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Theoretical overview of leadership

In 2011 the authors Muijen en Schaveling published an theoretical overview on leadership in the Dutch magazine M&O. This article provides an overview of definitions and leadership styles present in science.

What is leadership?

Many different definitions exists, but three common aspects are recognised in all these definitions.

  1. leadership is a process between a leader and a group of individuals (followers)
  2. Power and influence is key in that process
  3. That process exists in a context and exists to reach certain goals

Leadership styles

Various trends can be found in the history of leadership research.

End 40'sTrekbenaderingLeaders are born
End 70'sStijlbenaderingWhat leaders do; centred around behaviour
End 80'sContingency approachWhat leaders have to is determined by the context
End 90'sTransformational, visionary, inspiring and charismatic, ethical, authentic, servant, spiritualCharismatic vision, inspiring, empowerment, integrity, credibility


Leadership is a quality you are born with. Research focused on the physical, personality and capability attributes that separated leaders from non-leaders. Lack of consistent, empirical support lead to the move to new approaches to leadership.


In this approach the behaviour of the leader is key. What is it that leaders do and how do they act. Research focuses on the difference between task- or relation approach. Successful traits from a leader in with the task approach are: setting goals, employee allocation and sanctioning. Relation approach requires leaders that are focused on the personal relationship with employees.

Key research and model is defined by Blake and Mouton (1964, 1982). They've created the managerial grid, based on Theory Y. This model recognises five key leadership styles:

  1. Country club; focus on the personal relations.
  2. Laissez-faire; no attention for task and people. Often leader is afraid to lead
  3. Autocratic; string focus on the task, less on the people
  4. Democratic; focus for tasks and people
  5. Middle of the road; average attention for tasks and people

Contingency approach

In this approach the context is the key factor. It describes leaderships techniques that are effective in certain situations and in which situations they don't. The situational approach allows for adjustment of style given the situation.

Theoretical overview of leadership