In any organization, the most important individual is the leader. The leader sets the tone and defines the culture of that organization. As a leader, you’re constantly hiring people, determining the culture and vision for the company, and managing employees.

So, how can we incorporate leadership theories into our day-to-day work? Leadership is a multifaceted issue that touches on many areas of an organization, which makes it essential to understand each theory. It encompasses various situations, making applying each theory to the daily grind difficult. For instance, traditional leadership styles may only work in some start-ups.

To help make sense of it all, this article will go through some of the most common leadership styles and theories. Read on to learn more.

An overview of Leadership Theories

leadership at work

In hindsight, hiring and working with people who fit your company’s culture is best – but how do you know if you’ve hired the right person?

This task can be challenging to assess, especially in an interview setting. Before you know it, your team has been affected by a new hire who may not be the best fit for your organization.

Leadership theories focus on explaining this idea and providing a guide to help you identify the best people for your company. They help outline the key behaviors and skills that ensure the success of a leader.

These theories study and analyze how leaders affect their organizations, how they interact with employees, and what makes them successful. The approaches focus mainly on the traits of leaders rather than situations.

Some theories may be more ideal for certain work environments than others. You’ll want to choose a theory that’s ideal for your situation and the type of culture you have created in your organization.

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Why are Leadership Theories Important?


Leadership theories are important because they help us understand leadership’s complex and dynamic process. By studying different leadership theories, we can gain insight into the different styles of leadership and the effects they can have on individuals, teams, and organizations.

This can help leaders make more informed decisions about leading their teams and help organizations develop more effective leadership development programs.

Studying leadership theories can also help us understand the factors contributing to successful leadership, which can be valuable for both leaders and organizations. For example, leaders need to understand how specific leadership strategies can affect their organizations.

This knowledge can help individuals to develop their leadership skills and abilities and can also be helpful for organizations in identifying and training potential leaders. Additionally, studying leadership theories can help us understand group dynamics and organizational behavior and provide insight into how to create effective and successful teams.

Theories about leadership can help leaders prepare for more complex situations, such as those that occur with high-impact decisions, which are more common in today’s work environment. They can also help leaders correct common mistakes and increase the effectiveness of their time.

Finally, leadership theories can help us understand how certain situations affect leadership. For example, cases with ethical dilemmas or challenging conditions can significantly affect a leader’s effectiveness.

By understanding how different circumstances affect leadership, we can better understand what to do the next time that we’re in those situations. We can also gain insight into how to react to specific events and lead more effectively.

Seven Top Leadership Theories and How to Apply Them


Leadership theories sometimes need to be more straightforward than they are helpful. In today’s world, we need practical leadership skills that can jump-start the development of new and exciting possibilities.

By understanding some common leadership theories and how to apply them to your circumstances, you’ll be able to realize their potential in your life and career. Below, we list the seven most popular leadership theories and explain how to apply them to your life.

Management Theories

Management theories focus on everything from leadership styles to how you should compensate employees. Many of these theories are based on different management philosophies, such as the human relations school, scientific management, and behavioral school.

For example, the ‘command and control leadership style relies on the military philosophy of giving clear orders to subordinates and expecting them to be obeyed. This leadership style suits situations where people need structure and less freedom to complete a task.

An example would be a construction project manager who needs precision work at all costs and cannot allow for creativity or group decision-making. This leadership style is often recommended for businesses requiring precision such as operations and production.

Some of the most common applications of management theories include:

  •       Product development
  •       Marketing and sales
  •       Military operations
  •       Organizational culture

Management theories are often used in business because they provide a concrete view of being a better manager. To apply these management theories, managers need to carefully analyze the needs of their organization and the challenges it faces and select the best approach for achieving its goals.

Relationship Theories


Relationship theories focus on the role of relationships between people and how leaders can help foster a harmonious atmosphere. Also referred to as transformational leadership, relationship theories focus on inspiring, motivating, and leading employees in a way that promotes a better work environment.

They are different from management theories because they view relationships as essential to leadership. Relationship theories recommend using ‘soft skills’ to create a better rapport between leaders, workers, and customers. These soft skills include encouraging people to be creative and recognizing their achievements.

Transformational leaders are comfortable with being both leaders and followers. They know when to take charge and let others take the initiative. This can go a long way in making people feel valued and respected.

The applications of relationship theories include:

  •       Personalizing customer service.
  •       Building trust and loyalty among employees.
  •       Coaching mid-range employees on leadership and personal development.

Relationship theories are instrumental in business because they focus on improving leadership skills by making employees feel more at ease. They focus on how to create positive relationships between the company, employees, and customers.

Behavioral theories

Behavioral leadership theories focus on leaders’ actions and behaviors, rather than their internal characteristics or traits. These theories suggest that anyone can learn to be an effective leader and that the key to successful leadership is understanding and using appropriate behaviors.

Behavioral theories offer leaders a different way to view themselves. They suggest that leadership comes not from internal characteristics or traits but from how leaders act. Individuals learn to work as leaders simply by observing and participating in team-based activities.

lead the team

Leaders develop behavior that looks good on paper but is often incomplete and needs more credibility, mainly if applied inconsistently or without competence. These theories are helpful for leaders looking beyond their expertise or talents and seeking to improve the skills necessary for long-term success.

The applications of behavioral theories include:

  •       Organizational development
  •       Customer service
  •       Employee management
  •       Team building and development

To apply behavioral leadership theories, leaders can use appropriate behaviors and actions to support and motivate their followers. By understanding the needs and goals of their team, leaders can adapt their behavior to lead and achieve their objectives effectively.

Participative Theories

Participative leadership theories focus on sharing power and decision-making among workers. The approach is based on the belief that if individuals feel that they have a stake in their decisions, they will be more motivated to work harder and succeed.

One of the critical principles of participative leadership is that leaders should listen to and value the input of their followers. This helps build trust, improve communication, and foster collaboration within the team. Participative leaders also recognize the importance of empowering their followers and providing them with the support and resources they need to take ownership of their work and achieve their goals.

The leader shows concern for others through kindness, emotional support and understanding. In response, people feel more comfortable taking the initiative to provide direction and follow through with tasks.

The applications of participative leadership include:

  •       Collaborative team building
  •       Managing employees
  •       Organizational culture

To apply participative leadership, leaders should focus on using a collaborative approach to gain an understanding of their employees’ needs and work progress. Leaders can do this through regular meetings, open communication, and collaboration on projects and initiatives.

Trait Theories


Trait leadership theories focus on leaders’ characteristics and traits and suggest that certain inherent qualities determine effective leadership. These theories propose that traits such as confidence, charisma and intelligence are more commonly found in influential leaders.

Trait leadership theories often focus on people skills and how leaders can get others to believe in them and follow their lead. For this to work, leaders must be confident and assertive.

They must communicate their ideas clearly and persuasively to convince others of the validity of their ideas. Leaders should also be able to make quick decisions and show judgment, decisiveness, and the presence of mind under pressure.

Trait leadership requires adapting to the environment so that leaders can quickly make changes as necessary. The applications of trait leadership theories include:

  •       Managing employees
  •       Leadership training
  •       Effective communication skills
  •       Organizational culture

Trait leadership theories may be helpful for leaders looking to develop the skills, traits and behaviors required for effective leadership. Through more in-depth training and development programs, leaders can learn how to lead effectively and empower their followers.

Situational Theories

Situational leadership theories suggest that the most effective leadership style depends on the specific situation and context. These theories propose that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to leadership and that leaders must be able to adapt their style to fit the challenges they face.

Situational leadership requires leaders to understand the environment and adapt their approach accordingly. Leaders must be able to notice what is and is not working and make the necessary adjustments.

This action may involve deciding how much direction and control to give, how much to encourage participation, what kind of feedback to offer, and how strict or lenient to be.

The applications of situational leadership include:

  •       Managing employees and teams
  •       Organizational culture and change

To apply situational leadership theories, leaders should carefully assess the needs of their followers and the challenges they are facing and adapt their leadership style accordingly. By being flexible and responsive to the changing needs of their team, leaders can improve their effectiveness and achieve their goals.

Contingency Theories

team meeting

Contingency theories of leadership proposed that the most effective leadership style depends on the situation at hand. These theories suggest that a leader’s best action depends on their specific context, followers, and task.

Contingency theories suggest that a leader should consider all variables when deciding how to lead. This may involve understanding the situation, assessing the followers, and weighing these factors against what needs to be done and which style will work best.

The goal is to discover what works best in the situation at hand. Leaders can then adjust their behavior accordingly. Leaders must adapt quickly and shift between approaches to make this work. Contingency leadership requires learning to make the right choice in different situations based on the variables.

These theories help leaders learn how to shift their strategies and approaches based on the situation. They let leaders understand what works best for them and their followers and see how this differs from usual or expected practices. Through this, they can learn what is effective in different circumstances.

Final Thoughts

The best leadership style depends on the situation, context, and how the leader responds. The key is to understand the problem and adapt accordingly.

These leadership theories can help leaders learn what they need to know and adjust their approaches as required. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to leadership. Instead, leaders must learn how to respond quickly and effectively to situations and their specific contexts.

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