A number of theories and approaches to study leadership have been developed. There are broadly three theories of leadership.

  • Trait Theory
  • Behavior Theory
  • Contingency Theory


(a)        Trait Theory

This theory of studying leadership is taken into consideration to analyze the personal, psychological and physical traits of strong leaders. The assumption made in this theory was that some basic traits or set of traits differentiates leaders from non-leaders. For example, the leadership traits might include intelligence, assertiveness, above average height, self-confidence, initiative and understanding of interpersonal human relations. The existence of these traits determines the importance of leadership. Possession of these traits helps the individuals to gain possession of leadership. Since all individuals do not have these qualities, only those who have them would be considered potential leaders.

Some of the weakness of this theory is:

  • All the traits are not identical with regard to essential characteristics of a leader.
  • Some traits may not be inherited, but can only be acquired by training.
  • It does not identify the traits that are most important and that are least important for a successful leader.
  • It does not explain the leadership failures, in spite of the required traits.
  • It has been found that many traits exhibited by leaders are also found among followers without explaining as to why followers could not become leaders.
  • It is difficult to define traits in absolute terms.
  • Thus, the trait theory has been criticized for lack of conclusiveness and predictability.


(b)        Behavior Theory

The behavioral theory assumed that effective leaders behaved differently from ineffective leaders. It also identified the need of consistency of behavior of good leaders. This theory can be more clearly understood with the help of following case studies.

  • The Michigan Studies: Researchers at the University of. Michigan, led by Rensis Likert, began studying leadership in the late 1940s. Depending on broad discussions with both the managers and sub-ordinates, the Michigan studies identified two forms of leadership behavior. They are discussed as below:

Job-centered leadership behavior :  The first was called job-centered leadership behavior, which focuses on performances and efficient completion of the assigned tasks. A job-centered leader interacts with group members to explain task procedures and oversee their work.

Employee centered leadership behavior: The second behavior was identified as employee centered leader behavior, which focuses on, high performance standards to be accomplished. This can be done by developing a cohesive work group and ensuring that employees are satisfied with their jobs. Thus, the leader’s primary concern is the welfare of the ordinates. The Michagan researchers thought a leader could show signs of one kind of behavior, but not both.

  • The Ohio State Studies: At about the same time, a group of researchers at Ohio State also began studying leadership. The Ohio State leadership studies also identified two major kinds of leadership behaviors or styles, which are as follows:

Initiating-structure behavior: In initiating-structure behavior, the leader clearly defines the leader-subordinate roles so that everyone knows what is expected. The leader also establishes formal lines of communication and determines how tasks will be performed.

Consideration behavior: In consideration behavior, the leader shows concern for subordinates feelings’ and ideas. He attempts to establish a warm, friendly and supportive.

The most obvious difference between Michigan and Ohio State studies is that the Ohio State researchers did not position their two forms of leader behavior at opposite ends of a single continuum. Rather, they assumed the behaviors to be independent variables, which means that a leader could exhibit varying degrees of initiating structure and consideration at the same time i.e. a particular leader could have higher ratings on both measures, low ratings on both or high ratings on one and low on the other.

The Ohio State researchers found that a leader’s behavior remains consistent over a period of time, if the situation also remains same. But the researchers could not come up with one best combination of behavior suitable to all the situations. The researchers used to believe that the leaders in possession of both types of behavior are most effective. However, their studies at International Harvester found that leaders rated highly on initiating structure behavior have higher performing but dissatisfied sub-ordinates, whereas leaders rated highly on consideration structure had lower-performing sub-ordinates who showed signs of higher satisfaction.

Most experts now agree that no single set of traits or behaviors appears to be common to all good leaders. The universal approaches to leadership can help managers examine their own leadership characteristics and match them against the traits most commonly identified with good leaders. In order to understand the full complexity of leadership, contingency theory is to be studied.


(c) Contingency Theory

The main assumption of contingency theory is that the behavior of an appropriate leader varies from one situation to another. The motive of a contingency theory is to identify key situational factors and to specify how they interact to determine appropriate behavior of a leader

The three most important and widely accepted contingency theories of leadership are as follows:

  • The LPC theory: The first contingency theory of leadership is Fred Fielder’s Least Preferred Co-worker (LPC) Model. Fielder identified two types of leadership: task-oriented and relationship-oriented. Fielder believes that a leader’s tendency to be task-oriented or relationship oriented remains constant. In- other words, a leader is either task-oriented or relationship-oriented while leading his group members. Fielder used the Least Preferred Co-worker (LPC) scale to measure the type of leadership. A leader is asked to describe characteristics of the person with whom he or she is least comfortable while working. They can do this by marking in a set of sixteen scales at each end, by a positive or negative adjective. For example, three of the scales Fielder uses in the LPC are:

Helpful  ——————–    Frustrating 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Tense   ——————-     Relaxed      1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

Boring ——————-     Interesting 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8


The leader’s LPC score is (hen calculated by adding up the numbers below the line checked on each scale. A high total score is assumed to reflect a relationship orientation and a low score, a task orientation by the leader. The LPC measure is controversial because researchers disagree about its validity. This is because some of the LPC measures show whether the score is an index of behavior, personality or some other unknown factor.

According to Fielder, the contingency factor favours the situation from the leader’s point of view. This factor is determined by leader-member relations, task-structure and position-power, which are discussed as below:

  • Leader-member relations: A Leader-member relation refers to the nature of relationship between the leader and his work group. If the leader and the group enjoy mutual trust, respect, confidence and they like one another, relations will remain good. If there is little trust, respect or confidence and. if they do not like one another, relations will remain bad. Good relations are assumed to be favourable and bad relations unfavorable.
  • Task-structure: Task-structure is the degree to which the group’s task is clearly defined. When the task is routine, easily understood, and unambiguous and when the group has standard procedures, the structure is assumed to be high. When the task is non-routine, ambiguous, complex, with no standard procedures and precedents, structure is assumed to be low. High structure is more favourable for the leader and low structure is unfavorable. If the task structure is low, the leader will have to play a major role in guiding and directing the group’s activities. If the task structure is high, the leader will not have to pay much attention.
  • Position-power: Position-power is the power vested in the position of a leader in an organization. If the leader has the power to assign work, administer rewards and punishment, recommend employees for promotion or demotion, position-power is assumed lo be strong. If the leader does not have required powers, the position-power is weak. From the leader’s point of view, strong position power is favourable and weak position power is unfavorable.

Fielder and his associates conducted various studies highlighting if a situation favors the leadership and group effectiveness or not.

When the situation includes good relations, high structure and strong power, a risk-oriented leader to lie most effective. However, when relations are good but task structure is low and position-power is weak, li relationship-oriented leader is considered to be most effective.

  • A final point about LPC theory is that, Fielder argues that any particular-type of leadership, which is measured by the LPC is inflexible and cannot be changed. In other words a leader cannot change his behavior to fit a particular situation. Fielder’s contingency theory has been criticized on the ground that LPC measure lacks validity and that the assumption about the inflexibility of the leader’s behavior is unrealistic.


(d)        The Path-Goal theory

The path-goal model of leadership was introduced by Martin Evans and Robert House. Path-goal theory says that a leader can motivate subordinates by influencing their expectations. Leaders can motivate sub-ordinates by making clear what they have to do to get the reward they desire. The path-goal model assumes that leaders can change their style or behavior to meet the demands of a particular situation. This model identifies four kinds of leader behavior: directive, supportive, participative and achievement-oriented. According to this model managers can adjust their behavior to include any four kinds of leadership behavior mentioned above. For instance, while leading a new group of sub-ordinates, the leader may be directive in giving guidance and instructions to them. He may also adopt supportive behavior to encourage group cohesiveness, to look after their needs and ensuring that they get the rewards and benefits. As the group becomes more familiar with the task and as new problems are taken into consideration, the leader may use participative behavior by which he can participate with employees in making decisions and take their suggestions as well. Finally, the leader may use achievement-oriented behavior to encourage continued high performance of sub-ordinates.

Environmental characteristics are factors, which are beyond the control of sub­ordinates. It includes task structure, the primary work group and the formal authority system. For instance, when structure is high, directive leadership is less effective than when structure is low. Sub-ordinates do not usually need their boss to repeatedly tell them how to do a routine job. According to the path-goal theory, these environmental factors can create uncertainty for employees. A leader who helps employees reduce such uncertainty can motivate them. The figure 14.1 shows the path goal model of leadership.


Leaders do not always have control over environmental factors, but the theory emphasizes that leaders can use the control they want, to adjust the environment and to motivate sub-ordinates.


(e)        The Vroom-Yetton-Jago Theory (VYJ)

The Vroom-Yetton-Jago model was first introduced by Vroom and Yetton in 1973 and was revised by Vroom and Jago in 1988, This model has a much less focus than the path-goal theory. It helps a leader to determine the extent, to which employees should participate in the decision-making processes,

The VYJ theory argues that decision-effectiveness is best judged by the quality of decision and by the acceptance of that decision on the part of employees. Decision acceptance is the extent to which employees accept and are loyal to their decisions.

To maximize decision effectiveness, the VYJ theory suggests that leaders adopt one of five decision-making leaderships. The appropriate leadership depends on the situation. As summarized in the following table, there are two autocratic types of leadership, which are AI and All, two consultative types of leadership, which are CI and CII and the other one is group GII.

Decision-Making Styles in the VYJ model

Decision Style


AI Manager makes the decision alone.
AII Manager asks for information from subordinates but makes (he decision alone. Sub- ordinates may or may mil be informed about what the situation is.
CI Manager shares the situation with individual sub­ordinates and asks for information and evaluation. Subordinates do not meet as a group and the manager alone makes the decision.
C II Manager and subordinates meet as a group to discuss the situation but the manager makes the decision.
G II Manager and subordinates meet as a group to discuss the situation and the group makes the decision.

A = Autocratic; C= Consultative; G = Group


The situation is defined by a series of questions about the characteristics or attributes of the problem under consideration. To address the questions, the leader uses one of the four decisions. Two of them are used when the problem affects the entire group. For example, a decision about the facilities to be given to employees in a new office affects the entire group and the other two are appropriate when the decision affects a single individual only. e.g. a new office for that individual only.

Moreover, one of each is to be used when the decision has to be made quickly because of some urgency and the others arc to be used when the decision can be made more slowly and the leaders wants to use the opportunity to develop subordinates’ decision-making abilities.

The VYJ model was criticized because of its complexity. Computer software has been developed to aid leaders in defining the situation, answering the questions about the problem attributes and developing a strategy for decision-making participation.

Although the VYJ model is too new to have been thoroughly tested, evidence so far indicates that this model can help leaders to choose the most effective way to include the sub-ordinates in decision-making.


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