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Leadership Theories

My inspiration for this article came from an additional course I am doing - the Principal’s Global Leadership Award. I wrote this article to share my knowledge with you and to empower women out there who are hoping to become leaders! 


As I have been participating in this course and learning about leadership, I have come across many theories, such as the ‘four typologies of leadership’ (Grint 2010). These are:

  • Leadership as person

  • Leadership as position

  • Leadership as process 

  • Leadership as result


Leadership as Position:

This suggests that someone is able to lead because of the position they are in, such as the Prime Minister or President. Holding the highest political office in a country gives the person in charge a great deal of power and authority. They can make things happen quickly! Therefore, this refers to authority in a hierarchy.

Leadership as Person:

This is about who the leader is, as a person and perhaps what they believe in. This typology is where we would place remarkable leaders, such as Martin Luther King Jr or even Jesus Christ. You follow a leader if you have confidence and trust in them - you believe in who they are.

Leadership as Process:

This suggests leadership is about what leaders do. It is how they do it that makes them exceptional leaders.

Leadership as Result:

Leaders and followers go hand in hand; I don’t believe that you can have a leader without followers or followers without a leader.


Wicked Problems

Throughout the course we have also looked at different types of problems - ‘wicked problems’ and ‘tame problems’ (Grint 2010). In particular I looked at wicked problems, which are very complex (Grint, 2010). Problems can be referred to as ‘wicked’ even if they are clear, because the solution will not be clear. However, the complexity of wicked problems can be understood through collaboration, helping to reach an understanding of a solution. Through collaborative advantage, people are likely to share; they will feel that they can help contribute to making the ‘best’ decision happen. The solutions of wicked problems are either good or bad, and often lead to unpredicted consequences. An example of a wicked problem could be a terrorist attack.


Another theory we looked at recently was ‘Ubuntu’. This is a theory that not many people know about. It was introduced to me as an African Theory of Leadership, though there are some debates about this. Ubuntu philosophy refers to ‘I am because we are’ (Metz, 2018). It has been referred to as the essence of being human. According to Rivers (2015), to maximise oneself to one’s full potential, it is necessary that others are all they can be. This suggests trust and collaboration is key to the Ubuntu philosophy.

The theory of Ubuntu really stuck with me and opened my mind to all the possible situations and circumstances that we could demonstrate with Ubuntu, like mental health. If you live with your family or friends and they are extremely upset, this is likely to affect you and make you sad. For you to be the best you can be, that is, by not feeling down, your family member or friend needs to be the best they can be, by not being upset. This may demonstrate a continuous cycle, as at this stage we can say that whoever has made your family member or friend upset needs to be the best they can be. 

I will now apply all the theories at once to show you how they can be demonstrated in the world today.

Ubuntu can be applied to the Western world. New Zealand has successfully dealt with coronavirus - there have been 22 deaths and fewer than 1500 cases in the country, which is significantly lower than many countries. But how has New Zealand managed to do this? ‘We came together as a country, we believed in our political and health experts to deliver and they did’ (AingeRoy, 2020) - this demonstrates Ubuntu. The citizens of New Zealand understood that, to prevent COVID-19 cases rising and to stop the spread of the virus, they had to work together by taking all hygiene practices seriously. Thus, New Zealand citizens understood that they are alive because others are maintaining hygiene practices. This was also made possible by a significant level of trust between people and the health experts.

Ubuntu leadership settled the issue of coronavirus in New Zealand - there being no new cases (AingeRoy, 2020) demonstrated leadership (Grint, 2010). However, coronavirus is a global issue and is very complex. Therefore, it can be regarded as a wicked problem. If the situation is not controlled, through a lockdown for example, and the number of cases and deaths are allowed to increase, then the decision would be bad (Head and Alford, 2013).

To achieve the goal of controlling coronavirus globally, individuals need knowledge of Ubuntu culture, that a ‘person is a person through others’. Therefore, people need to understand that, to reduce the spread of COVID-19, they have to help make sure others do not get the virus, so that they in turn won’t get it - ‘I am only, because you are’ (Metz, 2018). This can be achieved through cooperation, as individuals can learn to lead; people can make sure others do not get COVID-19 by taking actions to protect themselves, such as wearing masks, reducing the possibility that they will spread the virus to others. 

Ubuntu culture can also be achieved through collaboration. Leaders in a prominent position, such as government leaders, business leaders and university lecturers and researchers, need to work together and share their pool of resources in order to create a vaccine which will treat and prevent the coronavirus. This means that, globally, countries need to add to each other’s resources and make each other’s laboratories and research facilities better so that a vaccine can be created which can be used for all citizens of the world. This is similar to what Rivers (2015) stated - 'to achieve goals, you have to make your teammates better'. Due to the size and scope of the COVID-19 problem, countries have to trust each other and believe that they all want the same thing. 



AingeRoy, E., 2020. New Zealand Beat Covid-19 By Trusting Leaders And Following Advice – Study. [online] The Guardian. Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jul/24/new-zealand-beat-covid-19-...

Grint, K., 2010. Leadership A Very Short Introduction. United States: Oxford University Press, pp.2- 68.

Head, B. and Alford, J., 2013. Wicked Problems. Administration & Society, 47(6), pp.711-739.  

Metz, T., 2018. An African Theory of Good Leadership. African Journal of Business Ethics, 12(2).

Rivers, D., 2015. Ubuntu Culture: 'I Am Because We Are. Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iHmB8pe3e9U> 


This article was written on the 17th November. 


Sonia is a Postgraduate student studying MSc Economics and Finance at King's College London. During her undergraduate degree she spent a year abroad studying at NTU Singapore and working in Germany her birth country. As a woman who desires to work in the financial sector you can catch her regularly reading the Financial Times and the Economist. She enjoys photography, painting as well as taking regular trips around the world.  
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