Leadership Theories: Strengths and Weaknesses

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Wondering how an individual becomes a leader? There are many ways that will help you become a good leader; these include factors like skills, personality, attributes, mindset, and more. In explaining what a good leader is, leadership theories help break this down. Learn in this article the different leadership theories and their strengths and weaknesses. 

What are leadership theories?

Leadership theories refer to the various schools of thought that aim to explain why someone becomes an exemplary leader. These theories emphasize the traits and behavior any aspiring leader can improve on to develop extraordinary leadership skills.

Leadership theories were developed to prove what makes leaders great. They answer the big why and how someone becomes a leader at the fundamental level. Learn how you can be a better leader with this online class: The Science of Leadership.

The leadership theories 

Here are the different leadership theories, including their strengths and weaknesses you should know about:

1. Great Man Theory of Leadership

The great man theory states that certain people are born with leadership traits. This implies that their abilities are innate, not learned. These qualities make them stand out in a crowd, making them become an individual of authority. The intrinsic leadership skills include intelligence, confidence, sociability, and charisma.

During the 1800s, the term “great man” was used in this theory as leadership before was primarily given to males. This was especially true in military leadership. In this leadership, you either possess excellent leadership, or you don’t.


  • The theory began the scholarship of traits and qualities that make extraordinary leaders.


  • The great man theory lacks scientific support.
  • It only considers men in authority.
  • Time has proven that anyone can learn leadership.

2. Trait Theory of Leadership

The trait theory is an extension of the great man theory. This theory was founded on the leadership characteristics of both successful and unsuccessful leaders. The theory predicts leadership effectiveness by comparing the leader’s attributes to the list of characteristics of the theory. 

The existing traits to compare to in this theory include intelligence, confidence, determination, integrity, self-assurance, decisiveness, initiative, and sociability. In this theory, the leader is believed to be the driving force of the leadership process. This makes it critical for leaders to possess the given trait for effective leadership.


  • The trait theory has supporting studies.
  • It is intuitive and understandable.


  • The trait list may be endless and subjective.
  • It’s not relevant for training purposes.
  • The theory fails to consider situations and followers.
  • The list of characteristics tends to be masculine, making it a bit biased.

3. Behavioral Theory of Leadership

This theory of leadership suggests that individuals can learn to become good leaders through teaching and observation. It states that if you condition yourself to become a great leader, you can become one. It concentrates on actions and behavior more than abilities and traits.

 In the 1930s, Karl Lewin identified three types of leadership behaviors which include:

  • Autocratic leadership

The leader directly controls all the activities; the team members don’t have much significant participation.

  • Participative Leadership

In this leadership, leaders push team members to participate. However, they still hold final decision-making power.

  • Laissez-Faire Leadership

The leader gives autonomy to members, providing them little to no guidance.


  • The view of leadership is broadened from being trait-based to action-based.
  • This is easier to teach.
  • The theory has strong evidence.


  • Behavioral theory has no links to desirable work outputs.
  • There is no proven successful behavior identified.
  • The team management tends to be not the best.

4. Contingency Theory of Leadership

Developed in 1958, this leadership theory suggests that leaders are task-oriented or relationship-oriented. The former assigns tasks, sets dues, and follows structural processes. On the other hand, the latter is more considerate to people. In this theory, the leader makes decisions based on context and external factors.

The contingency leadership theory believes that leaders match their approach to the competency and commitment of team members. In this theory, the right leaders can fit in the right situation. 


  • Behavioral theory is popular, easy, intuitive, and practical.
  • It is commonly used in leadership training.
  • It promotes tailoring of member treatment based on progress.
  • The theory defines what you should and should not do in different situations.


  •  The behavioral theory lacks strong evidence; the development process is ambiguous.
  • It doesn’t consider the demographic differences and how these influence prescriptions.

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5. Participative Leadership Theory

The participative leadership theory suggests that the best leadership gets inputs from other members of the team. In this theory, leaders should facilitate the discussion. Upon getting relevant input from team members, you will consider these in making decisions. 

This theory aims to cut off the hierarchical gap between a leader and team members. It believes that collective involvement will help the team achieve its goals.

The participative leaders function by following this leadership process:

  • Initiate the conversation.
  • Share knowledge openly.
  • Encourage team members to share ideas.
  • Collect and assess all information gathered.
  • Make the best decisions out of all information.
  • Inform the team about the final decision.


  • Team members feel valued.
  • They are also more motivated.
  • Members can freely perform even when the leader isn’t around.


  • There is pressure to conform to the group’s decision.
  • It takes time to arrive at a final decision.

6. Transactional Leadership Theory

The ultimate basis of transactional leadership theory is the concept of reward and punishment. The team will reap a reward or get punishment depending on the outcome of their goals. This emphasizes the basis of exchanges between the leader and followers. It believes that it is transactional in nature.

The best example of this theory is when managers extend promotions to employees in exchange for exemplary work. 


  • The transactional theory is common.


  • It highlights the importance of monetary rewards.
  • The transactional theory simplifies people’s varied motivations.

These are six of the most common leadership theories that explain how good leaders are made. You can learn more leadership tips by looking at Skill Success’s vast array of courses here

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