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How many styles and theories of leadership have been studied?

Written By

Chris Hammer

Leadership Coach at Silverhammer Coaching Services

Briefly Speaking

There are numerous styles and theories of leadership to consider. Find out which are most prominent.
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The study of leadership is certainly not a new one, and there are almost too many theories of leadership to count – and to try to list them all would go beyond the scope of this article. However, most of the different theories of leadership that have emerged over the years can be classified into a handful of major types: 

  • “Great Man” Theories
  • Trait Theories
  • Contingency Theories
  • Situational Theories
  • Behavioral Theories
  • Parcipitative Theories
  • Relationship Theories/Transformational Leadership
  • Management theories/Transactional Leadership.

There are various theories and models under each type, and they’re well worth looking into: the different styles of leadership you adopt can either be a success or a failure, depending upon a myriad of factors. What works with one personality in one environment may not work in the next. Understanding the theories of leadership listed above (and any others floating around out there) can help you to clarify what you believe to be true about leadership, and how you might best approach your own leadership development.

Within any of these theories, however, the individual leader and his or her preferences also need to be taken into account. In addition to the theories of leadership that have been studied, there are also many leadership “styles”. Here is a list of some of the most common styles of leadship:

  • Autocratic or Authoritarian Leadership
  • Participative or Democratic Leadership
  • Laissez-Faire Leadership
  • Servant Leadership
  • Transactional Leadership
  • Transformational Leadership
  • Situational Leadership

Again, these appear to be some of the most prominent; but there are other styles of leadership that would be worth researching for yourself. I’ve included these ones in particular for two reasons: one because they have the most written about them; and two because these are the styles I see most often in my own leadership coaching practice. 

Unfortunately I see examples of Authoritarian Leadership more often than I’d like; where the leader makes decisions unilaterally and often unfairly – and outside of military or paramilitary organizations — this never works. The other styles of leadership listed can be more or less effective depending on the environment, culture, and people involved; and you’d be wise to know the difference. 

Transformative Leadership is one of the more contemporary styles to be identified, and is often touted as one of the most effective. It is about inspiring others and sharing a greater vision. This type of leadership is great, of course; but it’s often best balanced by a Transactional Leadership style based on role compliance and incentives. Of the styles listed above, my own bias falls toward Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership; where the leader can adjust his or her style based upon the unique situation or task at hand.

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1 Reader Comments Share your thoughts.

    Ben Smith 2 years ago
    A leader only has a choice of leadership style if that leader does not care enough to provide what employees need. Throw out your style and provide what your people need.First, understand what the goal of leading or managing people actually is! Then learn what leadership is? Then learn what scientific research discovered motivates us, all of us. This should give the big picture of what you need to do to achieve the goal and it is fantastic when you achieve it. It is not hard to do.