Introduction to Leadership Theories At Workplace
A compelling word that captures the dynamism, vision and power of the man behind the title. Through the ages – from Julius Caesar to Barack Obama – this title is meant to be bestowed on the distinguished few who have the ability to live up to its legacy. The modern corporate workforce has its share of Leaders too: forceful path-breakers who inspire and influence lesser folks to walk their grand vision. While there are plenty of mediocre Managers, it is perhaps the dream of every professional to grow into an impressive Leader who makes a difference. Here, it’s not so much the man but the remarkable attributes behind the man that define his Leadership status. Unwavering integrity, strong courage, an unending supply of motivation, a commitment to constant creativity and innovation, a superlative confidence and intelligence are just some of the lofty attributes that follow a successful leader. But as you may have guessed, these attributes take time (perhaps even years) to develop. In this article will see how we can apply this theories at workplace in detail manner.
Does this mean that we’re bound to slog through several years of our professional life before we become a capable Leader?
Fortunately, there is an easier path.
If we can grasp the striking Leadership theories that define a successful Leader and walk their path, we too can expand to become like them in surprisingly little time. The intention of this post is to highlight these potent theories. We also capture how to apply these dynamic Leadership theories at the workplace, so with their practice, you too can transform into an extraordinary Leader.
Leadership Theories: The Basics
If you’re a new manager (or Leader), you’re possibly wondering what this Leadership theory even is. Is it like a scientific theory based on facts? In this section, we demystify this. Do feel free to skim/ skip this section if you are a pro.
It has evolved over time and fall in 4 categories.
1. Trait Theories
As evident from the name, these capture the universal personality traits of a Leader. The strength of this theory is that if you can emulate the prime attributes of a Leader, then you are a Leader. Key attributes here include dominance (needed in conflicting situations), assertiveness (as opposed to aggression), decisiveness (for quick decision-making) and adaptability to change.
The downside of Leadership theories comes from these questions:
- Is there such a thing as a “universal” Leadership trait? For instance, a particular situation may need endurance more than adaptability.
- As we explored earlier, this seems to indicate that we either have these traits (and are hence born Leaders), or have to work through several years to develop them. Not a tempting proposition!
2. Behavioral Theories
Here, the Leadership theories attributes the behavior in particular situations that define your Leadership style. Again, there are 3 types of Leaders that fall into this zone.
- Autocratic Leaders, who are individually responsible for all major decisions. They do not necessarily consult with their peers or team, making this a Leadership style that can be effective for quick decision-making needs. At its extreme, it can border towards dictatorial Leadership.
- Democratic Leaders, who work with their teams to make unanimous decisions. This is more popular in the corporate world, but prone to failure when a team is scattered or conflicted from within.
- Laissez-faire Leaders, who hand more control to the team. There is no micromanagement here. This style works wonders when the team is competent, highly evolved, and works in cohesion, so all they need from their Leader is a gentle nudge to execute the vision. However, this can fall through very quickly if the Leader is weak or laid back.
3. Contingency Theories
This is essentially a spin-off from the Trait theory, but more evolved. This theory understands that there is no universal trait that works for all situations. Instead, there are exclusive traits suited to specific situations to lead it to success. Leaders are groomed based for the situations they are more likely to face so they come out on top in these situations.
4. Power and Influence Theories
These Leadership theories target the “source” of a particular Leader’s power.
This could be:
- Personal power, based on his individual skill, capabilities and expertise. (This can be considered an extension of the Trait theory)
- Positional power, based largely on the Leader’s official title, and the power, authority and opportunities that come with it.
- Transformational power, a spin-off on personal power where the Leader uses his personal magnetism and charisma to influence and transform others.
- Transactional power, a spin-off on positional power where the Leader understands the give-and-take nature of the situation. Accordingly, he drives for a solution that satisfies all stakeholders.
So what is the right Leadership theories to apply at your workforce? There is no straightforward answer.
The state of Leadership constantly offers you multidimensional opportunities, so there is no single “perfect” style that unconditionally works in every situation. But do not fret. While we have captured all 4 individual Leadership theories here for your knowledge, successive sections of this post play to the strengths of their totality, so you can learn to apply from their very best, and act, express, make decisions and rule like a true Leader!
Evolve your personal Trait theory by constantly maximizing your strengths
The Trait theory plays to powerful Leadership attributes, so that is what we will do in this post.
In this exercise,
- Make a thorough list of what you perceive as your strengths and weaknesses.
- Get non-biased feedback from 2-3 people you trust, so this list matches with what people perceive of you.
- From this narrowed-down list, work with a mentor: a senior Leader you admire, to pick 1 or 2 positive attributes that you will constantly maximize (or strengthen) as a Leader.
Here, we will not specify any particular attribute. As we have learnt, there is no single “perfect” attribute that guarantees a Leader’s success at all times. Instead, Leaders learn to be constantly committed to self-growth and expansion. As part of this expansion, choose an attribute that you will consciously seek to express throughout your Leadership journey.
Again, this can be any positive trait, as they all have their uses. For example:
- A strong will can help you stay resilient and see you through tough times. No matter how negative the external situation looks, you have the inner strength to plough on until you create
- A decisive nature helps you make decisions quickly, without second-guessing yourself. But of course, you remain open to learning from your mistakes, but you have the courage to make a (potentially tough) decision and back it to success.
- A burning self-drive will constantly empower you to push forward, even as you take on bigger challenges.
- With creative thinking, you are able to effortlessly come up with innovative solutions for unusual problems, holding you in good stead with most Leadership needs.
If you can constantly express even one positive trait with supremacy, you will deliver a superior Leadership experience.
You see, you may not naturally have all the attributes of a strong Leader. But you will have at least 1 or 2 attributes that are natural to a leader. Capitalize on them. Become a champion for these virtues as you make a conscious, personal and professional commitment to grow these virtues in you and your team. Your team will admire you for walking your talk and follow suit.
Leadership Theories: Be an Inclusive Leader, making people your greatest asset
Some of the more popular (and effective) behavioral theories get you to focus on people. Recognize them as important members of your Leadership toolkit, and not just as mere numbers of your workforce.
For this, we suggest that you focus on being an Inclusive Leader, constantly involving people in your style of work. We are not suggesting that you become merely a democratic leader (as democracy can fail in certain situations), but no matter what decision or strategy you come up with, keep the central focus on its impact on your people.
- Is this decision or strategy supportive to the people in your team?
- Will this enhance competence and productivity within the team?
- Will it enhance team and client satisfaction?
Use the 80-20 rule to determine the way forward.
The advantage of focusing on people (over other material assets like budget, bottom-line, product capabilities, etc.) is that people are your only “living” asset. This makes them far more powerful than any other material assets. We re-iterate here that this is not about discarding your other goals (like financial, professional, transformational, etc.), but about constantly including people into all other goals, so their presence strengthens and fulfills the ultimate vision.
Be unafraid of Autocratic Leadership to make tough decisions
Okay, we bet you’re surprised here. After all, we just spent a small section establishing the significance of people in fulfilling Leadership goals. Rest assured that we’re not revoking our earlier stand. But, there will be tough, unpleasant situations, where you simply cannot expect to have a harmonious, unanimous decision.
Let us explain this with an example: Your Company is running in loss and you are forced to consider major budget deductions. As part of this strategy, you even consider scrapping an entire department (leading to loss-of-job for all its members), as this department is financially draining the company, and its services are redundant until the company begins making profit.
Logically, it seems a sane decision. But emotionally, it is tough to say yes to so many job-cuts. You’re unlikely to receive unanimous support from other members on your team. But you know that unless you take this drastic step now, the department will continue to bleed the company and possibly lead to even more job-cuts in the future. So, you exercise autocratic Leadership to scrap the department and save the company. In addition, you strengthen your commitment to people by working out a reasonable severance package for those who are fired, so they don’t feel like they’re financially destitute with no warning. You also provide them with fair letters of reference, so these have it easier to find their next job.
Do you see the strength of the Leader who makes such a (potentially controversial) decision?
Resilient Leaders use autocratic Leaderships to make tough decisions during difficult times. This decision:
- Is one you can make quickly, as you do not look for empathy or consent from your peers.
- Can still be people-friendly (in dire circumstances). In the above example, your justification to let go 20% of your workforce may be to save 80% of the rest of the company.
- Is yours alone; there is no other fall-guy to take the blame if it fails. But as a responsible Leader, you take 100% ownership and have the courage and conviction to lead it towards success.
The closing note…
In this post, we have provided you a brief overview on winning Leadership theories and multi-faceted examples to use them at work. We leave you with one final tip that requires a powerful confluence of all Leadership theories, so you come out winning every time.
Use all your power and influence to constantly shoot for win-win solutions.
(Rest assured, this goes well beyond the Leadership theories of Transactional power.)
As a Leader, you are bound to enjoy a wide spectrum of personal challenges, professional demands and unexpected provocations. An evolved Leader knows that despite the present situation, there is only one universal solution, where everybody wins.
Here, make no mistake: a strong Leader is no people pleader. Yet, he is inclusive and expansive enough to ensure that everybody wins something from every situation. It is only this solution that helps you stay committed to people, learning, and continuous improvisation. So give it your all – personal charisma, positional influence, transformational power and transactional cleverness to shoot for that win-win solution. You will then find that people consistently feel inspired to follow you, as when you win, others win too!
This has been a guide to Leadership Theories At Workplace. Here we have discussed basic overview with 4 effective ways to apply leadership theories at the workplace. You can also go through our other suggested articles to learn more –