Topic

Leadership Theories

Topic Progress:

For the most part, leadership is often taught as a suite of traits and behaviors expected of leaders.  Rarely does this accompany advice on training to forge these traits and behaviors.  The service academies (such as West Point and the Naval Academy) have long been considered the premier leadership training institutes in our land.  However, numerous USNA students have come west to attend our SEALFIT academy because they don’t perceive the risk-averse and PC training at the USNA to be “real enough.”  According to these students, there was a lot of show and not much go.  requiring that the midshipmen really test themselves to there core, and to fail.

Leadership has been reduced to the theory of influencing others, separated from any practice of how to develop a character of influence.  This is the same problem we talked about in lesson nine regarding philosophy being reduced to the theory of living well, separated from any practice for living well.  Authentic leadership is simply about influencing others.  Rather, it is primarily about changing yourself.  Learning that it is good to emulate the leadership traits and characteristics of others in a classroom does not change anything.  Further, leadership is not just the ability to motivate others through rewards and punishments, nor is it just “situational” as Navy leadership training suggests.  Finally, leadership is not found in a specialized set of process skills, such as productivity, six sigma black belt or total quality management.  These are valuable management tools that a good manager will want to deploy in his or her organization.  Let’s take a brief look at the favorite theory’s being taught in many leadership schools.

Leadership Competency Theory

Adapted from psychology, this theory says that leaders are leaders when they possess certain competencies exemplified in other successful leaders.  Ok, fair enough.  Examples of such competencies include making difficult decisions, leading during a crisis, problem-solving, developing and holding a vision and inspiring others.  These are certainly competencies we expect in authentic leaders, but it is not enough to practice the competency as a “horizontal skill” like learning to play golf.   The competencies must stem from the leader’s core, formed through deep inner development work.  They can be taught, but not developed, in a classroom.

Visionary Leadership Theory

This theory proposes that a leader’s compelling vision for the future is the driving force of his or her leadership.  Visionary leaders are considered to have self-confidence and be highly intelligent.  They will wield this visionary power to mobilize others to their cause.  This is a very “nature trumps nurture” theory and ignores whether or how one can develop the character of a visionary.  

Charismatic Leadership Theory

Charisma is also in one’s nature… either you got it or you don’t.  The theory is that the leader influences by weaving a charismatic spell on the follower.  However, some of the most effective leaders lack sex appeal, aka charisma.  Instead, they bring honor, courage, and commitment to the team.  President Bill Clinton was very charismatic, but I wouldn’t want him on my team due to his lack of integrity.

Transactional Leadership Theory

Motivation in the team comes from earning rewards for desired behavior.  The leader is astute enough to figure out what rewards its team will be galvanized by (and conversely what punishment is metered out for failure).  Management by exception and strategic leadership are close cousins to this industrial age leadership theory.  Strategic leadership emphasizes setting the vision and achieving goals on a rationally informed path to success.  Through this effort, there is a steady improvement of the organization.  These views of leadership came about with the rise of the modern worldview and scientific rationalism.  I think these models are valuable as management systems for organizational effectiveness and do not really have much to do with leadership itself. 

Transformational Leadership Theory

This is the first leader as a human being (humanistic) model to arise in the academic halls.  It emphasizes tapping a team’s potential through meaning, shared learning and mutual empowerment.  There are many expressions of transformational leadership, all of which seek to inspire followers while drawing on emotional intelligence, social and political sensitivity, transparency and authenticity. 

Servant Leadership Theory

This model has appeal as it treats service as a skill to be acquired by a leader. The essence of servant leadership is that the organizational chart is turned upside down. The CEO and senior leadership are servants of their direct reports, mid-level management serves the people they support, and the customer is at the (now) top of the org chart as the ultimate group to serve. Interestingly, this leadership style is popular both with those who hold a traditional worldview as well as those with a postmodern worldview which put a premium on the values of “purpose” and “service.”

Contingency Leadership Theories

Essentially, the theory says that leadership style effectiveness depends on the situation.  Circumstances include the structure of work, positional authority, power, and relationship depth between the leader and the led.  Depending upon the contingency, a leader could pull an arrow out of his or her leadership quiver:  Which style should I use now?  Directive, consultative, participative, negotiative, and delegative approaches are all arrows in the quiver. 

None of these academic theories are wrong… rather most are incomplete or obsolete in today’s world.  There is an increasing awareness that we must courageously move toward developing deep leadership character for trust, authenticity and humility.  What is required is VERTICAL leadership development versus the HORIZONTAL development of a few new skills to deploy in the leadership tool kit. With vertical development, the leader is deepening character as they transcend to the fifth plateau. From that perspective, they will skillfully navigate the plateaus to team effectively with the vast multiplicity of personality types and consciousness levels of the team. 

Course Discussion