The 25 Models & Theories Every Leader Needs to Know – Part 1

Models, frameworks and theories are useful tools for leaders as they go about setting strategy, managing teams, and getting things done. Over the next several columns, we’ll explore the 25 models, frameworks and theories that I believe every leader needs to know.  This is by no means an exhaustive list – there are hundreds of management frameworks out there.  I generated this list late one night on an airplane; at the very least, it will get the conversation going.  I’m sure you’ll recognize most of these, and if so, use these columns as a helpful reminder.  My hope is that there are a few that you’re not familiar with, and that it will spark some interest in learning more about them.  We’ll look at tools and processes from the world of strategy, marketing, communications, decision making and other management disciplines.

Let’s start at the beginning.  Here are 5 foundational theories that shape our motivations and help explain how we interact with each other.  If you lead people, you need to be familiar with these classics:

1. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – published in 1954, Abraham Maslow’s model still drives motivational theory today. Simply stated, Maslow created a theory of human needs that builds like a pyramid from the ground up – the model says that we all seek to satisfy Physiological needs first (shelter, food, water), and then move through three more stages of need (Safety, Belonging, and Self-Esteem) before achieving the ultimate phase, Self-Actualization. No doubt, you learned this one in Psych 101 – but it comes in handy when understanding how people react to change, downsizing, etc.

2. Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory – a related framework is Frederick Herzberg’s model, which states that satisfaction and psychological growth are the result of two categories of motivation, which he called hygiene factors and motivator factors. Herzberg stated that people will seek first to satisfy the hygiene factors such as safety, salary, status, working conditions, etc., before they can or will be driven by motivators such as achievement, advancement, increased responsibility, etc. Again, managers need to be aware of how employees rank order their satisfiers; trying to motivate people with growth opportunities is going to be tough if they’re worried about their next paycheck.

3. McClelland’s Theory of Needs – David McClelland expanded on the motivation research by creating a framework that describes people as being driven by three primary needs: 1) the Need for Achievement, 2) the Need for Affiliation, and 3) the Need for Power. McClelland theorized that we can be categorized as falling into one of these three broad areas. The Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) provides a measure of this model, and is still a popular leadership coaching tool. Think of someone you know in a leadership role, and it’s easy to form an immediate perception of their dominant need.

4. Attribution Theory – in 1958, Fritz Heider published his theory of how people ascribe meaning to the world around them. Heider believed that people either assigned causality to external attribution (an outside agent, factor or force) or internal attribution (things that fall within our control). This is the internal/external locus of control model, and is a very useful way of understanding how people view events. This is another terrific coaching tool – many struggling employees see everything that is happening to them as someone else’s fault, and it helps to get them to accept some of the issues as being caused by their own behaviors or attitude.

5. Model of Personal Power – Janet Hagberg created this model, which I’ve also found useful in coaching executives. Hagberg defines personal power as the combination of External Power (the capacity to act) and Internal Power (the capacity to reflect). She goes on to outline six stages of power: powerlessness, power by association, power by achievement, power by reflection, power by purpose and power by wisdom. For each of these stages, there is a corresponding leadership style, and descriptions of how leaders are motivated and how they will act. I’ve found this model a great way to understand where my boss was coming from relative to their own motivations. Not only do I think every leader should know these five theories, I think they should strive to be a teacher, as well as a student, of what motivates us to do what we do. Don’t be afraid to share these models with your group; it may spark some useful and interesting discussions that you can leverage to help lead the team.