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  • Writer's picturePeak Frameworks Team

What Are The Key Leadership Theories?

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Illuminating Leadership Theories

Leadership Theories have evolved to capture the changing dynamics of organizations and industries, each with its unique relevance and application.

This blog post aims to decipher key leadership theories – the Great Man Theory, Trait Theory, Contingency Theory, and more.

Leadership Theories
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From the innate characteristics of leaders to the transformative power of leadership, our understanding of what makes a person a 'leader' has drastically evolved over the years. This evolution has culminated in a diverse array of theories that shed light on different facets of leadership.

The Great Man Theory

Great Man Theory
Source: Florida Tech Online

The journey of leadership theories begins with the 'Great Man' theory. This idea, rooted in the 19th-century worldview, holds that leaders are born, not made. This theory stands on the assumption that great leaders have inherent traits that destine them for greatness. The 'great men' are the heroes who rise when the time calls for their leadership.

While outdated, it's crucial to understand the Great Man Theory as the precursor of subsequent leadership theories. Often associated with the 19th-century historian Thomas Carlyle, he argued that great leaders were destined for greatness from birth.

A classic example is the legendary Warren Buffett, whose inherent knack for investing led to the creation of Berkshire Hathaway, one of the most successful investment companies in the world.

However, this theory has limitations as it overlooks the importance of development and learning, factors that are critical in the ever-changing world of finance.

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Trait Theory of Leadership

Unlike the Great Man Theory, Trait Theory suggests certain traits make people better leaders. Traits such as confidence, intelligence, and perseverance are often identified as predictors of effective leadership.

Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, is a prominent example of Trait Theory. His resilience and strategic acumen, especially during the 2008 financial crisis, exemplify the significance of inherent traits in leadership.

But Trait Theory isn't absolute, as not all individuals with these traits become great leaders. Plus, it doesn't consider situational factors that might affect leadership effectiveness.

Contingency Theory of Leadership

The Contingency Theory proposes that the effectiveness of a leader depends on how the leader's style matches the situation. In the finance world, we have leaders like Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors. Her leadership approach changes based on market conditions, industry demands, and internal organizational dynamics.

Despite its practicality, the Contingency Theory assumes that leaders can't modify their styles, which may not always be the case.

Behavioral Theory of Leadership

The 1950s saw another shift with the introduction of Behavioral Theory. Here, the emphasis was on the behaviors and actions of the leader rather than their inherent traits. This theory suggested that anyone could become a leader if they learned and adopted the right set of behaviors. Leadership was no longer confined to those with specific traits; it became a learnable skill.

It focuses on the actions of leaders rather than their traits or inherent qualities. Consider the case of Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO. He didn't inherently possess all the qualities of a great leader, but his ability to learn and adapt has propelled Microsoft to new heights.

This theory, however, doesn’t factor in the situational aspects that might influence leadership style and effectiveness.

Transformational Leadership Theory

Transformational Leadership
Source: VeryWell Mind

Finally, the Transformational Leadership Theory revolves around leaders who inspire and motivate their team to exceed their own self-interests for the greater good of the organization.

Take, for instance, Elon Musk. His vision for Tesla and SpaceX has galvanized entire teams, driving groundbreaking innovation in their respective industries.

While transformative, this leadership style assumes that all followers will be inspired and motivated by the leader, which may not always hold true.


In essence, leadership theories aren't one-size-fits-all. The finance sector, with its unique demands and challenges, requires an adaptable and situational leadership approach. By understanding these theories, finance professionals can adopt a multifaceted leadership style to effectively navigate the industry’s dynamic landscape.


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