In Module 1 we initiated learning by studying leadership approaches from historical through postmodern eras.

This class, by design, establishes the historical and evolutionary context of leadership in the first three weeks. Recall that:

  • In Module 1 we initiated learning by studying leadership approaches from historical through postmodern eras.
  • Module 2 material reviewed and reconstructed the association between leadership and organizational performance. Module 2 material referenced traditional assumptions about leadership, especially individualist and transformational research, and then laid out contemporary approaches such as asymmetrical and mass leadership.
  • Now, Module 3 provides the remaining historical perspectives on leadership with concentration on theory, its evolution, and its place in postmodern thinking.

Meuser, Gardner, Dinh, Hu, Liden, and Lord (2016) posited that theories serve as a framework to organize knowledge. Theories, according to these authors, provide evidence of relationships between objects, either in tests or practice. Raelin (2007) suggested that there is a compulsion in academia to consider theory and practice as separate. Origins of the theory-versus-practice idea came from positivist thinking that reality can be explained through rationale or logic associated with theoretical frameworks. Positivists believed that knowledge garnered through objective, scientific methods was more reliable than other methods of discovery (Raelin, 2007) such as qualitative methodologies, for example.

The next video provides a refresher of the most commonly accepted leadership theories and serves as a guide for the concepts, principles, and ideas presented in Modules 4 through 8. Ten of the most prevalent leadership theories are briefly explained in the video. Use the contents of the video to monitor and assess some of your assumptions about the veracity of the theories.

Ten Leadership Theories in Five Minutes

The number of leadership theories has multiplied enormously over the last decade. More than 66 separate leadership theories were identified in scholarly publications since the year 2000 (Dinh, Lord, Gardner, Meuser, Liden, & Hu, 2014). Most of the published theories were developed independently of the others. The prolific increase in leadership theories may suggest a robust field of study; conversely the large numbers of theories add exponentially to the complexity of integrating the research (Meuser, Gardner, Dinh, Hu, Liden & Lord, 2016).

Meuser, Gardner, Dinh, Hu, Liden, & Lord (2016) conducted research using network analysis to study theoretical integration. The scholars used six of the most prevalent leadership theories, analyzed 293 articles published between 2000 and 2013, and used graphical network software to provide a visual of integration. Recall that In Module 1 we were introduced to Western’s (2013) four frames of critical inquiry; one such frame was network analysis.

Six selected leadership theories in the study of research integration

Click on each item to view key points about each theory.


Oldest modern theory. Supported great-person theory. Suggested traits including skills and behaviors could be used to predict leaders. Ties to personality assessment tools. Destructive leadership is absent.


One of the most researched theories. Draws from trait, relational, and power approaches. Often linked or interchanged with transformational theory but is not equivalent.


Extends beyond charismatic theory. Model includes idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, individualized consideration. Traits included. Influence followers. Contextual theory integrated. Diversity and destructive leadership absent.


Focuses on leadership of organizations. Skills required to lead change. Emphasis on top-level organizational roles. Trait, situational, and charismatic integrated. Multi-level approach integrated. Destructive leadership is absent.

Leadership and Diversity

Gender diversity predominant in research. Traits and transformation leadership integrated. Destructive and ethical leadership are absent.


Focus on delegation, distributed work, and non-hierarchical structures. Traditional leadership theories are absent.  Absence of cross-cultural and e-leadership integration. (Adapted from Meuser, Gardner, Dinh, Hu, Liden, & Lord, 2016)


Leadership Evolution and Diversity

The study of leadership and diversity gained traction primarily in postmodern times. Two avenues related to leadership and diversity in organization to pursue are:

  1. Challenges for leaders in culturally diverse environments
  2. Leader diversity at multiple levels of the organization.

In fields of study such as managerial communication, a preponderance of attention has been given to developing management and leadership skills to be effective in diverse organizations. There, diversity is most often extended beyond ethnicity, race, and gender to include age, culture, and background, for example. Anderson and Moynihan (2016), in a study of leader response to diversity, used functional diversity to frame the work. In this case, functional diversity referred to “skills, education, backgrounds, and experiences in groups” (p. 448). Relying on trait theory, traits, skills, and behaviors are at the center of research by those who suggested that cultural competency is perhaps the most essential quality to be effective in multicultural environments (Mareno & Hart, 2014; Martin, 2016). In communication studies, the nature of cross-cultural organizations requires leaders to understand the needs of people from cultures other than their own. The healthcare industry

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