Although trait, behavioural, and contingency approaches have each contributed to the understanding of leadership, none of the approaches have provided a completely satisfactory explanation of leadership and leadership effectiveness. Since the 1970s, several alternative theoretical frameworks for the study of leadership have been advanced.
Leader-member exchange theory
Leader-member exchange (LMX) theory was initially called the vertical dyad linkage theory. The theory was introduced by George Graen and various colleagues in the 1970s and has been revised and refined in the years since. LMX theory emphasizes the dyadic (i.e., one-on-one) relationships between leaders and individual subordinates, instead of the traits or behaviors of leaders or situational characteristics.
Transformational Leadership Theories
Beginning in the 1970s, a number of leadership theories emerged that focused on the importance of a leader’s charisma to leadership effectiveness. Included within this class of theories are House’s theory of charismatic leadership, Bass’s transformational leadership theory, and Conger and Kanungo’s charismatic leadership theory.
These theories have much in common. They all focus on attempting to explain how leaders can accomplish extraordinary things against the odds, such as turning around a failing company, founding a successful company, or achieving great military success against incredible odds. The theories also emphasize the importance of leaders’ inspiring subordinates’ admiration, dedication, and unquestioned loyalty through articulating a clear and compelling vision.
Substitutes for leadership theory
Kerr and Jermier introduced the substitutes for leadership theory in 1978. The theory’s focus is concerned with providing an explanation for the lack of stronger empirical support for a relationship between leader traits or leader behaviors and subordinates’ satisfaction and performance. The substitutes for leadership theory suggest that characteristics of the organization, the task, and subordinates may substitute for or negate the effects of leadership, thus weakening observed relationships between leader behaviors and important organizational outcomes.
The substitutes for leadership theory have generated a considerable amount of interest because it offers an intuitively appealing explanation for why leader behavior impacts subordinates in some situations but not in others. However, some of its theoretical propositions have not been adequately tested. The theory continues to generate empirical research.
This approach to leadership reflects a philosophy that leaders should be servants first.
Leadership continues to be one of the most written about topics in the social sciences. Although much has been learned about leadership since the 1930s, many avenues of research still remain to be explored as we enter the twenty-first century.