Leadership Theories: Strengths and Weaknesses

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

Expert Insights 

Experts in various fields, who are leaders today, have shared insights based on these leadership theories on how one can enhance their efficiency. 

1. Tim Connon, Founder, CEO & Life Insurance Agent of ParamountQuote Life
Insurance Advisors

I believe raising your voice in an enthusiastic way is key to leadership. People respond to tonality and body language which means the more you raise your voice enthusiastically the more inclined people are to follow what you are saying. Putting emphasis on the right words to motivate and lead a team makes a big difference. It makes you look fun, exciting and wise all at the same time.

Tim Connon, Founder, CEO & Life Insurance Agent of ParamountQuote Life Insurance Advisors Tweet

2. Noah Fischel, Office Manager, State of Nevada Colorado River Commission 

I've always upheld consistent communication as one of the most important aspects of managing people. I have never once told someone to do something just because I said to do it. I've always explained how and why such a task would help the overall goal of the organization. Informing someone how their work is going to be used, in my experience, simultaneously gets that person to stay within the purview of the task, while also engaging their problem solving skills to find new solutions that apply to the specific task, and a lot of times solutions for tasks a few steps down the line.

Noah Fischel, Office Manager, State of Nevada Colorado River Commission  Tweet

Recommended Courses 

1. Leadership Skills Mastery

Leadership Skills Mastery is an exceptional course designed to elevate your leadership abilities, fostering a positive work environment and empowering you to inspire your team. Whether you are a seasoned leader, an aspiring manager, or an entrepreneur, this course provides the tools and insights needed to become a successful leader.

What makes this course stand out is its comprehensive approach to leadership development. Unlike other courses, Leadership Skills Mastery delves into the core principles and strategies that underpin effective leadership. From understanding the fundamental definition of leadership to learning the art of effective communication, this course covers all aspects necessary for mastering leadership skills.

This course has the potential to transform your professional life. It encourages continuous learning and practice, allowing you to unlock your leadership potential and achieve long-term goals. By enrolling, you commit to a journey of personal and professional growth, setting yourself apart as a true leader.

Who is this course for? 

This course is for all leaders and managers seeking to enhance their leadership skills and become successful leaders. Entrepreneurs looking to build effective teams and lead their ventures to success will also benefit greatly. No prior knowledge is required; only a strong sense of leadership and a desire to improve.

2. The Ultimate Guide to Developing Your Leadership Skills

Developing leadership skills is essential for anyone aiming to advance their career, influence others, and make impactful decisions. This course provides the practical tools and insights needed to become a more effective leader, focusing on building confidence, enhancing decision-making, and improving communication skills.

The course blends theory and practice. You’ll not only learn the fundamental principles of leadership but also engage in practical exercises and daily lessons designed to help you internalize and apply these skills in real-life situations. This comprehensive approach ensures you gain both knowledge and experience, making you a more capable and confident leader.

From a personal perspective, the structured learning path and hands-on exercises make this course particularly valuable. It’s not just about understanding leadership concepts; it’s about practicing them daily to see tangible improvements. This method of continuous learning and application is crucial for anyone serious about mastering leadership skills.

Who is this course for? 

This course is suitable for everyone—beginners, recent college grads, new leaders, CEOs, managers, entrepreneurs, and small business owners. It provides a solid foundation for those new to leadership while offering advanced strategies for experienced leaders looking to refine their skills.

3. The Science of Leaders 

This course is for anyone keen on integrating scientific insights into their leadership approach. It offers a unique blend of theory and practical application to help you enhance your leadership skills.

It merges a century’s worth of scientific research with the needs of 21st-century managers. By understanding the workings of the human brain, you’ll learn to communicate more effectively and lead with greater confidence.

You’ll explore major research findings and learn how to apply these insights to real-world leadership scenarios. This course doesn’t just teach theory; it shows you how to turn these insights into concrete actions that will improve team management and motivation.

From my perspective, the structured approach of this course is highly beneficial. It’s designed to be dense with information, encouraging you to take your time and absorb the material fully. 

Who is this course for? 

This course is for all leaders and anyone interested in understanding leadership better. Whether you’re an experienced leader or just starting out, this course provides valuable knowledge and skills to help you excel.

At Skill Success Learning Paths, we offer Leadership Prodigy: Mastering The Art Of Inspiring Excellence. This dynamic course covers emotional intelligence, communication, team building, and strategic decision-making. Unleash your leadership potential, inspire your team, and achieve unprecedented success. Join us today!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the core premise of the Great Man Theory of Leadership?

The Great Man Theory suggests that leaders are born with inherent traits, not made, positing that true leaders will naturally emerge when the situation demands it. It emphasizes that these leaders are heroic, charismatic, and destined to lead, often changing the course of history with their leadership prowess.

How does the Trait Theory of Leadership differ from the Great Man Theory?

While the Great Man Theory implies that leaders are born for pivotal moments in history and inherently possess leadership qualities, the Trait Theory expands this idea by suggesting that certain characteristics or traits can make a person more suited to leadership. Unlike the Great Man Theory, it proposes that many of these traits can be developed and are not necessarily innate.

Can the traits identified in the Trait Theory of Leadership be developed, or are they fixed?

The Trait Theory of Leadership suggests that while some individuals may naturally possess certain leadership qualities, many of these traits can indeed be developed or enhanced through experiences, education, training, and personal development efforts.

What are the key behavioral styles identified in the Behavioral Theory of Leadership?

The Behavioral Theory identifies two main styles of leadership: task-oriented leadership, which focuses on the accomplishment of tasks, and relationship-oriented leadership, which emphasizes the welfare and support of team members. It posits that effective leadership arises from a leader’s actions rather than their traits or characteristics.

How do situational factors influence leadership effectiveness according to the Contingency Theory?

The Contingency Theory posits that there is no one best way to lead. Instead, a leader’s effectiveness is contingent on how well their leadership style matches the current context or environment. Factors such as organizational structure, team member relationships, and task complexity can significantly influence what leadership style is most effective.

Related Articles

Explore these insightful articles to enhance your skills and journey towards effective leadership.

Key Takeaways

It’s crucial to delve into these leadership theories to enrich your understanding of various leadership dynamics. By comprehensively understanding the Great Man, Trait, Behavioral, Contingency, Participative, and Transactional Leadership Theories, you can better analyze your own leadership style and adapt your approach to fit the needs of your team and the demands of your organizational context. This insight empowers you to tailor your leadership methods effectively, ensuring they align with both your personal capabilities and the specific situations you encounter.

Elevate your leadership potential with the Skill Success All Access Pass! By connecting the dots between foundational leadership theories and practical applications, this pass provides you with unlimited access to a wide array of courses that can transform theoretical knowledge into actionable leadership skills. Seize this opportunity to explore various leadership styles, adapt your approach based on time-tested theories, and enhance your effectiveness as a leader. 


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