ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Leadership Theories: Great Man ,Trait ,Contingency, Transformational & Servant Theories

Updated on August 31, 2016

Great Man Theory -“Pre-1900; continues to be popular in biographies”

The Great Man theory occurs when a momentous development of an exceptional person befalls that individual, and he or she has a significant impact on society. It is said that the person who falls into this category of leadership does so during an era that is influenced by the need of social change (Kouzes & Perry).

An example of a person that exemplifies the great man theory is President Barack Obama. In 2008, the then Senator Barack Obama’s presidential campaign slogan was, “Change We Can Believe In.”There are many different reasons to categorize Barrack Obama in the public-sector leadership theory of “Great Man.”

During his campaign the need for social change could be seen in many different segments of America. Here are just a few examples:

  1. High unemployment

  2. Sub-prime mortgage crunch

  3. Two wars

  4. Inability to catch Bin Laden

  5. Americans frightened by terror attacks within the United States and homegrown terror cells already in America

President Barack Obama can be categorized in the public-sector leadership theory of “Great Man,” due to his effort to level the playing field between socioeconomic classes in the United States. Citizens from different economic and social backgrounds found themselves without healthcare prior to President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, also known as, Obamacare. While this may have seemed like a long battle, on June 25, 2015, The Supreme Court of the United States heard its’ second case, in which opponents of the Affordable Care Act alleged that the law was contrary to the constitution. However, in a 6-3 decision the Supreme Court upheld Obamacare (Liptak, 2015). Here is how the Justice voted: 6) Roberts, Kagan, Ginsberg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kennedy- 3) Thomas, Alito and Scalia. This means the tax subsidy for the Affordable Care Act will come from the federal government making everyone eligible.

Another example of why President Obama fits into “the public-sector leadership theory of Great Man category," is because he has been influenced by the need of social change within the LGBT community. It is doubtful that in 2004, Senator Obama could have imagine himself as the man who would, one day come to be known as the President who championed LGBT rights. Ironically, in 2004, Senator Obama stated, “What I believe is that marriage is between a man and a woman,” (Solomon, 2014). President Obama understands the need for social change and recognizes equal rights’ issues.

On June 26, 2015,the Supreme Court of the United States ruled 5-4 to make same-sex marriage federal law, which means all fifty states, must recognize gay marriage. Here is the breakdown: 5) Kagan, Ginsburg, Kennedy, Breyer and Sotomayor – 4) Roberts, Scalia, Alito, Thomas (Liptak, 2015). President Obama has had a significant impact on society during his presidency and therefore is the epitome of the “Great Man Theory.”

Trait Theory - 1900-1948; current resurgence of recognition of importance of natural talents”

According to the trait theory, there are a number of characteristics that describe this type of leader. Leaders who possess individual traits such as aptitude, drive and the ability to effectively influence through communication fall under the trait theory of leadership; however, other natural abilities such as scientific and industrial capabilities are just as important (Kouzes & Perry, 2010).


Steve Jobs is an example of a groundbreaker who exemplifies the trait theory capabilities of a leader. It comes as no surprise that Mr. Jobs developed his technological talents to become an entrepreneur. According to his biography, Steve Jobs often as a child disassembled electronic devices in his garage because of his interest in digital chips. He later went on and worked for Atari for a brief time. After traveling to India, to find spiritual awareness, Steve Jobs came back to the United States. In 1976, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak started Apple Computers. The two of them went on to transform computers. The rest is history. This history includes, “… such revolutionary products as the MacBook Air, iPod and iPhone, all of which have dictated the evolution of modern technology” (Steve Jobs bio., 2011).

Contingency Theory - “1948-1980s; continues as the basis of most rigorous models but with vastly expanded situation repertoire”

According to the contingency theory, an importance is based on circumstantial responsiveness and changes that the leader must face while engaging his or her followers. Individuals that fit into the contingency theory of leadership are highly motivational people and often times will assemble groups to test drive how these people may react to each other when given a specific task to complete as a team (Kouzes & Perry, 2010).

Drill sergeants are incredibly motivational individuals, and they serve as a good example of contingency theory leaders. Drill sergeants deal with a tremendous amount of variables. Arguably, their most important task is motivating regular citizens to accept and master the challenges that come with being a soldier. It is the drill sergeants’ task to tear down the citizen and rebuild him or her as a soldier. While most think that basic training is a physical test, few realize the psychological tests that drill sergeants provide to their troops, which ultimately can be the difference between life and death on the battle field. Drill Sergeants shift traits and have the ability to motivate even the idlest people. This is why drill sergeants fit into the contingency theory of leadership.


Test Your Knowledge

view quiz statistics

Transformational Theory – “1978- Present”

According to leadership theories, the transformational theory accentuates leaders who are able to make profound modifications in culture and processes surrounding different aspects of principles. Devices used by transformational leaders include the leader’s charisma, ideas and overall intuition (Kouzes & Perry, 2010).

Is there a leader who fits the definition of the transformational theory more than the sixteenth President of the United States? Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery and led a nation through a civil war. These are deep establishment changes that profoundly changed a nation. Importantly, he not only led the United States through the Civil War, he mended the north and south. Due to his leadership the United States of America remained one nation, instead of becoming two.

Servant Theory - “1977- Present”

According to the servant theory of leadership, leaders put an emphasis on the moral obligation to those that they lead. This ethical code may include leaders in the private sector and public sector who stress the importance of legal obedience. Also, the servant theory was influenced by the cultural phenomenon of sensitivity that was born during the 1960s and 1970s (Kouzes & Perry, 2010).

While most individual are unable to name the Supreme Court Justices from 1966, they probably know what Miranda rights are. These nine justices are a good example of the servant theory. Moreover, these justices ensured that individuals would not be stripped of their Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights (This day in History, 2012).

1966 United States Supreme Court Justices
1966 United States Supreme Court Justices | Source


Kouzes, J., & Perry, J.L. (2010). The Jossey Bass Reader on Nonprofit andPublic Leadership.

Liptak, A. (2015).Supreme Court Allows Nationwide Health Care Subsidies & Same-Sex Marriage Is a Right, Supreme Court Rules, 5-4.

© 2015 Suzanl


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)