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March 17th, 2017

The Many Shapes and Sizes of Leadership Styles


Leadership has many guises. It is largely understood by those undertaking the mantle of leadership, that the goal is to inspire and develop others. Despite this understanding, the most effective method of attaining this goal remains elusive.


This may be the result of several factors, including the adoption of new technologies, shifting age demographics, and changes to job demands. A leader in today’s world must be able to establish the organization’s mission, vision and values, as well as engage the rest of the organization to follow and believe in the same. The seemingly endless list of demands may have you wondering, what makes a good leader?



The Great Man Hypothesis

Initial attempts in determining the answer to the “what makes a good leader” question began with examinations of great leaders, and the traits they possessed. This approach was coined as, the Great Man Hypothesis. Its premise being that there are certain characteristics enabling these individuals to be successful leaders (notwithstanding the obvious gender bias at this time). Once these traits had been identified, it was believed that future great leaders could be hand-picked.


Characteristics like physical height, appearance, and personality received a great deal of attention during this time, and as we covered in our last post, still factor in heavily in who we perceive to possess leadership capabilities today. As this approach does not yield fruitful insights into actual leadership effectiveness, examining the actual behaviours exhibited by effective leaders is a second tactic to working towards an answer.



Model Behaviour

This new behavioural approach to leadership focused on looking at specific leader behaviours and their related outcomes. Though there exists a variety of leader behaviours, it appeares that most could be organized into two types:



Focusing on behaviours instead of traits allows the training and development of potential leaders to be a viable option. Additionally, by shifting focus away from traits that cannot be changed to behaviours that can be molded, shows that leadership is no longer only attainable for a specific demographic. This then expands the pool of potential leaders exponentially, with everyone having the ability to be motivated to improve in those areas.



One Style Doesn’t Fit All

Given the proliferation of theories, the question has become: how does one choose a style? To help in making a choice, several of the more prominent styles that have gained the most traction among scholars and practitioners are outlined below:









Leadership is an ever-evolving construct. And with new methods and approaches emerging and building off each other all the time, it is no wonder that our understanding of what it means to be a leader is continually changing as well.


One thing that does appear to be constant however, is that different businesses, communities, workforces, and economic situations all require different styles of leadership. There is no one right answer.



“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality” – Warren Bennis. 








Sources used for this post:

Bass, B. M., & Avolio, B. J. (1997). Full range leadership development: Manual for the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (pp. 43-44). Palo Alto, CA: Mind Garden.

Brown, M. E., Treviño, L. K., & Harrison, D. A. (2005). Ethical leadership: A social learning perspective for construct development and testing. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes97(2), 117-134.

Judge, T. A., Piccolo, R. F., & Ilies, R. (2004). The forgotten ones? The validity of consideration and initiating structure in leadership research. Journal of Applied Psychology, 89, 36-51.

Judge, T. A., Piccolo, R. F., & Kosalka, T. (2009). The bright and dark side of leader traits: A review and theoretical extension of the leader trait paradigm. The Leadership Quarterly, 20, 855-875.

Liden, R. C., Wayne, S. J., Zhao, H., & Henderson, D. (2008). Servant leadership: Development of a multidimensional measure and multi-level assessment. The Leadership Quarterly19(2), 161-177.

Walumbwa, F. O., Avolio, B. J., Gardner, W. L., Wernsing, T. S., & Peterson, S. J. (2008). Authentic leadership: Development and validation of a theory-based measure. Journal of Management34(1), 89-126.