Leadership – Organizational Leadership Theories

The competency perspective of leadership

The competency theory of leadership focuses on characteristics believed to be associated with effective leaders. Researchers have identified specific skills, knowledge, and aptitudes (SKAs), and other personal characteristics known as competencies, which they believe distinguish effective leaders from a non-effective leaders. Those competencies are personality, self-concept, drive, integrity, leadership motivation, knowledge of the business, cognitive and practical intelligence, emotional intelligence, and authentic leadership. Each competency is indicative of leadership potential and not actual performance (McShane, Von Glinow, 2012).

Two personality dimensions are singled out as primary to leader effectiveness: extraversion and conscientiousness. Effective leaders have a healthy self-concept and believe in their own abilities. Drive is the leader’s ability to self-motivate. Integrity is the degree to which the leader does what he says he will do. Leadership motivation is the leader’s need for power to accomplish worthy objectives to benefit the organization.

Knowledge of business means effective leaders are both observant and knowledgeable about their business. Cognitive intelligence refers to the leader’s ability to analyze and process large amounts of information for making decisions. Practical intelligence refers to the leader’s ability to perform in the real world. Emotional intelligence is the leader’s ability to understand and use her own emotions and the emotions of others in ways that benefit the organization (McShane, Von Glinow, 2012). Competencies reflect potential effectiveness as opposed to actual performance.

The behavioral perspective of leadership

The behavioral perspective focuses on the behaviors that effective leaders exhibit. Two categories of behaviors are identified: consideration, which are people-oriented behaviors such as friendliness and support for subordinates, and initiating structure, standards, and monitoring performance levels. According to Hughes, Ginnett and Curphy (2012), the original underlying assumption to this perspective was that “… certain behaviors could be identified that are universally associated with a leader’s ability to successfully influence a group toward the accomplishment of its goals” (Hughes, et al., 2012, p.249). Research regarding the behavioral perspective concluded three findings: first, that leaders who exhibit a high degree of consideration had happier subordinates; leaders who exhibited a high degree of initiating structure had higher-performing work units when engaged in ambiguous tasks; and finally, that there are no universal set of behaviors that are always associated with a leader’s success because situational factors also play a role in the success equation (Hughes, et al., 2012).

The contingency perspective of leadership

The contingency theory of leadership believes that the most appropriate leadership style for a leader depends upon the situation. McShane and Von Glinow (2012) point out that most contingency theories hold that for a leader to be effective, he or she must be able to adapt their behavior and style to match the situation. To successfully assess the work environment and adapt one’s style appropriately, requires that leaders have above-average ability to recognize and manage their own emotions and the emotions of others, also known as emotional intelligence (EI) (McShane, Von Glinow, 2012).

Some of the well-known contingency theories are the path-goal theory, the situational leadership theory (SLT), and Fiedler’s contingency model. The path-goal theory is the most well-accepted contingency theory, rooted in expectancy theory of motivation through the use of expanded and combined task- and people-oriented leadership styles and behaviors that are selected in response to weighted employee and environmental contingencies. The SLT theory suggests that leaders adjust their behaviors based upon the maturity of followers. Fiedler’s model suggests that the most effective leader will be the leader who has the greatest level of situational favorableness.


Each leadership theory focuses on specific aspects they believe facilitate effective leadership: leader characteristics, leader behaviors, task and people elements, follower maturity, and situational favorableness. To some degree, all of these elements play a role in effective leadership. The path-goal theory, however, is the most inclusive of all theories. Its leader behaviors prescribe a choice of styles for leaders to choose from, matching the style to the situation. Behaviors can even be combined to provide more situation-specific leadership. This facilitates the flexibility so necessary for today’s rapidly changing environments.

Path-goal employee and environmental contingencies are consistent with the task- and people-oriented styles in the behavioral perspective, and can be a determinant for the maturity factor noted in the SLT. Employee motivation is channeled through leader behaviors; employee satisfaction is channeled through employee contingencies; and leader acceptance is channeled through environmental contingencies.


Hughes, R.L., Ginnett, R.C., Curphy, G.J. (2012). Leadership enhancing the lessons of experience seventh edition. McGraw-Hill Irwin. New York, NY 10020.

McShane, S.L., Von Glinow, M.A. (2012). Organizational behavior. McGraw-Hill Irwin. New York, NY 10020.

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