Paul Williamson delivered a seminar on leadership theory, reflecting his experience as a management consultant and training specialist.

The shelves of the business and management sections of book shops seem to be groaning under the weight of management gurus’ thoughts on leadership. This is indicative of society’s demand for effective leaders. Modern business practices, characterised by rapid change and increased specialisation, call now more than ever for integrative leaders. Similarly, the political uncertainties of our post 9/11 world increasingly require political leaders who can manufacture meaning and communicate their vision.

Sadly, for those of us who aspire to effective leadership, there seem to be myriad theories on what makes a good leader, what behaviours they adopt and which characteristics they possess. Many of those who have written about, or researched, leadership concede that there is not one universal, ‘holy grail’ theory of leadership. Leadership is a complex, multi-faceted concept. Consequently, theories tend to be either too complex to be easily put into practice or too simplistic to shed any real light on what it takes to be a good leader.

Williamson holds that, even in the absence of any single, universal concept of leadership, lessons can be learnt from considering existing theories and research. Accordingly, he traced the development of theories of leadership, beginning with “trait” theories, which hold that all leaders will display certain necessary characteristics, and ending with more complex “contingency” theories which seek to enable leaders to adapt their management style to fit various external and internal factors.

Williamson does not purport to construct an entirely new, over-arching theory of leadership. Instead, he has drawn on existing theories and their critics to pick out a number of observations and lessons using an eclectic approach. In doing so, Williamson offers answers to some of the big leadership questions: Are leaders born or made? Should leaders always seek to be democratic in style? And what exactly is leadership anyway?

Williamson concludes that modern business and the expectations of those with whom we work require leaders to constantly adapt their approach in order to get the best from their team. To be effective, therefore, leaders need to be able to develop freedom of action and shape their environment. Williamson offered some practical advice on how leaders may learn to do so. He also offered advice on how organisations can empower their leaders to meet today’s challenges.