This was a big question on our mind and after a lot of research and comparing different theories, we came to the conclusion that there is no combination of characteristics that makes a leader successful.

Some theories might argue that you are born with the characteristics which make a great leader and others claim you can learn to be an effective leader because different characteristics matter in different situations. We will help you understand the numerous methodologies of leadership. This will allow you to use the right approach for your particular situation.



In order to know the theories to leadership, we have to go back to basics. We will explore the 4 core theories.


The 4 Core Theories

As mentioned above, we have done a lot of research and found several theories and methodologies on Leadership. However, we think it is best to start at the beginning. So, let us have a look at each of the 4 core theories and explore the tools and models that apply with each of them.


1.Trait Theories – What Type of Person Makes a Good Leader?



Trait theories claim that effective leaders share a number of mutual personality characteristics, or “traits.”

Trait theories help us recognise traits and qualities that are valuable when leading others. Yet, none of these qualities or any particular combination of them, will guarantee success as a leader.

Early trait theories said that leadership is a quality you are born with. You either have it or you don’t. Fortunately, we moved on from this kind of thinking, and we are learning more about how we develop leadership qualities within ourselves and others.


2. Behavioural Theories – What Does a Good Leader Do?

The behavioural theories of leadership do not seek inborn traits or capabilities. They look at what leaders actually do. If success can be determined based on actions, it should be quite easy for other people to act in the same way. This is easier to teach and learn, than to adopt the ‘traits’ or ‘capabilities’

The behavioral theories first put leaders in two categories. The ones that were concerned with the tasks and those concerned with the people. In the literature, these are referred to as different names but the principle is the same.

How leaders behave unmistakably affects their performance. Researchers have realized that many of these leadership behaviours are suitable at different times. The best leaders are the ones who can use many diverse behavioural styles, and are able to apply the right style for each circumstance.


3. Contingency Theories – How Does the Situation Influence Good Leadership?

In contingency theory of leadership, the success of the leader is a function of various contingencies in the form of subordinate, task, and/or group variables. The effectiveness of a given pattern of leader behaviour is contingent on the demands imposed by the situation. These theories stress using different styles of leadership appropriate to the needs created by different organizational situations. No single contingency theory has been postulated. Some of the theories are:

Fiedler’s contingency theory:
Fielder’s theory is the earliest and most extensively researched. Fiedler’s approach departs from trait and behavioural models by asserting that group performance is contingent on the leader’s psychological orientation and on three contextual variables: group atmosphere, task structure, and leader’s power position.

Hersey & Blanchard’s situational theory
This theory is an extension of Blake and Mouton’s Managerial Grid Model and Reddin’s 3-D management style theory. With this model came the expansion of the notion of relationship and task dimensions to leadership and adds a readiness dimension. [University of Twente]


4. Power and Influence Theories – What is the Source of the Leader’s Power?

Power and influence theories of leadership take a completely different approach – these are based on the different ways that leaders use power and influence to get things done, and they look at the leadership styles that develop as a result. Different sources of power have been identified and can be described based on power sources. [Management Library]

Positional Power:

  • Legitimate Power is related to the position or status of the person in the organisation. The person believes that they have the right to make demands on others and expect them to be compliant. Legitimate power gives the leader/manager power over their direct reports. The more senior a person is and/or the more people in their team the more positional power the person perceives that they have. All managers have some degree of positional power.
  • Reward Power is the ability to give rewards. Examples of these rewards are promotions, pay increases, working on special projects, training and developmental opportunities and compliments. Reward power is the result or positional power. Reward power is using the pull approach to influencing others. Reward power is limited to your position in the organisation. You may not always have complete control over the rewards. However, due to your position you may be able to have some influence in the rewards. Look at what rewards you can use to influence others behaviours and actions.
  • Coercive Power is the opposite of Reward Power. It is the ability to use threats and punishments. Many managers and leaders abuse this source of power leading to greater problems. Extensive use of coercive power should be avoided. Leadership styles may tend to be very autocratic. Be careful that you are not exerting power over others inappropriately


Personal Power

  • Referent Power is the ability of others to identify with those who have desirable resources or personal traits. You may also hear of charismatic power. This comes from the personal characteristics of the person. For example: Their energy, endurance, empathy, toughness, humour, charm. People with this source of power can influence people. However, again be careful that you do not abuse it.
  • Expert Power refers to the power that people have who have specialist knowledge, who are experts in their field or have knowledge or skills that are in short supply. People tend to listen more to those who demonstrate expertise. Expert power does not require positional power. Leaders and managers should also be aware of use expert power where it exists in their teams. To ignore is potentially abusing their positional power.
  • Information Power comes from access to facts and knowledge that others find useful or valuable. That access can indicate relationships with other power holders and convey status that creates a positive impression. Informational power offers advantages in building credibility and rational persuasion. It may also serve as the basis for beneficial exchanges with others who seek that information.


Individuals can, more often than not, resort to one of these sources and uses of power. Actually, the individuals’ power and capability to get things done, is greater the more power of sources to which they have access to.


Quick summary

Throughout the years, there have been a number of core theories about leadership. These theories fall into four main categories:

  1. Trait theories.
  2. Behavioural
  3. Contingency theories.
  4. Power and influence theories