Leadership: Theories and Styles


Leadership is a multifaceted and complex process, aspects of which are considered on different planes and from different points of view. This phenomenon integrates various cultural, social, and behavioral factors that differentiate leadership by style. Each type pursues a specific range of tasks, and the manager’s competence includes adapting management to the company’s goals, mission, and vision. This paper presents a literature review of twenty peer-reviewed articles that reflect the diversity of the phenomenon of leadership and describe the main aspects of various styles, their implementations, and cultures.

Leadership Theories Development

One of the promising and pioneering areas at the end of the last century was transformational leadership. Bass and Avolio, in their work, tried to describe the main functions of the leader, which included idealized influence, inspiration, stimulation of intellectual activity, and individual responsibility (1992). Retrospective studies already in those years showed the effectiveness of this approach over the classical ones, and therefore training in transformational leadership took place immediately after the realization of the need for this transition in the mid-80s (Bass & Avolio, 1992). The challenges at the turn of the century required new solutions, marking the first time a massive transition from transactional leadership to other capabilities.

More and more attention was paid to the emotional aspect of the interaction between the leader and subordinates. Along with the transformational approach, a charismatic approach, also based on behavioral techniques of influence, began to be singled out (Yukl, 1999). As part of this process, the leader not only leads by example and creates the need to solve problems but also associates them with the individual characteristics of subordinates and emphasizes the need for radical changes at a deeper emotional level (Yukl, 1999). However, in many ways, these types are similar, and a detailed study of them in practice in organizations has provided many important insights for developing innovative styles.

One type that has emerged in companies is servant leadership. Initially, this style was developed as a philosophical approach based on biblical teaching (Sendjaya & Sarros, 2002). Further extrapolation to business processes touched on the leader’s charisma at the theoretical level, including the foundations of the transformational approach, but at the beginning of the 21st century, this type had not yet been tested in practice (Sendjaya & Sarros, 2002). The fundamental difference is that with this type, more attention is paid to the manager’s work, while the principal value is employees or customers.

This trend has found its continuation in the development of virtuous leadership. The main direction of this style lies in the high degree of responsibility that, as a rule, more socialized leaders have, as opposed to personalized ones (Pearce et al., 2008). A separate aspect is the influence of the leader on the environment in order to create “strong” situations that have unambiguous interpretations in favor of moral behavior (Pearce et al., 2008). The generalization and standardization of virtue are distinguishing features of this approach over those previously indicated.

The focus on the operational competencies of the manager is increasingly shifting towards the psychological aspects of interaction with subordinates. Relational leadership theory puts the leader on a par with employees, centralizing the idea that a team’s success depends on the quality of relationships within and the environmental factors that influence these interactions (Uhl-Bien, 2006). Organizational processes are now based on generally accepted standards of morality, leadership ability, and charisma, but on the very nature of relationships, drawing on more and more psychological and social theories to explain them (Uhl-Bien, 2006). As a result, an attempt was made to look inside the activities of the business and create a meta-approach that combines the broadest possible coverage of categories and factors that affect the efficiency and performance of the company.

As approaches develop, researchers and practitioners gradually introduce into the theory those aspects that previous styles did not pay due attention to. The transition from operational competencies to understanding the importance of social processes as described above, followed by sustainability leadership focused on the context of the environment beyond the company (Visser & Courtice, 2011). The apparent goal of increasing the company’s profits was not the only one when it came to long-term development plans. The leader now had to deal with internal factors and the external macro-environment, including issues of ecology, politics, law, economics, society, and culture (Visser & Courtice, 2011). With the complication of the approach, the leader’s competencies were also differentiated, the corresponding sub-styles were distinguished, and specific classification of actions was integrated based on knowledge.

The expansion of the range of critical competencies in the field of leadership naturally required representatives of this profession to improve their skills. Authentic leadership was a response to this increase in the complexity of the management process. According to Gardner et al., an essential component of a successful approach is the implementation in organizational activities of the identity and “nature” of the person responsible for this work (2011). Authenticity was often compared with the ideal, and the task of the leader in adopting the term was to realize their own best qualities in the context of the company’s goals (Gardner et al., 2011). The theory again focused on the leader’s figure, this time taking into account key skills and mental harmony with oneself.

The importance of a balanced and responsible attitude towards a person has been continued in ethical leadership. Any company gradually acquires social responsibility, so far at the internal level, caused by the need to consider cultural and individual factors due to their significant impact on the work process and the atmosphere in the team (Eisenbeiß & Brodbeck, 2014). Combining virtuous and relational leadership through the prism of an authentic approach has given rise to a new branch of development of management theories, which has become established as a standard of social and ethical responsibility, enshrined in reputational requirements and codes in many companies.

The development of research, which began to study quantitative efficiency indicators in companies to a greater extent, required new theoretical hypotheses and interpretations of the results obtained. Critical leadership is creating a new approach in which progressive pragmatism and prudent decision-making are key leadership competencies (Alvesson & Spicer, 2012). Constant critical scrutiny ensures the relevance of actions by questioning and testing established customs and habits (Alvesson & Spicer, 2012). Against the backdrop of this trend, researchers subjected the leadership process itself to a similar assessment (Brundy, 2018). The main argument of this point of view is the subjective nature of the term, and the effectiveness of management processes and tasks are aimed at (Brundy, 2018). The direct functional competencies of the leader against the background of mental, social, environmental, and other issues have long been neglected in theories. As a result, the subjectivity of any processes associated with management is emphasized, which gives impetus to a mass of more narrowly focused studies.

Cultural differences shape social values, and in every part of the world, leadership styles change accordingly. Many researchers have looked for a unique type in their region, such as “African leadership” (Kirk & Bolden, 2006). The value base is assessed in terms of the influence of Western cultures with the ideology of colonialism, but at the same time, it was its representatives who laid down a lot of practical ideas (Kirk & Bolden, 2006). However, the search for practical implementations of the national style took time and experimentation to adapt historical predispositions to, for example, teamwork and interdependence (April & Ephraim, 2006). Against the backdrop of these trends, African leaders often came to search for authenticity as an implementation of local culture in business processes and to address issues of legitimacy, having been a dependent region for a long time (Fourie et al., 2017). As a result, Africa has taken the path of developing social and environmental responsibility, adjusted for local attitudes and values.

The Afrocentric picture of leadership is filled with many historical and cultural meanings. First, in the colonial region, the issue of subordination has always had a negative connotation. Second, the concept of power is positively associated with a form of heroism (Eyong, 2017). Finally, the African style of thinking has always assumed collective participation in solving any problem, contrary to Western individualism (Eyong, 2017). Consequently, social responsibility, which began to stand out as a different theory in developed countries, was initially laid down as a value in African society (Karp, 2003). If Western companies began to partly artificially educate managers and employees in the norms of ethical interaction out of necessity, then leaders in Africa immediately considered this aspect as a national feature.

As a result, the values ​​of public goods and the vectors of sustainable business development today cannot do without implementing the requirements of social and environmental responsibility by the organization. These trends have given rise to the theory of responsible leadership, which goes beyond the manager-subordinate relationship and operational performance improvement (Maak, 2007). It focuses on long-term values, including social capital, which is one aspect of reflecting harmony with the external environment (Maak, 2007; Lehmann et al., 2010). In 2011, this style was rare, and therefore the researchers looked for parallels with already developed theories of virtue, expanding the concept of responsibility in the context of company performance (Cameron, 2011). However, over time and with the development of organizational processes, these approaches began to be considered in globalization trends (Voegtlin et al., 2012). Ethical conflicts caused by cultural heterogeneity companies face due to the technological development of the speed and range of information transfer require modern solutions that consider every stakeholder’s interests, from company employees to universal goals (Voegtlin et al., 2012). In fact, responsible leadership has drawn a line under all the considered theories, trying to classify all the essential competencies of the leader in terms of human capabilities and world processes.

Modern research is again focusing on the leader and the necessary skills for the job and how to get them. If, before, theories described business processes, the qualities of a leader, and the features of interaction with subordinates, then having reached a certain consensus, it was necessary to find a source of the necessary competencies. Classical higher education, according to research, plays a more critical role in developing the necessary leadership skills than specialized courses (Muff et al., 2022). Within the framework of obtaining a bachelor’s or master’s degree, students are free in their social activities, which better shows their characteristics.


The phenomenon of leadership has come a long way from the need to conceptualize and standardize processes to improve a company’s efficiency in generating profits to a much broader area of ​​responsibility for each leader that goes beyond one organization and can reach global problems. With the development of technology, the opportunities for the competition are growing, which requires appropriate decisions from managers. The ongoing process of globalization places before every person in power social and environmental tasks that must be carried out at the same high level as the operational activities within the organization.


Alvesson, M., & Spicer, A. (2012). Critical leadership studies: The case for critical performativity. Human Relations, 65(3), 367-390.

April, K., & Ephraim, N. (2006). Implementing African leadership: An empirical basis to move beyond theory. In International Conference on Values-Based Leadership, Stellenbosch University, South Africa. Web.

Bass, B. M., & Avolio, B. J. (1990). Developing transformational leadership: 1992 and beyond. Journal of European Industrial Training, 14(5).

Brundy, C. (2018). Critical views of leadership and the academic library. Library Leadership & Management, 32(3).

Cameron, K. (2011). Responsible leadership as virtuous leadership. In Responsible leadership (pp. 25-35). Springer, Dordrecht.

Eisenbeiß, S. A., & Brodbeck, F. (2014). Ethical and unethical leadership: A cross-cultural and cross-sectoral analysis. Journal of Business Ethics, 122(2), 343-359.

Eyong, J. E. (2017). Indigenous African Leadership: Key differences from Anglo-centric thinking and writings. Leadership, 13(2), 133-153.

Fourie, W., Van der Merwe, S. C., & Van der Merwe, B. (2017). Sixty years of research on leadership in Africa: A review of the literature. Leadership, 13(2), 222-251.

Gardner, W. L., Cogliser, C. C., Davis, K. M., & Dickens, M. P. (2011). Authentic leadership: A review of the literature and research agenda. The Leadership Quarterly, 22(6), 1120-1145.

Karp, T. (2003). Socially responsible leadership. Foresight, 5(2), 15-23.

Kirk, P., & Bolden, R. (2006, June). African Leadership: Insights, meanings, and connotations. In Leadership and Management Studies in Sub-Sahara Africa Conference (pp. 26-28). Retrieved April 27, 2022, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/251205158

Lehmann, M., Toh, I., Christensen, P., & Ma, R. (2010). Responsible leadership? Development of CSR at Danfoss, Denmark. Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management, 17(3), 153-168.

Maak, T. (2007). Responsible leadership, stakeholder engagement, and the emergence of social capital. Journal of Business Ethics, 74(4), 329-343.

Muff, K., Delacoste, C., & Dyllick, T. (2022). Responsible Leadership Competencies in leaders around the world: Assessing stakeholder engagement, ethics and values, systems thinking and innovation competencies in leaders around the world. Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management, 29(1), 273-292.

Pearce, C. L., Waldman, D. A., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2008). Virtuous leadership: A theoretical model and research agenda. In The Virtuous Organization: Insights from Some of the World’s Leading Management Thinkers (pp. 211-230).

Sendjaya, S., & Sarros, J. C. (2002). Servant leadership: Its origin, development, and application in organizations. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 9(2), 57-64.

Uhl-Bien, M. (2006). Relational leadership theory: Exploring the social processes of leadership and organizing. The Leadership Quarterly, 17(6), 654-676.

Visser, W., & Courtice, P. (2011). Sustainability leadership: Linking theory and practice. Available at SSRN 1947221. 

Voegtlin, C., Patzer, M., & Scherer, A. G. (2012). Responsible leadership in global business: A new approach to leadership and its multi-level outcomes. Journal of Business Ethics, 105(1), 1-16.

Yukl, G. (1999). An evaluation of conceptual weaknesses in transformational and charismatic leadership theories. The Leadership Quarterly, 10(2), 285-305.

Make a reference

Pick a citation style


PapersGeeks. (2023, August 6). Leadership: Theories and Styles. https://papersgeeks.com/leadership-theories-and-styles/

Work Cited

"Leadership: Theories and Styles." PapersGeeks, 6 Aug. 2023, papersgeeks.com/leadership-theories-and-styles/.

1. PapersGeeks. "Leadership: Theories and Styles." August 6, 2023. https://papersgeeks.com/leadership-theories-and-styles/.


PapersGeeks. "Leadership: Theories and Styles." August 6, 2023. https://papersgeeks.com/leadership-theories-and-styles/.


PapersGeeks. 2023. "Leadership: Theories and Styles." August 6, 2023. https://papersgeeks.com/leadership-theories-and-styles/.


PapersGeeks. (2023) 'Leadership: Theories and Styles'. 6 August.

Click to copy

This paper on Leadership: Theories and Styles was created by a student just like you. You are allowed to use this work for academic purposes. If you wish to use a snippet from the sample in your paper, a proper citation is required.

Takedown Request

If you created this work and want to delete it from the PapersGeeks database, send a removal request.