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Leadership Styles



When applying leadership to a workplace, sporting team, class room or any other situation, it is important to understand that there different leadership styles that one may chose to practice. It is also important to understand that no single leadership style will fit all situations and that different elements of each style can be incorporated into the individual’s own leadership style. Good leaders have a firm understanding of their own style and are conscious of their situation, as they understand that both factors are interdependent on one other.  The following paper will analyse contingency, situational, charismatic and transformational leadership styles and use real and generic examples of such styles being applied to suit certain situation.


The contingency approach to leadership acknowledges that a leader’s behaviour is more effective when it is contingent upon situational forces (Dubrin & Dalglish, 2003 p. 148). Both internal (work force competency, organisational culture etc.) and external (competitiveness, government regulations) factors define the environment from which the contingency leader (according to their behaviours) would be most effective in. Fielder’s contingency theory of leadership effectiveness is an excellent framework to analyse in order to realise which situations would best suit the leader. Fielder recognised that there are manager styles that are either:

  • Relationship motivated - Motivated by interaction and social stimulation
  • Task Motivated- Motivated by task at hand and associated goals and outcomes
  • Intermediate Style- socio-independent, neutral.


Fielder’s work describes the difficulties one encounters when changing their leadership styles. Contingency leadership is therefore focused on creating or adapting situations to suit his/her leadership style. The orientation of the leader’s motivation therefore depicts the situation that would best suit them.


There are many complicated models that attempt to define contingency leadership and match certain behaviours with their ideal situation. These can be tedious, often unfounded and certainly difficult to apply to every leader and their situation. For the purpose of understanding what good leadership is one should simply look to Fielder’s methods for making the situation more favourable to the leader. A good leader should focus on this, as it is not often that they are given a choice of different situations to encounter.


Firstly, one should improve leader-member relations (Dubrin & Dalglish, 2003, p. 151). This means a leader should proactively take an interest in his/her followers, listen to them and generally be seen as ‘nice guy’ in the workplace. A supervisor of a production team may achieve this trough taking followers out to lunch, putting on drinks on a Friday night or creating an open door policy whereby all followers can speak to him at all times. This enhances the working environment (situation) as it promotes open communication, transparent leadership and a free flow of information vertically along the hierarchy.


Another method described by Fielder to make the situation more favourable is to increase task structure (Dubrin & Dalglish, 2003, p.149). A CEO of a small recruitment company may do this by communicating specific deadlines, expectations, instructions or standards with middle management. The situation is enhanced through a the creation of structured objectives that give the entire workplace a greater sense of direction.


Fielder’s final method is to exercise more position power (Dubrin & Dalglish, 2003, p.150). A HR manager may do this by emphasising his/her ability to further subordinate’s careers or promote hi/her legitimate power to reward good work. This method is focused on the leader as it promotes (to the followers) their ability and authority to lead the group.


Situational leadership is not dissimilar to contingency theories in that it analyses the situation and ascertains which leadership behaviours would be the most effective to practice. Hersey and Blanchard created a model that focuses on the readiness (ability and willingness to complete task) of the group (followers) when analysing the situation. The following model depicts the situation in respect to the behaviour of the leader, whether it is task orientated or relationship orientated.




Basically, the model finds that as group member readiness increases, a leader should rely more on relationship behaviour and less on task behaviour. When studying good leadership one should simply understand that situational leadership should be practised at all times to some degree. A good leader analyses his followers through their motivations, their strengths and their weaknesses and uses this to adapt his/her leadership behaviours to suit the situation. Leadership is a two way street and flexibility is the key to a harmonious relationship between the leader’s style and their situation. 


Transformational leadership is the ability to change the status quo and bring about changes that will benefit the organisation, team or other body of followers. Dubrin and Dalglish (2003) denote the transformational leader’s focus on the importance of the views, interests and motivation of his/her followers when initiating change. The Transformational leadership style, therefore, aligns the followers (motivations, interests, needs etc.) with the organisation’s future vision, goal or objective (change).

Tony Blair was one such leader that exerted exceptional transformational leadership in order to win the 1997 election. Blair was able to transform his entire party through individually focusing on his followers and ensuring their motives, interests and efforts were aligned with his vision of  ‘The new Labour’. Bill Gates is another leader that would be viewed as transformational through his ability to adapt and evolve his entire organisation in accordance with the extraordinarily dynamic software market.


The transformational leadership style is so popular in contemporary society due to the dynamic, evolving and often chaotic environment that most organisations are currently competing in. Such fast moving environments call for good leaders to be able to systematically, predict situations, create visions/goals and initiate change needed to attain goals.


Because transformational leadership is so necessary in contemporary society, a good leader must understand its four key qualities. Dubrin and Dalglish (2003) depict the four key qualities as inspirational leadership, intellectual stimulation, individualised consideration and charisma. Martin Luther King is an excellent example of inspirational leadership as he was able to promote his future vision through his well-tuned voice tone, extreme body language and the genuine belief that he instilled in his followers. Transformational leaders provide intellectual stimulation to encourage followers to challenge current problems and opinions and push them to perform and achieve in order to reach their full potential. Napoleon is an excellent example of a leader with individualised consideration as he slept next to his soldiers and worked with individual followers to reduce the perceived leader-follower gap. Good leaders are not seen as authoritative figures; instead they are viewed as team members with the same objectives and interests as his/her followers.


Transformational leaders are often viewed as charismatic, as charisma is often seen as a generic style that can be applied to all situations to improve leadership practices.  Dubrin and Dalglish (2003)  attempt to define charisma through an extensive list of characteristics, including: visionary, masterful communication skills,  emotionally expressive, romanticise risk, use unconventional strategies, dramatic and unique. This list is exhaustive and a single charismatic leader is doubtful to hold each characteristic. Charisma means different things to different people and a much simpler and more generalised definition of charisma is “the special quality of leaders whose purpose, power and extraordinary determination differentiate them from others” (Conger  Kunungo, 1988).


Steve Irwin is the perfect example of charisma in its simplest form. He had incredible communication skills and used both his extreme voice tone and body language to promote emotional expression. This communication style of his was viewed as an unconventional method, which worked to differentiate him from others and make him seem dramatic and unique. He was extremely forward focused with the promotion of his vision of healthier and safer wildlife and was extremely charismatic in his extraordinary determination to achieve his goals.


Steve Irwin

Charisma is often found in all memorable leaders regardless of the leadership styles that they employ. It rallies the masses, motivates the dull, promotes the future, encourages the weak and showers confidence upon all whom come in contact with it. For this reason, it is seen as an incredibly powerful tool that good leaders are able to incorporate into their leadership style.


However academics chose to define leadership styles, it is important to understand that they are each unique to the individual leader. Many have created models and theories, that attempt to define behaviours, predict situations and analyse leaders/followers in order to categorise certain leadership styles. Whilst these are vital in understanding leadership it should be understood that one cannot create their leaderships style based on a single structured study. A good leader must instead assess their situation, themselves and their followers and create a leadership style that works for them.





Conger, J., & Kunungo, R. (1988). The empowerment process: Integrating theory and practice. Academy of Management Review, 13(3), 471-282.


Dubrin, A, Daglish, C & Miller, P. (2006). Leadership. (2nd ed). Queensland: John

Wiley & Sons Australia