Effective leadership today requires much more than organization and delegation of tasks. It requires learned and mastered skills to inspire and empower employees and other business stakeholders to achieve key objectives. Intense competition over time continues to raise the bar for leadership expectations, from the C-suite to middle management. However, studies have shown that employees working for exceptional leaders are more engaged, feel more connected to their organizations and accomplish greater goals. They also collaborate more efficiently and stay loyal to their organizations, helping to preserve business continuity.

For leaders to achieve these results in complex and uncertain business environments, they must possess a range of capabilities that are difficult to develop in the context of a unique business role in one organization. The Center for Creative leadership has reported that between roughly 38% and half of new leaders fail within their first 18 months to be as successful as predicted in the hiring phase.

Business leaders recognize that business degrees and corporate training environments can help employees achieve better organizational results. In order to help professionals hone their business leadership schools after earning their business degrees, however, they must be able to apply concepts in the workplace while they are still fresh in their minds.


Researchers and cognitive experts have been studying and refining the science of leadership development for years. Understanding the major leadership theories these contributors have put forth is essential to developing one’s style and capabilities across an array of settings and scenarios. Here are a few of the theories every aspiring leader should know:

Transformational leadership theory: Certain leaders are known for their inspiration and passion. The transformational model is about encouraging employees, raising team morale and aligning teams with organizational goals. Transformational leaders establish a purpose early on, identify the strengths and weaknesses of contributors and inspire their teams toward their visions.

Great man theory: Leaders are born, not made, according to this theory. A capable leader is born with charm, communication skills and social aptitudes, predisposing them to leadership success.

Behavioral theory: Unlike the Great Man theory, this theory proposes that aspiring leaders do not need exceptional innate leadership traits; they can learn the majority of skills it takes to become an effective leader.

Contingency theory: Nuance is the key to this theory, which proposes that leaders must calibrate between needs, context and behavior. They must be cerebral and analytical and incorporate years of training and knowledge of leadership styles and strategies into their decision-making.

Situational theory: Like the contingency theory, this theory proposes that leaders have a well-developed arsenal of skills they can apply to different situations as conditions require. No one leadership style is best; versatility and adaptability matter most.

Skill Development

Within the framework of these and other theories, leaders find the impetus to develop and refine specific leadership skills. A business degree and work experience both expose professionals to a wide array of challenges, situations and problems that prepare them to lead, and the following are critical lessons to leading a team:

Inspire people: Transformational leaders are not just in the C-suite. Even middle managers can develop inspirational capabilities and get employees on board with departmental and organizational missions. A major component of inspiration is communicating clearly and succinctly and understanding the motivational factors of individual employees and teams.

Connect with people: The most effective leaders build mutual trust with their employees, which requires learning to connect as human beings. Taking an interest in an employee’s passions, life beyond work, ambitions and motivations establishes an essential connection.

Teach or coach people: Rather than direct people to complete tasks, effective leaders teach by example and sharing knowledge. Understand that employees have knowledge gaps and fill them. Some have less experience than others, so show them.

Encourage growth: Hire for a growth mindset and foster the desire to continue investing in professional development and learning, while focusing on day-to-day projects. This can be a hard balance to strike, but the best leaders are mindful of their employees’ long-term goals and make them their own.

Application of Theories and Skills

Often, executives and managers complain that their skills and knowledge don’t translate to the workplace. However, recent neuroscience research reveals that the distance between where a skill is learned (the locus of acquisition) and where it is applied (the locus of application) strongly influences the probability that a student will use that skill. This is called “near transfer,” a concept that works best when the social and functional questions (who else is involved and what are we using the skill for?) are resolved through practice.

Therefore, applying learned skills to real-world, relevant scenarios is critical to leadership development. Fortunately, graduates of the University of Wisconsin Parkside Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a concentration in Marketing online program, students can apply skills the next day or week at work. Through case studies and other engaging, collaborative work, students also have many opportunities within the context of the curriculum to apply what they have learned and transfer concepts from short- to long-term memory.

One course in the program titled Leadership: Theory, Application and Skill Development examines theories, strategies and approaches to leadership, including the effect of globalization and the role of ethics on leadership. It helps students contextualize the role of business school and corporate training as their careers progress.

Learn more about the University of Wisconsin Parkside’s online Master of Business Administration with a Concentration in Marketing program.