7 Things You Don't Want to Hear About Leadership Theories

By Charlie Knight |


There are plenty of models, theories, and styles of leadership. Which one is best for you depends on your outlook, personality, and business needs. It’s a big business, too. Take a look in your local business directory and you will find hundreds of leadership theory experts and courses. In fact, you might even fancy yourself as an excellent leader yourself. The trouble is, there are some issues with leadership theories that you might not know, or even want to hear. Here are seven of them. 

You can’t run a company based on a book

If you follow one leadership theory, you can’t possibly expect to succeed by only using that theory. And, even if you mix things up a little with a number of different texts, you are still missing one important thing: the human element. People are, by and large, chaotic. Everyone is different, and you can’t pigeonhole them in the way that so many leadership theories try. Also, if you are just following someone else’s rules for your business, can you really say you are a leader? Because, in most cases, you won’t be. You will be a follower, and the only thing that marks you apart from anyone else in your company is your position and your ownership of a book. Great leadership needs a combination of good theory, experience, intellect, and personality. And, it also needs a knowledge of how the current world works - not the world of the 1960s and 1970s.

There’s too much of it

Turn on your computer and go to Google to type in ‘leadership theory’. There are almost 24.5 million results - which tells you a lot about the noise around this subject. So, what’s right, and what is a waste of your time? There are probably kernels of good stuff in most of them and a lot of waffle in others. You might want to follow the Great Man Theory if you feel you were born to be a leader. Or, you might feel that Transformational Leadership is the way to go because you have an inspirational character. And, there are hundreds - if not thousands - of other theories that will tell you other, completely different things. How about putting down the books, getting down to business, and forgetting about theory altogether?

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They are easy to hide behind

Imagine, for a second, what it will be like the next time your company hits a rocky road. Profits have hit the skids, and morale is at its lowest ever ebb. What is it that will pick your team up by the scruff and pull everyone through? It might be through reading them page 217 of Leadership for the Twenty-First Century - but it’s doubtful. It’s a lot more likely to be you, your character, and the way that you inspire your team. Leadership theory can give you part of the solution to your problems. But, it’s creative thinking and personality that your employees will get behind.

They will encourage you to play the safe game

All successful businesses share lots in common, but there’s one thing that stands out a mile regarding leadership: the ability to take a risk. When you are studious about your practices and processes and take them all from a book or a model, there is no risk. You are, in essence, playing it safe and down the line every single time. That model you use might help keep your company afloat, and it may help you feel like you are winning the game. But, unless you can rise above the mediocrity and take a risk, you won’t defeat the status quo.

Inherent problems with leadership theories

Many modern leadership theories have roots in the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. And, in particular, his work on ‘master morality’ and ‘slave morality’. Now, one of the biggest proponents of this theory was, of course, Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 1940s. And, this gives you a little clue into how it works. There is a large emphasis on superiority and inferiority in this philosophy - but do they work in the modern world? Of course, there is a place for discipline and authority, but the world is a different place these days. Employees won't appreciate you thinking they are inferior, which many models suggest; albeit in a mild way. Then, of course, there are the other camps of leadership theory. They suggest that great leadership makes discipline and authority unnecessary. This is unlikely to work either, as it is impossible for any company to exist without a power structure. So, using a single leadership theory and discounting others will leave you in a vulnerable position.

It makes roles, not people

Following a leadership theory tends to persuade you to create roles, rather than concentrate on the person filling it. It’s important, particularly in this modern day, to allow individuality to breed within your company if you want success. You need to be more flexible. Don’t just give someone a job and ask them for no more than the job description, if they can bring more to the table. Allow creativity and use your people to improve your business, rather than stifle them with nothing other than a tick list of tasks. In leadership theories, there is no room for this kind of flexibility, as it doesn’t sit well inside of a model. So, again, it will only take you so far. Your judgement will have to come into play when it comes to treating people so they feel they can leave a mark in their jobs.

They lack vision

Ultimately, theories can only give you a model to work from. So, no matter how many books you read or courses you attend, it won’t make much difference if you don’t have a vision. How does your company or business idea sit within each theory? How can that theory predict the type of personalities and characters you hire? What can it tell you about the current economic status of the country you are doing business in? And, finally, how much have you spent on books, course, and seminars? The leadership theory industry is worth billions for a reason - yet if it was worth it, wouldn’t everyone be a success?

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Source: Vine 5

Charlie Knight

Written by Charlie Knight

Charlie has 3 years experience in digital marketing, helping B2B technology companies grow their businesses through inbound marketing before joining Vine Resources as Content Marketing Manager. In his spare time, Charlie enjoys travelling and the great outdoors, and he recently hiked from Mexico to Canada for charity.

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