6 Leadership Theories to define Effectiveness of Leaders

6 Leadership Theories to define Effectiveness of Leaders

By Bhudeb Chakrabarti

Leadership is the projection of personality; It is a combination of persuasion, compulsion and example that makes other people do what the leader wants them to do. ~ Field-Marshal Sir William Slim, outstanding British and Allied commanders of World War II.


What is Leadership?

Leading is the art of influencing and motivating people to perform in a manner to achieve a common goal. The sum total of a leader’s roles, tasks and responsibilities and interpersonal influences constitutes leadership.

A leader should not only be intelligent (with general problem-solving capacity) but should also possess high integrity and character, equally concerned with ends (doing the right thing) and means (doing rightly).

Effective leaders have to work ceaselessly and communicate with the people to motivate them in an efficient manner.


 What makes a Leader Effective?

Numerous studies have been conducted and a considerable amount of research has been done to find out how a leader becomes effective. Various theories have been postulated from time to time to zero in on the factors that influence the effectiveness of leaders. 

1. Trait Theory

Trait Theories emphasize the traits or qualities of leaders, which lead to their lead to their effectiveness. The Trait Theories, however, could not establish the traits that should be common to all leaders. Mahatma Gandhi, Subhas Chandra Bose and Jawaharlal Nehru were all great leaders but their personalities had distinctly different characteristics. It also fails to explain the instances of leadership failures, where leaders failed despite possessing the required traits.

So while certain traits such as confidence, charisma, knowledge etc may help leaders to become more effective, relying entirely on those traits may not always help them to motivate their people to achieve the stated goal.

2. Behavioral Theories

The Behavioural Theories sought to identify the specific behaviours of leaders that lead to their leadership success.

Leaders may demonstrate task-oriented or people-oriented behaviours and may make decisions using authoritarian, democratic, or laissez-faire styles. However, it was seen that the preferred behavioural styles of leaders produced varied result under different circumstances. It appeared the Behavioural Theories overlooked the situational factors and the environment in which behaviours are demonstrated.

The limitations of the Trait Theories and the Behavioural Theories led to the transition to the Contingency Theories and development of contingency models.

Read: 8 Skills That Will Make You An Effective Leader

3. Contingency Theories

Contingency theories state that effectiveness of leadership is related to the interplay of a leader’s traits, behaviours and other situational factors.

Fred Fiedler Contingency Model

Fred Fiedler Model assumes that performance of a group depends upon leadership style and favourableness of the situation. Some leadership styles work better in certain situations.

For example, task-oriented leaders appeared to perform better in very favourable and very unfavourable situations. In contrast, the relationship-oriented leaders tended to perform better in moderately favourable situations.

When confronted by the Axis Forces during the Second World War, The British faced a tough situation. Field Marshal Montgomery, a task-oriented leader instituted a regime of continuous training, insisted on high levels of physical fitness and was ruthless in sacking officers he considered would be unfit for command in action. He proved to be the best British Field Commander in such an unfavourable situation.

In very favourable situations too, such as during the times of peace, the Armed Forces always need a Task-oriented leader to keep the rank and file battle – ready.

Fiedler believed that since a person’s natural leadership style is fixed, and certain leadership styles work better in certain situations, the most effective way to handle a changing situation is to change the leader. So, Fed Fiedler’s Model did not allow for flexibility in leaders.

⇒ As we proceed, you may want to check out these Leadership Training Resources.

Hersey-Blanchard Situational Model

Hersey-Blanchard Situational Model suggests that leadership style should be matched to the maturity of the subordinates. Depending on the subordinates’ level of maturity (from highly immature to highly mature), a leader may adopt any of these styles:

  • Telling (High Task-Low Relationship)
  • Selling (High Task-High Relationship)
  • Participating (Low Task-High Relationship)
  • Delegating (Low Task-Low Relationship)

While dealing with new entrants to an organisation, a leader would need to adopt a Telling style and Tell them exactly what to do and how to do. At the same time, the leader would need to adopt a delegating style while interfacing with persons at the higher echelons.

Read: 8 Theories of Motivation

Path-Goal Model

Path-Goal Model (by Robert House) suggest that a leader can affect the motivation and performance of a group by:

  • Offering rewards for the achievement of performance goals
  • Clarifying paths towards these goals
  • Removing performance obstacles

The model identified four leadership behaviours (directive, supportive, participative and achievement-oriented) and assumed that the leaders could be flexible to adopt any style according to situations.

Vroom- Yetton Model

Vroom- Yetton Model suggests that leadership style (autocratic, consultative, group) may be chosen by consideration of a number of situation variables in the form of questions forming a decision tree.

 4.Charismatic Leadership Theory

A Charismatic leader commands authority not by the virtue of a formal position but by the virtue of charismatic personality. Envisioning, empathy and empowerment are the three core components of charismatic leadership. The Theory states that people would attribute heroic or extraordinary qualities to the Charismatic Leaders who had an idealized goal and a strong commitment.

Read: Leadership lessons from the life of Nelson Mandela

5. Transactional Leadership Theory

This theory bases leadership on a system of rewards and punishments that are contingent upon the performance of the followers. Transactional leadership is often used in business and Transactional leaders are task and outcome-oriented.

6. Transformational Leadership

Transformational leaders are able to inspire followers with their vision and personality to change expectations, perceptions, and motivations for working towards common goals. Four components of Transformational Leadership are:

  • Intellectual Stimulation
  • Consideration for individuals
  • Inspirational Motivation
  • Idealized Influence

An excerpt from Transformational Leadership by Bass and Riggio

Transformational leaders…are those who stimulate and inspire followers to both achieve extraordinary outcomes and, in the process, develop their own leadership capacity. Transformational leaders help followers grow and develop into leaders by responding to individual followers’ needs by empowering them and by aligning the objectives and goals of the individual followers, the leader, the group, and the larger organization.

Transformational leadership is best suited for knowledge workers, where leaders and followers can take each other to a higher level of moral and motivation.

Finally, it won’t be out of context to mention here that leaders with character and integrity, who work towards a greater goal with conviction, inspire their followers.

Read:  7 Steps to developing Creative Leadership Skills.


Enlightened leadership is service, not selfishness.  ~ Lao Tzu.

Men of stainless character and self-purification will easily inspire confidence and automatically purify the atmosphere around them. ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Related Resources:

This article is contributed by Bhudeb Chakrabarti, Dy IG (Retd) CRPF. He has commanded several Operational and Administrative functions in the force and has imparted training to gazetted officers of CRPF and other central & state police forces.


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Bass, B. M. & Riggio, R. E. (2008). Transformational Leadership. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

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  • Wonderful article on Leadership. Look forward to more articles with incidents and anecdotes from your experience with management lessons learnt

  • The article gives a great framework to develop benchmarks and groom people into leadership roles. Nice reference point to start with… Look forward to read more of your posts.

  • Well researched. Gives a good insight of leadership.

  • Reblogged this on creatortruthlove and commented:

    Well its nicely written theory of leadership. I can only say leadership need a super human consciousness. As human is a conscious based organism. Individual consciousness do not work in crisis so it need an consciousness that is above collective consciousness that can understand variety of consciousness of a crowd. Mostly leaders are needed in crisis or conflict.

  • Your article on leadership theories has been very helpful. Your efforts are commendable.

  • Nicely researched. Smiles, Robin

  • Great article and an interesting read.

  • Wonderfully handled topic! A leader need not make any conscious efforts to influence or motivate…his personality is such…that is why he can lead!
    Alas! leaders of today don’t inspire with their personality…they choose to take a dig at others to prove themselves.
    A true leader is the one who says “lets go”…inclusiveness is one of the best traits of a leader. Despite various theories a leader is the one who can lead from the front.
    I have always been captivated by this quote of Russell Ewing:
    “A boss creates fear, a leader confidence. A boss fixes blame, a leader corrects mistakes. A boss knows all, a leader asks questions. A boss makes work drudgery, a leader makes it interesting. A boss is interested in himself or herself, a leader is interested in the group.”

  • Reblogged this on Truth Troubles: Why people hate the truths' of the real world and commented:

    Leadership is the subject matter in this reblog, I hope you get some enjoyment from their work.

  • This is a most interesting post, dear Somali… I much enjoyed learning about the different perspectives concerning Leadership… Transformational Leadership seems truly inspirational and I am quite sure it might lead to successful results in the performative scope…
    Have a greta day… All my best wishes. Aquileana :D

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    Voilà ,pourquoi , notre amitié dure depuis
    Des jours , des mois , des années
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    Je te souhaite une agréable soirée
    Prends bien soin de toi
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  • From the belief that leaders are born and not made, models on leadership have travelled a long way and looks like the vertical dyad linkage has the maximum following in corporates these days. Ultimately, I think a fine balance between employee consideration and initiating task structure is what makes a perfect leader..this post took me to my classroom lectures but this time I became the obedient student:)

    • The word about balance is so apt Sunita, something that’s needed in all spheres including leadership. We all keep on learning and teaching donning different hats at different points of time. :) Thank you so much for sharing your views.

  • beautiful article…. very informative…..

  • The Hersey-Blanchard and Transformational theory reminds me of my initial struggling day and my transformation through my mentor who knows how to roughen up and polish. An interesting outlook and assessed with depth on various leadership traits. Also, I believe an autocratic trait bound leader can work extraordinarily well to push team to improve and increase productivity four hold. A super innovative idea Somali and the way you approached the theme.

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