There are many ways to understand leadership that has been developed in an attempt to explain why individuals become leaders and why some leaders are more effective than others. Many theoretical approaches are available to study leadership. Some important theories are discussed below:
1. Charismatic Leadership Theory
Charismatic leadership theory can be traced back to ancient times. Subsequent studies based on these insights have suggested that ‘a leader is born and is not made’. A leader has some charisma which acts as influencer. Charisma is a Greek word meaning gift. Thus, charisma is God- gift attribute in a person which makes him a leader irrespective of the situations in which he works. The basic assumptions and implications of charismatic leadership theory are as follows:
i. Leaders in general and great leaders in particular, have some exceptional inborn leadership qualities which are bestowed upon them by the divine power.
ii. These inborn qualities are sufficient for a leader to be successful.
iii. Since these qualities are inborn, these cannot be enhanced through education and training. Further, since these qualities are of personal nature, these cannot be shared by others.
iv. These Leadership qualities make a leader effective and situational factors do not have any influence.
Trait, Behavioral and situational leadership theories fail to explain the reasons behind the deeds of great political leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Lenin etc. who transformed their nations or our great industrialists like JRD Tata, GD Birla, Dhirubhai Ambani who created vast industrial empires because of their vision, energy and entrepreneurship. Charismatic leadership theory does that.
2. Trait Theory
Trait is relatively enduring quality of an individual. This theory believes leaders and non-leaders could be differentiated by a universal set of traits and characteristics. The traits can be innate and acquired on the basis of their source.
Innate traits are those qualities which are possessed by various individuals since birth. These qualities are natural and often known as God-gifted. The following are the major innate qualities in a successful leader:
i. Physical features – Physical features involves hereditary factors like height, weight, physique, health and appearance.
ii. Intelligence – Intelligence to a great extent, is a natural quality in the individuals because it is directly related with brain. The composition of brain is a natural factor, though many psychologists claim that level of intelligence in an individual can be increased through various training methods.
Acquirable traits of leadership are those which can be acquired and increased through various processes. When a child is born he learns various behavioral patterns through socialization and identification processes. Many of these traits can be increased through training programs. Following are the major acquired qualities essential for leadership:
i. Emotional stability
A leader should have high level of emotional stability. He should be free from bias, is consistent in action and refrains from anger.
ii. Human Relation
A successful leader should know how to deal with human beings. The knowledge of how human beings behave and how they react to various situations is quite meaningful to a leader.
iii. Social Skills
A successful leader understands people and knows strengths and weaknesses. He has the ability to work with people and conducts himself so that he gains their confidence and loyalty, and people cooperate willingly with him.
iv. Communication Skills
A successful leader knows how to communicate effectively. A leader uses communication skillfully for persuasive, informative and stimulating purposes.
Empathy means observing things from other’s point of view. The ability to look at things objectively and understanding them from other’s point of view is an important aspect of successful leadership. When one is empathetic, he knows what makes the other fellows think as they do, even though he does not necessarily agree with other’s thoughts. Empathy requires respect for the other persons, their rights, beliefs, values and feelings.
vi. Technical Skills
The technical competence of leader may win support from the followers. The ability to plan, organize, delegate, analyse, seek advice, make decision, control and win cooperation requires the use of important abilities which constitute technical competence of leadership.
Objectivity implies that what a leader does should be based on relevant facts and information. He must assesses these without any bias or prejudice. The leader must base his relationship on his objectivity. He is objective and does not permit himself to get emotionally involved to the extent that he finds it difficult to make an objective diagnosis and implement the action required.
viii. Motivating Skills
Not only a leader is self-motivated but he has quality to motivate his followers. Though there are any external forces which motivate a person for higher performance, there is inner drive in people also for motivation to work. The leader can play active role in stimulating these inner drives of his followers. Thus, a leader must understand his people to the extent that he knows how he can activate them.
3. Behavioral Theory
Behavioral approach concentrates on identifying behaviours that differentiate effective leaders from non-effective leaders. The primary aim of the behavioural approach is to decide what behaviours are typically associated with successful leaders. Leadership behavior may be view dint two ways: functional and dysfunctional. Functional behavior influences followers positively and includes such functions as setting clear goals, motivating employees for achieving goals, raising the level of morale, building team spirit, effective two way communication etc. Dysfunctional behavior is unfavourable to the followers and denotes ineffective leadership. Such a behavior may be inability to accept employees ideas, display of emotional immaturity, poor human relations etc.
4. Situational or Contingency Theory
After extensive research on the trait and behavioural aspects of leadership, several researchers have come to the view that no one trait or style (behavior) is common or effective to all situations. The prime attention in situational theory of leadership is givn to the situation in which leadership is exercised. Therefore, effectiveness of leadership will be affected by the factors associated with the leader and factors associated with the situation. These factors are explained below:
i. Leader’s Behaviour
ii. Situational Factors
i. Leader’s Behaviour
Leader’s behavior is affected by leader’s characteristics and his hierarchical position in the organisation. Leader’s characteristics include his personality, attitude, intelligence, physical characteristics like age, sex etc. Leader’s hierarchical position in the organization is also important because person at different levels face different kinds of problems which affect the degree of participation between the superior and his subordinates in arriving at decisions to solve the problems. Managers at higher level of hierarchy are more concerned with long term complex problems which require more participation in decision making. Managers at lower levels are more concerned with short term problems involving the daily operations, which may not require high level of participation.
ii. Situational factors
The various situational factors may be grouped into following categories:
a) Subordinate Characteristics
Various factors which affect an individual’s behavior as discussed in case of leader are relevant for subordinates too.
b) Leader’s Situation
There are two main variables which determine the leader’s situation : leader’s position power and leader-subordinate relation. High position power helps in influencing others while low position power makes the leader’s task more difficult. Another factor , that is leader-subordinate relation is based on the classic exchange theory which suggests that there is two way influence on a social relationship. Thus, good followers need to succeed in their own jobs with the help of the leader while helping their leader to succeed at his. Thus, if the leader has good subordinates, and good relation with them, he is likely to be more effective.
c) Group Factors
Various group factors like task design, group composition, group norms, group cohesiveness, and peer group relationship affect leadership effectiveness and performance. If these factors are favourable, the leader will be effective.
d) Organizational Factors
Organizational factors like organizational climate and organizational culture affect leadership effectiveness. If these are conducive, the leader will be effective.