LDR 300 Week 2 Leadership Theories Matrix

Theory Definition/Characteristics   Examples
Trait Leadership Trait leadership theory refers to the concept that there are patterns of personal characteristics or traits that an individual maintains which allows the person to be an effective leader in groups and organizations (Northouse, 2013). Early trait theories concentrated on inhereeted traits such as temperament and intelligence. The theory has grown in complexity due to the inclusion of skills along with traits. The theory has also been expanded using the Big Five Personality Model which is able to measure particular traits more effectively than merely observing behaivior. This theory is problematic for a number of reasons but chiefly it is criticiszed because there is no common set of traits that can be identified in all situations.  Another major criticism of this theory is that it does not measure leadership in terms of effectiveness but rather assumes that because someone is a leader that their traits have given them this ability, e.g. a leader may not deserve or have earned leadership and therefore his or her traits are meaningless.





An example of a trait leader could be seen in a person such as Steve Jobs because he had specific characteristics such as understanding of technology (intelligence), self-confidence, and many other traits that made him a leader. However, in contrast to this position, it is also arguable that Steve Jobs was not a good example of trait theory because he also possessed many negative traits such as being domineering and obsessive which are not considered traits of a good leader.






Contingency theory of leadership posits that leadership is determined by circustances or situations (Northouse, 2013). This theory views leadership in terms of styles of leaders and when they should be applied. The underlying concept is that certain situations require certain types of leaders such as buearcratic business models requiring autocratic leaders.  This theory has merit because different styles of leadership work better in certain situations. However, this theory is also problematic because it assumes that leadership styles can be altered based on circumstances. This belief lends itself to making leadership relativistic and disengenious. If leadership simply can change based on circumstance then it means then in some situations the leader can appear inscincere.


A fast food business will likely need a authoritative leader as there is less need for collaboration in this business model. However, this assumes that leaders are able to switch styles of management based on the needs of situations meaning that the same manager could adapt to managing a sales environment where a more flexible style is needed. This is not the case in reality as many managers have set styles of leadership.



Much like trait theory, the skills leadership assumes that there are specific skills that make leaders effective (Northouse, 2013). Specific skills such as having good communication ability and being a strong public speaker are examples of skills that might be needed to be a quality leader. Much like trait theory, the problem with this theory is that determining which skills are the most effective is nearly impossible. There is also the fact that there is no specific skill set that can be viewed as being a complete leadership set. There is huger variance in the skills of leaders. This theory also assumes that having skills makes a good leader but in reality there are many people who have the same skills as leaders and they are not leaders,


A leader such as Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, may have good public speaking and good human relations skills that propel him into leadership positions. However, a leader such as Donald Trump who appears to have poor human relations skills has also ascended to a position of leadership which reflects how the skill leadership theory is too broad and lacks definitive criteria.
Situational Leadership This theory is closely related to contingency theogy but with the difference being that situational leadership is dependent on the circumstance and the performance readiness of the subordinate  (Northouse, 2013). This is a highly controversial theory because it assumes that there is no best way to lead in any situation and that leaders must enter the situation with positive high expectations and that this determines the best approach to leadership. This theory has no real support from studies as it has continuously been found to have little impact on the development of successful leaders (Fernandez & Vecchio, 1997).




This theory is often practiced such as in situations where leaders are trained to be positive and create expectaions for employees. Leadership training often takes the form of situational leadership because it has an appeal due to to positive thinking. Hwoever, there are no working models of this theory which can be called a success (Fernandez & Vecchio, 1997).

Fernandez, C. F., & Vecchio, R. P. (1997). “Situational leadership theory revisited: A test of an across-jobs perspective”. The Leadership Quarterly. 8 (1): 67–84.

Northouse, P.G (2013). Leadership Theory & Practice (6th Ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.