The 25 Leadership Theories Every Manager Needs to Know

Whether you’ve been a leader for two years or twenty, you’ve learned a lot of what you know through experience. The lessons of experience are the best kind, really – you learn by doing, by making mistakes and adjusting your behavior accordingly. The more times you see a certain leadership situation, the better chance you have of responding to it with patience, skill and confidence.

While there’s no substitute for experience, there is something that can enhance your leadership capability – a working knowledge of the classic leadership models, frameworks and theories. If you want to excel at setting strategy, managing people, and get things done, you need to know something about the origins of human behavior. In fact, I believe there are certain models and theories that every leader should know (see the list, below). This list includes frameworks on strategy, marketing, communications, decision making, etc., and is meant for leaders at all levels. If you become familiar with these 25 models, you’ll have a well-rounded perspective on the underlying foundations of leadership.

Studying the classic models, frameworks and theories of leadership isn’t just for “leadership nerds” – if you’re serious about becoming a true student of leadership, you should know the basics of human behavior. And you should teach them to your team. Try this – in your regular staff meetings, take one theory a week and discuss it as a group. One approach is to make it a development assignment for your team members, and have them do the research and lead the discussion. However you end up using the knowledge, make an effort to learn the theories and models that shape your world as a people manager. By the way, give yourself a little quiz before you click away from this column. How many of these theories are you familiar with? Which ones could you describe right now?

The 25 Leadership Theories Every Manager Needs to Know

  1. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
  2. Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory
  3. McClelland’s Theory of Needs
  4. Attribution Theory
  5. Model of Personal Power
  6. Theory X, Theory Y
  7. Situational Leadership
  8. Servant Leadership
  9. Emotional Intelligence
  10. Leadership Pipeline
  11. Smart Goals
  12. Appreciative Inquiry
  13. Johari Window
  14. 9-Box
  15. RACI
  16. SWOT Analysis
  17. Strategic Intent
  18. 7-S Framework
  19. Balanced Scorecard
  20. Five Forces
  21. 3 Levels of Culture
  22. Groupthink Theory
  23. Kaizen
  24. 4 P’s of Marketing
  25. Product Life Cycle