Leadership Theory Simplified
in our culture today.
Book stores have
shelves full of
books on leader
daily on tele
on the web. As a result, many mixed
messages about leadership are
expressed. So – how do you decide
what is accurate?
Read the inside cover of a
leadership book and you may find
that the book is more about manage
ment and business than leadership. A
magazine or newspaper may just
express the opinion of a famous
person about leadership. While the
perspective of a well-known leader or
the insight offered in a book may be
valuable, you may want to ask – is
this information supported by
research? An understanding of the
existing leadership research may
help you shape your own opinion
about what is good leadership. Once
you determine what is good leader
ship, you can begin to develop your
own leadership approach.
Visit our web site at:
What is leadership? There are
almost as many definitions of leader
ship as there are books and opinions
about leadership. You may want to
define leadership for yourself.
Write your definition of leadership:
A commonly accepted definition
of leadership is a process used by an
individual to influence a group of
members toward a common goal
(Bass, 1990; Howell and Costley,
2001). Maxwell (1993) simply states
that leadership is influence.
The following overview of
leadership theories is intended to
provide a synopsis of some of the
research conducted on leadership in
the last 50 years. There is a list of
suggested reading (page 4) to help
you learn more about the theories
that appeal to you.
University of Arkansas, United States Department of Agriculture, and County Governments Cooperating
Seven Common Views of
There are some common beliefs, which include
both fact and fiction, about leadership that can be
summarized into seven views of leadership (Lee and
1. The Genetic View – Some people are born with
leadership talents and others are not. Only
certain people can learn to lead effectively; they
are naturals. If you do not have this inborn
talent, there is nothing you can do.
2. The Learned View – If you study leadership
carefully and practice, you can learn to be an
effective leader, no matter whom you are. In a
sense, this is the opposite of the genetic view.
This view is common in the military and among
leadership development professionals.
3. The Heroic View – The only good leaders are
those who perform courageous, wise and compas
sionate feats that the rest of us can’t. Think of the
movie roles played by Gary Cooper, Jimmy
Stewart and John Wayne. The perception is that
this is the type of leaders who get the rest of us
out of trouble.
4. The Top-Only View – Leadership only happens at
or close to the top of an organization. Everyone
else “just follows orders.” If you are not the boss,
you are nothing. If you are the boss, you are
everything anyone could wish for. Being “the boss”
is the ultimate goal.
5. The Social Script View – When it is your proper
turn to be the leader, you will be asked. When
asked, you should accept and be grateful. After
all, not everyone is asked. This approach is
common in professional associations and civic or
6. The Position View – If you are in the job and
have the title, you are a leader. This idea is tradi
tional in bureaucracies and highly structured
organizations and carries some validity even in
the most effective systems. If your title is phrased
“director of…” or “head of…,” your leadership
virtues are assumed.
7. The Calling View – Although not necessarily a