A Summary of Leadership: Current Theories, Research, and Future Directions

A Summary of
Leadership: Current Theories, Research,
and Future Directions

By Bruce J. Avolio, Fred O. Walumbwa, and Todd J. Weber

Avolio, Walumbwa and Weber provided a detailed integrative review of leadership theories and current research paired with suggestions for future research.  The authors reflected on key leadership theories including:

  • Authentic Leadership
  • Cognitive Psychology
  • New Genre leadership
  • Complexity leadership
  • Shared, Collective or Distributed leadership
  • Leader-Member Exchange
  • Followership & Leadership
  • Substitutes for Leadership
  • Servant Leadership
  • Spirituality and Leadership
  • Cross Cultural Leadership
  • E-Leadership

Interestingly, Avolio, Walumbwa and Weber (2009) noted a holistic trend in leadership research that has shifted to include a stronger focus on “not only the leader, but also on followers, peers, supervisors, work setting/context, and culture” (p. 422), as well as, positive forms of leadership. Examining the actual process of leadership and alternative ways to examine leadership were also mentioned.  The authors commented that we are likely to see a greater use of mixed method research design including a greater emphasis on qualitiative data collection (p. 441-442).

Are leaders born or made?

Avolio et. al. noted preliminary evidence suggested 30% of leadership style is genetic.  The other 70% depended on life context including your home life and those around you at work (p. 425).

Does it matter if you are more interested in learning about leadership?

Avolio et.al. explained one’s motivation to learn or developmental readiness does impact your learning.  Individuals who are are more motivated will “embrace trigger events that stimulate their thinking about their own development as an opportunity tot improve their leadership effectiveness” (p. 426)

The authors explained the role of the follower is an important area for continued reasearch.


– In “The Switch” Chip and Dan Heath talk about the importance of people adopting identities.  Avolio cited the Lord & Brown (2001) model of how leaders can influence follower behavior.  The first was relating to the follower’s values.  The second point noted leaders “activating a specific identity to which followers can relate, creating a collective identity” (p. 427).  Identities change over time so the identity leaders choose to share can impact the effectiveness of the change that they are trying to implement.

Leadership Connections:

This article introduced the concept of E-Leadership or virtual leadership “where individuals or groups are geographically dispersed and interactions are mediated by technology.” (p. 440).  Avolio et. al. explained that e-leadership comes with it’s own set of challenges including different time zones, communication challenges, variance in hardware and software, as well as, local priorities (p.440).  Furthermore, traditional leadership models, which as Zigurs noted are built primarily on face to face interactions, may not fully explain how virtual teams work (p. 440)

Business Link:

  • Color By Amber link – Avolio et.al. explained shared leadership as “an emergent state where team members collectively lead each other” (p. 431). The authors noted that this type of leadership develops throughout the lifespan of the team and further develops the interpersonal relationships of the team members. Because Color By Amber launched in Canada in August 2014, I had the opportunity to be part of the launch.  This included the opportunity to work with leaders across Canada.  In response to team member questions and the desire to grow a positive sharing culture where team members empowered each other, our Canadian leaders opted for a culture of shared leadership which continues today on our Canadian Team Facebook group.  It’s not a hierarchy.  It’s a culture of sharing regardless of upline, downline or a different team’s line. The purpose is to help each other grow stronger and provide better service to our customers.
  • The section on e-leadership is one that I am currently pursuing.  I wonder as the authors noted how does e-leadership work?  How do you build the know, like and trust factor?  This article was also written in 2009, which means that there are tremendously different types of technology available to facilitate face to face distance interactions.

Overall this article provided a detailed, academic, overview of different theories of leadership and related research.  I appreciated the author’s future focus summaries which pointed out areas where more research is still needed.

Annual Review of Psychology

Vol. 60: 421-449 (Volume publication date January 2009)
DOI: 10.1146/annurev.psych.60.110707.163621

PDF: http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/pdf/10.1146/annurev.psych.60.110707.163621


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