Literature Review On Leadership: Evolution, Theories And Present Climate

Leadership Theories

For as long as there have been societies, there have been leaders who seem to rise naturally and with relative ease to the top of their field.  As the world became more complicated with the rise of the factories and the potential for a minute by minute control such organizations offered, an understanding of how to maximize worker productivity and cooperation became more and more necessary.  These theories have evolved through the years to increasingly involve the workers as cooperative and equal members of the organization.  Although the new approach to leadership has led to some difficulties in implementation, the potential benefits for the organization as well as the stakeholders, meaning owners, board members, managers, employees, and consumers cannot be ignored.  The following literature review illustrates this progression.

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In “Board Structure/Composition and Remuneration Influence on Corporate Financial Performance” Rampling, Eddie, & Liu, 2011), the authors establish that there is no direct connection between the composition of traditional organizational boards or board leadership structures and financial performance of the organization despite widespread belief that such a relationship exists.  After exposing this fundamental belief, the authors examine some different forms of board compositions and leadership structures and illustrate the means used to evaluate any connection between these and the firm’s financial performance (Rampling, Eddie, & Liu, 2011).  Although these relationships have been studied in a variety of ways in the past, this study focuses on bringing the research together to determine whether the findings have yielded any meaningful results.  Because this study takes into account numerous other studies, it is able to provide a more broadly-based view upon the findings of each study conducted and concludes that, despite individual reports of inconclusive results, is able to demonstrate that while there does not seem to be any direct relationship evident between the board and the firm’s financial performance, further study into the various ways board subcommittees might affect the firm is recommended, giving rise to many new theories regarding organizational leadership.

In a study entitled “ Followers in leadership theory: Fiction, fantasy, and illusion” (Ford & Harding, 2015), the problem of the large group in bringing about effective, efficient leadership in the organization is examined as the authors study how groups tend to work together through the use of coordination games.  The authors suggest that the traditional means by which individuals are deemed to be good leaders may be much more subjective than commonly considered as a result of basic attribution theory.  In this theory, people tend to attribute qualities, both positive and negative, upon a given person based upon the outcome of situational elements existing widely outside of the individual’s influence (Ford & Harding, 2015).  To test their theory, the authors used a situational game in which it is shown that this tendency does exist in most group environments and that it becomes more pronounced within larger group settings because people become less involved in the situational elements of situations and are thus more capable of ignoring it.  Through this study, the authors illustrate why assessing leadership skills in this way can be harmful and begin to open up new means of approaching leadership roles as a means of more efficient and more effective operation.

Charismatic Leadership

The fallacies of attribution theory are also a matter of discussion in Hoffman’s article “Charismatic Leadership” (2018).  In this study, the author attempt to prove that a charismatic leader often has a significant impact upon the function of an organization.  While they acknowledge some basis of truth to the concept of attribution theory, they also illustrate numerous ways in which good leadership can work in proximity within the small group as well as strategies in which the CEO can bring about effective change in a long-armed umbrella approach to leadership over the organization as a whole (Hoffman, 2018).  As one considers the various methods to leadership to be discussed, it will become increasingly clear that a ‘total picture’ view such as these authors describe would be an essential element, although perhaps not the final or only authority, in assuring the organization continues positive progress.

Pappas examines the history of the charismatic leadership theory in her article “Are Populist Leaders Charismatic” (2016).  The origins of this theory are based upon early assumptions that great leaders were naturally endowed with superior inborn traits that would enable them to rise to the top of any crowd.  Studies concentrated on identifying what these traits might be so they could be recognized early and encouraged through education and experience.  As she reveals in her history, disappointment in not being able to find consistent natural traits that gave rise to effective leaders forced researchers to begin studying the situational environment as the probable variable in the creation of great leaders (Pappas, 2016).  However, this approach also disappointed in its lack of consistency or adequate means of measurement.  This gave natural rise to theories that included the interrelationships between the leaders and their followers and, as shall be demonstrated, continued to evolve from there. 

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It is commonly thought that regardless of the role the leader plays in a particular organization or group, they will set the standard by which all other participants will follow.  Applying their study to a global significance, the authors of “Does Perceived Societal Impact Moderate the Effect of Transformational Leadership on Value Congruence” (2017), suggest that while leadership by example is effective in reducing the levels of ‘public bad’ participated in by others, the benefits of providing this example can often serve simply to discredit and devalue the leader until s/he is no longer effective.  Using a relatively simple game design, the authors test whether the decisions of a particular individual, at no particular hierarchical level as compared to others in the group, can be influential in encouraging others to work to the public good.  Their conclusions determine that while leaders usually have a statistically significant and persistent effect on those they would lead, followers’ tendencies to side with the leader will vary depending upon the variations in the leader’s decisions (Jensen, 2017). 

Organizational leadership today

Leadership in the present climate of fuzzy boundaries and shifting power has introduced a paradox in that the traditional understanding of a leader is someone who holds power, yet the leader of today holds no more power than those he would lead.  This is the subject of the article “Managing complexity in organizations: Analyzing and discussing a managerial perspective on the nature of organizational leadership” (Törnblom, 2018).  While this is not necessarily a new concept within this field of study, the authors point out that there hasn’t been a great deal of empirical l research done into how theories of paradox have influenced empirical study.  As they apply Quinn’s model of leadership roles to some of the more prevalent implications of paradox theory, they make a case for the need for further research into behavioral complexity as well as cognitive complexity as a means of measuring effectiveness and provide an example of what they propose.  Within the article, the authors present the findings of their empirical study in which leaders’ effectiveness is determined by a rating of leadership role behavior assessed by subordinates and effectiveness is rated by superiors (Törnblom, 2018).  The results of their study demonstrate that those who engage in leadership behavior roles are much more effective as compared to those executives who do not engage in this sort of behavior and that their subordinates much more understand their position.  Through their study, the authors highlight the need for including paradox theory and behavioral complexity in leadership studies.

(Davila, Rodriguez-Lluesma, & Elvira, 2013), outlines the stakeholder theory of organizational leadership in her article.  The primary purpose of the article is to investigate how the radix organization has changed the practice of leadership and calls for new theories that are not based upon the assumption that the leader has power and control over those being led.  Stakeholder theory is suggested to be the leadership model best suited to the constantly changing and multiple expanding the organizational structure of the modern day (Davila, Rodriguez-Lluesma, & Elvira, 2013).  It is suggested that this method of leadership is particularly well-suited to provide for flexible leadership relationships as it provides a means of predicting leadership effectiveness in environments where there are fuzzy boundaries, flattened hierarchies and contractual relationships rather than more traditional employment.  According to the authors, stakeholders may exist within the organization in various capacities as well as outside of the organization without any assumption of managerial authority over stakeholders at any level.  To illustrate the main point, the authors review the various business practices that are associated with the radix organization and illustrates how the traditional managerial approach is no longer effective.  This article extends the literature on leadership theories by providing a model upon which new management structures can be organized that is not based on hierarchical concepts.

The stakeholder approach to leadership is somewhat different from other recent theories of management in that it doesn’t necessarily propose that the manager or leader necessarily determine the action from the beginning.  This view of leadership is examined in “Self-vs.-Teammate Assessment of Leadership Competence: The Effects of Gender, Leadership Self-Efficacy, and Motivation to Lead” (Rosch, Collier, & Zehr, 2014). In approaching this type of leadership style, the authors identify a sense of self-efficacy as a prime characteristic of an effective leader.  This characteristic refers to an individual’s belief that they can bring about change and the strength of this belief not only enables them to persist in the face of obstacles but encourages others to follow in their wake.  As it is presented in this study, this approach to leadership assumes the leader should individually assess a given situation, determine the best course of action, and then get other members of the organization to help them implement the plan.  This differs from the stakeholder theory in that the stakeholder theory engages other members of the organization from the beginning, facilitating a more team-oriented and ownership approach. 

In their article, (Ha-Vikström & Takala, 2016), explain what is meant by the term transformational leadership, how it is implemented and its potential implications for future leadership theory.  “Transformational leaders are typically described as those who stimulate their followers to change their motives, beliefs, values, and capabilities so that the followers’ interests and personal goals become congruent with the vision for their organization. This is contrasted with transactional leadership in which subordinates are encouraged to participate through the promise of rewards or punishments. While it is concluded that transformational leadership builds the potential for stronger positive relationships between the various hierarchies of an organization, both transactional and transformational leadership styles continue to rely on the concept of a rigidly defined hierarchical structure as the foundational element of leadership.  At the same time, they are also based upon the idea that the original motivating idea must originate within the upper echelons of this structure and then be pushed onto subordinates who are expected to confirm their opinions to that of the superiors (Ha-Vikström & Takala, 2016). 

In explaining how transformational leadership must be transcended to bring about widespread involvement, the environment and global issues are again brought forward as a field requiring a new form of leadership that differs from the old ways.  This becomes the case as advocates attempt to get as many individuals as possible to buy into the concept that they are all part-owners in such large-scale global issues and pollution, conservation and restoration.  In identifying how environmental leadership needs to be different from traditional leadership, (Uzonwanne, 2014), provides a list that sounds very similar to the list provided through stakeholder theory.  This list begins with a shared vision in that sustainability and least impact to nature are primary considerations.  It includes the concept that it is not only the members of the board, the management or the employees of a given organization that will be making the decisions, but the consumers, as well as other organizations as well as leadership, must encourage active participation from all parties (Uzonwanne, 2014).  To accomplish this kind of involvement, hierarchical structures are necessarily struck down, and the traditional concepts of competition must blend into a more flexible and cooperative dynamic give and take.


Davila, A., Rodriguez-Lluesma, C., & Elvira, M. M. (2013). Global leadership, citizenship and stakeholder management. Organizational Dynamics, 42(3), 183-190. doi:10.1016/j.orgdyn.2013.06.003

Ford, J., & Harding, N. (2015). Followers in leadership theory: Fiction, fantasy and illusion. Leadership, 14(1), 3-24. doi:10.1177/1742715015621372

Ha-Vikström, T., & Takala, J. (2016). Measuring transformational leadership profiles – an empirical study across 21 nations in a multinational company. Theoretical Issues in Ergonomics Science, 1-20. doi:10.1080/1463922x.2016.1239780

Hoffman, J. T. (2018). Charismatic Leadership. University Press of Kentucky. doi:10.5810/kentucky/9780813174723.003.0006

Jensen, U. T. (2017). Does Perceived Societal Impact Moderate the Effect of Transformational Leadership on Value Congruence? Evidence from a Field Experiment. Public Administration Review, 78(1), 48-57. doi:10.1111/puar.12852

Pappas, T. S. (2016). Are Populist Leaders “Charismatic”? The Evidence from Europe. Constellations, 23(3), 378-390. doi:10.1111/1467-8675.12233

Rampling, P. N., Eddie, I. A., & Liu, J. (2011). Board Structure/Composition and Remuneration Influence on Corporate Financial Performance. SSRN Electronic Journal. doi:10.2139/ssrn.1873047

Rosch, D., Collier, D., & Zehr, S. (2014). Self-vs.-Teammate Assessment of Leadership Competence: The Effects of Gender, Leadership Self-Efficacy, and Motivation to Lead. Journal of Leadership Education, 13(2), 96-124. doi:10.12806/v13/i2/r5

Törnblom, O. (2018). Managing complexity in organizations: Analyzing and discussing a managerial perspective on the nature of organizational leadership. Behavioral Development, 23(1), 51-62. doi:10.1037/bdb0000068

Uzonwanne, F. (2014). Leadership styles and decision-making models among corporate leaders in non-profit organizations in North America. Journal of Public Affairs, 15(3), 287-299. doi:10.1002/pa.1530.