Comparing Leadership Theories - Essay Sample

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University of Richmond
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Leadership is one of the challenging as well as gratifying tasks in virtually every environment. As a leader, one has to oversee the setting of goals, allocation of resources, matching of responsibilities with expertise and the achievement of both long-term and short-term objectives. In practice, there are good leaders as well as bad leaders depending on the attributes of leadership that they possess and the effectiveness of delivery within their positions. Various theories have been advanced to explain the things that make a good leader (Dugan, 2016). These approaches include trait theory, behaviorism theory and the great man theory of leadership. These three concepts have some principal and practical differences as well as similarities as is exemplified in this paper.

Trait theory of leadership is also referred to as virtue theory. It bases on the premise that there are some foundational virtues that a leader must possess so that they can be successful in their positions of leadership (Dugan, 2016). According to this theory, the attributes are derived from inborn traits that manifest in the form of a person who is naturally born a leader. These qualities make people stand out from the rest of the population. It asserts that a particular set of necessary traits that distinguish leaders from the rest.

The behavioral leadership theory rejects the existence if an inherent or natural potential of any person to become a leader. It debunks the notion that there is a set of innate virtues that someone must possess so that he or she can ascend to successful leadership (Hickman, 2009). It looks at the practical aspect of leadership that reducing it to the set of actions that an individual must take relative to the situations of the organization led (Dugan, 2016). The underlying concept of the theory is that leaders can be nurtured through training and that the traits that they need can be progressively acquired or developed. The theory thus contends that anyone can become a leader as long as they undergo the requisite training and stay in the right environment where they can learn various leadership qualities.

The Great man theory of leadership traces its popularity during the 19th-century in which it was used to describe some of the then exemplary leaders such as Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi and Alexander the Great. The theory posits that great leaders are born which implies that the capacity to become a leader is inborn (Hickman, 2009). This approach thus means that one is either a naturally born leader or is not a leader at all.

One notable similarity about these three theories is that they all perceive leadership as an objective set of qualities or actions that an individual must master to be successful. In essence, all of them argue that a leader must have some capacity to execute steps depending on the situations they find themselves (Hickman, 2009). According to behaviorism, leaders must show some traits that define their personality and habits. It contends that no one person has a monopoly of these attributes than the other hence everyone has equal abilities to lead.

The three theories differ on how they perceive the origin of attributes of leadership. Behaviorism presents a more free look at command. According to the behaviorism theory, it only requires proper training for one to acquire leadership traits whereas, for both trait theory and a big man approaches, the characteristics must be inherent or innate qualities (Hickman, 2009). According to the behaviorist theory, a person born in a family that of people with a passive mindset tends to develop habits of servility while an individual from an actual background tends to be more assertive, but the two stand similar chances of becoming good leaders as long as they are subjected to adequate training. Nonetheless, the big man theory and trait theory insist and restrict leadership to be a preserve of the people having inborn traits of leadership.

Organizations operate in a dynamic environment characterized by new developments and competitors. Emerging trends such as the use of technology and strategic human resources management require that the executive management remains committed to exploring new management approaches. Therefore, leadership must be flexible to accommodate such changes while still staying competitive. For instance, it is easy for a leader who uses participative strategy to acquire new ideas and innovations that keep the organization competitive from the pool of employees than one who employs a closed-door approach. Furthermore, any two agencies may have access to the same means of production such as land, capital, and entrepreneurial abilities. However, it is through the use of different leadership or management approaches that they can distinguish themselves from the rest, and remain profitable.


Dugan, J. P. (2016). Leadership theory. Place of publication not identified: John Wiley & Sons.

Hickman, G. (2009). Leading change in multiple contexts: Concepts and practices in organizational, community, political, social, and global change settings. Los Angeles: CA. Sage. ISBN: 9781412926782.

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