: The leader consults with subordinates and uses their suggestions before making a decision
  • Achievement oriented style: The leader sets challenging goals and expects subordinates to perform at their highest level

The Situational Factors: 

About four different styles are not independent, rather they are contingent upon two basic types of situational factors:

  • Environmental contingency factors: The choice of leadership style is contingent upon task structure, the composition of work group and formal authority system
  • Subordinates contingency factors: The choice of leadership style is also contingent upon: locus of control, experience, and perceived ability

The theory suggests that these various styles can be and actually are used by the same leader in different situations. Complicated and other contingency variables are not considered.