Professional Leadership Theories

Leadership theories abound, exploring the dimensions that create great decision makers. Some focus on personality traits and behavior, while others look at broader perspectives to understand how leaders relate to their followers. Studying different theories and applying their tenets can help you become more effective and get better results from your team.

Trait Theory

  1. Trait theory holds that an individual's inherent qualities determine his leadership potential. Whether they're hard-wired or can be developed -- a notion held by behavioral theorists -- is open to debate. Traits fall into four categories. A leader should show emotional stability, particularly under stress, remaining calm and confident. He or she should admit mistakes, neither covering them up nor blaming others. The leader should have strong interpersonal skills, able to communicate effectively without being forceful. Finally, he or she should be able to see the big picture rather than focusing on small issues.

Servant Leaders

  1. The servant leader model posits that the leader wants to serve his followers, not command them. For a servant leader to be effective his followers must be motivated, capable of doing their assigned work. In the right situation a servant leader can be transformational. In the wrong situation he will appear indecisive. In any case, a servant leader is great for the long term but unlikely to be effective in implementing quick changes.

Emotional Intelligence

  1. The emotional intelligence theory holds that emotional intelligence is more important than intellectual intelligence as a dimension of leadership. Emotional intelligence is the ability to manage feelings and express them appropriately while building relationships. A leader who rates highly in those qualities understands his or her strengths and weaknesses, exercises self-control and adapts well to changing situations. Leaders with high emotional intelligence can empathize with others and react to them in a positive manner. They are adept at fostering teamwork and managing conflicts.

Contingency Theories

  1. Contingency theories of leadership maintain that leadership style depends on the situation. One early model matched leadership styles to situations dependent on the degree of trust employees had in their leader, the tasks being performed and the leader's degree of power over his employees. Another contingency theory shifts the model's focus from the leader to the employees, holding that if the employees do not follow there is no leader. The model looks at leadership in two dimensions -- the degree to which he or she is task-oriented and can build relationships.