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Author: Timothy Miller

Theoretical Bases of Formation and Development of Leadership Qualities

Quality leadership is an essential factor for the success of every business venture. Besides making optimal decisions, a good leader should boost their workers’ morale and gain the most productivity from their team.

However, what is it that makes a good leader? What attributes make one suitable for leadership and another for a lower position of power in the team?

Over time, scientists and researchers have pondered over leadership to determine the criteria that define a quality leader. This article covers the major leadership theories, their strengths and weaknesses, and their application towards positive leadership.

By understanding these theories, you will better gauge your skills and thus determine the suitable leadership style for each situation you are presented with. This understanding will help you evolve as a leader and strike a balance between people skills and productivity.

What is a leadership theory?

A leadership theory is a set of principles explaining why some people become leaders, their qualities, behavioral patterns, and personalities essential for exceptional leadership.

These theories evaluate a leader’s capability based on their traits and situations they are presented with. The central leadership theories include:

Great Man theory (Great person theory)

This theory dates back to ancient Greece and Rome and posits that leaders are born and not made. The theory suggests leaders are born with the right abilities and occupy their positions when the situation arises.

The theory was brought to light by Thomas Carlyle, who commented that “the worlds history is a biography of great men.” The view cites personalities like Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, and Alexander, who ceased power without leadership training.

In all the above examples, these great men stood out from the masses besides being exposed to similar environments.


A great leader’s abilities include; charisma, intellect, confidence, communication skills, courage, intuition, and social skills.

The Great man theory paints the leader as valiant, mythic, and ordained to take their positions when the situation arises. Upon the rising of great women like Queen Elizabeth, the theory was changed to the great person theory.

However, the theory is criticized for being too masculine. Having been developed in the era where male chauvinism was rife, the idea does not capture a leader’s traits.

Furthermore, the great person theory is fatally flawed as most people with these traits do not rise to positions of power. Upon the emergence of behavioral psychology, however, the great person theory lost its popularity.

The behavioral theory/ Style theory

Contrary to the great person theory, style theory posits that great leaders are made and not born. Unlike the former, this theory focuses on the capabilities of a leader as opposed to their personalities.

The theory argues that effective leadership is a result of many learned skills.

The skills are categorized into technical, human, and conceptual skills, and all play a role in making an all-rounded leader.

  • Technical skills entail the leader’s exposure to the skills within their field. These skills enable a leader to make optimal decisions and to manage human and production resources effectively.
  • Human skills involve communication and people interaction skills. These skills are essential for motivating the team and creating a conducive environment for each member.
  • Conceptual skills enable a leader to create ideas for running your society smoothly.

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Unlike the great person theory, the behavioral approach allows for the flexibility of a leader. This is because leaders are capable of emulating other leaders thus can adapt to various circumstances.

The behavioral theory is significantly driven by conditioning. This implies that a leader reacts in a specific manner as a result of environmental responses to behavior.

Trait theory

The trait theory is closely related to the great man theory. This theory suggests that you can gauge a leader’s effectiveness by comparing their traits to successful and unsuccessful leaders.

However, leaders possess tons of traits, thus making it hard to make this analysis. The comparison may also be fatally flawed as each leader was met with different contexts that warranted other actions.

As such, a proper comparison calls for you to take a leader that faced a similar economic and social situation as the candidate in question. Although the proposition is hard to apply, trait theory clarifies some qualities that make good leaders.

Contingency theory/ situational theory

The contingency theory, developed by Dr. Paul Hersey and Kenneth Blanchard, is among the widely embraced ideas in the corporate world. Unlike other approaches, situational theory acknowledges various variables in determining the right leadership style for varying contexts.

As such, this theory admits that there is no universal leadership approach for each situation. As such, each situation calls for a varied behavior depending on the needs and situation.

When faced with a situation, a leader may respond by commanding, coaching, persuading, persuading, or another critical approach. As a result, this theory defies the rigid system of labeling leadership traits as good and bad.

The Contingency theory advocates for a leader’s ability to judge a situation and weave the right approach. As such, this approach allows you to test the best leadership style for your team and address the fast-changing business needs.

Unlike other theories, the contingency theory is grounded in empirical research thus is more suitable for varied situations.

Transactional theory/ Management theory

Max Webster developed the transactional theory in 1947. The theory assumes that the subordinates are not self-motivated thus require supervision and extrinsic motivation from their leaders.

As such, the leader orchestrates a trade where managers give employees rewards for their productivity. Consequentially, less productive employees are punished therefore keeping each individual in line.

However, this approach kills creativity as there is a rigid set of goals and objectives laid out. Additionally, this approach makes for dictatorial leadership where the punishment may destroy employee morale and limit optimal operation.

Relationship theory

Relationship theory emphasizes the relationships of a leader with their team. An amiable leader motivates their team and creates an environment that promotes quality performance from each member.

Thus, the leader is a model for others to emulate and exhibits charisma, individual consideration, and intellectual stimulation. The major downside is that these kinds of leaders may favor people over productivity, limiting a company’s productivity.

Final verdict

Many attributes make a good leader. While some people may be naturally social, leadership skills can be nurtured and learned.

Although none of these theories sufficiently covers the personality and qualities that make a good leader, they each address vital issues essential for exceptional leadership. As such, you should borrow the significant ideas from these schools of thought to fine-tune your skills and offer effective leadership for your situation.