Discover 3 Popular Leadership Theories Used Widely Today

Examining Popular Leadership Theories

Charles Butt, Kraig Jelinek, and Hubert Joly are among Glassdoor’s top CEOs for 2019. When we dive into their lives, we often wonder how some people excel in leadership while others don’t. Are leadership traits a Godsend or they can be learned from the experience? Some age-old theories suggest that some people are ‘born leaders’ while other theories focus on specific traits that can turn people into dynamic leaders. However, various variables and external factors play a great role. Let’s take a deep look into some popular leadership theories to understand the concept:

An Inside Look at Popular Leadership Theories

In the past two centuries, people have really been interested in the psychology of the human business context. As industrialisation began, researchers were intrigued by the fact that some people did better in the same conditions while other lagged behind. Therefore they researched the human psyche to decipher leadership traits and behaviours.

With this research, various new leadership theories came to light. The ultimate objective of such modern theories is to highlight the traits that make good leaders. Is it the situation that enables people to take action, or is it something within the personality that makes successful leaders? Age-old leadership theories highlighted the skills that differentiate followers from their leaders. However, modern-day theories focus on additional things like situational factors and flexibility as part of leadership.

Various leadership theories have emerged so far, but if we look at the recent style of leadership, we can see the contemporary leadership theories being implemented in workspaces. Some of these recent theories include:

1. Leader-Member Exchange Theory

Also known as an LMX theory, The Leader-Member Exchange theory focuses on the relationship between leaders and followers or managers and team members.

Think back to your school days when students were broadly categorised into popular and non-popular groups. Similarly, in every organisation, there are in-group and out-group employees.

In – Group

In-group employees actively participate in activities, have a good understanding of the leader, and spend more time with the group. The leader favours this group, acknowledges their efforts, and listens to their advice. These in-group members are also considered Yes Men; they agree with the leader to gain their favour.

Group of colleagues celebrating with their hands in the air gathered around a table
Leader-Member Exchange Theory, In-Group Celebrating
Out – Group

On the flip side, out-group employees often hold conflicting opinions with the leader. They also resist taking extra tasks and thus usually stay out of the group. As a trend, out-group members are likely to leave the firm in the future, whereas in-group members are likely to earn promotions.

Whenever a new member joins the group, a three-stage process takes place. It includes:

Role Taking

Leader of the team assesses the skills and abilities of the new employee and assigns them a role based on their skills.

Role Making

An informal conversation concerning work queries becomes common practice between the new member and the leader. If an employee has a personality and opinion similar to the leader, they are likely to stay in – group, otherwise opposite opinion holders are likely to stay out-group.


With constant interaction, a certain routine is developed. Thus, both parties develop a deep understanding of the other party. In-group members are likely to stay active, gain respect, and earn rewards. On the other hand, out-group members easily get annoyed by the leader, and they like to stay away from the group.

Most modern-day firms believe in increasing productivity at individual levels. Gone are the days when leaders use to select the core employees for getting the job done. Thus, the LMX theory suggests focusing on increasing productivity at a maximum level. For this, individual attention is imperative. Here, the challenging part for leaders is to convert out-group members into in-group members to increase productivity.

Apart from it, LMX theory pays key attention to improving diversity.  A leader should take feedback from out-group employees to address their concerns. Also, prompt attention is required to notice the barriers that may occur unintentionally for the out-group members.

2. Adaptive Leadership Theory

Marty Linsky and Ronald Heifetz introduced the leadership model known as the Adaptive Leadership Model. This theory focuses on mobilising the team members for meeting tough challenges. The old leadership style where leaders worked as dictators and forced the individuals to accomplish assigned tasks is outdated.

A multi-coloured chameleon sat on a branch against black background
Adaptive Leaders alter like a chameleon, Popular Leadership Theories

The modern leadership theory treats leaders as a helping and supporting hand for the team members. Leaders nowadays mingle with members and work for a joint cause.

For instance, a manager of a digital marketing services company can only be effective if they regularly communicate the goals for online marketing, addresses employee concerns, seeks feedback for positive change, and is ready to provide prompt digital marketing training.

For adaptive leadership, a leader must have the following qualities:

  • They must be able to comprehend other’s feeling and provide a solution.
  • Adaptive leaders always take steps for the betterment of the firm. They know how to bring change in the organisation and how to convince team members for embracing positive change.
  • An adaptive leader never sticks to any one methodology. If one tactic is not providing the desired results, they use plan B to achieve their goals.

Above all, adaptive leadership believes in the adaption skills of the leader. It means that the leader is ready to take employee feedback, provide a friendly environment for others to speak, and be ready to alter the plan as per the employee’s convenience.

3. Strength-Based Leadership

The idea behind this popular leadership theory is to identify the strengths and put them to the best possible use. It means that the leader should have a fair idea of their employees’ competencies. Besides this, they should also know the expertise of each team member.

Wooden puzzle with one blue piece missing, hand putting missing piece in place
Strength based leadership, exploits individual competencies

Instead of enforcing work on every member, the leaders’ should delegate roles as per the strengths. This will ensure maximum productivity, maximise employee satisfaction, and foster growth.

For instance, if a leader wants to do an e-commerce related task, they should assign it to a team member who is an expert of the field. This means that employees will do the work in which they have core expertise.


The concept of leadership is old, but new theories and models brought a commendable change in modern leadership styles. Adaptive leadership, LMX, and strength-based leadership concepts are some major theories practised today. Such theories provide greater productivity, cultivate a good culture, and boost employee determination.

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