Back to Main Site

Leadership Theories are Keys to Learning Greatness

Some people are born leaders. But, most of us develop into leaders over time. The core of that development is understanding some of today’s common leadership theories. But, you don’t need to wait until after you graduate to start learning about leadership and what makes a good leader. Starting to understand different leadership theories now will help you identify them and use them once you enter the workforce.

Below is what a few of the most popular leadership theorists have to say:

Weber: Leadership is Situational and the Best Leaders Uses a Variety of Styles

Weber (1948) describes three types of leaders, bureaucratic, charismatic, and traditional. He was the first leadership theorist to recognize that leadership is situational in nature and that leaders need to move from one leadership style to another to remain successful. [i] He also viewed leadership as two paradigms in which leaders work. These two paradigms are transactional and transformational. Transactional leaders, also referred to as charismatic leaders, usually approach things from different perspectives. In Weber’s theory they used charm and charisma to help them achieve their goals. [ii]

Burns: Moral vs. Amoral Leadership

Burns’ (1978) leadership theories add further insight and align with some of Weber’s thoughts on transactional and transformational leadership. Burns’ theories included a dimension of moral vs. amoral leaders. Burns’ characterizes transactional leadership styles into opinion, bureaucratic, party, legislative and executive. He further characterized transformational leaders into intellectual, reform, revolutionary, and charismatic. [iii]

Coleman: Emotional Intelligence and the Characteristics of a Leader

Coleman’s leadership theory of emotional intelligence attempted to answer the questions of what elements characterize a leader. His approach was more of a behavioral approach to describing leadership than either Burns’ or Weber. Coleman studied what behaviors made people effective leaders. His emotional intelligence is sometimes referred to as intelligence quotient or IQ. He believed that intelligence was not the sole character of a leader and that emotional intelligence is what separates leaders. Today’s leadership theories build upon principles of earlier theorists.  Leadership abilities stem from the sum total of things learned.  [iv]

Northouse: Ethics and Leadership

Northouse (2010) talked about the early writings on leadership in a set of working papers brought together by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation. In the papers, scholars examined how leadership theory and practice could be used to build a more caring and just society.[v] Northouse wrote, “In regards to leadership, ethics has to do with what leaders do and who leaders are,” (2010, p. 378) and explains that ethics direct the choices of decision-making, which affect a leader’s behavior.

Making sure you are up to speed on the different kinds of leadership theories and what it takes to be a good leader is an important starting place on your road to leadership. Below are a few key steps to becoming a good leader, according to the Executive Leadership Newsletter, published by the National Institute of Business Management (n.d.).[vi]

  1. Maintaining absolute integrity - There is no compromising when it comes to maintaining your integrity.  A leader needs to model ethics at all times for his subordinates.
  2. Knowing and declaring your vision – As a leader it is important that you know what your vision is before you can declare it. A leader has to prove you know “your stuff” and what you are doing before you can declare your vision. A leader needs to be able to recite how your organization makes money and where you plan to be in five years. Subordinates will be more likely to follow a leader who knows and declares his vision. Without a vision the company will not improve growth.
  3. Show uncommon commitment – A leader needs to show commitment to his organization and people. Knowing your competition so you can properly compete is included.
  4. Expect positive results – Leaders need to turn disadvantages to advantages and look for opportunities for success.
  5. Take care of your people – Leaders have to demonstrate they are loyal to their subordinates.  Stand up and fighting for employee’s rights is a good way for a leader to show his commitment to them.
  6. Put duty before self – Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is viewed very important by consumers.  Going green initiatives and helping community are no longer an opportunity it is expected.
  7. Stand out in front – As a leader make sure your company is seen and noticed (pg. 1).

Leadership ethics are an important part of the leadership equation as recent as 1996.

These theories and steps can serve as a starting point as you visualize and develop your own leadership style. To determine your own leadership style, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What types of leaders do I admire? (Maybe from a past job.)
  2. Which types of leaders did you find difficult to work for?
  3. Which leadership style motivates you?
  4. During your classes at Bryant and Stratton were there any discussions or case studies of organization leaders you would like to emulate?
  5. How do your personal ethics affect the type of leader you want to be?

About the Author:

Robin Laukhuf is an college instructor, entrepreneur, and designer.  Currently she is working towards a Doctorate in Business.  She has enjoyed working at Bryant and Stratton College for over 11 years.  Her designs and articles have been published in many industry magazines.


[i] ,[ii] [iii] , [iv]Leadership Theories. (2007). Retrieved from http://www.money-zine.com/

[v] Northouse, P. G. (2010). Leadership theory and practice (5th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

[vi] National Institute of Business Management. (n.d.).  Executive leadership.  Retrieved from, http://www.ExecLeadership.com/

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 3.0/5 (2 votes cast)