Leadership Theories: The Evolution of Context

Introduction of Leadership and Leadership Theories

Leadership is responsible for the outcomes of the organization.  A set of business ethics, morality, standards, and beliefs within an organization (Yukl, George, & Jones, 2009) is a crucial need for every employee to follow.  Respecting to the norms and values, employees can increase their motivation and cooperation, leaders can improve their relationship with the workforce and influent the followers.  Leadership is, therefore, significantly relative to the culture of an organization.  Effectiveness of the leadership becomes a focus on leadership study.

There are many leadership theories those have emerged, focusing on what qualities distinguished between leaders and followers.  Despite a controversy in leadership definition and descriptions, leadership has largely become a discussion among scholars.  According to Wolinski (2010), there should be about eight major leadership theories, which have mentioned the most in many leadership researches, (a) great man theory, (b) skill theory, (c) situational theory, (d) contingency theory, (e) path goal theory, (f) transformational theory, (g) transactional theory, and (h) servant theory.  These leadership theories, however, have been a focus of leadership study in the past.  

Researchers today focus on contextual leadership and consider it as a new era of leadership study (Osborn & Marion, 2009).  Yukl et al. (2009) briefed the characteristics of leaderships through the complexity theory that includes (a) shared and distributed leadership, (b) relational leadership, (c) social networks, and (d) emergent processes in complexity theory.  However, contextual leadership theory is somewhat new to researchers focusing on the evolution of leadership theories.

The Inclusion of Context in Leadership Theories

Complexity theory systems perspective explains the processes involved in the facilitation and adaptation of an organization to changing environments.  According to Yukl et al. (2009), complexity theory defines three types of leadership processes, (a) administrative leadership, (b) adaptive leadership, and (c) enabling leadership.  Yulk et al. (2009) explained that administrative leadership, similar to other earlier theories, involves in actions and decisions made by leaders to lead the organization with planning and envisioning.  Adaptive leadership, however, shows the ability to create new conception that facilitates the resolution of conflicts.  Enabling leadership, suggested by Yulk et al, (2009), emerges solution to support the independence and innovation.  To learn how these leadership processes interact and relate in a dynamic environment in organization, researchers need to conduct more study or researches on the same topic.

Osborn, Hunt, and Jauch (2002) argued that effectiveness of leadership is embedded in context.  Enabling the ability to engage with the context, leaders are required to be able to read the context and act accordingly to the context.  Leadership in an organization takes place in a context of an organization.  Therefore, leaders in organization fail at another unless they realize the important of the context.

Research and study on leadership has been largely focused on characteristics, definitions, practices, and theories.  Despite an increased number of leadership researches among scholars, the question on the important role of contextual factors remains (Thoroughgood, Hunter, & Sawyer, 2011).  Certain organizational condition affects the leadership behavior of the leaders.  Suggesting that change in context acts as a catalyst for the adaption of leadership changes, Osborn et al., (2002) review the contextual leadership through the preview of four contexts, (a) stability, (b) crisis, (c) dynamic equilibrium, and (d) edge of chaos.  However, developing contextual leadership theory poses challenges to leaders in the 21st Century.

Osborn et al., (2002) suggested that contextual leadership calls for the new leadership that is embedded in a unique organization based on the construction of societal emergences.  Evolution of leadership theories continues by many researches and improvements, but this complexity theory involves more than just administrative, adaptive, and enabling leaderships.  In the 21st century, as the globalization and technology is rapidly developing, the business environment becomes very dynamic.  Leaders have to respond accurately and quickly to these changes in contexts.



Osborn, R., Hunt, J., & Jauch, L. (2002). Towards a contextual theory of leadership. Leadership Quarterly 13(6), 797–837.

Osborn, R., & Marion, R. (2009). Contextual leadership, transformational leadership and the performance of international innovation seeking alliances. The Leadership Quarterly, 20, 191-206.

Thoroughgood, C., Hunter, S., & Sawyer, K. (2011). Bad apples, bad barrels, and broken

followers? An empirical examination of contextual influences on follower perceptions and reactions to aversive leadership. Journal of Business Ethics, 100 647-672.

Wolinski, S. (2010, April 21). Leadership theories. [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://managementhelp.org/blogs/leadership/2010/04/21/leadership-theories/. 

Yukl, G., George, J. M., & Jones, G. R. (2009). Leadership: Building sustainable organizations

(Laureate Education, Inc., custom ed.). New York: Custom Publishing.

About Phat Pham

I don't have money to share, but I do have a desire to transform our society, starting from the workplace and the local community I serve.
Gallery | This entry was posted in Leadership and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Leadership Theories: The Evolution of Context

  1. Rosario Castilla says:

    great work, love your theme, suits the blog well 🙂

Comments are closed.