7 Theories of effective leadership include trait, contingency, behavioral, and full-range theories

For a number of years, researchers have examined leadership to discover how successful leaders are created. Experts have proposed several theories, including the trait, behavioral, contingency, and full-range models of leadership.

The Trait Theory of Leadership

The search for the characteristics or traits of effective leaders has been central to the study of leadership. Underlying this research is the assumption that leadership capabilities are rooted in characteristics possessed by individuals. Research in the field of trait theory has shown significant positive relationships between effective leadership and personality traits such as intelligence, extroversion, conscientiousness, self-efficacy, and openness to experience. These findings also show that individuals emerge as leaders across a variety of situations and tasks.


Four Theories of Leadership. http://oer2go.org/mods/en-boundless/www.boundless.com/management/textbooks/boundless-management-textbook/leadership-9/defining-leadership-68/four-theories-of-leadership-344-7580/index.html Content and user contributions on this site are licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 with attribution required.


According to trait leadership theory, effective leaders have in common a pattern of personal characteristics that support their ability to mobilize others toward a shared vision. These traits include dimensions of personality and motives, sets of skills and capabilities, and behavior in social relationships. Using traits to explain effective leadership considers both characteristics that are inherited and attributes that are learned. This approach has been used to differentiate leaders from non-leaders. Understanding the importance of these traits can help organizations select, train, and develop leaders.

Leaders’ Traits

Following studies of trait leadership, most leader traits can be organized into four groups:

  • Personality: Patterns of behavior, such as adaptability and comfort with ambiguity, and dispositional tendencies, such as motives and values, are associated with effective leadership.
  • Demographic: In this category, gender has received by far the most attention in terms of leadership; however, most scholars have found that gender is not a determining demographic trait, as male and female leaders are equally effective.
  • Task competence: This relates to how individuals approach the execution and performance of tasks. Hoffman groups intelligence, conscientiousness, openness to experience, and emotional stability into this category.
  • Interpersonal attributes:These relate to how a leader approaches social interactions. According to Hoffman and others (2011), traits such as extroversion and agreeableness are included in this category.

The Trait Theory Approach. http://oer2go.org/mods/en-boundless/www.boundless.com/management/textbooks/boundless-management-textbook/leadership-9/trait-approach-69/the-trait-theory-approach-345-3943/index.html Content and user contributions on this site are licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 with attribution required.


The Contingency Theory of Leadership

Stogdill and Mann found that while some traits were common across a number of studies, the overall evidence suggested that persons who are leaders in one situation may not necessarily be leaders in other situations. According to this approach, called contingency theory, no single psychological profile or set of enduring traits links directly to effective leadership. Instead, the interaction between those individual traits and the prevailing conditions is what creates effective leadership. In other words, contingency theory proposes that effective leadership is contingent on factors independent of an individual leader. As such, the theory predicts that effective leaders are those whose personal traits match the needs of the situation in which they find themselves. Fiedler’s contingency model of leadership focuses on the interaction of leadership style and the situation (later called situational control). He identified three relevant aspects of the situation: the quality of the leader’s relationships with others, how well structured their tasks were, and the leader’s amount of formal authority.

The Behavioral Theory of Leadership

In response to the early criticisms of the trait approach, theorists began to research leadership as a set of behaviors. They evaluated what successful leaders did, developed a taxonomy of actions, and identified broad patterns that indicated different leadership styles. Behavioral theory also incorporates B.F. Skinner’s theory of behavior modification, which takes into account the effect of reward and punishment on changing behavior. An example of this theory in action is a manager or leader who motivates desired behavior by scolding employees who arrive late to meetings and showing appreciation when they are early or on time.

The Full-Range Theory of Leadership

The full-range theory of leadership is a component of transformational leadership, which enhances motivation and morale by connecting the employee’s sense of identity to a project and the collective identity of the organization. The four major components of the theory, which cover the full range of essential qualities of a good leader, are:

  • Individualized consideration: the degree to which the leader attends to each follower’s concerns and needs and acts as a mentor or coach
  • Intellectual stimulation: the degree to which the leader challenges assumptions, takes risks, and solicits followers’ ideas
  • Inspirational motivation: the degree to which the leader articulates a vision that is appealing and inspiring to followers
  • Idealized influence: the degree to which the leader provides a role model for high ethical behavior, instills pride, and gains respect and trust

Four Theories of Leadership. http://oer2go.org/mods/en-boundless/www.boundless.com/management/textbooks/boundless-management-textbook/leadership-9/defining-leadership-68/four-theories-of-leadership-344-7580/index.html  Content and user contributions on this site are licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 with attribution required.


Styles and Traits theory. By Rebecca Jewett-Geragosian, (2018). Content and user contributions on this site are licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 with attribution required.

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Cultivating Your Leadership Capabilities by Graduate Studies, Granite State College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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