Two Leadership Theories: Comparison and Contrast Essay


There are different types of leadership theory essay due to the high demand for leadership behavior for many professionals in various fields of business. Leadership theory proves the concept that leaders are not born but a person can obtain some leadership traits by training and learning.

Commonly an essay on leadership theories lacks scientific background of positive arguments. In this paper we carefully studied two leadership theories to provide in-depth analysis of them.

Two Leadership Theories: Comparison and Contrast

Two Theories

As the name indicates, Situational Leadership Theory holds that no single leadership style or persona is effective, as the circumstances of each group dictate the best approach.  This then also goes to degree, as the necessary style for the situation may call for varying levels of authority and leadership interaction with followers.  As open as the theory is, it does depend on follower readiness to engage, which in turn informs the leader of the appropriate style and strategy to employ; this aspect relies on follower  ability and willingness, the two components inherent to the theory and necessary for providing the leader with what they require to know.  All of this was developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard in the 1960s, who are credited with originating the theory (Hackman, Johnson, 2013,  p. 84).  In a revised version, Blanchard would later redefine ability and willingness as competence and commitment, expressions seemingly synonymous with the initial traits.

A difficulty with Situational Theory is that the model seems to defy empirical validation; as the leadership is so based upon the specific situation and the unique traits of the followers as assessed by the leader, there is no measurement standard generally applicable (Chemers, 2014,  p. 56).  It is based on qualities of adaptation and, as the actual leadership style derives from the leader’s perceptions of the followers’ levels of ability and willingness, there is little uniformity allowing to gauge the success of the unique leadership styles essentially generated by the theory in practice.

Only a few years after Hersey and Blanchard first presented Situational Theory, Robert K. Greenleaf’s The Servant as Leader was published in 1970, and established Greenleaf as the “father” of Servant Leadership Theory.  It should be nonetheless noted that the theory did not originate with Greenleaf save as a specific leadership model; in religious and secular histories, there are multiple concepts endorsing the philosophy behind the theory (Spears, Lawrence, 2002,  p. 56).  In leadership, also, the concept is not easy to grasp because it seems to contradict traditional ideas of leaders as core authority figures.  The basis of Servant Leadership is, in fact, a duality; the leading occurs only through serving the needs of the followers and/or objective.  When these needs are identified, actual leadership is engaged when the leader acts to improve the autonomy, knowledge, and general states of being of the followers, which in turn encourages commitment and ability from them.

It is no coincidence that the theory was developed by Greenleaf as a response to the student apathy he perceived in the mid-20th century, as it is based more on a philosophical approach than a strategic one (Spears, Lawrence, p. 54).  Nonetheless, the theory has become increasingly focused upon over time, and likely due to its emphasis on the needs of the many as dictating the efforts of the leaders.  The servant leader sets personal ambitions aside, and perceives their role as one committed to the welfare of the group.  The leadership element then relies on this as establishing the leader through the followers’ understanding of the commitment.  It is in a sense a theory in which leadership is passive, although in practice the passivity may well translate to truly effective leading.

Above all, it demands that the leader’s primary interest be how they may best attend to the needs of the group which, in bringing out the best in followers, goes to an almost organic quality of actual leading.


An essential similarity between Situational and Servant Leadership Theories lies in what may be termed immediacy.  Both are focused on understanding the actual and unique circumstances at hand and consequently concerned with addressing them as such.  The situational leader makes the effort to fully comprehend the abilities and levels of commitment of the followers, as well as the needs of the group, and this must be similarly achieved by the servant leader.  Neither is able to lead within the parameters of each theory without this emphasis on the natures of the followers, so Situational Theory may, in fact, be seen as a modification of the Servant Leadership developed shortly after it.

In terms of difference, there is the inescapable fact that Servant Leadership differs from all other theories in essentially inverting the traditional or usual structure of leadership.  The situational leader must understand – and promote – the identities of the followers in order for the group to achieve, but the servant leader is far more directed to making those identities the primary focus, and in a sense letting the process of the group evolve from this commitment to serving the followers.  This is a critical distinction as, again, it reinforces the unique approach of Servant Leadership.  In Situational and other Theory, leadership as an actual identity exists in a traditional way, while the servant leader is a leader only insofar as they occupy the role of serving.

Implications for ECE/Personal Response

Leadership is invariably important no matter the organization or group, but it may be argued that it has a greater impact in the field of Early Childhood Education (ECE), simply because the most formative years of young lives are the issue at hand.  This being the reality, both theories seem to be particularly suited to ECE.  With Situational Theory, there is the enormously important aspect of the leader as recognizing the natures of the teaching and administrative staff, which have so great an effect on those young lives.  Then, the inherently shifting situations within ECE itself seem to validate the theory all the more, and at multiple levels; as the leader takes in the abilities and commitment levels of the staff, so too must the teachers engage in fully comprehending the identities of the children.  Situational Leadership facilitates through comprehension (Meredith, 2007,  p. 68), and it is difficult to conceive of a better approach for ECE.

Servant Leadership provides much in the way of similar advantages, certainly in its emphasis on focusing on all followers’ needs, which in turn relies on an understanding of follower identities.  At the same time, this same emphasis may be out of place in ECE, and mainly because it weakens the authoritative structure at least marginally necessary in a school environment.  It is certainly valuable for an ECE leader, as teacher or administrator, to be as aware of the needs and natures of the groups.  At the same time, there is no escaping that ECE adheres to agendas in place which, if subject to modification based on the leader’s knowledge of the followers’ abilities, willingness, and needs, demand a more traditional style of leadership.  This being the reality, I am personally inclined to consider Situational Leadership as more appropriate for a preschool director, simply because it combines a “humanist” awareness with a commitment to leading as an active function.  I am wholly in favor of incorporating guiding thinking of Servant Leadership into such a style because, in my view, all good leadership is ultimately Servant Leadership, no matter the processes; it is the welfare of the group that must be paramount if any value or goals are to be achieved.  Nonetheless, Servant Leadership in the Greenleaf model is, I think, too intrinsically passive to be the sole theory in place in a preschool environment.


  1. Chemers, M.  (2014).  An Integrative Theory of Leadership.  New York: Psychology Press.
  2. Hackman, M. Z., & Johnson, C. E.  (2013).  Leadership: A Communication Perspective, Sixth Edition. Long Grove: Waveland Press.
  3. Meredith, E. M.  (2007).  Leadership Strategies for Teachers.  Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press.
  4. Spears, L. C., & Lawrence, M.  (2002).  Focus on Leadership: Servant-Leadership for the Twenty-First Century.  Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons.
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