samedi 20 mars 2021

10 leadership theories : a genuine table with emblematic authors [mars 2021]

A google search with ["leadership theories"] (exact words) should return around 700 000 entries [1]. 

Based on our academic litterature research  [2], we have designed a table featuring 10 leadership theories. 

The theories have been listed in chronological order and each theory is described with

  • a most concurred name
  • the approximative period when the theory is said to have emerged
  • a definition in less than 10 words
  • an emblematic author, a minimal quote
  • one or two seminal works.

Some of these reference works may be freely accessible via the open web and  we have possibly placed a direct link.

The authors featured in the table are most often quoted in academic papers, articles or posts on professional blogs.

We have included into the table William Moulton Marston though his work does not explicitly address a leadership theory : the reading of his book, "Emotions of normal people", 1928, in its original version, was precious to our creating the DISC Governance pattern [3].

Name Definition Author and quotes
1 Great Man theory great leaders are born as such William Marston : "Dominance, Inducement, Submission, Compliance"
2 [Character] traits theory
leaders bear specific characters traits Kurt Lewin : "autocratic, democratic, laissez-faire"
3 Power theory
leaders exercise various powers John French, Bertram Raven : "coercive, expert, informational, legitimate, referent, reward"
4 Skills theory leaders develop specific skills sets Robert Katz : "conceptual skills, human skills, technical skills"
5 Styles theory
1950 - 1960
leaders can have various behavior styles Robert Blake, Jane Mouton : "managerial grid" defined by "concern for people" x "concern for production"

Robert Tannebaum, Warren Schmidt : "continuum of leadership"

Rensis Likert : "Exploitative Authoritative, Benevolent Authoritative, Consultative, Participative"
6 Situational theory
1960 - 70
leaders adopt the right style depending of the situation Paul Hersey, Ken Blanchard : Situational Leadership®, a situation is determined by followers' proficiency
7 Contingency theory
the situation makes the leader Fred Fiedler : a situation is defined through 3 dimensions : "leader-member relations, task structure, [leader] position power"
8 Transactional theory followers are moved by leaders' rewards, incentives and punishments James Burns : a leader "mak[es] contact [ to] exchange valued things"
9 Transformational theory leaders inspire, encourage and develop followers Robert House : "Path-Goal" : how to reach both personal goals and organisation goals with the leaders'help
10 Servant theory leaders serve followers Robert Greenleaf : "The servant as leader"

 Selected references
  • Emotions of Normal People, William Moulton Marston, 1928
  • Field Theory and Experiment in Social Psychology: Concepts and Methods, Kurt Lewin, American Journal of Sociology, The University of Chicago Press, may 1939 
  • Skills of an Effective Administrator, Robert L. Katz, Harvard Business Review, 1955 (reprint 1974 )
  • The base of social power, John French, Bertram Raven, University of Michigan, Institute for Social Research, 1959
  • Managerial Facades, Robert R. Blake and Jane S. Mouton, Advanced Management Journal, New York, N. Y., Society for Advancement of Management, july 1966. 
  •  A theory for leadeship effectiveness , Fred E. Fiedler, Mc Graw-Hill, 1967
  • Life cycle theory of leadership, Paul Hersey and Kenneth H. Blanchard, Training and Development Journal, 1969 
  • How to Choose a Leadership Pattern, Robert Tannenbaum and Warren H. Schmidt, Harvard Business Review, may 1973
  • The Contingency Model—New Directions for Leadership Utilization, Fred E. Fiedler, Journal of Contemporary Business, autumn 1974
  • Management of Organizational Behavior : Utilizing Human Resources, Paul Hersey and Kenneth H. Blanchard, Prentice-Hall, 3rd edition, 1977
  • Leadership, James Burns, Harper & Row, 1978
  • A path-goal theory of leadership: lessons, legacy, and a reformulated theory. Robert House, The Leadership Quaterly, Elsevier, autumn 1996 
  • The power of servant leadership, Robert Greenleaf, 1996


[1] Google search [leadership theories
[2] To assure our consulting services, we have been conducting self-funded epistemological research for more than 10 years. Nos travaux de recherche sur le modèle MOA-MOE nominés à un prix conjoint professionnel / académique, 2010
[3] DISC Governance : a pattern for enterprise governance, X-Soft-Skills

Situational Leadership® is a registered trade mark of Leadership Studies, Inc., USA



About the designer of the table

Tru Do-Khac (X79), a Vietnamese French consultant,  has a hands-on experience of enterprise culture. 

In the first part of his career, he served companies of worldwide culture reputation (IBM and Accenture), an european company (Alcatel NV, today Nokia) and a French large company which has become international (France Telecom, today Orange). He eventually joined a telecom consulting SME based in Paris.

In the second part of his career, he has been delivering consulting services, designing soft skills tools,  making self-funded research on management, writing two books,  nurtuing several blogs, while volonteering in social activities.