Leadership Theories

Theories about leadership skills and models to improve understanding of different leadership styles

Leadership Theories

Table of contents

1. Leadership theories [edit]

1.1. Leadership models, philosophies, styles - definitions, descriptions, terminology

1.2. Leadership theories - index

1.3. Introduction - leadership theories

1.4. Differences between leadership and management

1.4.1. Management vs leadership - differences in responsibilities

1.5. Leadership terminology clarifications (models, philosophies and styles - definitions and differences)

1.5.1. Leadership terminology definitions - models, philosophies, styles

1.5.2. Leadership terminology differences - models, styles, philosophies

1.6. Leadership definitions and quotes

1.6.1. Leadership definitions - and their limitations

1.7. leadership and the leader's purpose

1.8. leadership glossary

1.9. overview and index of leadership theories

2. leadership models [edit]

2.1. the different types of leadership models

2.2. trait-based leadership models

2.2.1. Carlyle and Galton - trait theory

2.2.2. a short note about leadership thinking and societal development..

2.2.3. Ralph Stogdill - trait theory

2.2.4. Kouzes and Posner - trait theory

2.2.5. Kouzes and Posner's top ten leadership traits

2.2.6. trait-based leadership theory - in summary

2.3. behavioural ideals leadership models

2.3.1. Blake and Mouton's Managerial Grid

2.3.2. Blake and Mouton's Managerial Grid - diagram

2.3.3. Blake and Mouton grid

2.4. Situational/Contingency leadership models

2.4.1. Kurt Lewin's Three Styles Model

2.4.2. Tannenbaum and Schmidt's Leadership Behaviour/Behavior Continuum

2.4.3. Tannenbaum and Schmidt behavioural continuum - diagram

2.4.4. Fiedler's Contingency Model

2.4.5. Two Forces of Fiedler's Situational Contingency idea

2.4.6. Fiedler's Contingency Model diagram

2.4.7. Path-Goal Theory - Robert House

2.4.8. House's Path-Goal theory diagram- workplace/follower characteristics and four leadership styles

2.4.9. House's Path-Goal Theory - four leadership styles descriptions

2.4.10. Hersey and Blanchard's Situational Leadership® Model

2.4.11. interpretation of Hersey and Blanchard basic structure

2.4.12. Hersey & Blanchard's Situational Leadership® Model diagram

2.4.13. Bolman and Deal's Four-Frame Model

2.4.14. Bolman and Deal's Four Frames descriptions and differences

2.5. functional leadership models

2.5.1. John Adair's Action-Centred Leadership model

2.5.2. Adair's Action-Centered Leadership 'three circles' diagram

2.5.3. task

2.5.4. team

2.5.5. individual

2.5.6. Action-Centred Leadership - functional summary

2.5.7. Kouzes and Posner's Five Leadership Practices Model

2.5.8. Five Leadership Practices - summary

2.6. integrated psychological approach

2.6.1. James Scouller's Three Levels of Leadership model

2.6.2. Scouller - leadership as a four-dimensional process

2.6.3. Scouller's Three Levels of Leadership model - diagram

2.6.4. Scouller's Three Levels of Leadership - summary of the three levels

2.6.5. Scouller's integrated approach

2.6.6. Scouller's 3P integration/extension of existing leadership models

3. leadership philosophies [edit]

3.1.1. important note about philosophies

3.2. servant leadership

3.3. authentic leadership

3.4. ethical leadership

3.5. values-based leadership

3.6. Sources of Leadership Power - French and Raven

4. leadership styles [edit]

4.1. Transformational and Transactional Leadership

4.1.1. Burns' Transforming and Transactional leadership styles

4.1.2. differences between Transformational and Transactional leadership styles

4.1.3. Bernard Bass

4.2. charismatic leadership

4.2.1. dangers and risks of charismatic leadership

4.2.2. charismatic leadership and 'presence'

4.3. narcissistic leadership

4.4. summary and conclusion

4.5. acknowledgments - and James Scouller biography

4.6. main references and further reading

4.7. additions and amendments

4.8. training/teaching use - note

5. See also [edit]

Leadership theories [edit]

Leadership models, philosophies, styles - definitions, descriptions, terminology

Leadership is a vast and important subject, yet full of confusing ideas and terminology, open to widely different interpretations.

Leadership definitions and descriptions also vary enormously.

Examples of leadership can be extremely diverse too.

We lead when we manage a football team or teach a classroom of children. We lead our own children when we are parents, and we lead when we organize anything. We certainly lead when we manage projects, or develop a new business. We lead the moment we take the first supervisory responsibility at work, and we may lead even before we assume official responsibility to do anything. A vicar or preacher leads a congregation. A writer or visionary may lead when he or she puts pen to paper and creates a book, or poem, or article which inspires and moves others to new thoughts and actions. A monarch and a president are both leaders. So is a local councillor, and so can be a community fund-raiser. A ruthless dictator is a leader. So was Mother Theresa, and so was Mahatma Gandhi.

We can find leadership in every sort of work and play, and in every sort of adventure and project, regardless of scale, and regardless of financial or official authority.

And so, given the many ways in which leadership operates, it is no surprise that leadership is so difficult to define and describe.

So what is leadership?

Is leadership a technical model?

Or is leadership a behaviour? (Or a behavior?, for US-English users.)

Or is leadership more a matter of style, or philosophy?

In fact it's impossible to limit descriptions of leadership merely to being a technical model, or a process, or a style or philosophy. It's all of these things, and much more besides.

This article aims:

  • to help clarify what leadership is, and
  • to offer a comprehensive summary of the main ways to understand and explain what leadership means.

As you will see, leadership can, and necessarily should, be approached from a variety of standpoints.

A helpful way to understand leadership is by exploring leadership thinking and theories using these three main conceptual viewpoints:

  • Models
  • Philosophies, and
  • Styles

This three-category approach provides the structure for what follows below in this leadership theories article.

I am grateful to James Scouller, an expert coach, thinker and writer on leadership, for the contribution of most of the technical content for this article, and for the collaboration in editing it and presenting it here. Aside from what follows here, Scouller's expertise in leadership theory is evidenced particularly in his 2011 book The Three Levels of Leadership, which I commend to you.


N.B. Some US-English spellings with 'our' and 'ize' word-endings (for example, behavior, favour, color, organize, mobilize, etc) are different to UK-English spellings/preferences (behaviour, organise, etc). Both versions of the ise/ize spellings may be used on this webpage, as appropriate, especially for the words organisation/organization, as appropriate, and to aid searching. Please adapt the spellings to suit your needs and situation. Also the words he and his equate to he/she and his/her where appropriate. The singular non-gender-specific use of the words 'they' and 'theirs' (instead of he/she and his/hers) is generally avoided because such usage is misleading to some people for whom English is not the first language.


Leadership theories - index


Leadership and Management Differences - why is leadership different from management? - and Leadership vs Management Differences Grid

Leadership Terminology Clarifications - Models, Philosophies and Styles - Terminology Definitions and Terminology Differences (what the terminology itself means)

Leadership Definitions - what leadership is and what leadership means

Leadership and the Leader's Purpose - the aims and responsibilities of an effective leader

Leadership Glossary - the main leadership terminology explained simply and concisely

Leadership Theories - Overview - models, philosophies and styles - and index of leadership concepts

Leadership Models - explanations and examples of the main leadership models

Leadership Philosophies - explanations and examples of the main leadership philosophies

Leadership Styles - explanations and examples of the main leadership styles

Summary and Conclusion - and useful outline of this extensive leadership guide

Acknowledgments - including expert co-author James Scouller's biography

Additions and Amendments - details of significant changes, new theories added, and other amendments

Training/Teaching Use - note about use of materials related to proprietary systems


Introduction - leadership theories

This free guide to leadership theories is a comprehensive, easy-to-read summary of leadership concepts.

In fact this leadership guide aims to be the clearest, most succinct and useful summary of leadership (concepts, theories and thinking) available anywhere.

If it's not, then your suggestions and comments as to how to improve it would be greatly appreciated.

This article should add usefully to your understanding of this fascinating subject, and if you are responsible for teaching and inspiring others to lead, then it will help to improve clarity and awareness of what leadership means.

These materials can be used for:

  • self-development - understanding and improving personal leadership knowledge and capability
  • teaching and training others - about leadership - what it is and means, and how to do it - to lead others - effectively, and
  • as an academic reference source for the study of leadership and related matters.

The article therefore aims to be both:

  • an easy and practical guide to leadership - for developing leadership knowledge and capability
  • and also, a reliable and serious technical reference source - for the academic and professional study of leadership.

Within this overall aim, the article will specifically offer:

  • definitions of leadership and the purposes of a leader
  • explanations and differentiations of leadership terminology - notably concerning leadership models, leadership philosophies, and leadership styles - importantly bringing clarity to leadership theory, where historically terminology and definitions, etc., have caused much confusion, among students and leaders alike)
  • explanations of the main models of leadership
  • explanations of the main philosophies of leadership
  • explanations of the main styles of leadership
  • including notes, comparisons, overlaps, correlations and other relational interpretations as appropriate and helpful for the understanding and application of leadership theory.


Differences between leadership and management

It is appropriate here briefly to explain, and give examples of, the differences between management and leadership.

There are lots of confusions and overlaps, and also big differences, when comparing leadership with management.

A very big difference between leadership and management, and often overlooked, is that leadership always involves (leading) a group of people, whereas management need only be concerned with responsibility for things, (for example IT, money, advertising, equipment, promises, etc). Of course many management roles have major people-management responsibilities, but the fact that management does not necessarily include responsibility for people, whereas leadership definitely always includes responsibility for people, is a big difference.

The biggest most fundamental overlap between leadership and management - there are many individual points - is that good leadership always includes responsibility for managing. Lots of the managing duties may be delegated through others, but the leader is responsible for ensuring there is appropriate and effective management for the situation or group concerned.

The opposite is not the case.

It would be incorrect to suggest that management includes a responsibility to lead, in the true sense of both terms.

We therefore may see management as a function or responsibility within leadership, but not vice-versa.

(Incidentally - Where a manager begins to expand his or her management responsibility into leadership areas, then the manger becomes a leader too. The manager is leading as well as managing)

Beyond this fundamental overlap - that leadership is actually a much bigger and deeper role than management - a useful way to understand the differences between leadership and management is to consider some typical responsibilities of leading and managing, and to determine whether each is more a function of leading, or of managing.

Of course by inflating the meaning of the word 'managing', or reducing the significance of the meaning of the word 'leading', it is possible to argue that many of these activities listed below could fit into either category, but according to general technical appreciation, it is reasonable to categorize the following responsibilities as being either:

  • managing, or
  • leading.

To emphasise the differences, the two lists of responsibilities are arranged in pairs, showing the typical management 'level' or depth of responsibility, compared to the corresponding leadership responsibility for the same area of work.

The responsibilities are in no particular order, and the numbering is simply to aid the matching of one item to another as you consider the management perspective versus the leadershipperspective.

Management vs leadership - differences in responsibilities
Typical Responsibilities 
(not absolutely exclusive to either management or leadership)
  1. Implementing tactical actions
  2. Detailed budgeting
  3. Measuring and reporting performance
  4. Applying rules and policies
  5. Implementing disciplinary rules
  6. Organizing people and tasks within structures
  7. Recruiting people for jobs
  8. Checking and managing ethics and morals
  9. Developing people
  10. Problem-solving
  11. Planning
  12. Improving productivity and efficiency
  13. Motivating and encouraging others
  14. Delegating and training
  1. Creating new visions and aims
  2. Establishing organizational financial targets
  3. Deciding what needs measuring and reporting
  4. Making new rules and policies
  5. Making disciplinary rules
  6. Deciding structures, hierarchies and workgroups
  7. Creating new job roles
  8. Establishing ethical and moral positions
  9. Developing the organization
  10. Problem-anticipation
  11. Visualising
  12. Conceiving new opportunities
  13. Inspiring and empowering others
  14. Planning and organizing succession, and...

All management responsibilities, including all listed left, (which mostly and typically are delegated to others, ideally aiding motivation and people-development)

Observant readers will notice that the final entry in the leadership list is 'All management... (delegated to others...)'.

This emphasizes that:

  • Leadership is (usually*) a bigger responsibility than management, and also,
  • Leadership includes the responsibility for the management of the group/situation, which is typically mostly by delegation to others.

* N.B. Management may of course be a bigger responsibility than leadership where the scale of a management role is much bigger than the scale of a leadership role, for example the quality assurance manager for a global corporation compared to the leader of a small independent advertising agency.)

Also, it is important to note again that many managers are also leaders, and so will be doing, or perhaps will be asked to do, things which appear in the leadership list.

Where a manager does things which appear in the leadership list, then actually he or she is leading, as well as managing.

(Incidentally this view of managing vs leading forms the basis of a group/teambuilding exercise to explore the differences between managing and leading, available in the teambuilding games section, and is a good activity to use with groups where the aim is to explain and develop leadership for others.)

James Scouller has an additional and helpful viewpoint on the distinction between leadership and management: He says:

"Leadership is more about change, inspiration, setting the purpose and direction, and building the enthusiasm, unity and 'staying-power' for the journey ahead. Management is less about change, and more about stability and making the best use of resources to get things done... But here is the key point: leadership and management are not separate. And they are not necessarily done by different people. It's not a case of, 'You are either a manager or a leader'. Leadership and management overlap..." (From The Three Levels of Leadership, J Scouller, 2011)


Leadership terminology clarifications (models, philosophies and styles - definitions and differences)

There are many different aspects of leadership. And a lot of confusing terminology.

So here is some detailed explanation about leadership terminology, before we begin to address leadership theory itself.

Separately, further below is a simple leadership glossary which aims to include the most commonly used leadership terminology.

Writers and experts in leadership use many different terms when trying to describe or categorise leadership - usually as a prefix or a suffix to the word leadership.

Consider how many different single or two-word terms are used with the word 'Leadership'.

Also consider that many of these terms are rarely used with the word 'Management'.

We would not normally refer to 'management character' or 'management traits', or to 'management behaviour/behavior' or to a 'natural born manager', but we see these terms, such as 'character', 'traits', 'behaviour', and 'natural born', appearing very commonly with the word 'Leadership'.

Similarly terms like 'ethical leadership, 'inspirational leadership', 'charismatic leadership', 'leadership philosophy', 'authentic leadership', and 'servant leadership' include describing words - some generically defining - which tend not to appear commonly in connection with management and other disciplines.

We see also some proprietary concepts containing the word 'Leadership', representing significant theories and internationally recognized personal and organizational development 'brands', most notably for example: Action-Centred Leadership®, and Situational Leadership®.

This serious depth and variety of terminology reflects the serious depth and variety of leadership itself as a subject.

The richness of leadership terminology points to the huge variety of interpretations of leadership as a subject, and further indicates the potency of leadership to operate in very many different ways and directions, and at a fundamentally important level for people and society - even civilisations.

Of the many major terms which refer to concepts or theories about leadership, three termstogether offer a useful structure by which to categorize and explore the wide range of theories within the subject. They are:

  1. Leadership Models
  2. Leadership Philosophies
  3. Leadership Styles

These three categories are different ways of looking at leadership. We could say instead: different aspects of leadership.

Different aspects can cause confusion when we try to understand what leadership is - especially if we use only one aspect to consider the subject.

For example one person may be seeing leadership from a 'style' standpoint while another may be thinking about leadership 'philosophy'. The two people might hold similar or overlapping views, and yet because the standpoints are different (and usually therefore the terminology and reference points are different too), it can seem that there is conflict about what leadership is, when actually there may be close agreement.

Two people may disagree about something purely because they are approaching it from a different standpoint, when actually they may be seeing the same thing, or two things which substantially overlap.

So, in addition to providing a helpful theory structure, using the three stated categories also helps to show that lots of leadership thinking is overlapping and compatible, when it might otherwise seem conflicting and wildly diverse.

Here are definitions of the three categories: modelsphilosophies and styles.

Please note that these definitions are specific to this leadership theory article. In other situations these three words (models, philosophies, styles) may have other meanings.

Leadership terminology definitions - models, philosophies, styles

definition of leadership models

definition of leadership philosophies

definition of leadership styles

A leadership model contains theories or ideas on how to lead effectively and/or become a better leader.

Action-Centred Leadershipis an example of a leadership model.

A leadership philosophy contains values-based ideas of how a leader should be and act; and the sources of a leader's power.

Servant Leadership is an example of a leadership philosophy.

A leadership style is a classification or description of the main ways in which real-life leaders behave.

Transformational Leadershipis an example of a leadership style.

In this context, a leadershipmodel is a structure which contains process or logic or a framework, which can be used or applied like a tool, in performing, understanding and teaching leadership. A model is often also shown in some sort of diagram format. There may also be a sense of mechanics or engineering, with inter-related and linked moving parts. In some cases a leadership model may contain measurable elements, sometimes entailingcomplex relative factors, and may also enable a reasonablyconsistent measurement or indication of standard, for example effective versus ineffective leadership.Any philosophy, and so too a leadership philosophy, is a way of thinking and behaving. It's a set of values and beliefs. A philosophy is a series of reference points or afoundation upon whichprocesses, decisions, actions, plans, etc., can bebuilt, developed and applied. A leadership philosophy connects leadership withhumanity and morality and ethics. A leadership philosophy will at some point be influenced by beliefs about human nature and society, and perhapsreligion, or universal truthand a sense of fairness and natural justice.A leadership style is a morenarrow and specific category than a models or a philosophies. In fact many leadership styles are contained within leadership models as components of the model. A style is a distinct way of behaving. A leadership style tends to contain and beinfluenced strongly by the purpose or aim of the leadership. A leadership style may also be strongly influenced and perhaps determined by thepersonality of the leaderand/or the personality or capability of the followers or group being led, and/or of thesituation in which the leader is leading his or her people.


Leadership terminology differences - models, styles, philosophies

This explains differences between the three categories/aspects of leadership which provide the structure of this article - models, philosophies and styles:

 summarymore detailsymbolically
leadership modelsLeadership models aim to teach us how to be successful or effective as leaders. They show us the keys to effective leadership. Models often contain different leadership styles and enable 'switching' between them.Leadership modelstend to contain or enable processes and measurable standards, and a 'switching' capability in response to different circumstances. Models may be supported by diagrams and graphs. A model may be influenced by or underpinned by a philosophy.leadership model is like a toolbox or a kit of parts.
leadership philosophiesLeadership philosophies examine the sources of a leader's power, and offer a value-laden view of the aims that leaders should pursue and how they should go about them. Leadership philosophies focus on what kind of leadership one should offer. A leadership philosophy is usually more difficult to learn and apply than a model as it is depends on valuesnot technique.Leadershipphilosophies tend more than the other categories to be based on a life code or moral position. A philosophy - since it is expressed mainly through ideas and words, rather than processes and structured elements - is usually more difficult (than a model) to explain, transfer, teach, apply, or to develop into a measurable set of rules or instructions. A philosophy may underpin a model, and may also underpin a style. A philosophy also involves far more and deeper references to society, politics, civilization, etc., than models or styles.leadership philosophy is like a compass or code - underpinned by a set of beliefs.
leadership stylesLeadership styles are essentially descriptive. They are observed classifications of leadership behaviours. They aim to describe the real-life forms of leadership we see around us. And unlike leadership philosophies, they offer no guidance on the kind of leadership that leaders should offer - they merely reflect what is out there.A leadership style is anarrow and specific behaviour compared to the other two categories. Leadershipstyles tend to be determined or strongly influenced by theleader's personalityand the aim of the leadership. A leadership style is also strongly influenced by the purpose for which leadership is needed or has been established. A style may be suggested or dictated by a model, and to a lesser degree also by a philosophy.leadership style is like a behaviour (good or not so good) and can be like a tool in the leadership models toolbox.


If you want to become a leader or improve yourself as a leader, using these three categories should help you understand better the different ideas and teachings about leadership.

Leadership ideas can be:

  • models - learned/taught/applied in a very practical sense, or
  • philosophies - about attitude and where power comes, or
  • styles - interesting as typical leadership behaviours - helpful in understanding leadership generally, and to a lesser degree may be facets within leadership models.

This three-way split is also a useful way to appreciate leadership theory from an academic angle, since it provides an order and classification for the many theories existing on the leadership subject.


Leadership definitions and quotes

There are many definitions of leadership. Many lines have been written attempting to capture the essence of leadership in just a few words.

The Oxford English Dictionary definition of leadership is simply:

"The action of leading a group of people or an organization, or the ability to do this."

We need now to define 'lead' in this context, which is more helpful to appreciating the breadth and depth of the word leadership. Here are the most relevant points from the dictionary:

  • Be in charge or command of
  • Organize and direct
  • Set a process in motion
  • Be a reason or motive for (others to act, change, etc)

Note that only the first point strongly implies that leadership depends on a single leader, and even this point may easily be interpreted to mean that leadership can be achieved by delegated responsibility, even through a number of levels and on a vast scale.

Note also that the last two points do not restrict leadership to the leading of an organized group of people such as a business or other provider of services/products, etc. The last two points broaden the scope of leadership to anyone, or any collective of people, who inspires or motivates other people to act in some way towards some sort of aim or task or outcome.

To do this well at any level is not simple, just as defining leadership is not simple either.

Some writers understandably make fun of poor leadership, because much poor leadership happens, especially at very high levels.

Poetic quotes especially, some dating back hundreds of years, illustrate the fascination that leadership has held for academics, scholars, poets and leaders of note throughout history. They also help to define leadership in its many and various forms.

Here are some examples:

"Leadership is a function of knowing yourself, having a vision that is well communicated, building trust among colleagues, and taking effective action to realize your own leadership potential." (Warren Bennis)

"Leadership defines what the future should look like, aligns people with that vision and inspires them to make it happen despite the obstacles." (John Kotter, from Leading Change.)

"The art of mobilising others to want to struggle for shared aspirations." (James Kouzes and Barry Posner, from The Leadership Challenge.)

"Leadership is a process that involves: setting a purpose and direction which inspires people to combine and work towards willingly; paying attention to the means, pace and quality of progress towards the aim; and upholding group unity and individual effectiveness throughout." (James Scouller, from The Three Levels of Leadership, 2011.)

"And when we think we lead, we are most led." (Lord Byron, from The Two Foscari, 1821.)

"Ah well! I am their leader, I really should be following them!" (Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin, from Histoire Contemporaine by E de Mirecourt, 1857 - Ledru-Rollin was a main instigator of the 1848 French Revolution and apparently said these words when struggling to make his way through a mob.)

"He that would govern others first should be master of himself." (Philip Massinger, from The Bondman, 1624.)

"Never trust a lean meritocracy nor the leader who has been lean; only the lifelong big have the knack of wedding greatness with balance." (Les A Murray, from Quintets for Robert Morley - a meritocracy is a government of people selected according to merit - 'lean' in this sense means offering little substance or reward or nourishment - 'big' in this sense means big-hearted, strong and generous.)

"We were not born to sue, but to command." (William Shakespeare, from Richard II, I.i - 'sue' here is the older French-English meaning 'follow after'.)

"No-one would have doubted his ability to rule had he never been emperor." (Tacitus, from Histories, c.100AD - written of the Emperor Galba.)

"A committee is a group of the unwilling, picked from the unfit, to do the unnecessary." (Richard Harkness.)

"The Vice-Presidency isn't worth a pitcher of warm spit." (J N Garner.)

"Ninety-nine per cent of adults in this country are decent, hard-working, honest Americans. It's the other lousy one per cent that gets all the publicity and gives us a bad name. But then, we elected 'em." (Lily Tomlin.)

Please suggest additional leadership definitions and quotes.

See more inspirational leadership quotes in the leadership tips webpage.


Leadership definitions - and their limitations

A leadership definition is obviously quite limited because it's only a few words or a couple of sentences.

Some definitions of leadership convey a particular essence of leadership very well, but that is all a single definition can represent - just an essence.

Any single definition of leadership can only attempt to convey the essence or most important quality of leadership from a particular standpoint or point of view.

A standpoint of leadership tends to dictate the definition.

For example:

  • an ethical standpoint will produce a definition of leadership focused on ethics.
  • results standpoint will produce a definition of leadership focused on results or achieving an end result.
  • communications and motivational standpoint will produce a definition of leadership focused on communication with and motivating followers.
  • and so on.

Therefore when we try to understand leadership we should avoid placing too much reliance on a single definition, or even several definitions of leadership, and especially when we try to explain leadership to others.

Definitions of leadership do not explain leadership - leadership definitions can at best merely convey the essence of leadership from a particular point of view.

To understand, explain, and apply leadership, we must be able to describe leadership in greater depth.


leadership and the leader's purpose

An important part of describing anything is to look at its purpose. This is especially appropriate for leadership.

In exploring leadership purpose, we should first differentiate the terms leader and leadership.

This is because we can understand leadership better when we are not distracted by traditional ideas about what a leader does, and how a leader behaves, etc.

leader is a person who leads a particular group at a particular time.

Leadership is a much broader and 'multi-dimensional' concept.

Leadership is a hugely complex system of effects which strongly influence how a group of people are organized and how they act.

The bigger the group, and situation, and environment with which the group engages, then the more complex 'Leadership' - as a system of effects - will be.

Leadership is therefore often quite separate to the notion of a single leader of a single group, situation, and time.

James Scouller describes leadership as a process. In referring to leadership as a 'process', Scouller means: "...a series of choices and actions around defining and achieving a goal..." Scouller asserts that if you see leadership as a process you will more naturally appreciate that 'leadership' and 'the leader' are not one and the same.

Leadership is a process, within which there may be different leaders acting at different times in different situations.

Other authors, notably including John Adair, also say that leadership does not have to rely on one person.

This is a very important notion - that leadership can be shared, and that a leader does not necessarily have to be actively leading all the time.

A leader's responsibility is to ensure that there is appropriate leadership of some sort at all times, but leadership does not always or necessarily have to be provided by the main leader. Here the 'main leader' refers to the overall ultimate leader of a given group or situation.

Leadership can quite easily be provided, and is often better provided, by someone other than the main leader.

Leadership purpose can be seen to operate on at least two levels:

  • ultimate responsibility ('the buck stops here') - which may not be a direct controlling or active role, and
  • active leadership of a group or situation at a point in time - which may be performed by the main leader or a different person delegated such responsibility.

Note that this can be happening in different areas/projects/situations at the same time, where several people are actively engaged in direct leadership of a group, with very full 'executive' command, i.e., absolute responsibility for decision-making (see the levels of delegation to most easily appreciate this level of delegated responsibility) while the ultimate /main leader retains responsibility and accountability for the entire group and wider situation.

It's appropriate here to explain the differences between responsibility and accountability:

Responsibility usually refers to performance of a duty or action in making something happen, or perhaps preventing something from happening. Commonly responsibility can be delegated, either in broad terms for an area of project, or in specific terms for a particular task or job element. Often responsibility requires training and support to be provided to the person responsible. Responsibility commonly transfers from person to person, or from department to department - for example when a manager takes over a nightshift, or a manager goes on holiday, or even takes a lunch-break. However, often a responsibility is delegated without proper thought and planning, so that the person charged with the duty has little chance to succeed. In this case is it right that the person 'responsible' is blamed? Well, no, but often he or she is. Where blame happens in such circumstances it is because a leader is trying to avoid accountability.

Accountability is different to responsibility. Accountability equates to ultimate responsibility. A common saying that refers to ultimate responsibility is 'the buck stops here' or 'where the buck stops'. (See the detailed explanations and origins of the expressions 'pass the buck' and 'the buck stops here'.) True leadership involves accepting accountability, regardless of who is given the responsibility. Where responsibilities are delegated, which happens frequently where there is good leadership (see delegation again) the good leader retains ultimate responsibility - accountability - for the delegated tasks/responsibilities concerned. Poor or weak leadership - which we routinely see evidenced in national and corporate governance - tends to try to delegate accountability in addition to responsibility. Good leaders may delegate lots of responsibility, but they never normally delegate accountability, nor seek to pass accountability to others, unless effectively stepping aside for someone to take over the overall job within which the responsibility lies, as in job succession or the creation of a new job role. Even then, a good leader is unlikely to relinquish ultimate accountability. A good leader accepts ultimate responsibility - accountability - for everything within their remit or the range of their job/role. We might see this instead as a good leader being prepared to take the blame for any faults arising within their full range of responsibilities, even though responsibilities may be delegated far and wide among very many people. An important point of note is that accountability should not be delegated unless the recipient (of the delegated accountability) has full authority and capability for the responsibilities concerned. Accountability is always full and absolute, whereas responsibility may be delegated according to varying degrees of authority (see again the levels of delegation).

An interesting yet challenging (to many aspiring leaders) way to see this is that:

  • A good leader will divert and give credit and praise to others when delegated responsibilities succeed.
  • And where delegated responsibilities fail, the good leader will accept the blame. This is accountability.

Given the deep qualities of good leadership, there is no other viable way.

Corporations and governments habitually ignore this crucial principle of leadership when middle managers or departmental heads are forced to resign or are sacked after a crisis or scandal. Leaders in such situations often fail to take the blame, or to accept his/her ultimate responsibility. Watching such events play out in the national or world news offers excellent examples and lessons of the differences between responsibility and accountability, and how these concepts fit into the wider issue of proper leadership.

James Scouller says of the leader's purpose:

"The purpose of a leader is to make sure there is leadership - to ensure that all four dimensions of leadership (Scouller's model is explained later) are being addressed... This means the leader does not always have to lead from the front; he or she can delegate, or share part of their responsibility for leadership. However, the buck still stops with the leader. So although the leader can let someone else lead in a particular situation, he or she cannot let go of responsibility to make sure there is leadership... For example, the leader has to ensure there is a vision or a goal that all (or at least most) group members want to deliver, but that doesn't mean he or she has to come up with the vision on their own. That is one way of leading, but it's not the only way. Another way is to co-create the vision with one's colleagues."

Scouller illustrates the principle of 'sharing leadership while retaining responsibility to ensure there is leadership' with the following example (extracted from Scouller's 2011 book, The Three Levels of Leadership):

"...Imagine a leader and his team are flying in an aeroplane over the Pacific Ocean, hundreds of miles from civilisation. And imagine the plane crashes on a desert island, leaving only the leader and team members as survivors. The leader calls the team together and says, 'Now look, none of us knows how long we'll be here, and I don't have any experience of emergencies like this. Have any of you learnt survival skills to keep us alive while we figure out how to attract attention for a rescue?' Let's say Jack, one of the team members, steps forward and replies, 'Yes, I was in the Army Reserve and trained in survival techniques.' So the leader says, 'Okay Jack, you take charge for the moment. What do we have to do first?..' "

Scouller continues: "On this island, you can see that the leader realised someone else was better qualified to lead at that moment. So he delegated leadership of the survival challenge to Jack, and played the role of follower, but note that he didn't neglect or delegate his fundamental responsibility to ensure there was leadership. In due course the group's challenges would have changed, and the leader would judge whether to resume direct control, or delegate to someone else."

leadership glossary

Here are some meaningful terms which arise in connection with leadership. See the business dictionary for many more terms used in a wider context of business and organizational management.


accountability - Accountability equates to having ultimate responsibility for an area, activity, group, project, department, etc. This assumes (ideally) that the accountable person has the necessary authority and capability for such ultimate responsibility. Accountability is not fair or reasonable where authority and capability are inadequate for the responsibility concerned. Accountability is different to responsibility. Accountability is not generally delegated, whereas responsibility very commonly is. Accountability generally requires a person to have responsibility extending beyond the performance of a task or duty, to having freedom in determining and potentially changing how the responsibility is exercised. See the differences between accountability and responsibility in the leadership purpose section.

Action-Centred Leadership - (US-English, Action-Centered Leadership) A leadership model developed by English leadership expert, writer and theorist John Adair, based on three elements: Task, Team, Individual. See Action-Centred Leadership in this article, and the dedicated more detailed section on this website John Adair's Action-Centred Leadership theory.

Adair, John - a significant influence on leadership thinking and developer of the Action-Centred Leadership model - see also more detail about John Adair on this website in the dedicated section about John Adair's Action-Centred Leadership theory.

autocratic leadership - dictatorial method of leading - low concern for followers and high emphasis on task - typically reinforced with threat, punishment, and often ruthless exploitation of workers, who have little or no freedom to resist or desert. A feature of a strongly dictatorial application of the transactional leadership style.

authentic leadership - a generally commendable and positive leadership philosophy, with emphasis on openness and honesty, being true-to oneself, and similarly ethical and high-integrity behaviours - see authentic leadership.

behaviour (behavior in US-English) - often pluralized in referring to leadership behaviours, which are broadly how a leader acts - what the leader does and how the leader does it. There is a strong correlation between behaviour and style in the context of describing and understanding leadership theory. Like the word concept, and other quite vague terms, the word behaviour/behaviours needs to be clarified where it is important to understand its usage.

behavioural ideals (behavioral in US-English) - a category of leadership model, the thinking within which is most notably represented by Blake and Mouton's Managerial Grid - see behavioural ideals - and Blake and Mouton's Managerial Grid.

benevolent autocrat - a slightly contradictory term yet historically common type of leadership, in which the leader is both dictatorial and also caring (benevolent) at a basic level, as a strict parent might be with a small child. Alternatively regarded as paternalistic or patronizing. This highly specific and limited style of leadership can arise within styles/facets of leadership models, for example in versions of the 'Telling' mode of the Situational Leadership® model.

Blake and Mouton's Managerial Grid - a leadership model within the category termed here as a 'behavioural ideals' model. The idea essential proposes a matrix of four main styles resulting from combining the relative emphasis given to 'concern for people' and 'concern for production' - see Blake and Mouton's Managerial Grid.

Bolman and Deal - Lee Bolman and Terry Deal developed the Four Frame leadership model, categorised here as a Situational/Contingency leadership model, in which the central theme is switching leadership style/position according to the four organizational perspectives ('Four-Frame') of Structural, Human Resource, Political and Symbolic - see Bolman and Deal's Four Frame model - and see Situational/Contingency leadership models.

character - in the context of leadership this usually refers to the qualities of a leader, as in 'the character of the leader' (being good, appropriate, etc), and usually refers to issues of honesty, reliability, ethics, integrity, etc., as would indicate whether the leader is trustworthy and well-intentioned.

characteristic(s) - in the context of leadership equates to a/the feature(s) or quality(ies) of someone, usually a leader, more broadly then 'leadership character' above, and certainly extending to skills, attitudes and behaviours far beyond matters of trust and integrity. Characteristics may also refer to the features or qualities of other things, such as ('the characteristics of') an organization, or a model.

definition - an attempt to describe something (like leadership or management or narcissism) using as few words as possible, with minimal flexibility for confusion and interpretation. Certain terms, such as leadership virtually defy definition, because the meaning is so vast and variable.

description - an attempt to explain the nature of something as fully and as meaningfully as possible in as many words as the particular situation allows. Ideally descriptions are confined to the most relevant features for the context and the reader's precise needs.

effective leadership - common expression basically meaning good leadership, i.e., a leadership approach which achieves task/organizational aims while also satisfying all other needs and obligations of leadership for the situation. Since situations can change a lot for any given leader the term also implies leadership capability to adapt methods/styles, etc., in maintaining effectiveness.

ethics/ethical leadership - a flexible but very real and vital concept referring to the moral code applicable for a given situation. Within this notion there are many generally accepted universal rights and wrongs, for example not causing suffering to people; not stealing; not lying or cheating; but other less clear rights/wrongs. See the ethical leadership philosophy and the separate section on ethical management and leadership.

Fiedler's Contingency Leadership Model - a leadership theory categorised here as a Situational Contingency model, which focuses on the correlation between the leader's style (emphasis either on task or relationship) and the 'favourableness' of the situation in which the leader is leading - see Fiedler's Contingency model - and see Situational/Contingency leadership models.

Four Frame leadership model - a leadership theory developed by Lee Bolman and Terry Deal categorised here as a Situational/Contingency leadership model, advocating switching of leadership styles/positions according to four perspectives ('Four-Frame'), namely Structural, Human Resource, Political and Symbolic - see Bolman and Deal's Four Frame model - and see Situational/Contingency leadership models.

functional - in the context of leadership theory this word refers (particularly in this leadership guide) to a sub-category of leadership models - see functional leadership models - which focus on flexible leadership behaviour, and includes most notably John Adair's Action-Centred Leadership model.

French and Raven - John French and Bertram Raven developed the notable Sources of Power leadership theory, categorised here as a leadership philosophy. The Sources of Power theory might also be regarded as a partial leadership model, since it is structured and contains flexible correlations of a particular dimension of leadership, being the relationship between leader and followers and especially followers' perceptions of the leader, which determine the leader's power - see French and Raven's Sources of Power.

Hersey and Blanchard - Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard created the Situational Leadership® proprietary leadership model - their interests are now more separated; Hersey's organization has gone on to develop other 'Situational-branded' organizational models and products beyond leadership; Blanchard has since developed Situational LeadershipII® and other proprietary organizational development offerings - see Hersey and Blanchard's Situational Leadership® model.

House's Path-Goal Theory - a leadership theory developed by Robert House, categorised here as a Situational/Contingency leadership model, in which the personal needs and benefits accruing to the group in achieving a task (goal) are correlated to a correspondingly suitable approach (path) of leading the group - see House's Path-Goal Theory - and see Situational/Contingency leadership models.

integrity - equates to and encompasses honesty and discretion, also and is a foundation of forming trust between people, especially between leader and followers, supplier and customers, etc.

Kouzes and Posner - James Kouzes and Barry Posner initially developed Kouzes and Posner's Trait Theory, explained here within the leadership Trait Theory section (categorised here as a sub-category of leadership models). Kouzes and Posner subsequently developed their ideas into (what is generally regarded as) a Functional leadership model, known as Kouzes and Posner's Five Leadership Practices model, which has become proprietary (a marketed, branded offering, as well as academically driven) under the brand of 'The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®' (also referred to as Kouzes and Posner's 'Leadership Challenge Model'), based on development of their trait-based research into a five-part functional leadership approach, containing the following elements: Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Enabling Others to Act, and Encourage the Heart.

leadership - motivating others to achieve an aim - see more detail at definitions of leadership.

leadership concept - a rather vague term usually referring to a single theory or aspect of leadership, but used very loosely and more widely than this. The term needs clarifying and questioning if understanding its precise meaning is important.

leadership model - a structure or framework or process which can be used to learn, teach, apply and adapt leadership - or a tool that enables people to lead effectively and grow as leaders - see more detail at leadership terminology definitions. In general the term is used rather loosely; in this article the term leadership model is a lot more specific, and refers to the main category of leadership theories explained in this article, leadership models.

leadership philosophy - an approach to leading that is driven by a set of values and beliefs. These values govern the aims that a leader pursues and how he or she acts. This can be underpinned by beliefs about wider issues than leadership - see more detail at leadership terminology definitions. In general the term is used rather loosely; in this article the term leadership philosophy is a lot more specific, and refers to a lesser but nevertheless very significant category of leadership theories explained in this article, leadership philosophies.

leadership style - a particular and relatively narrow behaviour, or set of behaviours, that are used by real-life leaders, and which may arise to a degree as an aspect or mode of leadership within a leadership model - a leadership style alone is very inadequate for teaching, applying and adapting leadership methods - see more detail at leadership terminology definitions. In general the term is used rather loosely; in this article the term leadership style is a lot more specific, and refers to a lesser category of leadership theories explained in this article, leadership styles.

Lewin's Three Styles Leadership Model - Kurt Lewin's leadership theory categorised here as a Situational/Contingency leadership model. Lewin's ideas essentially propose three styles or leadership positions in relation to the corresponding needs/demands of followers. The three styles are Authoritarian, Participative and Delegative - see Lewin's Three Styles model - and see Situational/Contingency leadership models.

method - a general term usually referring to a modular or procedural approach, or to a process. The term 'leadership method(s)' usually refers to a series of actions which together form a process, and which may be described or represented by a leadership model.

morals/morality - equating to ethics - this refers to a sense of fairness, 'rightness', honesty, truth, etc., especially relating to the treatment of people.

Path-Goal Theory - a leadership theory developed by Robert House, categorised here as a Situational/Contingency leadership model, in which the personal needs and benefits accruing to the group in achieving a task (goal) are correlated to a correspondingly suitable approach (path) of leading the group to achieve the goal - see House's Path-Goal Theory - and see Situational/Contingency leadership models.

process - in the context of leadership a process is a step-by-step series of actions designed to achieve a result, and typically evident in leadership models.

proprietary - Proprietary here means that a concept or theory has been developed into a branded and typically protected product or service. Often this is signified by the registered symbol ®, or the trademark abbreviation TM. This has happened quite a lot in the leadership theory field, not least because there is a very big market for leadership development products and services. Significantly for leadership teachers, trainers, organizational development providers, authors and publishers, proprietary concepts are subject to intellectual property protections which control and restrict their usage, especially for commercial exploitation. As a general rule proprietary protected/registered concepts can be mentioned and described in the course of education, but may not be incorporated into a service which seeks to profit from or otherwise exploit the concept, unless suitable licence or permission has been obtained. Please see the terms of use of this website for more explanation as to the usage conditions for the materials within this leadership guide, and above all seek local qualified advice for any usage which is not clearly within your own rights to pursue.

principles - often used in the context of leadership, for example in the widely used expression, 'principles of effective leadership', or 'effective leadership principles' - principles here means simply 'important basic points', or foundations. Principles in this context may also imply an ethical sense, or equate to doing things right or morally correctly, or legally.

qualities - in the context of leadership this is usually a general and loose term equating to the characteristics of a leader.

responsibility - a duty or set of duties that a person is given, or ideally agrees to deliver/achieve. This is different to accountability. Responsibility may more easily be delegated than accountability See the differences between responsibility and accountability in the leadership purpose section. Also see the article on delegation, which is crucially relevant to responsibility in leadership and management.

Scouller's Three Levels of Leadership Model - a model developed by James Scouller, categorised here as an Integrated Psychological model. Scouller proposed three levels of leadership development to help leaders understand firstly what they have to do behaviourally in their role, and secondly how to grow their leadership presence, know-how and skill. It is notable for embracing the strengths of the older models while integrating an important new element - the leader's psychology. The three levels are Public Leadership, Private Leadership and Personal Leadership - see Scouller’s Three Levels model.

servant leadership - a leadership concept categorised here as a leadership philosophy, in which the leader's priorities are the followers interests, and the interests of the wider situation, rather than the leader's own interests. - see servant leadership.

Situational - a categorising term for range of leadership models in which the leadership behaviour and positioning is determined and influenced by the situation, especially including the nature of the followers, notably including Hersey and Blanchard's Situational Leadership® model. The category here is seen to be closely similar to models which are regarded as 'contingency leadership' theories - see Situational/Contingency models.

Situational Leadership® - a popular, sophisticated, and and highly regarded proprietary leadership model theory developed by Hersey and Blanchard, categorised here within the Situational/Contingency sub-category of leadership models - it essentially proposes a four-square matrix according to task and relationship relative priority, which also offers a progressive development of leadership positions according to maturity/capability of followers - and see Hersey and Blanchard's Situational Leadership® model and see Situational/Contingency leadership models.

skills - often used in the term 'leadership skills' whereby it has a narrowing effect on the meaning of leadership, since proper effective leadership is not constrained to skills alone, and entails behaviours, attitudes, experience, integrity, ethics, honesty, authenticity, etc.

Sources of Power - a specific concept of leadership developed by French and Raven, categorised here as a leadership philosophy; the theory is arguably also a 'mini-model', being structured and containing flexible correlations, of a particular dimension of leadership, notably the relationship between leader and followers and especially followers' perceptions of the leader, which determine the leader's power - see French and Raven's Sources of Power.

Tannenbaum and Schmidt Leadership Continuum - a novel and highly applicable theory categorised here as a Situational/Contingency leadership model, which focuses on the particular dimension of a leader's control emphasis according to group or followers' maturity/capability. The theory offers a sliding scale or continuum enabling selection of appropriate levels of leadership control, especially concerning delegated responsibility and group freedom. The model is especially helpful for delegation and succession management - see Tannenbaum and Schmidt's Leadership Continuum - and the more detailed webpage on Tannenbaum and Schmidt's Continuum - and see Situational/Contingency leadership models.

theory - An overall, over-arching term referring to the thinking and potentially scientific and academic analysis and explanation of how and why something works and thereby how to control or manage the processes and causes-and-effects involved. Leadership theory is very broad and refers to the study of leadership in all of its forms. The term 'a leadership theory' instead refers generally and loosely to a model or philosophy or style of leadership, or even more loosely may equate to other very broad terms, such as concept or idea.

trait(s) - in the context of leadership the word trait has become used (optionally) with a capital T, as in in 'Trait theory', or 'Trait-based theory', a sub-category of leadership models. Trait here means a characteristic of a leader. Trait theory refers to the study, analysis, and potential application of leadership according to the idea that effective leaders can be identified and developed by reliably knowing which traits enable a leader to be effective. This idea seems yet to be proven.

transforming leadership/transformational leadership - here transforming/transformational leadership is categorised as a leadership style. The concept and terminology of 'transforming leadership' were first described alongside a 'transactional leadership' style, by James MacGregor Burns. Transforming refers to to the growth of followers via the encouragement and support to over-achieve expectations. Transactional refers to a trade or exchange between leader and followers, most obviously being pay in return for work, or other incentives offered by leadership in return for extra efforts by followers. Transforming leadership is (by Burns certainly, and elsewhere commonly) paired with the 'Transactional leadership' style, as a two-part choice or switch of styles for leaders. Transformational leadership is a more progressive leadership style than transactional leadership, which is a more traditional style than transformational. The term 'transforming' later became popularly called 'transformational' after the work of Bernard Bass, who developed the transformational idea to suggesting four essential leadership actions for effective transformational leadership: building trust; motivating inspirationally; enabling creativity; and supporting individual growth - see transformational and transactional leadership styles. These theories are particularly connected to the Psychological Contract, which offers an excellent way to understand each approach, and especially managing the balance between them.

transactional leadership - here transactional leadership is categorised as a leadership style. As explained above, the concept and terminology of 'transactional leadership' was first described alongside a 'transforming leadership' style, by James MacGregor Burns. Transactional refers to the traditional employer/employee exchange typified by being paid to in return for doing work, extending to other incentives offered by leadership in return for extra efforts and inputs by followers. Transactional leadership is paired with the 'Transforming' style as either a way to analyse organizational leadership cultures, but also serves as a leadership style-switch available to leaders. Transforming equates to the growth of followers via the encouragement and support to over-achieve expectations, as the main theme. ('Transforming' later became popularly 'Transformational' after the work of Bernard Bass) - see transformational and transactional leadership styles.

types - type in the context of leadership usually refers to a leadership style or to distinct mode of leadership behaviour within a leadership model, as in 'leadership type'. Alternatively the word type(s) has a looser meaning when used as 'type of leadership', which could refer to any aspect of leadership theory, and would need clarifying if appropriate.

values-based leadership - a concept of leadership here categorised as a leadership philosophy, chiefly in which leaders draw on their own values and followers' values for direction, inspiration and motivation. Values in this context refer to principles or standards of behaviour, and what is deemed important in life - see values-based leadership.


overview and index of leadership theories

Here is a structural overview of the models, styles and philosophies of leadership featured in this article, which also serves as a main index for the leadership theories themselves:


leadership models [edit]

This is the first of three main categories of leadership theories in this guide.

This category - Leadership Models - is significantly bigger than the other two categories (Leadership Philosophies and Leadership Styles).

For more than 150 years, researchers and thinkers have developed and proposed theoretical models of effective leadership.

Very many different models have been proposed, which has created a lot of confusion - especially for students seeking to learn, and for new leaders seeking to lead effectively.

This section aims to summarise the main types of leadership models in a way that can more easily be understood and applied.

As with any big collection of complex ideas, it is helpful to categorize and create sub-groups, which is the approach you will see below.

Categorizing the different models into sub-groups makes them easier to absorb, compare and understand.

Here are the sub-groups of leadership models:

the different types of leadership models

Trait-BasedThe oldest type of thinking about effective leadership. Logically, 'Trait-Based' leadership models focus on identifying the traits of successful leaders.
Behavioural Ideals'Behavioural Ideals' leadership models concentrate on what researchers believe are the most effective behaviours as a leader. The notable model in this category is Blake and Mouton's Managerial Grid. (Note US-English spelling is behavior and behavioral.)
'Situational' (or 'Contingency') leadership models are based on the idea that the leader's actions should vary according to the circumstances he or she is facing - in other words leadership methods change according to the 'situation' in which the leader is leading. This category includes most notably: Kurt Lewin's Three Styles modelTannenbaum and Schmidt's Leadership Continuum model; the Fiedler Contingency modelHouse's Path-Goal theoryHersey and Blanchard's Situational Leadership® model; and Bolman and Deal's Four-Frame model.
FunctionalFunctional types of leadership models focus on what the leader has to do. Unlike the Behavioural Ideals approach, Functional leadership models do not suggest ideal ways of behaving, nor do they match behaviours to circumstances like Situational/Contingency theory. Instead, Functional leadership models focus on the action areas that a leader must address to be effective. The most notable Functional models are John Adair's Action-Centred Leadership, and Kouzes & Posner's Five Leadership Practices.
Integrated PsychologicalThe Integrated Psychological leadership model is so called because it integrates the thinking behind the four other leadership models sub-groups, while also addressing the leader's inner psychology, which tends not to be considered in other more traditional or conventional types of leadership models. James Scouller's Three Levels of Leadership model arguably pioneers this category. Scouller's model can be regarded as a relatively new view of leadership.


Here are the types of leadership models in more detail:


trait-based leadership models

Trait-based theoretical models of effective leadership draw on the idea that great leaders have certain common character traits.

We could otherwise regard this as a sort of personality profile of an effective leader.

The word 'trait' is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "...a distinguishing quality or characteristic, typically belonging to a person..."

A trait is therefore a characteristic or quality of human behaviour. We might also consider traits to be aspects of attitude or personality.

Human beings possess very many personality traits, in infinite combinations.

Trait theory attempts to analyse effective combinations of human personality traits, thereby suggesting or identifying a set of human traits that enable a person to lead others effectively.

Given that personality traits tend to be quite fixed and unchanging in people, trait-based theory has definitely helped to encourage the perception that leadership ability is innate in leaders - that 'good leaders are born, not made'.

The extension of this notion is that effective leaders cannot be developed or taught.

Trait-based theory, by implication, asserts that the best leaders are born to lead. And from a training and development standpoint, trait-based theory also implies that if a person does not possess the 'right' leadership traits, then he or she will not be able to lead effectively, or certainly, will not lead as well as a natural-born leader. Training and development can foster leadership ability to a degree, but what really matters is possessing the appropriate traits, or personality profile.

The ideas and implications of trait-based leadership theory - i.e., that effective leadership and potential leaders are determined by a largely pre-destined and unchanging set of character traits - that 'good leaders are born not made' - dominated leadership thinking until the mid-20th century.


Carlyle and Galton - trait theory

Notable trait-based theorists are Thomas Carlyle and Francis Galton.

Their ideas, published in the mid-1800s, did much to establish and reinforce popular support for trait-based leadership thinking then, and for many years afterwards.

In fact the general acceptance of trait-based leadership theory remained virtually unchallenged for around a hundred years, when in the mid 20th century more modern ways of researching leadership started to uncover some inconsistencies in the trait-based ideas.


a short note about leadership thinking and societal development..

Interestingly, trait-based leadership theory from the mid-1800s onwards arguably reflected the patterns and practices of leadership of the times.

Trait-based theory, and especially the idea that leaders were born not made, was not just a theory - it was also partly reflective of how leaders were actually selected, trained, appointed, and regarded:

Leaders rarely 'rose through the ranks' as they generally can do now in modern times.

Organizations and groups which needed leading were extremely slow to change, by today's standards. Tradition and convention were extremely powerful features of all organized work and governing systems.

The economy, society, industry, work and life itself, were all far less dynamic and fluid than nowadays, or even the mid-1900s. Social mobility and the class system were far more rigid than they were to become a century later.

Very many leaders were born into privilege and positions of authority - especially in politics, the military, and to a great extent in industry too. In the 1800s leaders most leaders were actually born into the role.

If potentially brilliant leaders existed elsewhere, they had little chance to emerge and lead, compared with opportunities that grew later and which exist today.

Women, notably, were effectively barred from any sort of leadership, by virtue of their suppression practically everywhere until the early/mid 1900s.

It is no wonder therefore, quite aside from the academic thinking of the times, that the validity of trait-based theory was not scrutinised until much later.

Ralph Stogdill - trait theory

Important research into leadership traits, and among the first to challenge traditional trait-based theory, was the work conducted by Ralph Stogdill.

Stogdill wrote a paper in 1948 (Personal Factors Associated with Leadership: a Survey of the Literature, Journal of Psychology) that cast doubt on trait theory.

Stogdill analysed data and findings from over a hundred leadership-related studies, across the following 27 groups of factors:

  1. Age
  2. Dominance
  3. Height
  4. Initiative, persistence, ambition, desire to excel
  5. Weight  
  6. Physique, energy, health
  7. Responsibility
  8. Appearance
  9. Integrity and conviction
  10. Fluency of speech
  11. Self-confidence
  12. Intelligence
  13. Happiness, sense of humour
  14. Academic results
  15. Emotional stability and control
  16. Knowledge
  17. Social and economic status
  18. Judgement and decision (US-English, judgment)
  19. Social activity and mobility
  20. Insight (self, others, wider environment)
  21. Energy, daring and adventurousness
  22. Originality
  23. Social skills (sociability, tact)
  24. Adaptability
  25. Popularity, prestige
  26. Introversion-Extraversion
  27. Cooperation

Stogdill found there wasn't much agreement on the key traits.

Indeed, it was clear that if all the findings were combined, the list became too long to be useful as a guide for selecting future leaders.

Stogdill's conclusions actually still hold firm today, and show no sign of being undermined in the future.

This extract from Organizational Behaviour (1985), by David Buchanan and Andrzej Huczynski, reflects very well modern thinking about this:

"The problem [in attempting to classify/measure leadership capability] is that research has been unable to identify a common, agreed set of [leadership] attributes. Successful leaders seem to defy classification and measurement from this perspective."

Stogdill was one of the first to point out that a person doesn't become an effective leader just because he or she has certain traits.

He argued that a successful leader's characteristics must be relevant to the demands of the leadership situation - that is, the specific challenges faced and the abilities, hopes, values and concerns of the followers.


Kouzes and Posner - trait theory

Despite the trait-based approach falling largely out of favour, leadership trait theory featured strongly in the best-selling book, The Leadership Challenge, by James Kouzes and Barry Posner, based on their research from 1983-87.

The authors initially surveyed 630 managers about their positive leadership experiences, augmented by 42 in-depth interviews. From this, they identified a number of key leadership traits.

Here are Kouzes and Posner's suggested ten primary or key leadership traits (sought by followers):

Kouzes and Posner's top ten leadership traits
  1. Honest
  2. Forward-looking
  3. Inspirational
  4. Competent
  5. Fair-minded
  6. Supportive
  7. Broad-minded
  8. Intelligent
  9. Straightforward
  10. Dependable

It is important to see the difference between classical leadership traits theory and Kouzes and Posner's work. They were not analysing the actual traits of effective leaders - which is the thrust of traditional traits theory. Instead, they asked people what they wanted in their leaders. In other words, they were compiling a profile of the ideal leader. Classical leadership traits theory is different - it aims to explain the common traits of real-life leaders.

Kouzes and Posner went on to build more data and sophistication to support their ideas, establishing their 'Leadership Challenge Model' and a leadership development program/product, The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®.

In doing so, Kouzes and Posner's ideas shifted away from pure trait-theory into the 'functional leadership' category of leadership models. More detail about the Kouzes and Posner functional leadership model is below.

The popular success of Kouzes and Posner's early trait-based thinking illustrates the appeal of trait theory, in part at least due to its simplicity, and resulting ease of interpretation, application and transferability, etc.

Despite this there remains no wide agreement on the validity of trait theory as a means of wholly defining, measuring or predicting effective leadership. Kouzes and Posner's shift towards greater sophistication in modelling leadership is further evidence of this.


trait-based leadership theory - in summary

The most helpful conclusion from all this is probably that:

Distinctive traits certainly arise in the profiles of effective leaders, and in the ways that followers believe they should be led.

However, crucially a reliable and definitive list of leadership 'traits' has yet to be established and agreed by researchers and thinkers on leadership, and there are no signs that this will happen.

Traits can perhaps define effective leadership for a given situation, but traits alone do not adequately explain what effective leadership is, nor how it can be developed.

A traits-based approach can certainly assist in identifying future leaders, and in the leadership development process, however:

Traits are just a part of the profile and behaviour of an effective leader. To understand and measure leadership more fully we must broaden leadership criteria to include other factors beyond traits.

Extending this point, James Scouller suggests constructively that:

"Even though researchers cannot agree on a shortlist of key traits, we nevertheless do see distinctive intangible qualities in the profiles of effective leaders; qualities that make leaders attractive to their followers...

...This invites a conclusion that although distinctive character traits are in the 'make-up' of the best leaders, there is no single set of winning traits...

...Therefore, it seems the best leaders have a definite but unpredictable uniqueness about them - what some people refer to as 'leadership presence'..."

We will explore further ideas of 'leadership presence' in James Scouller's Three Levels of Leadership model.


behavioural ideals leadership models

The 'behavioural ideals' approach argues that if a leader is to be effective, he or she should practise a certain ideal behavioural style.

Here we look at Blake and Mouton's Managerial Grid model, which warrants this section in its own right.


Blake and Mouton's Managerial Grid

Robert Blake and Jane Mouton created their 'Managerial Grid' model in 1964, in their book, The Managerial Grid: The Key to Leadership Excellence.

In this they used the diagram you see below.

Blake and Mouton depicted their model as a grid with two axes:

  1. Concern for People.
  2. Concern for Production.

Note: 'Concern for Production' might be replaced with 'Concern for Task'.

The Blake and Mouton Managerial Grid identified five kinds of leadership behaviour.

They suggested that the Team Style (below) is the ideal leadership behaviour.

The diagram geometrics are very slightly adapted for improved presentation.

Blake and Mouton's original graph-based layout comprised four equal quadrants with the Middle-of-the-Road Style overlaying the central intersection:

Blake and Mouton's Managerial Grid - diagram

(adapted for improved presentation)



Club Style 

the-Road Style
or Perish

 lowConcern for Productionhigh
Blake and Mouton grid
  • Country Club Style - High People:Low Task - Here the leader has a high concern for and usually involvement with people, but a low concern for the task. There is usually an overly friendly relationship between the leader and the led group. So although leaders like this appear to care about their people and want to create a comfortable and friendly environment, this style is often not good for creating producing results. People feel good and happy, but the task lacks priority. Ironically the group suffers ultimately because they fail to achieve. The style is common among leaders who are afraid of upsetting people, and/or who fear rejection and being disliked.
  • Impoverished Style - Low People:Low Task - Here the leader has both a low concern for people and a low concern for the task. You may ask who would adopt this approach because it is obviously doomed to fail. The answer typically is 'leaders' who care mainly about themselves and are afraid of making mistakes. Not surprisingly, Blake and Mouton said this is the least effective approach to leadership.
  • Middle-of-the-Road Style - Mid People:Mid Task. This is essentially ineffectual compromise. There is some concern for the task and, equally, some concern for people, but we might also say there is not enough of either. Leaders adopting this behavioural approach try to address the needs of the task and their followers to some extent, but do so without conviction, skill or insight and therefore reduce their effectiveness. Leadership generally requires a good degree of natural authority and decisiveness, so a style which lacks these aspects has much room for improvement.
  • Produce or Perish Style - Low People:High Task. Here we see a high focus on the task with little or no concern for people. This style is often referred to as autocratic. Leaders using this style seek to control and dominate others. A leader like will commonly take the view that staff should be grateful to be employed and paid a salary. Motivation is often attempted through a threat of punishment, such as being sacked. This is a dictatorial style. In extreme cases it would be rightly regarded as ruthless. Sadly it can be effective in the short term, and interestingly, where a group is failing to react suitably to a serious crisis then it may actually be a viable style for a short period, but the approach is not sustainable, especially where followers have the option to walk away.
  • Team Style - High People:High Task. This style combines a high concern for and involvement in the group with a strong well-organized and communicated focus on achieving the task. Blake and Mouton saw this as the ideal behavioural approach. Leaders who behave like this manage to blend concern for both people and organizational aims by using a collaborative teamwork approach, and plenty of consultation enabling the development of a shared (not imposed) motivation to achieving the organization's goals. This style normally requires that followers/the group are suitably mature and skilled for a high level of involvement. The style is difficult to use, and may be inadvisable, when leading inexperienced people to produce challenging and vital results in a new or strange area.

Blake and Mouton's grid theory and suggested ideal 'Team Style' behaviour are very reasonable in an 'ideal world'.

However, as James Scouller and others have noted, the model does not naturally or fully address two particularly important dimensions of leadership:

  • the need to adapt behaviour/style/methods according to different situations, and
  • the psychological make-up of the leader.

In more detail, to paraphrase Scouller:

Adopting the Team Style of leadership will not always be appropriate - for example at times of major crisis when the task is necessarily more important than people's/worker's interests, or when leading very inexperienced people towards a tough aim and tight deadline, who under such circumstances normally require very direct and firm instruction.

Also, concerning the leader's own personality make-up, not every leader can or will adopt the ideal Team Style, even after training, because of inner psychological blocks or basic personality. Some leaders are simply much more skilful in 'non-people' areas, such as strategy, visioning, building systems and structures, innovating, etc., than they are when relating to others. It is not sensible to imply that such leaders, many of whom can very effectively delegate the people/team aspects of leading, are not good leaders.

Scouller addresses these points in more detail within his Three Levels of Leadership modelbelow.

All that said, Blake and Mouton's work is highly significant.

Their thinking warrants a section in its own right within this leadership models sub-group - and it remains a very important advance in leadership theory.


Situational/Contingency leadership models

This sub-group of leadership models - which might be called 'situational' or 'contingency' leadership models - are based on an important assumption, that:

There is not one single ideal approach to leading because circumstances vary.

So, situational leadership theory says, effective leaders must change their behaviour according to the situation.

These particular 'situational' or 'contingency' models offer a framework or guide for being flexible and adaptable when leading.

There are several models in this sub-group, so it is helpful to list them again:

N.B. When we use the word 'situational' in the sense of referring to this sub-group of models it is with a lower case 's'. This is because the Situational Leadership model(s) of Hersey and Blanchard are proprietary brands, properly shown with the registered trademark identifier, i.e., Situational Leadership®.


Kurt Lewin's Three Styles Model

This is the oldest of the situational models. Kurt Lewin, a psychologist, led a research team in 1939 and identified what he called three 'styles' of leadership behaviour in a 1939 article in the Journal of Social Psychology.

Given that Lewin's model is based on three styles of leading, it might arguably also/instead appear in the Leadership Styles section.

We include it here because it can definitely be used as a model; i.e., Lewin's Three Styles theory offers a flexibility so that it can be adapted and applied, like using a toolkit. Refer again to the definitions of models, styles and philosophies above for clarification.

Lewin's three styles were Authoritarian, Participative and Delegative.

  • Authoritarian - sometimes called the Autocratic style. It is where leaders spell out the goals, deadlines and methods while making decisions on their own without any or much consultation with others. Here, the leader doesn't usually get involved in the group's work. Not surprisingly, researchers have found that you are less likely to see creative decisions under this style of leadership. However, it is a decisive way of leading and can suit high-risk, short-timescale decisions; the kind that surgical teams and fire crews have to take. Lewin noted that leaders who adopt this style can go too far and be seen by others as over-controlling and dictatorial. He also noticed that they often find it hard to move to a Participative style - in other words, they get stuck in one mode of behaviour.
  • Participative - sometimes called the Democratic style. It is where the leader expresses his or her priorities and values in setting goals and making decisions, but also takes part in the group's work and accepts advice and suggestions from colleagues. However, the leader makes the final decision. This style can produce more creative problem solving and innovation than the Authoritarian approach so it makes sense to adopt it in competitive, non-emergency situations.
  • Delegative - sometimes called the Laissez-Faire style. Lewin classes this as a leadership style, but some may feel it is non-leadership. The Delegative style means the leader hands over responsibility for results to the group. He or she lets them set goals, decide on work methods, define individuals' roles and set their own pace of work. It is very much a hands-off approach. It can work well provided the group shares the same overall intent and direction as the leader and if he or she trusts all members of the group. However, there is always a risk that individuals may become dissatisfied with their roles or the group's goals and lose motivation.

In summary, Lewin outlined three distinct modes of behaviour for leaders. If they were merely descriptive, they wouldn't help leaders wanting to become better at what they do. But if you bear in mind the strengths and weaknesses of each approach, you can match them to your circumstances - provided, of course, you can flex your behaviour. This is when the Three Styles model becomes a guide to more effective leadership.


Tannenbaum and Schmidt's Leadership Behaviour/Behavior Continuum

Tannenbaum and Schmidt's Continuum has featured separately for many years on this website, because it is a highly significant body of work in the field of management and leadership.

The material below offers a different perspective to the earlier narrative. It explores the model in the context of other leadership theories.

The earlier separate Tannenbaum and Schmidt article explains the model more in terms of its progressive ideals, especially relating to personal development and management succession. Read both summaries ideally.

Robert Tannenbaum and Warren Schmidt first presented their Leadership Behaviour Continuum in a 1958 article in the Harvard Business Review, titled 'How to Choose a Leadership Pattern'.

Tannenbaum and Schmidt explained the choices that leaders have in decision-making, and the pressures arising from these options.

They suggested that a leader has seven decision-making options when leading a group, which the diagram below shows:

Tannenbaum and Schmidt behavioural continuum - diagram
 single leader <---------------------------------------------------> shared leadership
Leader makes decision and announces it.

Leader decides and 'sells' benefits of decision.

Leader decides but presents thinking, inviting exploration.

Leader presents tentative decision, prepared to change.

Leader presents problem, gets suggestions, makes decision.

Leader defines problem, asks group to make the decision.

Leader allows group to define problem and make decision.
Boss-Centred Leadership <-------------------> Subordinate-Centred Leadership 
(original Tannenbaum and Schmidt terminology)

The diagram and terminology are adapted from Tannenbaum and Schmidt's original, for improved presentation purposes.

'Use of authority by manager' = 'Area of Power retained by the leader' (T&S terminology)

'Area of freedom for subordinates' = 'Amount of power held by the whole group (including the leader)' (T&S terminology)

From a group development standpoint, moving from left to right along the continuum, the leader gives up his or her power in making solo decisions so that he/she progressively involves the group, until the group effectively becomes self-managing.

At the far left, the leader sets goals, makes decisions and then tells the others what they are going to do. At the opposite end of the continuum, the leader permits (perhaps encourages) the group to define the issues they are facing and share the decision-making.

Tannenbaum and Schmidt's model is oriented notably towards decision-making, and ignores other aspects of leadership.

Nevertheless the model is powerful and insightful. It's a wonderfully concise and easily applicable tool, showing leaders the many choices they have.

The Tannenbaum and Schmidt Continuum model also reminds us that all (seven) options are available to leaders depending on the situation. The 'situation' is most commonly a combination of:

  • the capability of the group (in various respects - skills, experience, workload, etc), and
  • the nature of the task or project (again in various respects - complexity, difficulty, risk, value, timescale, relevance to group capability, etc).

For example:

  • the leader of an inexperienced army platoon under enemy fire will tend to be more effective at stage 1 on the Continuum, whereas,
  • the head of a product innovation team, under no great pressure, leading an experienced and capable group, will tend to be more effective acting at stage 7 on the Continuum.

Tannenbaum and Schmidt further explained that when leaders choose decision-making options they should consider especially three sets of pressures:

  1. Situational pressures.
  2. Inner psychological pressures.
  3. Pressures coming from subordinates.

In more detail:

1. Situational pressures

  • The complexity of the problem.
  • The importance of the decision.
  • The time pressure.

2. The leader's inner pressures

  • The leader's preferences around decision-making (his values, beliefs, behavioural habits).
  • The leader's confidence in his or her team colleagues' knowledge and experience.
  • How important or risky the decision is to him/her or her personally.

3. Pressures coming from subordinates

  • The leader's colleagues' (the group-members') desire to 'have a say' in the decision.
  • The group's willingness to take responsibility for the outcomes.
  • The group's ability to reach decisions together.
  • The group's readiness and ability to accept and follow orders.

Tannenbaum and Schmidt's model demonstrates and provides seven ways of approaching group leadership decisions.

It also defines and predicts typical related internal and external pressures that leaders must consider when choosing a decision-making position.

The underlying teaching is that the leader must have necessary self-awareness, presence of mind, and wisdom, to consider the three sets of pressures (and the ten component forces) before choosing the most effective behaviour.

As with Kurt Lewin's Three Styles model, The Tannenbaum and Schmidt Continuum offers and advocates a flexible approach to leadership; that the effective leader varies his/her behaviour at will, according to circumstances.


N.B. As with other summaries on this page, and indeed this entire website, the words he and his generally equate to he/she and his/her. Also, the US-English spelling of behavior is different to UK-English, behaviour. Please adapt the spellings to suit your audience.


Fiedler's Contingency Model

Fred Fiedler's Contingency Model was the third notable situational model of leadership to emerge. This model appeared first in Fiedler's 1967 book, A Theory of Leadership Effectiveness.

The essence of Fiedler's theory is that a leader's effectiveness depends on a combination of two forces:

  • the leader's leadership style, and
  • 'situational favourableness'.

(US-English spelling, favorableness)

Fiedler called this combination (of leadership style and 'situational favourableness'): Situational Contingency.

Here are Fiedler's two forces explained in more detail:

Two Forces of Fiedler's Situational Contingency idea
Leadership StyleSituational Favourableness

Fiedler described two basic leadership styles - task-orientated and relationship-orientated:

  • Task-orientated leaders have a strong bias towards getting the job done without worrying about their rapport or bond with their followers. They can of course run the risk of failing to deliver if they do not engage enough with the people around them.
  • Relationship-orientated leaders care much more about emotional engagement with the people they work with, but sometimes to the detriment of the task and results.

Fiedler said neither style is inherently superior. However, he asserted that certain leadership challenges suit one style or the other better. The diagram below illustrates this point.

Fiedler defined three factors determining the favourableness of the situation:

  • How much trust, respect and confidence exists between leader and followers.
  • How precisely the task is defined and how much creative freedom the leader gives to the followers.
  • How much the followers accept the leader's power.

Fiedler believed the situation is favourable when:

  1. There is high mutual trust, respect and confidence between leader and followers.
  2. The task is clear and controllable.
  3. The followers accept the leader's power.

The situation is unfavourable if the opposite is true on all three points.


Fiedler's Contingency Model diagram
Fiedler's Contingency Model   
situation favourableness most effective orientation (style)
high=task-oriented leader
intermediate=relationship-oriented leader
low=task-oriented leader


Fiedler said that task-orientated leaders are most effective when facing a situation that is either extremely favourable or extremely unfavourable. In other words:

  • when there is enormous trust, respect and confidence,
  • when the task is very clear, and
  • when followers accept the leader's power without question,

and also when the opposite is true, i.e. -

  • when trust and respect do not exist,
  • when the challenge people face is vague and undefined, and
  • when the atmosphere is anarchic or even rebellious (for example, an emergency or crisis)

Fiedler concluded that relationship-orientated leaders are most effective in less extreme circumstances. That is, in situations that are neither favourable or unfavourable, or situations that are only moderately favourable or moderately unfavourable.

Fiedler's theory took a significant and firm view about personality: He said that a leader's style reflected his or her personality, (which incidentally he assessed in his research using a psychometric instrument).

Fiedler's view about personality - and indeed the common notion of the times - was that individual personality is fixed and does not change during a leader's life/career. Consequently Fiedler's theory placed great emphasis on 'matching' leaders to situations, according to the perceived style of the leader and the situation faced (by the organization).

Fiedler's Contingency Model is therefore a somewhat limited model for effective leadership. Notably it's not a useful guide for helping people become better leaders; nor is it an efficient or necessarily flexible model for modern leadership in organizations, given the dynamic variety of situations which nowadays arise.

A further implication of Fiedler's theory is potentially to require the replacement of leaders whose styles do not match situations, which from several viewpoints (legal, practical, ethical, etc) would be simply unworkable in modern organizations.

Nevertheless, despite its limitations, Fiedler's theory was an important contribution to leadership thinking, especially in reinforcing the the now generally accepted views that:

  • There is no single ideal way of behaving as a leader, and
  • Matching leadership behaviour (or style) to circumstances (or situations) - or vice-versa - is significant in effective leadership.

And as already suggested, Fiedler's theory also encourages us to consider the leader's personality and the leader's behaviour from these angles:

  • the extent to which (a leader's) personality is fixed, and
  • the extent to which (a leader's) personality controls (a leader's) behaviour.

Clearly, if a model such as this is to be of great value, then these questions need to be clarified rather more than they have been to date, which is not easy given the complexity of human nature.

We are left to conclude somewhat conditionally, that if personality is fixed (which generally it is) and personality controls behaviour, (which generally it seems to) then..

the notion of:

  • 'matching behaviour to the circumstances'

probably equates unavoidably to:

  • 'matching the person to the circumstances',

which is usually not a viable approach to leadership and leadership development within modern organizations.

We live in an increasingly virtual world which allows lots of inter-changeability (like 'matrix management' for example - where followers may have two different bosses for two different sets of responsibilities, such as local markets vs international markets), but most indications are that frequently changing leaders in order to match fixed leadership behaviours to corresponding and suitable situations is less efficient and effective than organizations having leaders who can adapt freely outside of, and despite, individual personality constraints.


Path-Goal Theory - Robert House

The next significant leadership theory to emerge in the Situational/Contingency category was Robert House's Path-Goal theory, in his 1971 paper: A Path-Goal Theory of Leader Effectiveness, which he refined three years later in cooperation with T R Mitchell.

House said that the main role of a leader is to motivate his followers by:

  1. Increasing or clarifying the (group's/followers') personal benefits of striving for and reaching the group's goal.
  2. Clarifying and clearing a path to achieving the group's goals.

Hence the theory's name: Path-Goal Theory.

House's theory matched four ways of behaving to four sets of circumstances, or 'situations'.

The circumstances in Path-Goal theory are driven by 'follower characteristics' and 'workplace characteristics'.

Follower characteristics include:

  • What they believe about their ability - Do they feel they are capable of fulfilling the task well?
  • Where control resides - Do group members believe they have control over the way they approach the task and the chances of achieving the goal? Or do they see themselves as being controlled by other people and outside events?
  • Attitude to power and those in power - Do members want to be told what to do and how to do it... or not? What do they think of those in the organization who have more official power than they do, especially the leader?

Workplace characteristics include:

  • The kind of task - Is it repetitive? Is it interesting? Is it predictable or structured? Is it unpredictable, creative or unstructured?
  • The leader's formal authority - Is it well-defined?
  • Group cohesion - Do those working in the group feel a sense of unity?

House took these two external dimensions and matched them with four leadership behavioural styles, as this diagram summarises:

House's Path-Goal theory diagram- workplace/follower characteristics and four leadership styles
Leadership StyleWorkplace CharacteristicsFollower Characteristics
DirectiveUnstructured interesting tasks 
Clear, formal authority 
Good group cohesion
Inexperienced followers 
They believe they lack power 
They want leader to direct them
SupportiveSimpler, more predictable tasks
Unclear or weak formal authority 
Poor group cohesion  
Experienced, confident followers 
They believe they have power 
They reject close control 
ParticipativeUnstructured, complex tasks 
Formal authority could be either clear or unclear 
Group cohesion could either be good or poor
Experienced, confident followers 
They believe they have power 
They reject close control, preferring to exercise power over their work
Unstructured, complex or unpredictable tasks 
Clear, formal authority 
Group cohesion could either be good or poor 
Experienced, confident followers 
They think they lack some power 
They accept the idea of the leader setting their goals and have a lot of respect for the leader


House's Path-Goal Theory - four leadership styles descriptions
Leadership StyleDescription
DirectiveIn House's Directive style, the leader clarifies the path to the goal by giving clear direction and guidance on goals, tasks, and performance standards. The work will normally be complex and unstructured, and followers will usually lack experience and accept a high degree of outside control. In essence, the leader is telling the followers exactly the required methods and outcomes. There is little or no emphasis on personal needs (for example emotional or financial) in striving for and achieving the goal, because the work is considered (by the leader and organization) to be sufficiently satisfying and rewarding in its own right.
SupportiveHouse's Supportive style puts more emphasis on improving the working atmosphere (notably making it more friendly and helpful) and safeguarding followers' welfare. This leadership approach is appropriate where followers can perform their tasks skilfully, and believe they have a high degree of control over the outcome. Followers don't want close supervision, but they do need protection and care in handling stresses and frustrations arising from repetitive, uninteresting tasks. In this Supportive style, the leader removes or reduces the effects of emotional obstacles on the path to the goal.
ParticipativeFollowers of House's Participative leadership style are similar to followers of the Supportive style: confident and experienced, they believe they largely control the outcome, and they reject close control. However, unlike typical Supportive workplace characteristics, here work is much less structured, repetitive and predictable. The leader consults followers (perhaps more likely here to be called 'colleagues') on decisions concerning goals and methods, and genuinely takes account of followers' opinions and ideas. Here the Participative leader strengthens the path-goal connection in three ways: First, aligning followers' values and concerns with the goals. Second, ensuring followers are happy with how they are to achieve the goals. Third, giving followers a strong sense of autonomy and satisfaction, so improving motivation to achieve the goal.
House's Achievement-orientated leadership style is based on encouraging followers to achieve personally outstanding results. Followers are competent and confident, and crucially also accept the principle of the leader setting ambitious goals. Followers trust and respect the leader, and draw personal motivation and increased confidence from the leader's belief that the individual follower can achieve demanding aims and targets.


In the grid diagrams above Robert House effectively describes four different 'situations' (in this case combinations of 'workplace characteristics' and 'follower characteristics') which he matched to four different leadership styles.

Unlike Fiedler's Contingency model, House's Path-Goal theory asserts that leaders can and should vary their behaviour according to the situation and the problems or opportunities that each situation presents.

By implication, Path-Goal theory assumes that a leader can vary his or her mindset and behaviour as needed.

In this way, Path-Goal theory is similar to Tannenbaum and Schmidt's Continuum and to Kurt Lewin's Three Styles model. It is a situational or contingency theory that in addition to matching leadership styles to given situations, also advocates switching leadership styles according to changing situations.


Hersey and Blanchard's Situational Leadership® Model

Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard first published their Situational Leadership® Model in their 1982 book, Management of Organizational Behaviour: Utilizing Human Resources. The concept has become perhaps the best known of all the Situational/Contingency models.

The name Situational Leadership® has been extended variously by Hersey and Blanchard to related business services and products. Generally when referring to the concept it is safer and correct to show the name as a registered protected trademark: Situational Leadership®.

The Situational Leadership® model is sophisticated. Its notable features are briefly that the model:

  • Focuses on followers, rather than wider workplace circumstances.
  • Asserts that leaders should change their behaviour according to the type of followers.
  • Proposes a 'continuum' or progression of leadership adaptation in response to the development of followers.

These points are explained in greater detail below.

Situational Leadership® theory is commonly shown as classifying followers according to a 2x2 matrix, using the highs and lows of two criteria, thereby giving four types of follower groups. The criteria of the followers are:

Note: It is important to consider that groups and individuals may require different approaches when using Hersey and Blanchard's model.

Notably, where members of a group possess different levels of capability and experience, Hersey and Blanchard's model requires a more individualistic approach, rather than a broad group approach.

Accordingly this summary refers mainly to 'follower' or 'followers', rather than a 'group', in explaining how the model is best appreciated and used.

The term 'follower' may be interpreted to apply to an entire group for situations in which members possess similar levels of capability and experience.

  1. Competence
  2. Confidence and commitment


  1. Ability
  2. Willingness

Logically the four group types are:

  1. Low Competence/Low Confidence and commitment
  2. Low Competence/High Confidence and commitment
  3. High Competence/Low Confidence and commitment
  4. High Competence/High Confidence and commitment

or more simply:

  1. Unable and Unwilling
  2. Unable but Willing
  3. Able but Unwilling
  4. Able and Willing

Extending the logic of this, Hersey and Blanchard further described and presented these four follower 'situations' as requiring relatively high or low leadership emphasis on the Task and the Relationship.

For example a high Task emphasis equates to giving very clear guidance to followers as to aims and methods. A low task emphasis equates to giving followers freedom in deciding methods and perhaps even aims.

high Relationship emphasis equates to working closely and sensitively with followers. A low Relationship emphasis equates to detachment or remoteness, and either a trust in people's emotional robustness, or a disregard for emotional reactions. This 'low relationship' aspect is also called 'separated'.

High Task means followers have Low AbilityLow Task means followers have High Ability.

High Relationship means followers are Willing. Low Relationship means followers are Unwilling.

(Note that 'Unwilling' may be because of lack of confidence and/or because the aims/goals are not accepted. It is possible for a group of followers to be good at their jobs, but not committed to the aims/task.)

The high/low Task/Relationship dimensions feature strongly in the diagrams and applications that Hersey and Blanchard developed around the Situational Leadership® theory.

The logic can be represented helpfully as a simple practical concise 'leadership styles guide', as below, including the continuum, by which the leader changes styles in response to the growing/different maturity of followers.


interpretation of Hersey and Blanchard basic structure
follower 'situation'leadership style emphasisH & B terminologyquick descriptioncontinuum
Unable and Unwillinghigh task - low relationshipTellinginstruction, direction, autocraticM1
Unable but Willinghigh task - high relationshipSellingpersuasion, encouragement, incentiveM2
Able but Unwillinglow task - high relationshipParticipatinginvolvement, consultation, teamworkM3
Able and Willinglow task - low relationshipDelegatingtrust, empowerment, responsibilityM4


Given the name of the Situational Leadership® theory it's useful to note that Hersey and Blanchard used the word 'situational' chiefly to suggest adaptability, more than the situation in which people operate.

In fact Situational Leadership® focuses firmly on the follower(s), rather than the wider situation and workplace circumstances, and the model particularly asserts that a group's performance depends mostly on how followers respond to the leader.

The model also proposes a 'continuum' or progression of leadership adaptation in response to the typical development of followers. See the M1-M4 continuum on the grid above.

Hersey and Blanchard used the word 'maturity' in referring to the continuum of follower development, requiring and enabling a leader to change leadership style through the stages outlined above. Here 'maturity' entails experience, skills, confidence, commitment, etc - a combination of the two main 'follower' criteria, namely Ability and Willingness (Competence and Confidence/Commitment), which we can also interpret to be the follower's ability to self-manage or self-lead.

Hersey and Blanchard clearly mapped a progression of changing leadership styles in response to the tendency for people's maturity to increase over time.

This aspect aligns somewhat with the Tannenbaum and Schmidt Continuum model, specifically limited to where both models can apply to group maturity/capability development. That is, under certain circumstances, a leader adapts his/her behaviour progressively, in response to followers' growing maturity/capability, usually over many months, potentially from the inception or inheritance of a new team, ultimately to when the team can self-manage, perhaps even (and some would say ideally) to be led by a new leader who has emerged from the team to succeed the departing leader.

N.B. This is not to diminish the multi-faceted nature of the Tannenbaum and Schmidt and Situational Leadership® models, nor to overstate an overlap between them. Both models offer quite different frameworks for adapting leadership behaviour, based on more complex factors than simply the development of group maturity. Incidentally, from a group standpoint rather than a leadership angle, Bruce Tuckman's 'Forming-Storming-Norming-Performing' model is a very helpful separate reference concept for exploring and understanding group maturity development.

Hersey and Blanchard's 2x2 matrix, or four-square grid, has become a much referenced tool, and proprietary training method, for teaching and applying the Situational Leadership® model, notably matching the four leadership behaviours/styles to corresponding follower situations (or to 'entire group' situations, subject to the provisions already explained, that followers must possess similar levels of ability and experience as each other):

Hersey & Blanchard's Situational Leadership® Model diagram

(Adapted for presentation purposes)


Relationship / 

3. Participating2. Selling
4. Delegating1.Telling
 low       Task / Ability      high


Here are Hersey and Blanchard's matched sets of four follower types with four corresponding leadership styles, in order of the suggested continuum or progression coinciding with increasing follower maturity:


 Follower typeLeadership Style or Behaviour
1Follower lacks experience or skill, and confidence to do the task, and may also lack willingness.Telling - Leader gives precise firm instructions and deadlines and closely monitors progress.
2Follower lacks the ability, perhaps due to lack of experience, but is enthusiastic for the work.Selling - Leader explains goals, tasks, methods and reasons, and remains available to give support.
3Follower is capable and experienced, but lacks confidence or commitment and may question the goal or task.Participating - Leader works with follower(s), involved with group, seeks input and encourages efforts.
4Follower is capable, experienced, confident and committed to the goals.Delegating - Leader gives responsibility to followers for setting goals, planning and execution.


The basic Situational Leadership® model can also be seen as a simple leadership process:

  1. Identify category of follower(s).
  2. Adapt leadership style/behaviour to match.
  3. Continue to gauge follower status (notably ability and willingness) and adapt leadership behaviour accordingly.

The Situational Leadership® model is widely taught and highly regarded.

It is easier to apply for individual followers than for a group, notably where a group has mixed levels of abilities and willingness.

The model also requires a leader to be capable of adapting or changing leadership behaviour, which not all leaders find easy, and some find impossible if the leader's own underlying beliefs cannot be modified.


N.B. As indicated already, Situational Leadership® has been extended variously to related business services and products. Generally when referring to the concept it is safer and correct to show the name as a registered protected trademark: Situational Leadership®. Use of material relating to Situational Leadership® and/or Situational Leadership II® - especially in commercial training - requires licence and agreement from the respective companies: Situational Leadership® is a trademark of the of the Centre for Leadership Studies, who represent the interests and products of Dr Paul Hersey. Ken Blanchard (incidentally author of 'The One Minute Manager') went on to develop Situational Leadership II®, which now covers a range of products marketed by The Ken Blanchard Companies.


Bolman and Deal's Four-Frame Model

Lee Bolman and Terry Deal outlined their Four-Frame model in their book, Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice and Leadership (1991).

Bolman and Deal stated that leaders should look at and approach organizational issues from four perspectives, which they called 'Frames'.

In their view, if a leader works with only one habitual Frame (frame of reference), the leader risks being ineffective.

The Four Frames outlined by Bolman and Deal are:

  1. Structural
  2. Human Resource
  3. Political
  4. Symbolic

Here are descriptions of and differences between the Four Frames:

Bolman and Deal's Four Frames descriptions and differences
Bolman and Deal's Four Frames descriptions and differences  
StructuralThis Frame focuses on the obvious 'how' of change. It's mainly a task-orientated Frame. It concentrates on strategy; setting measurable goals; clarifying tasks, responsibilities and reporting lines; agreeing metrics and deadlines; and creating systems and procedures.

Human Resource

The HR Frame places more emphasis on people's needs. It chiefly focuses on giving employees the power and opportunity to perform their jobs well, while at the same time, addressing their needs for human contact, personal growth, and job satisfaction.


The Political Frame addresses the problem of individuals and interest groups having sometimes conflicting (often hidden) agendas, especially at times when budgets are limited and the organization has to make difficult choices. In this Frame you will see coalition-building, conflict resolution work, and power-base building to support the leader's initiatives.


The Symbolic Frame addresses people's needs for a sense of purpose and meaning in their work. It focuses on inspiring people by making the organization's direction feel significant and distinctive. It includes creating a motivating vision, and recognising superb performance through company celebrations.


Bolman and Deal proposed that a leader should see the organization's challenges through these four Frames or 'lenses', to gain an overall view, and to decide which Frame or Frames to use.

The leader may use one Frame (implying a behavioural approach) for a time, and then switch to another. Or instead the leader might combine and use a number of Frames, or all four, at the same time.

A crucial aspect of Bolman and Deal's model seeks to avoid the temptation for leaders to becoming stuck, viewing and acting on conditions through one lens or Frame alone.

Bolman and Deal assert that because no Frame works well in every circumstance, then a leader who sticks with one Frame is bound eventually to act inappropriately and ineffectively.

Instead, it is the leader's responsibility to use the appropriate Frame of reference, and thereby behaviour, for each challenge.

Central to this methodology is asking the right questions and diagnosing the vital issues.


  1. Where a leader ascertains that the biggest problem in a group is lack of motivation and commitment, the leader should probably adopt a Symbolic and/or Human Resource (Frame) approach.
  2. If the main group challenge is instead confusion around priorities and responsibilities, then the leader will probably be more successful adopting Structural and Political (Frames) orientation.
  3. If the group is experiencing uncertainty and anxiety about direction, then Symbolic and Political (Frames) leadership behaviours are more likely to produce effective results.

Essentially, the leader should adopt a multi-Frame perspective before choosing how to act.

Organizations tend naturally to use the Structural Frame but pay less attention to the other three Frames.

According to Four-Frame theory, this is due either to:

  • lack of awareness of the need for multi-Frame thinking and behaviour or
  • behavioural rigidity due to unconscious limiting beliefs (controlling the leader's perceived priorities or capabilities)

More information about the application of Four-Frame theory is at Lee Bolman's website.


functional leadership models

This begins a new sub-section of leadership models category - Functional Leadership Models.

The functional leadership approach focuses on what the leader has to do to be successful.

Unlike the Behavioural Ideals approach, it does not set out ideal ways of behaving.

Nor does it match behaviour to circumstances as in Situational/Contingency theory.

Instead Functional Leadership models simply focus on the functions or 'doing' responsibilities that every leader must address to be effective.

The best-known functional leadership models are:

John Adair's Action-Centred Leadership model, and

Kouzes & Posner's Five Leadership Practices model (previously mentioned in the earlier form of Kouzes and Posner's trait theory).


John Adair's Action-Centred Leadership model

John Adair is a prolific writer on leadership and first published his Action-Centred Leadership model in the 1970s. Adair has written several more books that describe this model, notably Effective Leadership (1983).

A more detailed summary of Adair's Action-Centred Leadership Model has been available on this website for many years, such is the significance of Adair's work in leadership learning and development.

As Adair himself explains, his thinking emerged from group dynamics - the study of how groups form, evolve and work - and he adapted it to form his fundamental leadership model.

It is most commonly and very simply represented by Adair's famous three circles diagram, interpreted here as follows.

Adair's Action-Centered Leadership 'three circles' diagram

adair's action-centred leadership model diagram

Note that the Action-Centred Leadership three-circles diagram, in any format, is a registered trademark belonging to John Adair, and this must be clearly acknowledged when referencing it.

The diagram very elegantly symbolizes the three main overlapping and integrated functional responsibilities of a leader, according to Adair's theory.

The Action-Centred Leadership model states that the leader must pay attention simultaneously to three areas of need:

1. Completing the task or challenge face by the group.

2. Creating and maintaining a sense of team or group unity, a sense of 'we' and 'us', and collective responsibility.

3. Ensuring that each individual in the group is able to meet his or her own individual needs - psychological, and if appropriate physical too. (We might refer to Maslow to understand these better).



The first need is the most obvious. This is essentially why the group exists: to achieve a task or aim.

It's also naturally obvious to most leaders because 'achieving the task' - or 'getting the results' - tends to be the biggest responsibility for which leaders are held accountable by the organization (or executive, or board, or shareholders).

This causes many leaders to focus very heavily on 'achieving the task', and in do doing, to neglect the other two needs.

We might equate this to a strong emphasis on the 'Telling' style within the Situational Leadership® model.

However a group's ability to achieve the task, and more significantly, to continue to achieve more tasks, is usually seriously undermined if leaders fail to attend to the 'team' and 'individual' needs of the group, and to the related functional leadership responsibilities.


The second need - that of the team - is to create an atmosphere of togetherness; one in which group members:

  1. share responsibility for reaching the goal or aim
  2. hold shared expectations on the performance level each has to contribute, and
  3. support each other as they progress.

In so doing, they put the group's goal ahead of their own individual personal priorities.

This last point is important. Without it the group's aims become a collection of individually different goals and methods, which obviously prevent the development of an effective cohesive team.


The third need centres on each individual team member. Although each individual is a member of a group with a shared goal and shared standards of performance, he or she remains individual. In other words, each person has individual needs, for example: financial recognition, safety, status, respect, praise, intimacy and fulfilment, etc.

So while leaders must ensure that a group has a collective identity and shared methods and purpose, etc., the leader must also also help members satisfy individual personal needs.

Put simply, the Action-Centred Leadership model says the overall function of the leader is to focus on the three primary areas of need - task, team and individual.

Beyond this, the leader has more specific functions within each need, summarised as follows:

Action-Centred Leadership - functional summary
Clarifying the nature and purpose of the task. 
Agreeing the group's targets and plan. 
Agreeing personal targets with each individual. 
Assigning tasks, powers and responsibilities to individuals or subgroups. 
Getting the resources to complete the task. 
Assessing and following up on progress. 
Setting performance standards through personal example. Adjusting the plan to meet unexpected obstacles.
Ensuring the team as a whole accepts its purpose/targets. 
Agreeing shared performance and behavioural standards. 
Ensuring the right number of people and mix of 'know-how', skills and contacts. 
Creating an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect. 
Consulting members for ideas and feedback. 
Resolving group conflicts. 
Changing members if they don't perform or collaborate. 
Adjusting the team's composition according to current or likely future issues.
Getting to know each member. 
Ensuring that each person's responsibilities fits their aims, skills and 'know-how'. 
Reviewing personal performance. 
Making sure each member knows how their contribution helps the team's results. 
Praising, criticising and addressing poor performance. 
Ensuring that each individual has the right training and development support. 
Agreeing financial rewards. 
Listening and acting on individuals' concerns. 
Promoting top performers and high potential members.

A separate detailed summary of Adair's Action-Centred Leadership Model is also available on this website.


Kouzes and Posner's Five Leadership Practices Model

James Kouzes and Barry Posner offered a notable version of a functional leadership modelin their book, The Leadership Challenge (1987). It is more prescriptive than Adair's model and aimed more at high-level leaders like CEOs, but it's a significant contribution to the thinking on effective leadership.

Kouzes and Posner's earlier Trait-Theory leadership model, which led them to develop their Five Leadership Practices model, is explained earlier, in the Trait-Theory sub-section of leadership models.

Like some other leadership theorists they developed a modular theory into a proprietary product, in this case a program for leadership development.

This model is also known as Kouzes and Posner's Leadership Challenge Model.

Kouzes and Posner summarise their program as follows, which is interesting as a concise distillation of their thinking - about what leadership is, and what they believe leadership means to people:

The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® (Kouzes and Posner's Leadership Challenge Model)

  1. Model the Way
  2. Inspire a Shared Vision
  3. Challenge the Process
  4. Enabling Others to Act
  5. Encourage the Heart

Kouzes and Posner created their Five Leadership Practices model after researching people's personal experiences of excellent leadership. From this, they claimed that "...good leadership is an understandable and universal process..." involving five practices and, within each of those, two key behaviours.

Here is an outline of the Kouzes and Posner model:

Five Leadership Practices - summary
Key BehavioursDetail
1 Model the WaySet the example by behaving in ways that reflect the shared values. 
Achieve small wins that build confidence, commitment and consistent progress.
The leader sets an example. Define the shared behavioural standards and then exemplify them. Kouzes and Posner also believe it is essential to achieve some small wins to build momentum.
2 Inspiring a Shared VisionEnvision an uplifting, exciting, meaningful future. 
Enlist others in a common vision by appealing to their values, interests, hopes and dreams.
Leaders should begin work on their vision before enlisting others to refine it and make it theirs. Emphasis on visualisation and the use of powerful evocative language to capture the vision to inspire others.
3 Challenge the ProcessSearch out challenging opportunities to change, grow, innovate and improve. 
Experiment, take risks and learn from any mistakes.
The leader is an agent for change - questioning, challenging and seeking new ideas. Taking risks, experimenting, learning from and allowing for mistakes. Importantly, encouraging new ideas to flourish.
4 Enabling Others to ActFoster collaboration by promoting cooperative goals and building trust. 
Strengthen people's ability by delegating power, developing their competence and offering visible support.
Building a spirit of trust and collaboration. Encouraging people to share information. Kouzes and Posner believe that leaders must disclose what they believe and care about and, when necessary, show some vulnerability. This also entails delegating power, believing in others, and investing in followers' training and education.
5 Encourage the HeartRecognise individual contributions to the success of the project. 
Celebrate team accomplishments regularly.
Praise and celebration.

Kouzes and Posner's model is well researched, and much work by the pair continued to build data and evidence, to support and extend the theory, and also its suggested means of adoption and implementation across large organizations.

Kouzes and Posner's theory is in the 'leader-as-hero' tradition. It therefore largely ignores more recent ideas about sharing leadership.

It is also fair to say that a more naturally low-profile, contemplative leader would probably find it harder to adopt these behavioural practices than a gregarious visionary leader, so the model may not work for everyone.


integrated psychological approach

The 'integrated psychological' leadership approach is a relatively very recent development in thinking on effective leadership.

The terminology 'integrated psychological' in relation to leadership was firmly established, if not originated, by leadership author, James Scouller.

Scouller's theory itself reveals the logical reasoning for the term.

James Scouller says that his 'Three Levels of Leadership' model (featured in his 2011 book, The Three Levels of Leadership: How to Develop Your Leadership Presence, Know-how and Skill), aims to offer a practical view of leadership that:

  • Helps individuals become more effective leaders.
  • Enables leaders to apply three of the most talked-about leadership philosophies in the 21st century: 'servant leadership,' 'authentic leadership' and 'values-based leadership' (details of which follow the Leadership Philosophies section), and
  • Combines the strengths of earlier theories (Traits, Behavioural ideals, Functional and Situational/Contingency) while addressing their possible weaknesses.

Part of Scouller's approach has been to examine and present the strengths and weaknesses of earlier models of leadership theory. Scouller's strengths and weaknesses analysis is summarised in the table below:

Scouller's analysis of traditional models of leadership - strengths and weaknesses    
leadership model typestrengthsweaknesses
Trait-based - variousOutstanding leaders are usually distinctive in commanding attention and winning trust (often called 'leadership presence').Leadership researchers have not agreed a shortlist of effective leaders' common traits. Even so, trait-based models would be more useful for selecting leaders than developing them.
Behavioural ideals - notably Blake and Mouton's Managerial GridIt makes sense for leaders to balance concern for the task with concern for people in most circumstances. Training in the ideal style should be possible in theory.The 'ideal' approach may not suit all circumstances. Many leaders' behavioural patterns are restricted by hidden limiting beliefs that persist despite training. Ignores leadership presence.
Situational/Contingency - notably LewinTannenbaum & SchmidtFiedlerHouseHersey & BlanchardBolman & DealMatching leadership behaviour to circumstances, or the experience, commitment and confidence of followers is sensible. New leaders can learn to recognise their circumstances and practise the right behaviours.Fiedler's model offers no help in developing leaders; only in selected them. The other models assume that leaders can change their behaviour, but many are restricted by hidden limiting beliefs and old habits that persist despite training. Situational Leadership® works well one-to-one, but less well in one-to-many circumstances. All models ignore leadership presence.
Functional - notably AdairKouzes & PosnerIt makes sense to focus on what effective leaders do (functions) rather than how leaders should be (traits). Leaders can learn the most appropriate behaviours through training.The Adair Action-Centred Leadership model does not place vision/future alongside task, team and individual as a distinct principle, which arguably distinguishes leadership from management. The Five Leadership Practices model assumes that all leaders can adopt its behaviours, but many cannot due to limiting beliefs and old habits. The models ignore leadership presence.

Scouller makes this major observation relating to the above analysis of traditional and early leadership models: "These older leadership models have strengths and weaknesses. They capture part of the truth about effective leadership, but in largely ignoring 'leadership presence' and the leader's psychology, they don't offer a complete guide to becoming a better leader."

Not surprisingly therefore, leadership presence and the leader's psychology feature strongly in Scouller's own ideas about leadership.


James Scouller's Three Levels of Leadership model

Please note - This model description is larger than others featured in this guide because:

  • James Scouller has kindly agreed to make this summary of his work available for free on this website.
  • The model is (at March 2012) not widely referenced elsewhere, so it is helpful to establish an early reliable and comprehensive online reference source.
  • This is not a 'teaser' to sell James Scouller's book - it is a summary which can be used in some detail and depth, by teachers, learners, and leaders, 'off-the'page'.


And so, to the model itself..

Firstly, here is James Scouller's Four-Dimensional Definition of Leadership:

Scouller uses a four-square overlapping diagram (adapted below) to present leadership as a four-dimensional process.

 Motivating Purpose Task, Progress, Results
 Upholding Group UnityAttention to Individuals
Scouller - leadership as a four-dimensional process

James Scouller says:

"Leadership is a process that involves:

  • setting a purpose and direction which inspires people to combine and work towards willingly;
  • paying attention to the means, pace and quality of progress towards the aim; and
  • upholding group unity, and
  • attending to individual effectiveness throughout."

(From The Three Levels of Leadership, J Scouller, 2011)


Scouller's four-square model above can be seen as an extension of John Adair's Action-Centred Leadership three-circles concept.

Note that Scouller describes leadership as a process. By that, he means "...a series of choices and actions around defining and achieving a goal."

Scouller says that if you see leadership as a process you are less likely to make the mistake of seeing 'leadership' and the 'leader' as one and the same.

Scouller and other authors like John Adair point out that leadership does not have to rely on one person.

Scouller's explains further, "...we can say that anyone in a group could lead a group in one of the four leadership dimensions, which clearly suggests the possibility of shared leadership..."

This raises the question that if anyone can lead, does a group actually need a formal leader? Scouller says 'yes', and defines the leader's purpose as follows:

"The purpose of a leader is to make sure there is leadership - to ensure that all four dimensions of leadership are being addressed... This means the leader does not always have to lead from the front; he or she can delegate, or share part of their responsibility for leadership. However, the buck still stops with the leader. So although the leader can let someone else lead in a particular situation, he or she cannot let go of responsibility to make sure there is leadership."

Scouller offers the example: "The leader has to ensure there is a vision or a goal that all (or at least most) group members want to deliver, but that doesn't mean he or she has to come up with the vision on their own. That is one way of leading, but it's not the only way. Another way is to co-create the vision with one's colleagues."

As already shown in the leadership purpose section, Scouller has firm views about shared and delegated leadership, subject to the principle - crucially - that ultimate responsibility is retained by the leader.

Scouller's Three Levels of Leadership model - diagram

Scouller's Three Levels of Leadership model is also referred to as the 3P model.

The three Ps stand for Public, Private and Personal leadership.

Scouller see two aims for his model:

  • First, to help leaders understand what they have to do in their role.
  • Second, to help leaders understand how to develop themselves so they can behave powerfully, skilfully and flexibly while staying true to character - being authentic - (for useful reference see the authentic leadership philosophy).

Here is the diagram for Scouller's Three Levels of Leadership (3P) model:

scouller 3P diagram

The Three Levels of Leadership model builds on Scouller's idea that the leader must ensure there is leadership in all four dimensions:

  1. Motivating future or purpose
  2. Task and results
  3. Upholding group spirit and standards, and
  4. Attention to individuals (for example, motivation, confidence, selection, feelings of inclusion)

Scouller's main idea is that for leaders to be effective in all four dimensions, they must work on three levels simultaneously:

  • Public Leadership: an outer or behavioural level. It covers dimensions 1, 2 and 3 (Purpose, Task, Group Unity).
  • Private Leadership: another outer or behavioural level. It covers dimensions 2 and 4 (individual aspects of Task, attention to Individuals).
  • Personal Leadership: an inner level. It covers all four dimensions (Purpose, Task, Group Unity, Individuals), although less directly than the two outer levels.

Scouller explains that 'Personal Leadership' affects all four dimensions by working on the sources of a leader's effectiveness: their leadership presencetechnical know-howskillattitude to other people, and psychological self-mastery.

Self-mastery, according to Scouller's Three Levels model, is the key to a person's leadership presence, to his/her attitude toward others, and flexibility. Scouller argues that Personal Leadership is the most influential of the three levels because positive change at the personal level has positive 'ripple' effects at the two outer levels. The same is also true in reverse.

Notice that the four dimensions represent a functional view of leadership that we see in other models. However, the integration of the four dimensions (functions) with the 'three levels' of leadership seems unique to Scouller's model and in this respect can be considered highly innovative, and probably an advance in established thinking about leadership models.


Scouller's Three Levels of Leadership - summary of the three levels

Here is a more detailed summary of Scouller's Three Levels of Leadership:

Scouller's Three Levels Of Leadership (3P) Model - summary of details   
Public LeadershipPrivate LeadershipPersonal Leadership
The 'Public Leadership' level involves a leader's actions in a group setting (for example, a meeting) or when trying toinfluence an organization as a whole

Includes setting the vision, ensuring unity of purpose, achieving the group task, building an atmosphere of trust and togetherness and creating peer pressure towards shared, high performance standards. 

There are 34 Public Leadership behaviours across two areas: 

22 Group Purpose and Task 
12 Group Building andMaintenance 

The 22 Group Purpose and Task behaviours set the group's aims and get the job done. They divide into four sub-groups: 

- Setting the vision, staying focused (4 behaviours) 
- Organising, giving power to others (2 behaviours) 
- Ideation, problem-solving, decision-making (10 behaviours) 
- Executing (6 behaviours) 

The 12 Group Building and Maintenance behaviours create and uphold a group identity and atmosphere of shared responsibility for overall performance. There are two sub-groups of behaviours: 

- Leader out in front (5 behaviours) 
- Leader in among the group (7 behaviours) 

Leaders need to balance their attention to purpose/task and building/maintenance

Some leaders over-emphasise the former and ignore the need to create a team spirit. Others are more concerned with atmosphere and pay insufficient attention to results.
'Private Leadership' is the leader's one-to-one handling of group members

It recognises that although team spirit is essential, everyone is an individual with differing levels of confidence, resilience, experience and motivation. 

Individuals need individual attention as well as group bonding. 

There are 14 private leadership behavioursacross two categories: 

5 Individual Purpose and Task 
- 9 Individual Building and Maintenance 

There are 5 Individual Purpose and Task behaviours: appraising, selecting, disciplining, goal-setting, and reviewing. 

The 9 Individual Building and Maintenance behaviours are for growing and upholding each individual's 'know-how', skills and confidence. They include getting to know colleagues as individuals and building relationships, attracting new talent, and assessing people's competence and commitment. 

As in Public Leadership, leaders need to balance their attention to both areas to avoid missing important aspects of individuals' effectiveness.
The 'Personal Leadership' level is the most influential of the three levels. It refers to leaders' technical, psychological and moral growthand its effect on their leadership presence, know-how, skill and behaviour. It drives a leader's emotional intelligence, personal impact, skill, judgement, and insight in action. (US-English, judgment) 

Scouller says, "Personal Leadership is the key to what Jim Collins called 'the inner development of a person to level 5 leadership' in his book Good to Great." 

Personal Leadership has three elements: 
1. Technical 
2. Attitude Towards Others 
3. Self-Mastery 

1. Technical: knowing your technical weaknesses and continually updating your knowledge and skills. It involves:

- Learning time management and the basics of individual and group psychology
- Practising the six skill sets that support the public and private behaviours. They are: (1) group problem solving and planning; (2) group decision-making; (3) interpersonal ability; (4) managing group process; (5) assertiveness; (6) goal-setting. 

2. Attitude towards others: this is about believing other people to be as important as you - or learning to believe it. This is important because your attitude towards others will largely decide how much they trust you as a leader. It involves developing the five characteristics of an effective attitude (interdependence, appreciation, caring, service, balance) by creating a compelling shared visionand by practising self-mastery

3. Self-Mastery: this is working on self-awareness and flexible command of your psyche, enabling you to let go of limiting beliefs and old habits, connect with your values, let your leadership presence flow and act authentically in the serviceof those you lead. It involves: 

- Understanding the principles of and obstacles to personal change
- Practising self-mastery techniques, drawing on modern psychology andneuroscientific research.


Scouller's integrated approach

Scouller's Three Levels of Leadership (3P) model seeks to use the strengths of traditional and earlier leadership theories, while also while addressing the leader's psychology - notably the problem of limiting beliefs - and the question of leadership presence and authenticity.

Scouller's model is therefore aptly called 'integrated'.

The model incorporates and in some cases extends what Scouller considers to be the most useful aspects of prior theories, alongside Scouller's own new and original thinking about leadership psychology, by which he aims to produce a model that is a step beyond previous concepts.

Scouller's integrated approach makes use of four types of leadership models:

Here are the main details of how Scouller's 3P model integrates and extends the four types of previous theories:

Scouller's 3P integration/extension of existing leadership models
How Scouller's 3P Leadership Model integrates and extends previous leadership models theory   

Traits theory

Scouller agrees that the best leaders have a certain distinctive quality (often referred to as 'leadership presence'). However, unlike the Traits theory approach, the 3P model says that 'leadership presence' cannot be defined by common pre-determined qualities or behavioural characteristics. Indeed Scouller argues that these common traits - which supposedly guarantee leadership success - don't exist, which is why, he suggests, researchers have found so many leadership traits. Instead, the Three Levels model says leaders should let their distinctive presence flow according to their individual personality, so expressing their unique combination of character strengths to best effect. Scouller says leaders can develop their presence through self-mastery.
Behavioural Ideals theoryScouller's 3P model accepts the Behavioural Ideals view that a leader should usually combine a high concern for task with equal concern for people. However, it goes further in showing leaders how to work on their psychology so they can adopt this attitude if it doesn't come naturally to them. Scouller also argues that the true behavioural ideal is not one fixed style of behaviour because leaders can and should flex their approach according to the circumstances (for example, being more 'task-focused' in emergencies), while staying true to their values.

Situational/ Contingency theory

Scouller's 3P model supports the Situational/Contingency idea of flexing leadership behaviour to match the follower(s) or circumstances. But it recognises that many leaders get caught in certain mindsets (beliefs) and behavioural habits and find it hard to change their behaviour - even if they have had training and know in theory that it is a good idea to do so. The 3P model shows how leaders with inflexible habits can change their beliefs and behaviour while remaining 'authentic'. Scouller says the solution is to remove inner psychological blocks (limiting beliefs) by practising self-mastery.
Functional theoryLike the Functional models, Scouller's 3P model describes what leaders must do by listing key leadership behaviours. However, it goes further by explaining the know-how and skills underlying the behaviours and how to learn them. It also addresses the psychology of leaders and explains how self-mastery can help them develop their leadership presence and stop limiting beliefs blocking the use of their skills.


James Scouller's Three Levels model also overlaps with three of the leadership philosophies, which are described in the next section: Servant LeadershipAuthentic Leadership and Values-based Leadership.

This is because the 'inner level' - Personal Leadership - of Scouller's 3P model includes what Scouller calls self-mastery.

Scouller asserts that,"...self-mastery is the key to developing not only leadership presence and your attitude towards others, but also letting you connect with your values, allowing the authentic 'you' to flow, thus enabling you to be an effective servant-leader..."

Scouller reinforces the connection between his Three Levels model and the three leadership philosophies mentioned above in asserting that, "...true leadership presence is synonymous with authenticity, expressing one's highest values and an attitude of service."

This naturally takes us next to explore the main leadership philosophies concepts.


leadership philosophies [edit]

A brief reminder of the definitions and differences between Models, Philosophies, and Styles:

A leadership model provides a process or framework for learning, applying, and adapting leadership for given groups, organizations, or situations.

leadership philosophy is a way of thinking and behaving in leadership - its aims and means - according to values and beliefs.

A leadership style is a narrow and specific behaviour compared to a model or philosophy. Leadership style may be strongly influenced by the leader's personality, the aims of the leader, and relationship with followers.

model is like a 'how-to' framework, a toolkit or a process.

philosophy is like a subtle but powerful compass or behavioural code.

A style is a description of a leader's behaviours, and may also be like a tool in the leadership models toolkit.

For more details, see definitions and differences of Models, Philosophies and Styles in the context of leadership theory.

This section explains Leadership philosophies - one of the three main categories of leadership theories, alongside Leadership Models, and Leadership Styles.

Leadership philosophies are quite different from leadership models, and leadership styles. For a detailed reminder of these main categories in the context of leadership theory refer again to the definitions and differences of Models, Philosophies and Styles. A brief reminder is shown in the panel right.

Leadership philosophies - and the experts who have studied them - particularly help us to understand how a leader comes to power and stays in power.

In this respect a leadership philosophies involve much deeper references to society, human behaviour, politics, civilization than leadership models or styles.

Leadership philosophies are not 'designed' to be applied like a model (process/toolkit) or a style (tool/systematic approach). But philosophies do enable much greater insight (than models and styles) to the wider causes of, and effects upon, leadership from the widest possible human viewpoint.

This makes them fascinating to understand, especially for leaders who are interested in the effects of leadership on people and issues beyond the group or task in hand.

This section explores the following leadership philosophies:

In developing his Integrated Psychological leadership model, James Scouller has observed that a difficulty arises if attempting to turn a leadership philosophy into a leadership model - in other words, to develop a process or toolkit from a particular leadership philosophy - or to teach or apply a philosophy as if it were a structured method, or 'kit of parts'. This is a very interesting point, very relevant to the integrated aspects of his own work, explained by Scouller as follows:

  • the tendency - to develop a philosophy into a process or model - has helped to increase confusion in the leadership subject as a whole;
  • the tendency - to develop a philosophy into a process or model - exists because historically leadership models have not addressed well aspects of leadership philosophy, for example and specifically, how to be a servant leader, or how to be an authentic leader, or an ethical leader or a values-based leader; and
  • this vacuum - whereby traditional leadership models do not adequately offer process or method for incorporating philosophical aspects - has naturally caused leadership philosophies to be extended and distorted to fill the gap.

This means that when using leadership philosophies - to learn, teach or apply rules of effective leadership - we must be careful to appreciate the usefulness and limitations of any leadership philosophy - or any other philosophy about anything else too..

Here's a simple presentation of this point:


Philosophies help explain:

Philosophies are not:

  • values
  • beliefs
  • relationships
  • morality
  • ethics
  • politics
  • history
  • society
  • civilization
  • economics
  • processes
  • rules
  • instructions
  • systems
  • tools
  • structures
  • methods
  • learning models
  • adaptability guides


important note about philosophies

Here is another important point about leadership philosophies..

The (Oxford English Dictionary) definition of the word philosophy is:

"The study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, especially when considered as an academic discipline."

So when we discuss a philosophy of any sort, we are opening a potentially vast discussion, like asking 'what is the meaning of life?..' and which therefore:

  • can expand indefinitely;
  • contains thousands of variations, arguments and counter-arguments;
  • ultimately does not enable complete scientific resolution or clear agreement;
  • and so can completely obscure and confuse the basic and generally agreed simplicities of a particular proposition if extended too deeply.

For these reasons, the leadership philosophies below are not discussed to their fullest possible extent, or anything like it. They are explained to a basic level at which there is is generally no disagreement, and by which the main principles can be understood.


servant leadership

The terminology 'Servant Leadership' became popular in a leadership context after Robert Greenleaf's book, Servant Leadership (1977).

The concept of 'a leader who serves' has been expressed in many different ways for very much longer.

Often cited, and perhaps the earliest notable reference to servant leadership, is recorded in the Biblical teachings attributed to Jesus Christ, when he said to his twelve disciples, "And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant." (from the Bible, King James version, Matthew 20:27)

The same pronouncement is reported in the book of Mark, chapter 9:35: "If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all."

The precise interpretation of the words is open to debate, but the fundamental Biblical portrayal and advocation of self-sacrificing leadership for the service and wellbeing of followers is obvious.

This broad leadership concept of prioritising the interests of followers is of course seen in other religious codes, and the writings which support and promote them.

Elsewhere in history, folklore, popular fiction and other creative works - and in modern news stories too - we see many and various examples of 'servant leaders'. These are leaders, for the purposes of this explanation, whose service towards others and/or a worthy cause - typically to the leader's own cost or personal disadvantage - is arguably the leader's driving force. These examples all offer characterisations of the 'servant leader' leadership philosophy. There are arguments against many these examples if we delve more deeply, usually concerning wider issues of 'the greater good', but subject to the note above, the examples are valid in illustrating the basic idea about a leader who serves others:

  • Mother Theresa
  • Florence Nightingale
  • Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi
  • Nelson Mandela
  • Dalai Lama
  • Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha)
  • Martin Luther King
  • Vyasa (to whom much of the Bhagavad-Gita and foundations of the Hindu religion are commonly attributed)
  • Leo Tolstoy
  • Aung San Suu Kyi
  • George Bailey (in the film It's a Wonderful Life)
  • Aslan (the lion leader of Narnia in the book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)

The list could continue considerably (I welcome other suggestions - there are many). There would be arguments against many of these suggestions at a more deeply philosophical level, so please see them as simple icons, rather than absolutes. Also please note that while Robert Greenleaf popularised the term 'servant leadership', the examples above do not all necessarily fit neatly with Greenleaf's own definition of 'servant leadership'.

All that said, the idea of servant leadership is basically simple: that the leader serves the followers (or a cause, which benefits the followers in some way).

A leader who embodies servant leadership is not leading for reasons of status, wealth, popularity or lust for power.

Instead, a servant-leader wants to make a positive difference to the benefit of all - or at least the majority - of followers.

Crucially a servant leader also tends to do this knowingly and willingly at his or her own cost.

Returning to Robert Greenleaf's popularisation of the concept, Greenleaf asserts that leaders are not servant leaders where their actions cause suffering or disadvantage to others.

Inevitably this opens a much wider philosophical question concerning 'the greater good' - whether for example the suffering of a very few people is warranted to achieve the freedom of very many more people, but this is not for discussion here now, (see again the note above) and is not essential for a basic appreciation of what servant leadership is.

Some writers have attempted to extend the servant leadership philosophy by describing the characteristics and practices of servant leaders.

For example, Larry Spears, a former president of the Robert K Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership has listed ten characteristics of a servant leader:

  1. Listening
  2. Motivation
  3. Empathy
  4. Awareness (including self-awareness)
  5. Healing
  6. Persuasion
  7. Conceptualization
  8. Foresight
  9. Stewardship
  10. Commitment to other people's growth and a community spirit

Kent Keith (author of The Case for Servant Leadership), James Sipe and Don Frick (Seven Pillars of Servant Leadership) have listed different characteristics. There are others. The concept of Servant Leadership has become a very popular area to develop and exploit one way or another.

The main point here however is that attempting to develop a character/behavioural set from servant-leadership philosophy inevitably shifts the ideas to being Trait-based leadership theory, with the seemingly insurmountable challenge (discussed under Trait-based theories) of establishing a list of traits which can be widely agreed. They cannot.

This limitation does not undermine the value of the servant-leader philosophy, or of leadership philosophies generally. All leadership philosophies show us important aspects of leadership, while reminding us that a leadership philosophy is not in itself adequate (structurally, definitively, process-wise) for understanding, teaching and applying leadership methods in the fullest sense.


authentic leadership

The notion of 'authenticity' has been around for decades in the counselling, psychotherapy and coaching professions.

Authenticity means being true to character, true to oneself; not living through a false image or false emotions that hide the real you.

The OED definition of authentic in this context is simply:


The OED's more general definition is:

"Of undisputed origin, and not a copy."

Both definitions resonate strongly with the commonly understood meanings of authenticity in human personality and relationships.

The term 'Authentic Leadership' was first used as a term by Bill George in his book, Authentic Leadership. He wrote it in 2003, around the time of the Enron and WorldCom scandals. These big corporate crimes provoked a backlash, prompting a strong wish (certainly presented and reflected in the media and by politicians) for leaders of substance; leaders that people could trust. Authentic leaders, in other words.

Authentic leaders know and live their values and they win people's trust by being who they are, not pretending to be someone else or living up to others' expectations.

The notion of being genuine equates to being honest and truthful. Being strait and direct. Avoiding the use of 'spin' and PR and meaningless or hiding behind vague words and hollow promises.

The key to becoming an authentic leader, according to Bill George, is "...to learn how to lead yourself... it's not about competencies and skills."

So, paying attention to one's character development, inner leadership or self-mastery - whatever you want to call it - is crucial to becoming an authentic leader.

Other authors have built on Bill George's ideas.

Nick Craig, co-author with Bill George of the book, Defining Your True North, lists four elements of authentic leadership:

1. Being true to yourself in the way you work - no facade.

2. Being motivated by a larger purpose (not by your ego).

3. Being prepared to make decisions that feel right, that fit your values - not decisions that are merely politically astute or designed to make you popular.

4. Concentrating on achieving long-term sustainable results.

A difficulty in this philosophy is that as the popularity and writings around authentic leadership grow, so its definition is beginning to blur, and to overlap with other philosophies.

Given the nature of a philosophy this is inevitable

For example, an overlap exists with servant leadership in point 2 of Craig's list, which strongly implies a sense of service.

Authentic leadership is also beginning to gain a spiritual connotation, which you can see in this quote by the author Sarah Ban Breathnach: "The authentic self is the soul made visible."

Nonetheless, despite the expansion of interpretations, the philosophy of authentic leadership has gained ground in the 21st-century and the trend is likely to persist.


ethical leadership

Ethical leadership is a relatively loosely defined philosophy of leadership.

To many it is seen to equate to moral leadership, or leading with a sense of great fairness.

To others it provides a basis for more detailed explanation and application, frequently connected to principles of:

  • social responsibility
  • corporate social responsibility (CSR)
  • sustainability
  • equality
  • 'Fairtrade'
  • environmental care
  • humanitarianism

Or it may be extended more structurally, as in the 'Triple-Bottom-Line' or 3P (Profit People Planet) concept of business management, or an another view of this sort of ethical business approach, P4 (Purpose, People, Planet, Probity).

These are all vast concepts, which makes it very difficult and perhaps impossible to define ethical leadership precisely and absolutely.

Two other challenges arise:

  • The shifting and variable meanings of ethical, and
  • The cultural and religious nature of ethical interpretation.

'Ethical' means different things to different people, and to a great degree is a changing and fluid notion. What was ethical a generation ago may not be today. What is ethical today may be considered unethical in a few years time.

For example a generation ago it was not generally considered unethical to smoke tobacco in a workplace, or to eat produce battery hen's eggs. Today these practices are generally considered unethical.

Today it is not considered unethical to refer to a red-haired person as 'ginger'. Or to advertise certain financial or sex services on television. These practices might perhaps become considered unethical in the future.

Is Facebook ethical in the way it uses its hundreds of millions of users personal details to target advertising at them?

Is the drinks industry ethical in producing alcoholic drinks which will appeal to under-age drinkers?

Are governments ethical when they are almost entirely staffed by men?

All these are subject to debate and personal opinion. How then can it be possible to form a firm definition of ethical leadership when we don't know exactly what ethical means?

Similarly, modern leaders in this now very globalized world must attempt to reconcile the conflicting interpretations of 'ethical' in all cultures represented by and affected by the leader's activities and responsibilities. Is a product or service or communication developed in Washington DC ethical in Tehran? Probably not, and probably vice-versa too. Is a proposition or decision in Barcelona ethical in Beijing? Probably not, and vice-versa. Ethical disparities exist widely between different cultures, and this adds to the obstacles in defining and applying a single workable ethical leadership philosophy.

So we have to consider ethical leadership on a more pragmatic and local level.

Ethical leadership may necessarily be limited to, and more easily understood and applied by, considering the leader's own and society's ideas of 'right and wrong', and encouraging followers to adopt the same values.

It becomes tricky where a small group of followers on reasonable grounds (perhaps religious or cultural) say, "Sorry, but that's actually not ethical to me, and I can't do it.."

The ethical leader must respect the rights and dignity of others, and the rule of law, but what if different versions of this exist within the same group of followers?

Not surprisingly, as if these caveats were not enough, like other leadership philosophies, the distinctiveness of Ethical Leadership as a philosophy has begun to blur in recent years.

As educators and commentators extend its meaning, there is a growing overlap with both servant leadership and authentic leadership.

An example is the Center for Ethical Leadership's definition:

"Ethical leadership is knowing your core values and having the courage to live them in all parts of your life in service of the common good."

Knowing and living from your core values is central to authentic leadership. Acting in service of the common good features strongly in servant leadership.

We have a philosophy that is not only very open to variation and interpretation, but also has substantial overlaps with other leadership philosophies. So the philosophy is a guide, and it's flexible, but it's not a strict code, and it's certainly not a reliably transferable or teachable process for effective leadership.

The demand for leaders to behave ethically seems to have increased markedly during the 21st century. This has been driven greatly by global financial crisis, corporate frauds, environmental disasters, etc., which have been judged failures of ethical standards - not failures of skills, or resources, or technology, or strategy, or business acumen. Leaders have been judged to lack ethical consideration, which suggests the need for more ethical bias in the ways leaders are selected and developed.

So there is a gap in leadership for ethics, and ethical leadership philosophy is part of the answer, but for the reasons explained, it is not the whole answer.

More detail about ethical management and leadership has existed on this website for some years.


values-based leadership

Values-based leadership is the idea that leaders should draw on their own and followers' values for direction, inspiration and motivation.

We should first define 'values'. The OED says that values in this context means:

"Principles or standards of behaviour; one's judgement of what is important in life." (US-English, judgment)

Vales-based leadership philosophy asserts that people are mostly motivated by values; people care deeply about their personal values, and live according to these values.

In other words, values are our most natural motivators.

So it makes sense, and is natural, for leaders to refer to their own values in creating a vision or making decisions.

And equally it makes sense for leaders to connect with their followers' values - because this appeals to what is important to people - which makes people (followers) more likely to act.

Richard Barrett, author of Building a Values-Driven Organization, defines values-based leadership as "...a way of making authentic decisions that builds the trust and commitment of employees and customers."

As a philosophy, vales-based leadership assumes that an organization based around shared values is likely to be more flexible and more productive than one working towards an aim that few people care about.

Leaders who apply this philosophy are likely to experience certain inner benefits.

  • First, leaders will make better choices - that are comfortable for Leaders to act on.
  • Second, leaders are likely to build better, more trusting, less stressful relationships with followers.
  • Third, leaders are more likely to feel aligned with their 'authentic self'.

Note the third point especially. It reveals the overlap between values-based leadership and authentic leadership.

A person's values are at the core of their sense of identity; their sense of who they are. So by definition, authentic leaders will always act from their highest values.

In reading this, you might feel that values-based leadership is simply a common-sense way of leading. Indeed, you would naturally think that all the best leaders are in contact with and act on their values. You are probably right. However, executive coaches report that it is not unusual for leaders to lose contact with their values as they get into their forties and fifties (source?). This means that some of them may have to invest time in reconnecting with and defining what they care about most if they want to apply the values-based leadership philosophy.


Sources of Leadership Power - French and Raven

This is a different sort of leadership philosophy.

Unlike Servant LeadershipAuthentic LeadershipEthical Leadership and Values-Based Leadership, French and Raven's concept does not offer a view on the sort of leadership one should offer. Instead, it investigates the basis of a leader's power.

French and Raven's theory:

  • classifies the leader's main sources of power
  • analyses the followers' perceptions of a leader's position and qualities
  • shows how these perceptions affect the leader's power, and thereby the leader's freedom to lead.

It is said that you cannot be a leader if you don't have followers. Followers have to accept the leader's power or, instead, give power to the leader.

This thought led academics during the last century to want to understand why people will let themselves be led by certain leaders and not by others.

So particular investigation was aimed at the 'sources of a leader's power' and the relationship between leaders and followers.

Notably in their 1958/59 article, The Bases of Social Power, social psychologists John French and Bertram Raven identified five types of leadership power, which they grouped under two headings:

  • Positional Power - three power sources
  • Personal Power - two power sources

These five power sources in two groups are summarised in the table below:


French and Raven's Five Sources of Power  
Positional Power

Reward Power - Power based on the idea that the leader can and will grant valuable rewards if followers carry out his or her instructions.

Coercive Power - Power coming from the idea that the leader can and will penalise those who don't carry out his or her instructions.

Legitimate Power - Power flowing from a person's job title or position in the hierarchy; a position that gives them the right to issue orders.

Personal Power

Expert Power - Power that comes from having superior knowledge, expertise or experience relevant to the task or challenge facing the group.

Referent Power - Power stemming from the leader's character traits, background, image, executive presence or charisma.


Note crucially, that all five sources of power either rely on, or are strengthened by, belief of the followers.

The actual power that leaders possess in granting rewards, punishing, or issuing orders (Positional Power) is significant, but not as significant as the beliefs that followers have about them.

Even if leaders do not truly have the power to reward, punish or control others, they can exert influence if their followers believe they have such power.

The same is true of the two forms of Personal Power - Expert Power and Referent Power. The leader may not have superior expertise, but if his followers believe he has, they will grant the leader power over them - at least for a while.

Similarly, if the leader is not someone to be trusted, followers will let him lead if they've been fooled by a positive image - until they discover he cannot be trusted.

The point is that:

Power does not depend only on the leader; power depends also on the perceptions that the followers have of the leader.

The taking and giving of power stems from a relationship between leader and follower, and how the followers perceive the leader.

It is reasonable to suggest that decades ago most organizational leaders relied on Positional Power. However, there is more questioning of authority by followers in the 21st century and an impressive job title doesn't guarantee leadership power. This is why the two variants of Personal Power - Expert Power and Referent Power - are now so important.


leadership styles [edit]

A brief reminder of the definitions and differences between Models, Philosophies, and Styles:

A leadership model provides a process or framework for learning, applying, and adapting leadership for given groups, organizations, or situations.

leadership philosophy is a way of thinking and behaving in leadership - its aims and means - according to values and beliefs.

A leadership style is a narrow and specific behaviour compared to a model or philosophy. Leadership style may be strongly influenced by the leader's personality, the aims of the leader, and relationship with followers.

model is like a 'how-to' framework, a toolkit or a process.

philosophy is like a subtle but powerful compass or behavioural code.

A style is a description of a leader's behaviours, and may also be like a tool in the leadership models toolkit.

For more details, see definitions and differences of Models, Philosophies and Styles in the context of leadership theory.

This section explains Leadership styles - one of the three main categories of leadership theories, alongside Leadership Models, and Leadership Philosophies.

Leadership styles are quite different to leadership models, and leadership philosophies. For a detailed reminder of these main categories in the context of leadership theory refer again to the definitions and differences of Models, Philosophies and Styles. A brief reminder is shown in the panel right.

Leadership styles, as we define them here, refer not to models or philosophies of leadership, but to descriptions or classifications of the main ways in which real-life leaders behave.

A different way to see this is that a style can be part of a model, but not the other way around.

A style is a much narrower behaviour, or a smaller set of behaviours, than would be featured in a model.

Also, a leadership style is not an adaptable flexible 'toolkit' - it is a relatively tightly defined description of a particular type of leadership.

Unlike leadership models, the aim of leadership styles is not to help individuals become better leaders; it is simply to describe the main forms of leadership we see in the world, some of which can be incorporated within models, albeit under slightly different names and with slightly different features.

Some authors use the headings 'leadership models' and 'leadership styles' interchangeably, which is confusing.

Here we explore the following four leadership styles:


Transformational and Transactional Leadership

James MacGregor Burns, who studied political leaders like Roosevelt and Kennedy, first described these two distinct styles of leadership in his 1978 book, Leadership.

He used the word 'transforming' rather than 'transformational'. Both terms are used here. They mean the same.

Here are the descriptions and differences of the two styles:

Burns' Transforming and Transactional leadership styles
Transforming LeadershipTransactional Leadership

Where the leader taps into his followers' higher needs and values, inspires them with new possibilities that have strong appeal and raises their level of confidence, conviction and desire to achieve a common, moral purpose.

Where the leader causes a follower to act in a certain way in return for something the follower wants to have (or avoid). For example, by offering higher pay in return for increased productivity; or tax cuts in exchange for votes.

Many political leaders demonstrate the transactional style. Mahatma Gandhi was an exemplar (a typical example) of someone who leads using the transforming or transformational style. The transformational leadership style therefore can have an overlap with the servant leader leadership philosophy.

There are three main differences between the two styles of transformational and transactional leadership.

  1. The first involves purpose
  2. The second involves morality
  3. The third involves the timescale or time horizon
differences between Transformational and Transactional leadership styles
 Purpose  Morality  Timescale  
A shared higher, more stretching purpose is central to transformational leadership.No shared purpose binds follower and leader, other than perhaps maintaining the status quo.Burns said there is always a moral aspect to transforming leadership.*There is no explicit moral side to transactional leadership - the leader's aims may be moral or immoral.Transforming leadership centres on longer-term, more difficult (often more inspiring) aims.Transactional leadership usually focuses on leaders' and followers' shorter-term needs.

* So although Hitler transformed Germany in the 1930s, under Burns' definition he would not be a transforming leader. Some scholars have used the term 'pseudo-transformational leaders' for those who pursue immoral aims.


So, while the defining feature of transactional leadership is a two-way exchange ("I'll give you this if you give me that"), the main features of transforming leadership are inspiration, mobilisation and moral purpose.

Indeed, MacGregor Burns summarised transforming leadership like this:

"Such leadership occurs when one or more persons engage with others in such a way that leaders and followers raise one another to higher levels of motivation and morality."

And when he talked about morality, he meant leadership that "...can produce social change that will satisfy followers' authentic needs."

Of the two styles, transforming leadership is more likely to achieve major change than transactional leadership - mainly because, by definition, the former goes after more ambitious goals.


Bernard Bass

Bernard Bass (author of Leadership and Performance Beyond Expectations, 1985) built on MacGregor Burns' ideas.

He used the term 'transformational leadership' instead of 'transforming leadership' and since then most authors have followed his lead.

Bass also strengthened the idea that transformational leaders have the greater impact when he wrote:

"Transactional leaders work within the organizational culture as it exists; the transformational leader changes the organizational culture."

Bass argued that there are four keys to successful transformational leadership:

1. Trust - building a high degree of trust between leaders and followers by setting a high moral and ethical example. He called this idealised influence.

2. Inspiration - providing a vision or goals that inspire and motivate followers to act because they feel the direction they are going in is significant and worthwhile. This he called inspirational motivation.

3. Creativity - giving people the big picture and a way of working that allows them to question conventional wisdom and come up with fresh solutions to old problems. He called this intellectual stimulation.

4. Personal growth - paying attention to followers as individuals with their own needs and ambitions, offering them coaching and mentoring, enabling them to grow and feel fulfilled. This he called individual consideration.


Although we are referring to two different styles of leadership, it wouldn't be correct to say that someone must be either a transformational leader or a transactional leader. It is possible to combine both styles.

(It is also reasonable to suggest that no leader need be confined to one or other of these two styles, because as we shall see, other styles certainly exist, and this is before we consider the potential influence of philosophies and models upon any leader's chosen methods and development.)

That said, while we are presently concerned with transformational and transactional styles, consider this example of 'style switching':

While leaders in transformational mode would normally try to attain the backing of followers by appealing to their values and offering an inspirational vision, the leader may meet resistance. At times like this, a leader may adopt the transactional style to create more of a traditional exchange by trading something that the leadership can offer (desired by followers) in return for something the leadership seeks from the followers.

The transactional leadership style often works well - provided everyone knows and agrees on the goals, priorities and methods.

It can be helpful and relevant at this point to consider the psychological contract and surrounding theory.

However, the transactional style may not work when the situation calls for a big change in direction, or circumstances demand creative problem solving. In such a climate, a transformational style is often required and tends to be more successful.

You will notice that the transformational leadership style overlaps with the leadership philosophies:

To a far lesser degree, transformational leadership can be a limited feature within aspects of leadership models which allow and respond to the growth of followers, for example, we can recognise transformational elements in:

As suggested several times previously, we see demonstration that these various ideas on leadership may be distinct, but they are not necessarily separate from each other.


charismatic leadership

The word 'charisma' comes originally from the Greek language. It meant basically 'gift', from the Greek kharisma and kharis, meaning 'grace' or 'favour' - a favour or grace or gift given by God.

A detailed guide to charisma theory has existed separately on this website for a while. The material explains charisma more deeply and technically, and offers useful insights for charismatic leadership, for example the origins and definitions of charisma, and the analysis of developing charisma itself.

The modern meaning of charisma has altered greatly, but the original meaning resonates appealingly today, because charismatic leaders rely on their personality 'gifts' to influence people and shape their future.

These gifts can include great wisdom or insight, heroism, extraordinary certainty about the future, and perhaps even the claim of a direct link to God, by which a leader may refer to 'God' (or a similar sense of righteousness) as a guide/justification/judge for a difficult and controversial decision. The use of 'God' in such situations of course avoids a degree of personal accountability (on the basis that 'God's judgement' cannot be questioned, and certainly not by followers), and is also a very effective 'charismatic power' technique - whether conscious or otherwise - for a leader to appeal to a big majority of followers by referring to a big scary mysterious force (God) that is implied to approve of the leader's actions. The 'God factor' is by no means central to charismatic leadership, but it very relevantly illustrates the 'follower projection', which is a crucial feature of charismatic leadership:

Charismatic leadership demands more than just a remarkable personality. The followers must also project an image of specialness and authority onto the leader and give the leader power over them.

Charismatic leadership therefore relies on the twin effect of a leader's personality and a strong belief by followers that this special person is the one to lead them in their hour of need.

German sociologist and political economist Max Weber (1864-1920) too saw charismatic leadership distinctly as a relationship between leader and followers. In Weber's view, charismatic leadership has no moral dimension; it can be a force for good or evil. Using Weber's definition, there is a single indicator of charismatic leadership, which is: do the followers grant authority to the leader based on their view of his or her special gifts? If the answer is yes, this is charismatic leadership. In Weber's eyes therefore, Adolf Hitler was as much a charismatic leader as Jesus Christ.

Without separate support (such as a loyal army or secret police) charismatic leaders can only hold power while followers continue to believe in the leader's specialness. If the leader disappoints the followers in some way, perhaps because previously hidden flaws are exposed, or the leader fails to deliver promises, the followers' belief tends to fade, draining charismatic leaders of their authority. For this reason, charismatic leadership runs the risk of being unstable and short-lived.

Charismatic leadership is greatly dependent on credibility. The leader's power remains unless credibility is lost. When a charismatic leader loses credibility, the followers seek new leadership or ways to oust the damaged leader.

To guard against this risk, charismatic leadership may involve a 'cult of personality' to prevent followers realising that their leader is less impressive than they think. Accordingly propaganda and manipulation of media is often used to create and uphold an idealised public image of the leader, often backed up by extreme flattery and praise. We see this in political 'spin' and the work of 'spin doctors'. We also see it in certain organizations, such as Richard Branson's Virgin empire, by which the leader's image is very strongly managed through intensive PR (Public Relations) activities. All large corporations employ PR agencies to help present the corporation in a positive light in the media. For many high profile organizations the protection and enhancement of the leader's image is a big priority in these publicity methods.

(While not central to charismatic leadership theory, this relates interestingly to social identity theory - see BIRGing for a quick insight as to why image and branding are significant in attracting followers.)

Although charismatic leadership can be short-lived, it can also leave a lasting legacy if the leader's policies and teachings are preserved in laws, rules and norms and there is a bureaucracy to uphold them. You will see this long ago happening, for example, in the major religions of the world. We are perhaps seeing the establishment of substantial legacies in modern times too in the charisma and reputation of recent charismatic leaders such as Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, and Fidel Castro.

Charismatic leadership can be effective in the sense that it can cause swift change. Followers become highly mobilised and enthused. We see the potential for action by followers on a vast scale when a particularly charismatic figure dies. Princess Diana is a notable example. Millions of people are moved to action, motivated by the charismatic effect of a human presence who for extraordinary reasons can captivate a vast audience. The same sort of huge effect by a charismatic person on a big group of followers is also demonstrated by the influence of major figures in music and sport. Some charismatic people achieve so much success that they are able to transfer their reputations and followings to entirely different arenas, for example Imran Khan, the Pakistani politician and former cricketing hero. Victoria Beckham, wife of footballer David Beckham, has successfully migrated and developed huge following from the world of pop music to fashion and business. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former body-builder and film-star became a very long-serving Governor of California. And in December 2011 the Russian Duma lower house of parliament welcomed three newly elected members: 'Playboy Russia' covergirl Maria Kozhevnikova, boxer Nikolai Valuyev, and tennis player Marat Safin.

Many of these examples are not leaders in a traditional sense, but they have commanded/do command a significant following. They influence other people's behaviour and thinking. They do so largely because of their relationship with their followers, within which the vital element and source of the leader's 'power' is the special quality that the followers project onto the 'leader'.

What all this tells us is that charismatic leadership is very much dependent on the perceptions and needs of followers, and especially followers who are impressed or seduced by powerful human images of success, capability, achievement, etc. There is a need in many people to follow this sort of ideal image. The decision to follow leaders like this has relatively lower dependence on reasoned analysis of what the leader will do - it is far more driven by how the leader makes the followers feel.

It is not surprising given the subjective and emotional drivers involved, that charismatic leadership offers potentially big risks for followers, and also to other people who may be affected by such a vast, energised, and emotionally-charged following.

dangers and risks of charismatic leadership

Here are examples of the risks associated with charismatic leadership:

  • Charismatic leadership - probably more than any other sort of leadership style, philosophy, model, or any other leadership method - can be used for evil or unethical purposes. Examples throughout history up to modern times are sadly plentiful.
  • Charismatic leadership can create dependency among followers. This may cause followers to assume that the leader and supporting team have all the answers, and so followers take less responsibility for themselves and for (perhaps vital) initiatives. This effect ironically threatens charismatic leaders, when, lacking innovation and responsibility in the ranks of the followers, organizational aims are increasing missed, group effectiveness and results reduce, and so the leader's credibility suffers, together with the wellbeing of the dependent followers.
  • Charismatic leadership can encourage a belief among followers that the leader is infallible. No one questions the leader's authority or judgement or decisions, even when seen to be wrong. And so the group effort fails.
  • Charismatic leadership is more likely to produce early group/organizational failures - because the charismatic leader is actually incapable or out of his/her depth.

Other examples can be seen wherever a leader's power based chiefly on a specialness projected onto the leader by followers. These situations perhaps teach us more about the inadequacies of followers, than the inadequacies of charismatic leaders. The world is full of needy easily impressed people, and so charismatic leaders will probably continue to rise to power for a very long while, if only for relatively short periods and often with unhappy consequences.

Charisma does however have a part to play in effective leadership when we view it as a genuinely positive quality of the leader, rather than a superficially 'special' quality projected by a group of followers. To understand this it is useful to redefine charisma..

charismatic leadership and 'presence'

James Scouller says in The Three Levels of Leadership that charisma is not the same as 'presence'.

He defines charisma as:

"A combination of outer charm, power and persuasiveness."

Scouller points out that a leader may appear charismatic largely through skilful acting, and describes such charisma as an outer image lacking a deeper core.

He contrasts this with 'presence', which he defines as:

"An inner sense of wholeness with an outer reflection... Leaders with presence may be charismatic in style, but equally, they may be quiet or contemplative... Leaders who rely on charisma alone - that is, charisma without presence - lack the depth, resilience and capacity for wisdom, which we see in leaders whose charisma flows from their underlying presence."

There is obviously an overlap between the transformational leadership and charismatic leadership styles where the transforming leader is also charismatic. The two styles however are quite different.

The transforming leader's focus is, by definition, on positive, moral change. Charismatic leaders may not want to change anything - they may want to preserve the status quo - and, as we've seen, they may also use their power for immoral aims.

Somewhat obviously, where a charismatic leader behaves also with narcissistic tendencies (very selfish, self-admiring and craving admiration of others) then Charismatic leadership overlaps or may equate to narcissistic leadership, which is explained below.


narcissistic leadership

First the dictionary definition of narcissism, in a psychological context:

"Extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one's own talents and a craving for admiration, as characterizing a personality type." (Oxford English dictionary)

In fact the term is applied far more widely than this, depending on context, from reference to severe mental disorder, ranging through many informal social interpretations typically referring to elitism and arrogance, and at the opposite end of the scale, to a healthy interest in one's own mind and wellbeing, related to feelings of high emotional security - the opposite of insecurity and inadequacy.

For more detail about the interesting origins of the concept, see narcissism in the cliches and words origins glossary.

As for narcissistic leadership, the dictionary definition of narcissism is a good starting point, but as we shall see, the narcissistic leadership style is very difficult to define precisely, and is arguably better viewed as a flexible scale, or a sort of continuum.

Narcissistic leadership is a style that began to capture public attention from 2000 onwards following a flurry of articles and books by Michael Maccoby, Kets de Vries and others.

In essence, narcissistic leadership refers to leadership by a narcissist and the co-dependent relationship it involves between the leader and his closest circle of followers.

Narcissism - in a negative psychological and leadership sense - stems from an unconscious active behavioural response to deep, unrecognized feelings of inadequacy.

This means that the person is unconsciously driven by hidden feelings of inadequacy, to behave in a controlling and energetic way, which enables dominance and initiative.

The passive response to a narcissistic condition does not produce a leadership intent, instead commonly people:

  • feel deeply inadequate
  • believe failure comes from trying new or bold things, and so
  • decide that it's better not to take a risk
  • (basically people think that risk = failure = humiliation, so avoid risk and then for sure feel inadequate, or justify avoidance by saying the risky opportunity was of no value or misguided)

However, conventionally described narcissists respond to their feelings of inadequacy in the opposite way and are more extraverted and outward in their behaviours. They tend to strive to succeed in public, to be better than others, to have more than others, to feel superior, and to win respect, admiration, and acclaim from others.

The main feature of the narcissist in a leadership context is a drive to succeed, motivated by a (usually) hidden sense of inferiority and inadequacy.

However, as already explained, narcissism varies in intensity from very mild (basically inconsequential) to pathological conditions (referring to sickness/disease/illness). At the pathological end is severe narcissistic personality disorder. It is tempting to suggest that some of today's biggest corporations, and some countries, are led by people possessing such extreme tendencies, although this might be a slight exaggeration; hopefully you see the point. Narcissism, perhaps especially in extreme forms, can enable and sustain leaders in significant leadership roles, for a significant time. The situation will probably be very unhealthy for their followers and for lots more people connected to the group, but the leader, given extreme narcissism will not be troubled by this at all.

Conversely there are various forms and interpretations of positive healthy narcissism. For each possible negative narcissistic characteristic there exists a positive alternative:

An interesting paper, 'The long-term organizational impact of destructively narcissistic managers' (Roy Lubit, 2002) published by the Academy of Management in 2002, highlighted examples of this positive/negative aspect of narcissism by contrasting the positive/negative effects of certain narcissistic impulses, the main examples summarised here:

  • confidence - is potentially helpful or unrealistic;
  • power/admiration-seeking - is potentially a healthy energy or reckless;
  • relationships - potentially entail concern for others, or 'spin' and remorseless exploitation of others
  • consistency/direction - potentially has values or lacks values

The variable interpretation of narcissism inevitably hinders specific definition of 'narcissistic leadership'.

Aside from deciding whether the narcissism contains healthy elements or not, assumptions are required as to extent of negativity. Simply - how serious is the leader's narcissistic behaviour?

Logically then we can think of narcissistic leadership as being a flexible concept or continuum.

A very basic presentation of a 'narcissistic leadership continuum' is offered below. The continuum is expressed with a strong bias towards the negative extreme because in practice this is more typical in groups where a narcissistic leader is in charge. Also, the narcissistic leadership style would be relatively unremarkable if the majority of narcissistic leaders were positive healthy personalities. In reality, narcissistic leadership succeeds (with limited and qualified and sometimes disastrous effects) because of a leader's negative narcissistic tendencies. These may combine constantly or occasionally with a few positive aspects, but broadly the effects of narcissistic leadership are negative.

<--------- Narcissistic Leadership Continuum --------------------------------------------------------->   
Healthy/PositiveGrey areaUnhealthy/Destructive/Negative



Attracts followers.

Acts boldly.





Positive and negative aspects merge here.

Positive aspects may be or occasionally become prominent and enabling towards aims, which helps to sustain the style and the leader, and the followers.

Leader does not have good self-image.

Gathers people who bolster leader's self-esteem.

Co-dependence between leader and followers if they also suffer hidden feelings of inadequacy.

Without realising it, followers cluster around the narcissistic leader to feel better about themselves by association.

Followers work with the 'impressive, important leader so we too must share these qualities to some degree' - or so they believe.

There is emotional and potentially material and reputational benefit for leader and followers.

The sense of inadequacy that drives a narcissistic leader is also the source of the common problems of narcissistic leadership. This is because narcissistic leaders are often:

  • Prone to grandiose, unrealistic visions and over-estimating their wisdom and judgement - so they may take foolish risks.
  • Unusually sensitive to criticism and liable to fly into a rage - which makes it hard and risky to disagree with them or tell them bad news. It can also make them slow to learn.
  • Lacking in empathy - and because narcissistic leaders are often very 'street-wise', followers may be exploited with no care for consequences. This is unethical and potentially unlawful too (given rightly toughening employment laws), and eventually causes followers to desert or mutiny if exploitation is too great and rewards are too scant.
  • Likely to gather a bunch of 'yes-men' around them, which can lead to poor decisions.
  • Distrustful and so keen to win that they can create an atmosphere of infighting, suspicion and intense internal competition, making teamwork harder.

Note that narcissistic leadership and charismatic leadership can overlap because narcissists are often charismatic.

There are other similar characteristics between the styles - potentially many, given the vagueness of the two styles.

However, not all charismatic leaders are acting from a deep unrecognised sense of inadequacy and narcissism.

Again we see that a leadership style offers lots of useful insights as to what makes leadership effective and ineffective, but also demonstration that a leadership style is not a suitable theoretical concept by which to teach, learn, apply and adapt effective leadership.


summary and conclusion

We have explored the differences between leadership and management and seen that leadership is quite different, and much more difficult to analyse, measure, and also to teach and develop. It is therefore more difficult to identify potentially good leaders than to identify potentially good managers.

We have examined and clarified leadership terminology especially the main categories and subgroups used in this article, because part of the confusion that exists in leadership theory, is the varying terminologies and meanings applied to different terms.

Central to this is the structure and explanation for organizing the leadership theories in this article according to:

Leadership Models

Leadership Philosophies

Leadership Styles

By clarifying these terminology definitions and terminology differences (what the terminologyitself means in this article), we aim to improve the understanding, teaching and retention of the leadership theories and the leadership subject itself. Our structure and categories do not represent a generic or widely established framework for organizing the leadership theory subject - it's simply what we think works best, and hopefully it's worked for you too.

We welcome suggestions of further improvements, and also incidentally of any omitted theories that are worthy of inclusion. We have some in mind already and welcome your ideas.

We then looked at leadership definitions - what leadership is and what leadership means. We can see that leadership can be interpreted to mean a very wide variety of things, and that when discussing leadership it is important to agree the definitions and scope of the subject, because the word 'leadership' - and indeed any short phrase including the word 'leadership' - will never implicitly clarify the scale and dimensions and issues of the proposed subject.

We explored leadership purpose - the aims and responsibilities of an effective leader - and suggested that certain commentators (Adair, Scouller and others) make an important point when differentiating between a leader, and leadership, and that the two are definitely different separate concepts. Very closely related of course, but separate. This is a key point when seen from the view that a leader's responsibility is not always necessarily to lead from the front, and in a hands-on and direct way; instead the leader's responsibility is to ensure that suitable leadership is provided for any group within the (ultimate) leader's charge, at all times. This may be delegated to another person, or it may be offered by the ultimate leader.

In discussing these issues we also looked at the crucial differences between responsibility and accountability, and how these concepts correlate to the accountability held by the ultimate leader, and the responsibility which may be delegated to a junior leader. In discussing this we also looked at the failings of leaders who delegate accountability with responsibility, and thereby avoid accountability themselves. An (ultimate) leader may delegate full accountability to a junior leader rarely and carefully, and even then, it is debatable whether the ultimate leader is actually justified in avoiding accountability if things go wrong (since the delegation and appointment must have been the ultimate leader's).

We also listed a few of the most commonly arising leadership terms in a leadership glossary to explain the main leadership terminology used on this webpage, and elsewhere, simply and concisely.

We then focused on the leadership theories themselves, initially offering a leadership theories overview and structure - of how the theories are organized for this particular presentation, and then a detailed summary of the theories concerned in each category:

Leadership Models

Leadership Philosophies

Leadership Styles

I do not propose to summarise each of the theories, merely to comment on the main categories and points arising:

Leadership models, as emphasised strongly already, are far more like 'toolkits' and processes than leadership philosophies or leadership styles.

Leadership models enable to varying degrees leadership to be understood, taught, applied and adapted. This is possible because they allow for different types of followers, situations and leaders. They are by nature flexible and adaptable. They contain correlations and scales, continuums and keys, and also enable, again to varying degrees, some sort of measurement and benchmarking of standards and ranges.

Philosophies very effectively convey a sense of connection and relationship between leadership and the world outside the group or organization being led. Models don't do this very well because they tend to focus on the leader and the group, or at widest, the organizational situation.

The point should be noted also at the vast variation of types of models. There really is something for everyone, and the thought of a leader being armed with all the models, and able to bring different methods into play very selectively and appropriately certainly conjures the image of a very potent leader indeed. That is provided the leader has taken due note and learning from relevant leadership philosophies and leadership styles..

On the subject of leadership styles: they are very difficult to define, and very difficult to use, unless they happen to fit naturally to your personality. And even then the style may be, and my guess is that it will certainly be, completely unsuitable for the situation/group/organization you find yourself leading.

Leadership styles show us how certain leaders behave - lots of this theory doesn't work. Some of it does, but whatever, the study and use of leadership styles is no basis for constructing a leadership development programme.

This article has been produced in cooperation with James Scouller, who has provided most of the technical content. His knowledge and insights in this subject are considerable. James Scouller's approach to leadership theory is his 'integrated psychological' ideas, and his Three Levels of Leadership model.

Scouller's idea of integrating the best of the established theories, with suitable relevant psychological thinking, represents a natural and sensible development in the field of leadership theory.

Leadership models are useful and perhaps the best toolkit if you can have only one, but they work best when the leader is additionally able to draw on - to integrate - the best of what leadership philosophies and leadership styles theory can offer.

Leadership is a fascinatingly challenging and complex subject. It combines visible logic with human nature - the human nature of the leader and the human nature of the followers. It also has crucially to refer to what is happening in the outside world - increasingly so in modern times - because all leaders now truly need a global appreciation, and they all need to be adaptable to fast-changing external systemic issues.

Good leaders are not born good leaders. Good leaders become good leaders because they work at it - multi-dimensionally, structurally, passionately, and compassionately.

No single model covers all these aspects. No single type of theory (Models, Philosophies, styles or any other category you care to imagine) covers all these aspects.

The best leaders draw on everything they can to become good, and to stay good.


acknowledgments - and James Scouller biography

I am grateful to James Scouller for his help, patience, and expert contribution in producing this free leadership theory guide.

James Scouller is an executive coach and partner at The Scouller Partnership in the UK, which specialises in coaching leaders. He was chief executive of three international companies for eleven years before becoming a professional coach in 2004. He holds two postgraduate coaching qualifications and trained in applied psychology at the Institute of Psychosynthesis in London.

James Scouller's book is called The Three Levels of Leadership: How to Develop Your Leadership Presence, Know-how and Skill. It was published in May 2011. I commend it to you, and his thinking too.

You can learn more about James Scouller's book at Three-Levels-of-Leadership.com.

Details of James Scouller's executive coaching work are at TheScoullerPartnership.co.uk.


main references and further reading

Personal Factors Associated with Leadership: a Survey of the Literature, Journal of Psychology paper, Ralph Stogdill, 1948

Organizational Behaviour, David Buchanan and Andrzej Huczynski, 1985

The Leadership Challenge, James Kouzes and Barry Posner, 1987

The Managerial Grid: The Key to Leadership Excellence, Robert Blake and Jane Mouton, 1964

Kurt Lewin, Leadership Behaviour paper, Journal of Social Psychology, 1939

How to Choose a Leadership Pattern, Harvard Business Review article, Robert Tannenbaum and Warren Schmidt, 1958

A Theory of Leadership Effectiveness, Fred Fiedler, 1967

A Path-Goal Theory of Leader Effectiveness, Robert House T R Mitchell, 1971/74

Management of Organizational Behavior: Utilizing Human Resources, Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard, 1982

Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice and Leadership, Lee Bolman and Terry Deal, 1991

Effective Leadership, John Adair, 1983

Robert Greenleaf, Servant Leadership, 1977

The Bases of Social Power, John French and Bertram Raven, 1958/59

Leadership, James MacGregor Burns, 1978

Leadership and Performance Beyond Expectations, Bernard Bass, 1985

Leading Change, John Kotter, 1996

The Case for Servant Leadership, Kent Keith

Seven Pillars of Servant Leadership, James Sipe and Don Frick, 2009

The Long-Term Organizational Impact of Destructively Narcissistic Managers, Roy Lubit, 2002

Guide to the Management Gurus, Carol Kennedy, 1991/2002

Leadership Theory and Practice, Peter Northouse, 2010

The Three Levels of Leadership: How to Develop Your Leadership Presence, Know-how and Skill, James Scouller, 2011


additions and amendments

We have taken great care in producing this leadership theories guide. It aims to be fair, balanced, and accurate, with adequate levels of information, which are not exhaustive and yet convey the essential principles of the theories presented.

The range of subjects covered seeks to represent the most significant leadership theories for successfully understanding, teaching and developing effective leadership capability. (It should be noted incidentally that there are many additional ways to explore leadership besides leadership theories, plenty of which are also offered freely and in great depth on this website.)

You might have suggestions for other leadership theories to be included here, and/or you might have corrections or suggestions for improving the existing materials offered. Whatever, your suggestions and comments are welcome.

As with the entire website, your feedback is helpful in improving the quality of its materials, thank you.

Details of significant additions and corrections will be listed here as and when they arise.


training/teaching use - note

Please note that some of the theories contained in this guide are closely related to, or equate to, protected proprietary products. To train or teach such concepts, especially where you could be viewed as exploiting a protected system, often requires permissions and licencing from the owners of the concepts concerned. Precise usage rules in training/teaching/education may vary in different regions of the world, and the difference between fair and reasonable educational reference, and commercial exploitation is often a matter of fine judgment. For these reasons it is very difficult to offer a clear easy general rule for the use of these materials in teaching/training situations, other than to say: If in doubt about your usage you must check with a local qualified expert on such matters, and where applicable certainly also the owner of the concept(s) concerned, and seek permission/licence where required.


See also [edit]


© James Scouller and Alan Chapman 2011-14. First published 24 Feb 2012. Minor revisions ongoing. Subsequent additional sections dated accordingly.