Theories of Leadership

Theories of Leadership






Theories of Leadership

The performance of any organization greatly depends on how effective the leadership of that organization is. The same applies to the public sector as good leadership leads to the achievement of set goals and objectives. A public leader is an individual who holds a public office and has a vision, the drive and commitment to see the vision through and the skills to implement the vision in ensuring service delivery to the community. A public leader is one who sets out goals and objectives and puts out strategies to achieve these goals. This leader has the necessary skills needed to mobilize the people under their leadership to ensure achievement of these goals. These skills include the ability to plan effectively, be willing to take risks, think critically, and communicate effectively and to motivate the people under their leadership. This leader also has various traits including integrity, dependability, flexibility, decisiveness, tact and enthusiasm among others (Rowtz, 2014).

A review of existent literature on leadership reveals theories which have been proposed by various schools of thought in an attempt to describe various aspects of leadership. These theories include the great man theory, the trait theory, situational theory, contingency theory, transformational theory, transactional theory, and servant leadership theory, among others (Bolden et al, 2007). Out of these theories, I find that the servant leadership theory and the transformational theory support the definition of a public leader, as described in the paragraph above.

The servant leadership theory defines a leader who aspires to serve their followers first before they are consciously required to lead. They emphasize on ethical responsibilities to their followers, stakeholders and the community. This theory describes a leader who has a vision for the community and is willing to work together with their followers and community members in order to achieve set goals without considering their position of power. This theory encourages trust, collaboration, listening and foresight. The leader in this theory is able to plan and motivate the team and is also enthusiastic with their work (Bolden et al, 2007). It is clearly evident therefore, that this leader fits the description of a public leader.

The transformational theory of leadership describes a leader who is focused at bringing change in deep structures, culture and major processes in the public sector through the setting of goals and laying down of strategies aimed at making the public sector better. This leader is visionary, applies their skills to motivate, shape and alter the values of the workforce to achieve significant positive change in the public sector. This leader is charismatic, decisive and is willing to take risks (Gonos et al, 2013.)This description therefore supports the definition of a public leader.

There also exist several leadership styles which have been described to be used by various leaders to get work done and to achieve set goals and objectives. Several models of leadership have been put forward, each with its list of leadership styles. Some of these leadership models include the Tannenbaum and Schmidt’s leadership continuum which lists leadership styles including autocratic, persuasive, consultative and democratic leadership styles (Bolden et al, 2007). The leadership model created by Lewin and his colleagues from the University of Iowa, which put forward the autocratic, democratic, and laissez- faire leadership styles (Rowtz, 2014). There also exist several other leadership styles proposed by different schools of thought including the bureaucratic and benevolent leadership styles, and a leader should choose one that is likely to work best for them. Among these leadership styles, I find that the democratic and the consultative leadership styles are the ones that best support the definition of a public leader.

The democratic style of leadership is whereby there is two-way communication between the leader and their followers. The leader has a friendly approach to his subordinates and lays down the proposed decisions, tasks and procedures in accordance with their vision, for discussion with their followers before implementation. The leader coordinates how work is done and how duties are performed and does an analysis of the output together with the subordinates. The leader has the relevant critical skills necessary to communicate effectively and motivate their followers in order to achieve the achievements and goals set in accordance with the leader’s vision (Gonos et al, 2013).This style of leadership therefore supports the definition of a public leader.

The consultative style of leadership is whereby the leader involves the subordinates in decision making by seeking their opinions and views concerning the ideas put forward. The leader then makes the final decision on their own or with the top management. There is flow of information from the top level to the bottom level of the entire team. This way, the followers feel that they have an influence in policy and decision making and a leaders is able to build trust, enhance effective communication and enhance motivation among the workforce (Bolden et al, 2007). This leader is therefore able to achieve the realization of their vision, utilizing their skills, and therefore fits the description of a public leader.

Leadership Theories

The servant leadership theory has proved to be effective in the public sector. The leader in this theory is willing to come down to the level of their followers, making them feel that their efforts are appreciated and worthwhile. The leader demonstrates concern for the well-being of their followers and this can make the followers change both professionally and at a personal level. This may bring change in the public sector leading to better performance among followers, satisfaction and appreciation among community members, and achievement of the goals and objectives that have been set out. The leadership of Mahatma Gandhi who brought himself down to the level of his followers, is a good example of servant leadership. George Washington is also another example of a leader who demonstrated servant leadership by working among his countrymen (Bolden et al, 2007).

The transformational leadership theory is effective, especially in an environment where positive change is needed. The leader in this theory is able to develop a vision and put in place new goals and objectives whose achievement will put the public sector in a whole new level. The strategies put in place by this leader include designing and re designing of jobs and motivation of the workforce in order to create a whole new plan and set up to make the public sector better. Martin Luther King Jr. is a good example of a transformational leader who brought change in the society through his charismatic character and introduction of revolutionary ideas. Another example of transformational leadership was that of Walt Disney. Despite the several fall backs which he had, he did not give up but transformed his company every time he started again (Wart, 2007).

Leadership Styles

The democratic style of leadership is a widely used leadership style among public leaders. This style of leadership has been effective since the subordinates feel that their opinion is put into consideration and they also feel valued moreover, it builds trust, team spirit, and high morale and encourages the followers to cooperate. This will lead to high output of high quality work for a long period of time. This way, the set goals and objectives are achieved. The democratic style of leadership has been demonstrated by Carlos Ghosn who was the president, and chief executive officer of Renault, France; and president and chief executive officer of Nissan, Japan, who believed in empowering employees in terms of decision making. The democratic style of leadership was also used by J.F Kennedy who was the President of the United States of America. He carried out his leadership with maximal involvement of other leaders and the countrymen (Gonos et al, 2013).

The consultative style of leadership has also been utilized widely by leaders in the public sector. This style is effective in that the leader communicates effectively with their followers, stakeholders and the community concerning, ideas and proposed policies and decisions. The followers feel appreciated and are motivated to work harder to achieve both high quality and high quantity output. The leader is also likely to get minimal opposition from their followers, the community and stakeholders, because of the transparency and flow of information created by consultation. Winston Churchill, a British statesman used this leadership style. He held several meetings to come up with strategies which saw to various great developments in his country. John Maxwell, a religious leader, and founder of INJOY, Maximum Impact and the John Maxwell Team, also uses this style of leadership which has made him very successful in his leadership (Bolden et al, 2007).

In conclusion, it is evident that for an individual to make a good public leader, they have to possess a vision, leadership skills, traits and characteristics which will enable them to have effective leadership. There exist various leadership theories and characteristics which have been proposed by various schools of thought. The public leader needs to assess the needs of the public sector under their leadership and choose the most appropriate leadership theory and leadership style to embrace. The effectiveness of the leadership style and theory chosen depends on how well the public leader applies the theory and style chosen. The various proposed leadership theories and styles have been successfully utilized before, by both public and business leaders. These leaders provide a good example for the public leaders of today.


Bolden R., Gosling J., Marturano A. Dennison P. (2007) A review of leadership theory and competency frameworks

Gonos J, Gallo P.(2013) Model for leadership style evaluation Management, Vol. 18, 2013, 2, pp. 157-168

Rowtz L (2014) Public Health Leadership Putting Principles into Practice: Jones & Bartlett Learning, LLC

Wart, M (2007) Public-Sector Leadership Theory: An Assessment: Public Administration Review March/April 2003, Vol. 63, No. 2