Leadership and Management Style Theories

Over the years, psychologists and businesspeople have created a number of leadership theories, which can help you become a better manager. Because there’s no one perfect way to lead people, successful managers often use a combination of leadership styles.


Behavioral theories focus on a leader’s actions. For instance, do you take a dictatorial stance on what needs to be done, without considering the input of others? Or do you weigh feedback from the team? 

According to psychologist Kurt Lewin:

— 1. Autocratic leaders make decisions without checking with the team

— 2. Democratic leaders consider the team’s opinions before making decisions

— 3. Laissez-faire leaders take a laid-back approach and allow the team to make many decisions

Effective leaders apply several behavioral styles along with the approach that best suits the situation. 


Contingent theories look at how a situation brings forth good leadership. This type of leadership isn’t attributable to one particular style. Instead, it’s contingent, or based, on the situation. For instance, which leadership style would you use in a situation requiring quick decision making? Does the circumstance call for a task-oriented approach or a people-oriented style?


Trait theories argue that common personality traits and characteristics form the leadership style that emerges from those attributes. In the past, trait theories promoted the idea that you either have leadership qualities or you don’t. However, trait theories are now more concerned with how the thought processes and beliefs of the leader can result in good leadership.

For instance, to steer your team toward success, you’ll need to blend assertiveness with empathy and likability. It’s important to note that traits alone do not make you a good leader.

Power and Influence

Power and influence theories examine how leaders use power and influence to get the job done, while revealing the close relationship between leadership and power.

According to social psychologists John French and Bertram Raven, there are five bases of power:

— 1. Legitimate, which is derived from the belief that people have the right to make demands and expect obedience from others

— 2. Reward, which emerges from a person’s ability to compensate another person for compliance 

— 3. Expert, which is based on superior knowledge and skill

— 4. Referent, which is the result of someone’s perception of worthiness, attractiveness, and right to respect from others

— 5. Coercive, which stems from the belief that punishing others for noncompliance is acceptable

As a leader, using your power appropriately is key to not abusing the influence you have over others.


Transformational leadership is about inspiring people to reach their highest potential. The leader is not only inspiring but also capable of mobilizing people into teams that can get the work done, while elevating morale.

A transformational leader has integrity, communicates effectively, sets clear objectives, encourages and expects the best from his team, inspires and sets an admirable example, helps individuals look past themselves and focus more on the greater good, gives credit where and when it’s due, and provides stimulating assignments. For these reasons, the transformation leadership style is fitting in many corporate settings.

There are several other leadership theories besides those we’ve discussed, including Great Man theory, charismatic leadership theory, and transactional leadership theory. Here’s a well-crafted resource for learning the different leadership theories.

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