Free Essay

Leadership Theories

Leadership is the process by which a person inspires others to achieve their objectives (Peter, 2007). The most formative leadership theories are the Trait and Situational Leadership Theories. This paper analyses the two theories and identifies their; weaknesses, differences, and gaps in the literature and concludes by offering recommendations on how to choose effective leadership styles.


Trait theory

The trait theory, widely known as the ‘Great Man Theory’ (Asrar-ul-Haq & Anwa, 2018 is one of the earliest theories of leadership and is the basis of early research on leadership (Fleenor, 2011). It focuses on the personal traits of leaders like personality characteristics such as self-confidence, intelligence, courage, empathy, and decisiveness in leaders, and physical characteristics. It holds that these characters define an effective leader.

Conflict and Criticism

            Although the theory is relatively simple, it fails to produce precise results and is criticized for its generality and subjective nature. Moreover, the theory cannot withstand all circumstances since character changes over time, and the list of personal traits is not uniform. The lack of uniformity on traits makes it difficult to define effective leadership based on this theory.

Gaps in Literature

            The majority of literature and research on this theory was conducted during the first half of the twentieth century. The gaps in the literature include:

The literature overemphasizes the role of personal character in influencing leadership but ignores other important variables such as the environment (Chattopadhyay, 2015), organizational resources, sociological factors, and technology which influence styles of effective leadership.

The Situational Leadership Theory

            This theory was developed by Blanchard and Hersey in 1969 (Graeff, 1983). It suggests that no single style of leadership is the best; instead, the style of leadership depends on the situation at hand and the nature of a leader’s team and similar factors that contribute to development.

Conflict and Criticism

            The theory can be criticized from a practical basis. For example, it is unclear whether a leader with many subordinates should lead by matching his/her style with the overall situation of his/her entire staff or to the situation of a single member of the staff. Existing research does not address this issue, and more research is needed to elaborate on how a leader can adapt their style simultaneously to the situation of entire groups and an individual.

Gaps in Literature

Only a few studies have been conducted to justify the assumptions set forth by the theory. Although there are various theses on the topic, they remain unpublished. The lack of literature on the theory raises questions about the theoretical basis of the theory. The questions include whether the approach is valid and whether the approach can indeed improve performance.


Both theories utilize behaviours in the context of leadership; however, there are substantial differences in both theories. The situational theory implies that leaders need to be flexible to adapt to changing situations. It assumes that these different situations influence how a leader acts. Conversely, the Trait theory assumes that personal characteristics that individuals are born with and not any other aspects leadership style.


In sum, the paper substantiates that the trait theory as a leadership theory is insufficient, one cannot rely on individual character traits to define a leader. Moreover, much as the situational theory seems appealing, the research revealed that it depends on a leader to objectively access current situations and base their leadership on such situations, as such, it focuses on immediate needs rather than on long-term needs. Therefore, a good leader should consider incorporating various theories into their leadership styles to optimize their goal.


Asrar-ul-Haq, M., & Anwa, S. (2018). The many faces of leadership: Proposing research agenda through a review of literature. Future Business Journal4, 180.

Chattopadhyay, J. (2015). Factors Impacting Leadership Effectiveness: A Literature Review. Arabian Journal of Business and Management Review5(6), 156. doi: 10.4172/2223-5833.1000156

Graeff, C. (1983). The Situational Leadership Theory: A Critical View. Academy Of Management Review8(2), 285-291.

Fleenor, J. (2011). Trait Approach to Leadership (p. 830). Relatively neglected.

Peter, P. (2007). Leadership theory and practice (3rd ed.). New Delhi: Thousand Oak.

Get a 10% discount on an order above $50