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Leadership
Eighth Edition
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To Madison, Isla, and Sullivan
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Leadership
Theory and Practice
Eighth Edition
Peter G. Northouse
Western Michigan University
5
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Printed in the United States of America
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Northouse, Peter Guy, author.
Title: Leadership : theory and practice / Peter G. Northouse, Western Michigan University.
Description: Eighth Edition. | Thousand Oaks : SAGE Publications, [2018] | Revised edition of the author’s
Leadership, 2015. | Includes index.
Identifiers: LCCN 2017049134 | ISBN 9781506362311 (pbk. : alk. paper)
Subjects: LCSH: Leadership. | Leadership—Case studies.
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Classification: LCC HM1261 .N67 2018 | DDC 303.3/4—dc23 LC record available at
https://lccn.loc.gov/2017049134
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https://lccn.loc.gov/2017049134
Brief Contents
1. Preface
2. Acknowledgments
3. About the Author
4. About the Contributors
5. 1. Introduction
6. 2. Trait Approach
7. 3. Skills Approach
8. 4. Behavioral Approach
9. 5. Situational Approach
10. 6. Path–Goal Theory
11. 7. Leader–Member Exchange Theory
12. 8. Transformational Leadership
13. 9. Authentic Leadership
14. 10. Servant Leadership
15. 11. Adaptive Leadership
16. 12. Followership
17. 13. Leadership Ethics
18. 14. Team Leadership
19. 15. Gender and Leadership
20. 16. Culture and Leadership
21. Author Index
22. Subject Index
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Detailed Contents
Preface
Acknowledgments
About the Author
About the Contributors
1. Introduction
Leadership Defined
Ways of Conceptualizing Leadership
Definition and Components
Leadership Described
Trait Versus Process Leadership
Assigned Versus Emergent Leadership
Leadership and Power
Leadership and Coercion
Leadership and Management
Plan of the Book
Summary
References
2. Trait Approach
Description
Intelligence
Self-Confidence
Determination
Integrity
Sociability
Five-Factor Personality Model and Leadership
Strengths and Leadership
Emotional Intelligence
How Does the Trait Approach Work?
Strengths
Criticisms
Application
Case Studies
Case 2.1 Choosing a New Director of Research
Case 2.2 A Remarkable Turnaround
Case 2.3 Recruiting for the Bank
Leadership Instrument
Leadership Trait Questionnaire (LTQ)
Summary
References
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3. Skills Approach
Description
Three-Skill Approach
Technical Skills
Human Skills
Conceptual Skills
Summary of the Three-Skill Approach
Skills Model
Competencies
Individual Attributes
Leadership Outcomes
Career Experiences
Environmental Influences
Summary of the Skills Model
How Does the Skills Approach Work?
Strengths
Criticisms
Application
Case Studies
Case 3.1 A Strained Research Team
Case 3.2 A Shift for Lieutenant Colonel Adams
Case 3.3 Andy’s Recipe
Leadership Instrument
Skills Inventory
Summary
References
4. Behavioral Approach
Description
The Ohio State Studies
The University of Michigan Studies
Blake and Mouton’s Managerial (Leadership) Grid
Authority–Compliance (9,1)
Country-Club Management (1,9)
Impoverished Management (1,1)
Middle-of-the-Road Management (5,5)
Team Management (9,9)
Paternalism/Maternalism
Opportunism
How Does the Behavioral Approach Work?
Strengths
Criticisms
Application
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Case Studies
Case 4.1 A Drill Sergeant at First
Case 4.2 Eating Lunch Standing Up
Case 4.3 We Are Family
Leadership Instrument
Leadership Behavior Questionnaire
Summary
References
5. Situational Approach
Description
Leadership Style
Development Level
How Does the Situational Approach Work?
Strengths
Criticisms
Application
Case Studies
Case 5.1 Marathon Runners at Different Levels
Case 5.2 Why Aren’t They Listening?
Case 5.3 Getting the Message Across
Leadership Instrument
Situational Leadership® Questionnaire: Sample Items
Summary
References
6. Path–Goal Theory
Description
Leader Behaviors
Directive Leadership
Supportive Leadership
Participative Leadership
Achievement-Oriented Leadership
Follower Characteristics
Task Characteristics
How Does Path–Goal Theory Work?
Strengths
Criticisms
Application
Case Studies
Case 6.1 Three Shifts, Three Supervisors
Case 6.2 Direction for Some, Support for Others
Case 6.3 Playing in the Orchestra
Leadership Instrument
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Path–Goal Leadership Questionnaire
Summary
References
7. Leader–Member Exchange Theory
Description
Early Studies
Later Studies
Leadership Making
How Does LMX Theory Work?
Strengths
Criticisms
Application
Case Studies
Case 7.1 His Team Gets the Best Assignments
Case 7.2 Working Hard at Being Fair
Case 7.3 Taking on Additional Responsibilities
Leadership Instrument
LMX 7 Questionnaire
Summary
References
8. Transformational Leadership
Description
Transformational Leadership Defined
Transformational Leadership and Charisma
A Model of Transformational Leadership
Transformational Leadership Factors
Transactional Leadership Factors
Nonleadership Factor
Other Transformational Perspectives
Bennis and Nanus
Kouzes and Posner
How Does the Transformational Leadership Approach Work?
Strengths
Criticisms
Application
Case Studies
Case 8.1 The Vision Failed
Case 8.2 An Exploration in Leadership
Case 8.3 Her Vision of a Model Research Center
Leadership Instrument
Sample Items From the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (MLQ)
Form 5X-Short
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Summary
References
9. Authentic Leadership
Description
Authentic Leadership Defined
Approaches to Authentic Leadership
Practical Approach
Theoretical Approach
How Does Authentic Leadership Work?
Strengths
Criticisms
Application
Case Studies
Case 9.1 Am I Really a Leader?
Case 9.2 A Leader Under Fire
Case 9.3 The Reluctant First Lady
Leadership Instrument
Authentic Leadership Self-Assessment Questionnaire
Summary
References
10. Servant Leadership
Description
Servant Leadership Defined
Historical Basis of Servant Leadership
Ten Characteristics of a Servant Leader
Building a Theory About Servant Leadership
Model of Servant Leadership
Antecedent Conditions
Servant Leader Behaviors
Outcomes
Summary of the Model of Servant Leadership
How Does Servant Leadership Work?
Strengths
Criticisms
Application
Case Studies
Case 10.1 Everyone Loves Mrs. Noble
Case 10.2 Doctor to the Poor
Case 10.3 Servant Leadership Takes Flight
Leadership Instrument
Servant Leadership Questionnaire
Summary
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References
11. Adaptive Leadership
Description
Adaptive Leadership Defined
A Model of Adaptive Leadership
Situational Challenges
Technical Challenges
Technical and Adaptive Challenges
Adaptive Challenges
Leader Behaviors
Adaptive Work
How Does Adaptive Leadership Work?
Strengths
Criticisms
Application
Case Studies
Case 11.1 Silence, Stigma, and Mental Illness
Case 11.2 Taming Bacchus
Case 11.3 Redskins No More
Leadership Instrument
Adaptive Leadership Questionnaire
Summary
References
12. Followership
Description
Followership Defined
Role-Based and Relational-Based Perspectives
Typologies of Followership
The Zaleznik Typology
The Kelley Typology
The Chaleff Typology
The Kellerman Typology
Theoretical Approaches to Followership
Reversing the Lens
The Leadership Co-Created Process
New Perspectives on Followership
Perspective 1: Followers Get the Job Done
Perspective 2: Followers Work in the Best Interest of the
Organization’s Mission
Perspective 3: Followers Challenge Leaders
Perspective 4: Followers Support the Leader
Perspective 5: Followers Learn From Leaders
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Followership and Destructive Leaders
1. Our Need for Reassuring Authority Figures
2. Our Need for Security and Certainty
3. Our Need to Feel Chosen or Special
4. Our Need for Membership in the Human Community
5. Our Fear of Ostracism, Isolation, and Social Death
6. Our Fear of Powerlessness to Challenge a Bad Leader
How Does Followership Work?
Strengths
Criticisms
Application
Case Studies
Case 12.1 Bluebird Care
Case 12.2 Olympic Rowers
Case 12.3 Penn State Sexual Abuse Scandal
Leadership Instrument
Followership Questionnaire
Summary
References
13. Leadership Ethics
Description
Ethics Defined
Level 1. Preconventional Morality
Level 2. Conventional Morality
Level 3. Postconventional Morality
Ethical Theories
Centrality of Ethics to Leadership
Heifetz’s Perspective on Ethical Leadership
Burns’s Perspective on Ethical Leadership
The Dark Side of Leadership
Principles of Ethical Leadership
Ethical Leaders Respect Others
Ethical Leaders Serve Others
Ethical Leaders Are Just
Ethical Leaders Are Honest
Ethical Leaders Build Community
Strengths
Criticisms
Application
Case Studies
Case 13.1 Choosing a Research Assistant
Case 13.2 How Safe Is Safe?
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Case 13.3 Reexamining a Proposal
Leadership Instrument
Ethical Leadership Style Questionnaire (Short Form)
Summary
References
14. Team Leadership
Description
Team Leadership Model
Team Effectiveness
Leadership Decisions
Leadership Actions
How Does the Team Leadership Model Work?
Strengths
Criticisms
Application
Case Studies
Case 14.1 Can This Virtual Team Work?
Case 14.2 Team Crisis Within the Gates
Case 14.3 Starts With a Bang, Ends With a Whimper
Leadership Instrument
Team Excellence and Collaborative Team Leader Questionnaire
Summary
References
15. Gender and Leadership
Description
The Glass Ceiling Turned Labyrinth
Evidence of the Leadership Labyrinth
Understanding the Labyrinth
Gender Differences in Leadership Styles and Effectiveness
Navigating the Labyrinth
Strengths
Criticisms
Application
Case Studies
Case 15.1 The “Glass Ceiling”
Case 15.2 Lack of Inclusion and Credibility
Case 15.3 Pregnancy as a Barrier to Job Status
Leadership Instrument
The Gender–Leader Implicit Association Test
Summary
References
16. Culture and Leadership
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Description
Culture Defined
Related Concepts
Ethnocentrism
Prejudice
Dimensions of Culture
Uncertainty Avoidance
Power Distance
Institutional Collectivism
In-Group Collectivism
Gender Egalitarianism
Assertiveness
Future Orientation
Performance Orientation
Humane Orientation
Clusters of World Cultures
Characteristics of Clusters
Anglo
Confucian Asia
Eastern Europe
Germanic Europe
Latin America
Latin Europe
Middle East
Nordic Europe
Southern Asia
Sub-Saharan Africa
Leadership Behavior and Culture Clusters
Eastern Europe Leadership Profile
Latin America Leadership Profile
Latin Europe Leadership Profile
Confucian Asia Leadership Profile
Nordic Europe Leadership Profile
Anglo Leadership Profile
Sub-Saharan Africa Leadership Profile
Southern Asia Leadership Profile
Germanic Europe Leadership Profile
Middle East Leadership Profile
Universally Desirable and Undesirable Leadership Attributes
Strengths
Criticisms
Application
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Case Studies
Case 16.1 A Challenging Workplace
Case 16.2 A Special Kind of Financing
Case 16.3 Whose Latino Center Is It?
Leadership Instrument
Dimensions of Culture Questionnaire
Summary
References
Author Index
Subject Index
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Preface
This eighth edition of Leadership: Theory and Practice is written with the objective of
bridging the gap between the often-simplistic popular approaches to leadership and the
more abstract theoretical approaches. Like the previous editions, this edition reviews and
analyzes a selected number of leadership theories, giving special attention to how each
theoretical approach can be applied in real-world organizations. In essence, my purpose is
to explore how leadership theory can inform and direct the way leadership is practiced.
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New to This Edition
First and foremost, this edition includes a new chapter on followership, which examines the
nature of followership, its underpinnings, and how it works. The chapter presents a
definition, a model, and the latest research and applications of this emerging approach to
leadership. It also examines the relationship between followership and destructive, or toxic,
leadership. In addition, the strengths and weaknesses of followership are examined, and a
questionnaire to help readers assess their own follower style is provided. Three case studies
illustrating followership, including one that addresses the Penn State sexual abuse scandal
and another that looks at the 1936 U.S. Olympic rowing team, are presented at the end of
the chapter.
In addition to the discussion of destructive leadership in Chapter 12, this edition includes
an expanded discussion of the dark side of leadership and psuedotransformational
leadership and the negative uses and abuses of leadership in several of the chapters. Readers
will also find that the ethics chapter features a new self-assessment instrument, the Ethical
Leadership Style Questionnaire (ELSQ), which assesses a leader’s style of ethical leadership
and will help leaders understand their decision-making preferences when confronting
ethical dilemmas.
This edition retains many special features from previous editions but has been updated to
include new research findings, figures and tables, and everyday applications for many
leadership topics including leader–member exchange theory, transformational and
authentic leadership, team leadership, the labyrinth of women’s leadership, and historical
definitions of leadership. The format of this edition parallels the format used in earlier
editions. As with previous editions, the overall goal of Leadership: Theory and Practice is to
advance our understanding of the many different approaches to leadership and ways to
practice it more effectively.
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Special Features
Although this text presents and analyzes a wide range of leadership research, every attempt
has been made to present the material in a clear, concise, and interesting manner. Reviewers
of the book have consistently commented that clarity is one of its major strengths. In
addition to the writing style, several other features of the book help make it user-friendly.
Each chapter follows the same format: It is structured to include first theory and then
practice.
Every chapter contains a discussion of the strengths and criticisms of the approach
under consideration, and assists the reader in determining the relative merits of each
approach.
Each chapter includes an application section that discusses the practical aspects of the
approach and how it could be used in today’s organizational settings.
Three case studies are provided in each chapter to illustrate common leadership issues
and dilemmas. Thought-provoking questions follow each case study, helping readers
to interpret the case.
A questionnaire is provided in each of the chapters to help the reader apply the
approach to his or her own leadership style or setting.
Figures and tables illustrate the content of the theory and make the ideas more
meaningful.
Through these special features, every effort has been made to make this text substantive,
understandable, and practical.
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Audience
This book provides both an in-depth presentation of leadership theory and a discussion of
how it applies to real-life situations. Thus, it is intended for undergraduate and graduate
classes in management, leadership studies, business, educational leadership, public
administration, nursing and allied health, social work, criminal justice, industrial and
organizational psychology, communication, religion, agricultural education, political and
military science, and training and development. It is particularly well suited as a
supplementary text for core organizational behavior courses or as an overview text within
MBA curricula. This book would also be useful as a text in student activities, continuing
education, in-service training, and other leadership-development programs.
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Digital Resources
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teaching with high-quality content to help in creating a rich learning environment for
students. The SAGE edge site for this book includes the following instructor resources:
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Each chapter includes 100 test questions to give instructors options for assessing
students.
Editable, chapter-specific PowerPoint® slides offer complete flexibility for creating a
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Lecture notes for each chapter align with PowerPoint slides to serve as an essential
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Carefully selected video and multimedia content enhances exploration of key topics
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Sample answers to questions in the text provide an essential reference.
Case notes include summaries, analyses, sample answers to assist with discussion, and
exercises.
Suggested course projects and assignments help students to apply the concepts they
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Chapter-specific discussion questions for study help launch classroom interaction by
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Exclusive access to influential SAGE journal articles and business cases ties
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Tables and figures from the book are available for download.
SAGE coursepacks provide easy LMS integration.
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SAGE edge for students
The open-access companion website helps students accomplish their coursework goals in an
easy-to-use learning environment:
Mobile-friendly practice quizzes encourage self-guided assessment and practice.
Mobile-friendly flashcards strengthen understanding of key concepts.
Carefully selected video and multimedia content enhances exploration of key topics
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EXCLUSIVE! Full-text SAGE journal articles have been carefully selected to
support and expand on the concepts presented in each chapter.
Meaningful web resources with exercises facilitate further exploration of topics.
25
SAGE coursepacks
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In addition to the content available on the SAGE edge site, the coursepacks include the
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Pedagogically robust assessment tools foster review, practice, and critical thinking
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Diagnostic chapter pretests and posttests identify opportunities for student
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Instructions on how to use and integrate the comprehensive assessments and
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Assignable video with corresponding multimedia assessment tools bring
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learning styles. The video assessment questions feed to your gradebook.
Integrated links to the eBook make it easy to access the mobile-friendly
version of the text, which can be read anywhere, anytime.
Interactive eBook
Leadership (8th ed.) is also available as an interactive eBook, which can be packaged with
the text for just $5 or purchased separately. The interactive eBook offers hyperlinks to
original and licensed videos, including Peter Northouse author videos in which the author
illuminates various leadership concepts. The interactive eBook includes additional case
studies, as well as carefully chosen journal articles from the web, all from the same pages
found in the printed text. Users will also have immediate access to study tools such as
highlighting, bookmarking, note-taking/sharing, and more!
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Acknowledgments
Many people directly or indirectly contributed to the development of the eighth edition of
Leadership: Theory and Practice. First, I would like to acknowledge my editor, Maggie
Stanley, and her talented team at SAGE Publications (Lauren Holmes and Alissa Nance),
who have contributed in so many different ways to the quality and success of this book. For
their very capable work during the production phase, I would like to thank the copy editor,
Melinda Masson, and the project editor, Bennie Clark Allen. In her own unique way, each
of these people made valuable contributions to the eighth edition.
I would like to thank the following reviewers for their valuable contributions to the
development of this manuscript:
Sandra Arumugam-Osburn, St. Louis Community College-Forest Park
Rob Elkington, University of Ontario Institute of Technology
Abimbola Farinde, Columbia Southern University
Belinda S. Han, Utah Valley University
Deborah A. Johnson-Blake, Liberty University
Benjamin Kutsyuruba, Queen’s University
Chenwei Liao, Michigan State University
Heather J. Mashburn, Appalachian State University
Comfort Okpala, North Carolina A&T State University
Ric Rohm, Southeastern University
Patricia Dillon Sobczak, Virginia Commonwealth University
Victor S. Sohmen, Drexel University
Brigitte Steinheider, University of Oklahoma-Tulsa
Robert Waris, University of Missouri–Kansas City
Sandi Zeljko, Lake-Sumter State College
Mary Zonsius, Rush University
I would like to thank the following reviewers for their valuable contributions to the
development of the seventh edition manuscript:
Hamid Akbari, Winona State University
Meera Alagaraja, University of Louisville
Mel Albin, Excelsior College
Thomas Batsching, Reutlingen University
Cheryl Beeler, Angelo State University
Julie Bjorkman, Benedictine University
Mark D. Bowman, Methodist University
Dianne Burns, University of Manchester
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Eric Buschlen, Central Michigan University
Steven Bryant, Drury University
Daniel Calhoun, Georgia Southern University
David Conrad, Augsburg College
Joyce Cousins, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland
Denise Danna, LSUHSC School of Nursing
S. Todd Deal, Georgia Southern University
Caroline S. Fulmer, University of Alabama
Brad Gatlin, John Brown University
Greig A. Gjerdalen, Capilano University
Andrew Gonzales, University of California, Irvine
Decker B. Hains, Western Michigan University
Amanda Hasty, University of Colorado–Denver
Carl Holschen, Missouri Baptist University
Kiran Ismail, St. John’s University
Irma Jones, University of Texas at Brownsville
Michele D. Kegley, University of Cincinnati, Blue Ash College
Jeanea M. Lambeth, Pittsburg State University
David Lees, University of Derby
David S. McClain, University of Hawaii at Manoa
Carol McMillan, New School University
Richard Milter, Johns Hopkins University
Christopher Neck, Arizona State University–Tempe
Keeok Park, University of La Verne
Richard Parkman, University of Plymouth
Lori M. Pindar, Clemson University
Chaminda S. Prelis, University of Dubuque
Casey Rae, George Fox University
Noel Ronan, Waterford Institute of Technology
Louis Rubino, California State University, Northridge
Shadia Sachedina, Baruch College (School of Public Affairs)
Harriet L. Schwartz, Carlow University
Kelli K. Smith, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
David Swenson, The College of St. Scholastica
Danny L. Talbot, Washington State University
Robert L. Taylor, University of Louisville
Precious Taylor-Clifton, Cambridge College
John Tummons, University of Missouri
Kristi Tyran, Western Washington University
Tamara Von George, Granite State College
Natalie Walker, Seminole State College
William Welch, Bowie State University
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David E. Williams, Texas Tech University
Tony Wohlers, Cameron University
Sharon A. Wulf, Worcester Polytechnic Institute School of Business
Alec Zama, Grand View University
Xia Zhao, California State University, Dominguez Hills
In addition, I would like to thank, for their exceptional work on the leadership profile tool
and the ancillaries, Isolde Anderson (Hope College), John Baker (Western Kentucky
University), Kari Keating (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), Kathryn Woods
(Austin Peay State University), Eric Buschlen (Central Michigan University), Lou Sabina
(Stetson University), and Neda Dallal.
A very special acknowledgment goes to Laurel Northouse for her insightful critiques and
ongoing support. In addition, I am especially grateful to Marie Lee for her exceptional
editing and guidance throughout this project. For his review of and comments on the
followership chapter, I am indebted to Ronald Riggio (Claremont McKenna University). I
would like to thank Sarah Chace (Marian University) for her contributions to the adaptive
leadership chapter, Leah Omilion-Hodges (Western Michigan University) for her
contributions to the leader–member exchange chapter, Isolde Anderson (Hope College) for
her comprehensive literature reviews, Robin Curtiss for her contributions to a case study on
followership, and Rudy Leon for her editorial assistance.
Finally, I would like to thank the many undergraduate and graduate students whom I have
taught through the years. Their ongoing feedback has helped clarify my thinking about
leadership and encouraged me to make plain the practical implications of leadership
theories.
29
About the Author
Peter G. Northouse, PhD,
is Professor Emeritus of Communication in the School of Communication at
Western Michigan University. Leadership: Theory and Practice is the best-selling
academic textbook on leadership in the world and has been translated into 13
languages. In addition to authoring publications in professional journals, he is the
author of Introduction to Leadership: Concepts and Practice (now in its fourth edition)
and co-author of Leadership Case Studies in Education (now in its second edition) and
Health Communication: Strategies for Health Professionals (now in its third edition).
His scholarly and curricular interests include models of leadership, leadership
assessment, ethical leadership, and leadership and group dynamics. For more than 30
years, he has taught undergraduate and graduate courses in leadership, interpersonal
communication, and organizational communication on both the undergraduate and
graduate levels. Currently, he is a consultant and lecturer on trends in leadership
research, leadership development, and leadership education. He holds a doctorate in
speech communication from the University of Denver, and master’s and bachelor’s
degrees in communication education from Michigan State University.
30
About the Contributors
Crystal L. Hoyt
completed her doctorate in social psychology at the University of California, Santa
Barbara, and is a professor of leadership studies and psychology at the University of
Richmond. Her primary research interests include female and minority leaders,
stereotyping and discrimination, stigma, and cognitive biases. In her primary area of
research, she explores the role of beliefs, such as self-efficacy, implicit theories, and
political ideologies, in the experiences and perceptions of women and minorities in
leadership or STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields, or of
those who are overweight. In a more applied fashion, she examines factors, such as
role models, that may buffer individuals from the deleterious effects of stereotypes
and discrimination. Her research appears in journals such as Psychological Science,
Journal of Experimental and Social Psychology, Personality and Social Psychology
Bulletin, and The Leadership Quarterly. She has published over 50 journal articles and
book chapters, and she has co-edited three books.
Susan E. Kogler Hill
(PhD, University of Denver, 1974) is Professor Emeritus and former chair of the
School of Communication at Cleveland State University. Her research and
consulting have been in the areas of interpersonal and organizational communication.
She specializes in group leadership, teamwork, empowerment, and mentoring. She is
author of a text titled Improving Interpersonal Competence. In addition, she has
written book chapters and published articles in many professional journals.
Stefanie Simon
is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Siena College. She
earned her PhD in social psychology from Tulane University and was the Robert A.
Oden Jr. Postdoctoral Fellow for Innovation in the Liberal Arts at Carleton College
before joining the faculty at Siena. Her research centers on the psychology of
diversity, with a focus on prejudice, discrimination, and leadership. In her work, she
focuses on the perspective of the target of prejudice and discrimination, as well as the
perspective of the perpetrator of prejudice and discrimination. She is particularly
interested in how leaders of diverse groups can promote positive intergroup relations
and reduce inequality in society.
31
1 Introduction
Leadership is a highly sought-after and highly valued commodity. In the 20 years since the
first edition of this book was published, the public has become increasingly captivated by
the idea of leadership. People continue to ask themselves and others what makes good
leaders. As individuals, they seek more information on how to become effective leaders. As
a result, bookstore shelves are filled with popular books about leaders and advice on how to
be a leader. Many people believe that leadership is a way to improve their personal, social,
and professional lives. Corporations seek those with leadership ability because they believe
they bring special assets to their organizations and, ultimately, improve the bottom line.
Academic institutions throughout the country have responded by providing programs in
leadership studies.
In addition, leadership has gained the attention of researchers worldwide. Leadership
research is increasing dramatically, and findings underscore that there is a wide variety of
different theoretical approaches to explain the complexities of the leadership process (e.g.,
Bass, 2008; Bryman, 1992; Bryman, Collinson, Grint, Jackson, & Uhl-Bien, 2011; Day &
Antonakis, 2012; Dinh et al., 2014; Gardner, 1990; Hickman, 2016; Mumford, 2006;
Rost, 1991). Some researchers conceptualize leadership as a trait or as a behavior, whereas
others view leadership from an information-processing perspective or relational standpoint.
Leadership has been studied using both qualitative and quantitative methods in many
contexts, including small groups, therapeutic groups, and large organizations. Collectively,
the research findings on leadership from all of these areas provide a picture of a process that
is far more sophisticated and complex than the often-simplistic view presented in some of
the popular books on leadership.
This book treats leadership as a complex process having multiple dimensions. Based on the
research literature, this text provides an in-depth description and application of many
different approaches to leadership. Our emphasis is on how theory can inform the practice
of leadership. In this book, we describe each theory and then explain how the theory can be
used in real situations.
32
Leadership Defined
There are many ways to finish the sentence “Leadership is . . .” In fact, as Stogdill (1974, p.
7) pointed out in a review of leadership research, there are almost as many different
definitions of leadership as there are people who have tried to define it. It is much like the
words democracy, love, and peace. Although each of us intuitively knows what we mean by
such words, the words can have different meanings for different people. As Box 1.1 shows,
scholars and practitioners have attempted to define leadership for more than a century
without universal consensus.
Box 1.1 The Evolution of Leadership Definitions
While many have a gut-level grasp of what leadership is, putting a definition to the term has proved to be a
challenging endeavor for scholars and practitioners alike. More than a century has lapsed since leadership
became a topic of academic introspection, and definitions have evolved continuously during that period.
These definitions have been influenced by many factors from world affairs and politics to the perspectives of
the discipline in which the topic is being studied. In a seminal work, Rost (1991) analyzed materials written
from 1900 to 1990, finding more than 200 different definitions for leadership. His analysis provides a
succinct history of how leadership has been defined through the last century:
33
1900–1929
Definitions of leadership appearing in the first three decades of the 20th century emphasized control and
centralization of power with a common theme of domination. For example, at a conference on leadership in
1927, leadership was defined as “the ability to impress the will of the leader on those led and induce
obedience, respect, loyalty, and cooperation” (Moore, 1927, p. 124).
34
1930s
In the 1930s, traits became the focus of defining leadership, with an emerging view of leadership as
influence rather than domination. Leadership was also identified as the interaction of an individual’s specific
personality traits with those of a group; it was noted that while the attitudes and activities of the many may
be changed by the one, the many may also influence a leader.
35
1940s
The group approach came into the forefront in the 1940s with leadership being defined as the behavior of
an individual while involved in directing group activities (Hemphill, 1949). At the same time, leadership by
persuasion was distinguished from “drivership” or leadership by coercion (Copeland, 1942).
36
1950s
Three themes dominated leadership definitions during the 1950s:
continuance of group theory, which framed leadership as what leaders do in groups;
leadership as a relationship that develops shared goals, which defined leadership based on
behavior of the leader; and
effectiveness, in which leadership was defined by the ability to influence overall group effectiveness.
37
1960s
Although a tumultuous time for world affairs, the 1960s saw harmony amongst leadership scholars. The
prevailing definition of leadership as behavior that influences people toward shared goals was underscored by
Seeman (1960), who described leadership as “acts by persons which influence other persons in a shared
direction” (p. 53).
38
1970s
In the 1970s, the group focus gave way to the organizational behavior approach, where leadership became
viewed as “initiating and maintaining groups or organizations to accomplish group or organizational goals”
(Rost, 1991, p. 59). Burns’s (1978) definition, however, was the most important concept of leadership to
emerge: “Leadership is the reciprocal process of mobilizing by persons with certain motives and values,
various economic, political, and other resources, in a context of competition and conflict, in order to realize
goals independently or mutually held by both leaders and followers” (p. 425).
39
1980s
The 1980s exploded with scholarly and popular works on the nature of leadership, bringing the topic to the
apex of the academic and public consciousness. As a result, the number of definitions for leadership became
a prolific stew with several persevering themes:
Do as the leader wishes. Leadership definitions still predominantly delivered the message that
leadership is getting followers to do what the leader wants done.
Influence. Probably the most often used word in leadership definitions of the 1980s, influence was
examined from every angle. In an effort to distinguish leadership from management, however,
scholars insisted that leadership is noncoercive influence.
Traits. Spurred by the national best seller In Search of Excellence (Peters & Waterman, 1982), the
leadership-as-excellence movement brought leader traits back to the spotlight. As a result, many
people’s understanding of leadership is based on a trait orientation.
Transformation. Burns (1978) is credited for initiating a movement defining leadership as a
transformational process, stating that leadership occurs “when one or more persons engage with
others in such a way that leaders and followers raise one another to higher levels of motivation and
morality” (p. 83).
40
From the 1990s Into the 21st Century
Debate continues as to whether leadership and management are separate processes, but emerging research
emphasizes the process of leadership, whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a
common goal, rather than developing new ways of defining leadership. Among these emerging leadership
approaches are
authentic leadership, in which the authenticity of leaders and their leadership is emphasized;
spiritual leadership, which focuses on leadership that utilizes values and sense of calling and
membership to motivate followers;
servant leadership, which puts the leader in the role of servant, who utilizes “caring principles” to
focus on followers’ needs to help these followers become more autonomous, knowledgeable, and
like servants themselves;
adaptive leadership, in which leaders encourage followers to adapt by confronting and solving
problems, challenges, and changes;
followership, which puts a spotlight on followers and the role followers play in the leadership
process; and
discursive leadership, which posits that leadership is created not so much through leader traits,
skills, and behaviors, but through communication practices that are negotiated between leader and
follower (Aritz, Walker, Cardon, & Zhang, 2017; Fairhurst, 2007).
After decades of dissonance, leadership scholars agree on one thing: They can’t come up with a common
definition for leadership. Because of such factors as growing global influences and generational differences,
leadership will continue to have different meanings for different people. The bottom line is that leadership
is a complex concept for which a determined definition may long be in flux.
Source: Adapted from Leadership for the Twenty-First Century, by J. C. Rost, 1991, New York, NY: Praeger.
41
Ways of Conceptualizing Leadership
In the past 60 years, as many as 65 different classification systems have been developed to
define the dimensions of leadership (Fleishman et al., 1991). One such classification
system, directly related to our discussion, is the scheme proposed by Bass (2008, pp. 11–
20). He suggested that some definitions view leadership as the focus of group processes. From
this perspective, the leader is at the center of group change and activity and embodies the
will of the group. Another set of definitions conceptualizes leadership from a personality
perspective, which suggests that leadership is a combination of special traits or characteristics
that some individuals possess. These traits enable those individuals to induce others to
accomplish tasks. Other approaches to leadership define it as an act or a behavior—the
things leaders do to bring about change in a group.
In addition, some define leadership in terms of the power relationship that exists between
leaders and followers. From this viewpoint, leaders have power that they wield to effect
change in others. Others view leadership as a transformational process that moves followers
to accomplish more than is usually expected of them. Finally, some scholars address
leadership from a skills perspective. This viewpoint stresses the capabilities (knowledge and
skills) that make effective leadership possible.
42
Definition and Components
Despite the multitude of ways in which leadership has been conceptualized, the following
components can be identified as central to the phenomenon: (a) Leadership is a process, (b)
leadership involves influence, (c) leadership occurs in groups, and (d) leadership involves
common goals. Based on these components, the following definition of leadership is used
in this text:
Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal.
Defining leadership as a process means that it is not a trait or characteristic that resides in
the leader, but rather a transactional event that occurs between the leader and the followers.
Process implies that a leader affects and is affected by followers. It emphasizes that leadership
is not a linear, one-way event, but rather an interactive event. When leadership is defined in
this manner, it becomes available to everyone. It is not restricted to the formally designated
leader in a group.
Leadership involves influence. It is concerned with how the leader affects followers and the
communication that occurs between leaders and followers (Ruben & Gigliotti, 2017).
Influence is the sine qua non of leadership. Without influence, leadership does not exist.
Leadership occurs in groups. Groups are the context in which leadership takes place.
Leadership involves influencing a group of individuals who have a common purpose. This
can be a small task group, a community group, or a large group encompassing an entire
organization. Leadership is about one individual influencing a group of others to
accomplish common goals. Others (a group) are required for leadership to occur.
Leadership training programs that teach people to lead themselves are not considered a part
of leadership within the definition that is set forth in this discussion.
Leadership includes attention to common goals. Leaders direct their energies toward
individuals who are trying to achieve something together. By common, we mean that the
leaders and followers have a mutual purpose. Attention to common goals gives leadership
an ethical overtone because it stresses the need for leaders to work with followers to achieve
selected goals. Stressing mutuality lessens the possibility that leaders might act toward
followers in ways that are forced or unethical. It also increases the possibility that leaders
and followers will work together toward a common good (Rost, 1991).
Throughout this text, the people who engage in leadership will be called leaders, and those
toward whom leadership is directed will be called followers. Both leaders and followers are
involved together in the leadership process. Leaders need followers, and followers need
leaders (Burns, 1978; Heller & Van Til, 1983; Hollander, 1992; Jago, 1982). An extended
discussion of followership is provided in Chapter 12. Although leaders and followers are
43
closely linked, it is the leader who often initiates the relationship, creates the
communication linkages, and carries the burden for maintaining the relationship.
In our discussion of leaders and followers, attention will be directed toward follower issues
as well as leader issues. Leaders have an ethical responsibility to attend to the needs and
concerns of followers. As Burns (1978) pointed out, discussions of leadership sometimes are
viewed as elitist because of the implied power and importance often ascribed to leaders in
the leader–follower relationship. Leaders are not above or better than followers. Leaders and
followers must be understood in relation to each other (Hollander, 1992) and collectively
(Burns, 1978). They are in the leadership relationship together—and are two sides of the
same coin (Rost, 1991).
44
Leadership Described
In addition to definitional issues, it is important to discuss several other questions
pertaining to the nature of leadership. In the following section, we will address questions
such as how leadership as a trait differs from leadership as a process; how appointed
leadership differs from emergent leadership; and how the concepts of power, coercion, and
management differ from leadership.
Figure 1.1 The Different Views of Leadership
Source: Adapted from A Force for Change: How Leadership Differs From
Management (pp. 3–8), by J. P. Kotter, 1990, New York, NY: Free Press.
45
Trait Versus Process Leadership
We have all heard statements such as “He is born to be a leader” or “She is a natural
leader.” These statements are commonly expressed by people who take a trait perspective
toward leadership. The trait perspective suggests that certain individuals have special innate
or inborn characteristics or qualities that make them leaders, and that it is these qualities
that differentiate them from nonleaders. Some of the personal qualities used to identify
leaders include unique physical factors (e.g., height), personality features (e.g.,
extraversion), and other characteristics (e.g., intelligence and fluency; Bryman, 1992). In
Chapter 2, we will discuss a large body of research that has examined these personal
qualities.
To describe leadership as a trait is quite different from describing it as a process (Figure
1.1). The trait viewpoint conceptualizes leadership as a property or set of properties
possessed in varying degrees by different people (Jago, 1982). This suggests that it resides in
select people and restricts leadership to those who are believed to have special, usually
inborn, talents.
The process viewpoint suggests that leadership is a phenomenon that resides in the context
of the interactions between leaders and followers and makes leadership available to
everyone. As a process, leadership can be observed in leader behaviors (Jago, 1982), and can
be learned. The process definition of leadership is consistent with the definition of
leadership that we have set forth in this chapter.
46
Assigned Versus Emergent Leadership
Some people are leaders because of their formal position in an organization, whereas others
are leaders because of the way other group members respond to them. These two common
forms of leadership are called assigned leadership and emergent leadership. Leadership that is
based on occupying a position in an organization is assigned leadership. Team leaders, plant
managers, department heads, directors, and administrators are all examples of assigned
leaders.
Yet the person assigned to a leadership position does not always become the real leader in a
particular setting. When others perceive an individual as the most influential member of a
group or an organization, regardless of the individual’s title, the person is exhibiting
emergent leadership. The individual acquires emergent leadership through other people in
the organization who support and accept that individual’s behavior. This type of leadership
is not assigned by position; rather, it emerges over a period through communication. Some
of the positive communication behaviors that account for successful leader emergence
include being verbally involved, being informed, seeking others’ opinions, initiating new ideas,
and being firm but not rigid (Ellis & Fisher, 1994).
Researchers have found that, in addition to communication behaviors, personality plays a
role in leadership emergence. For example, Smith and Foti (1998) found that certain
personality traits were related to leadership emergence in a sample of 160 male college
students. The individuals who were more dominant, more intelligent, and more confident
about their own performance (general self-efficacy) were more likely to be identified as
leaders by other members of their task group. Although it is uncertain whether these
findings apply to women as well, Smith and Foti suggested that these three traits could be
used to identify individuals perceived to be emergent leaders.
Leadership emergence may also be affected by gender-biased perceptions. In a study of 40
mixed-sex college groups, Watson and Hoffman (2004) found that women who were urged
to persuade their task groups to adopt high-quality decisions succeeded with the same
frequency as men with identical instructions. Although women were equally influential
leaders in their groups, they were rated significantly lower than comparable men were on
leadership. Furthermore, these influential women were also rated as significantly less likable
than comparably influential men were. These results suggest that there continue to be
barriers to women’s emergence as leaders in some settings.
A unique perspective on leadership emergence is provided by social identity theory (Hogg,
2001). From this perspective, leadership emergence is the degree to which a person fits with
the identity of the group as a whole. As groups develop over time, a group prototype also
develops. Individuals emerge as leaders in the group when they become most like the group
prototype. Being similar to the prototype makes leaders attractive to the group and gives
47
them influence with the group.
The leadership approaches we discuss in the subsequent chapters of this book apply equally
to assigned leadership and emergent leadership. When a person is engaged in leadership,
that person is a leader, whether leadership was assigned or emerged. This book focuses on
the leadership process that occurs when any individual is engaged in influencing other
group members in their efforts to reach a common goal.
48
Leadership and Power
The concept of power is related to leadership because it is part of the influence process.
Power is the capacity or potential to influence. People have power when they have the
ability to affect others’ beliefs, attitudes, and courses of action. Judges, doctors, coaches,
and teachers are all examples of people who have the potential to influence us. When they
do, they are using their power, the resource they draw on to effect change in us.
Although there are no explicit theories in the research literature about power and
leadership, power is a concept that people often associate with leadership. It is common for
people to view leaders (both good and bad) and people in positions of leadership as
individuals who wield power over others, and as a result, power is often thought of as
synonymous with leadership. In addition, people are often intrigued by how leaders use
their power. Understanding how power is used in leadership is instrumental as well in
understanding the dark side of leadership, where leaders use their leadership to achieve their
own personal ends and lead in toxic and destructive ways (Krasikova, Green, & LeBreton,
2013). Studying how famous leaders, such as Hitler or Alexander the Great, use power to
effect change in others is titillating to many people because it underscores that power can
indeed effectuate change and maybe if they had power they too could effectuate change.
In her 2012 book The End of Leadership, Kellerman argues there has been a shift in
leadership power during the last 40 years. Power used to be the domain of leaders, but that
is diminishing and shifting to followers. Changes in culture have meant followers demand
more from leaders, and leaders have responded. Access to technology has empowered
followers, given them access to huge amounts of information, and made leaders more
transparent. The result is a decline in respect for leaders and leaders’ legitimate power. In
effect, followers have used information power to level the playing field. Power is no longer
synonymous with leadership, and in the social contract between leaders and followers,
leaders wield less power, according to Kellerman. For example, Posner (2015) examined
volunteer leaders, such as those who sit on boards for nonprofit organizations, and found
that while these followers did not have positional authority in the organization, they were
able to influence leadership. Volunteer leaders engaged more frequently in leadership
behaviors than did paid leaders.
Table 1.1 Six Bases of Power
Referent
Power
Based on followers’ identification and liking for the leader. A teacher
who is adored by students has referent power.
Expert
Power
Based on followers’ perceptions of the leader’s competence. A tour
guide who is knowledgeable about a foreign country has expert
49
Power power.
Legitimate
Power
Associated with having status or formal job authority. A judge who
administers sentences in the courtroom exhibits legitimate power.
Reward
Power
Derived from having the capacity to provide rewards to others. A
supervisor who compliments employees who work hard is using
reward power.
Coercive
Power
Derived from having the capacity to penalize or punish others. A
coach who sits players on the bench for being late to practice is using
coercive power.
Information
Power
Derived from possessing knowledge that others want or need. A boss
who has information regarding new criteria to decide employee
promotion eligibility has information power.
Source: Adapted from “The Bases of Social Power,” by J. R. French Jr. and B. Raven, 1962, in D. Cartwright
(Ed.), Group Dynamics: Research and Theory (pp. 259–269), New York, NY: Harper & Row; and “Social
Influence and Power,” by B. H. Raven, 1965, in I. D. Steiner & M. Fishbein (Eds.), Current Studies in Social
Psychology (pp. 371–382), New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.
In college courses today, the most widely cited research on power is French and Raven’s
(1959) work on the bases of social power. In their work, they conceptualized power from
the framework of a dyadic relationship that included both the person influencing and the
person being influenced. French and Raven identified five common and important bases of
power—referent, expert, legitimate, reward, and coercive—and Raven (1965) identified a
sixth, information power (Table 1.1). Each of these bases of power increases a leader’s
capacity to influence the attitudes, values, or behaviors of others.
In organizations, there are two major kinds of power: position power and personal power.
Position power is the power a person derives from a particular office or rank in a formal
organizational system. It is the influence capacity a leader derives from having higher status
than the followers have. Vice presidents and department heads have more power than staff
personnel do because of the positions they hold in the organization. Position power
includes legitimate, reward, coercive, and information power (Table 1.2).
Table 1.2 Types and Bases of
Power
Position Power Personal Power
Legitimate Referent
50
Reward Expert
Coercive
Information
Source: Adapted from A Force for Change: How Leadership Differs From Management (pp. 3–8), by J. P. Kotter,
1990, New York, NY: Free Press.
Personal power is the influence capacity a leader derives from being seen by followers as
likable and knowledgeable. When leaders act in ways that are important to followers, it
gives leaders power. For example, some managers have power because their followers
consider them to be good role models. Others have power because their followers view
them as highly competent or considerate. In both cases, these managers’ power is ascribed
to them by others, based on how they are seen in their relationships with others. Personal
power includes referent and expert power (Table 1.2).
In discussions of leadership, it is not unusual for leaders to be described as wielders of
power, as individuals who dominate others. In these instances, power is conceptualized as a
tool that leaders use to achieve their own ends. Contrary to this view of power, Burns
(1978) emphasized power from a relationship standpoint. For Burns, power is not an entity
that leaders use over others to achieve their own ends; instead, power occurs in
relationships. It should be used by leaders and followers to promote their collective goals.
In this text, our discussions of leadership treat power as a relational concern for both leaders
and followers. We pay attention to how leaders work with followers to reach common
goals.
51
Leadership and Coercion
Coercive power is one of the specific kinds of power available to leaders. Coercion involves
the use of force to effect change. To coerce means to influence others to do something
against their will and may include manipulating penalties and rewards in their work
environment. Coercion often involves the use of threats, punishment, and negative reward
schedules and is most often seen as a characteristic of the dark side of leadership. Classic
examples of coercive leaders are Adolf Hitler in Germany, the Taliban leaders in
Afghanistan, Jim Jones in Guyana, and Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte, each of
whom used power and restraint to force followers to engage in extreme behaviors.
It is important to distinguish between coercion and leadership because it allows us to
separate out from our examples of leadership the behaviors of individuals such as Hitler, the
Taliban, and Jones. In our discussions of leadership, coercive people are not used as models
of ideal leadership. Our definition suggests that leadership is reserved for those who
influence a group of individuals toward a common goal. Leaders who use coercion are
interested in their own goals and seldom are interested in the wants and needs of followers.
Using coercion runs counter to working with followers to achieve a common goal.
52
Leadership and Management
Leadership is a process that is similar to management in many ways. Leadership involves
influence, as does management. Leadership entails working with people, which
management entails as well. Leadership is concerned with effective goal accomplishment,
and so is management. In general, many of the functions of management are activities that
are consistent with the definition of leadership we set forth at the beginning of this chapter.
But leadership is also different from management. Whereas the study of leadership can be
traced back to Aristotle, management emerged around the turn of the 20th century with
the advent of our industrialized society. Management was created as a way to reduce chaos
in organizations, to make them run more effectively and efficiently. The primary functions
of management, as first identified by Fayol (1916), were planning, organizing, staffing, and
controlling. These functions are still representative of the field of management today.
In a book that compared the functions of management with the functions of leadership,
Kotter (1990) argued that they are quite dissimilar (Figure 1.2). The overriding function of
management is to provide order and consistency to organizations, whereas the primary
function of leadership is to produce change and movement. Management is about seeking
order and stability; leadership is about seeking adaptive and constructive change.
As illustrated in Figure 1.2, the major activities of management are played out differently
than the activities of leadership. Although they are different in scope, Kotter (1990, pp. 7–
8) contended that both management and leadership are essential if an organization is to
prosper. For example, if an organization has strong management without leadership, the
outcome can be stifling and bureaucratic. Conversely, if an organization has strong
leadership without management, the outcome can be meaningless or misdirected change for
change’s sake. To be effective, organizations need to nourish both competent management
and skilled leadership.
Figure 1.2 Functions of Management and Leadership
53
Source: Adapted from A Force for Change: How Leadership Differs From
Management (pp. 3–8), by J. P. Kotter, 1990, New York, NY: Free Press.
Many scholars, in addition to Kotter (1990), argue that leadership and management are
distinct constructs. For example, Bennis and Nanus (2007) maintained that there is a
significant difference between the two. To manage means to accomplish activities and
master routines, whereas to lead means to influence others and create visions for change.
Bennis and Nanus made the distinction very clear in their frequently quoted sentence,
“Managers are people who do things right and leaders are people who do the right thing”
(p. 221).
Rost (1991) has also been a proponent of distinguishing between leadership and
management. He contended that leadership is a multidirectional influence relationship and
management is a unidirectional authority relationship. Whereas leadership is concerned
with the process of developing mutual purposes, management is directed toward
coordinating activities in order to get a job done. Leaders and followers work together to
create real change, whereas managers and subordinates join forces to sell goods and services
(Rost, 1991, pp. 149–152).
In a recent study, Simonet and Tett (2012) explored how leadership and management are
best conceptualized by having 43 experts identify the overlap and differences between
leadership and management in regard to 63 different competencies. They found a large
number of competencies (22) descriptive of both leadership and management (e.g.,
productivity, customer focus, professionalism, and goal setting), but they also found several
54
unique descriptors for each. Specifically, they found leadership was distinguished by
motivating intrinsically, creative thinking, strategic planning, tolerance of ambiguity, and
being able to read people, and management was distinguished by rule orientation, short-
term planning, motivating extrinsically, orderliness, safety concerns, and timeliness.
Approaching the issue from a narrower viewpoint, Zaleznik (1977) went so far as to argue
that leaders and managers themselves are distinct, and that they are basically different types
of people. He contended that managers are reactive and prefer to work with people to solve
problems but do so with low emotional involvement. They act to limit choices. Zaleznik
suggested that leaders, on the other hand, are emotionally active and involved. They seek to
shape ideas instead of responding to them and act to expand the available options to solve
long-standing problems. Leaders change the way people think about what is possible.
Although there are clear differences between management and leadership, the two
constructs overlap. When managers are involved in influencing a group to meet its goals,
they are involved in leadership. When leaders are involved in planning, organizing, staffing,
and controlling, they are involved in management. Both processes involve influencing a
group of individuals toward goal attainment. For purposes of our discussion in this book,
we focus on the leadership process. In our examples and case studies, we treat the roles of
managers and leaders similarly and do not emphasize the differences between them.
55
Plan of the Book
This book is user-friendly. It is based on substantive theories but is written to emphasize
practice and application. Each chapter in the book follows the same format. The first
section of each chapter briefly describes the leadership approach and discusses various
research studies applicable to the approach. The second section of each chapter evaluates
the approach, highlighting its strengths and criticisms. Special attention is given to how the
approach contributes or fails to contribute to an overall understanding of the leadership
process. The next section uses case studies to prompt discussion of how the approach can
be applied in ongoing organizations. Finally, each chapter provides a leadership
questionnaire along with a discussion of how the questionnaire measures the reader’s
leadership style. Each chapter ends with a summary and references.
56
Summary
Leadership is a topic with universal appeal; in the popular press and academic research
literature, much has been written about leadership. Despite the abundance of writing on
the topic, leadership has presented a major challenge to practitioners and researchers
interested in understanding the nature of leadership. It is a highly valued phenomenon that
is very complex.
Through the years, leadership has been defined and conceptualized in many ways. The
component common to nearly all classifications is that leadership is an influence process
that assists groups of individuals toward goal attainment. Specifically, in this book
leadership is defined as a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to
achieve a common goal.
Because both leaders and followers are part of the leadership process, it is important to
address issues that confront followers as well as issues that confront leaders. Leaders and
followers should be understood in relation to each other.
In prior research, many studies have focused on leadership as a trait. The trait perspective
suggests that certain people in our society have special inborn qualities that make them
leaders. This view restricts leadership to those who are believed to have special
characteristics. In contrast, the approach in this text suggests that leadership is a process
that can be learned, and that it is available to everyone.
Two common forms of leadership are assigned and emergent. Assigned leadership is based on
a formal title or position in an organization. Emergent leadership results from what one does
and how one acquires support from followers. Leadership, as a process, applies to
individuals in both assigned roles and emergent roles.
Related to leadership is the concept of power, the potential to influence. There are two
major kinds of power: position and personal. Position power, which is much like assigned
leadership, is the power an individual derives from having a title in a formal organizational
system. It includes legitimate, reward, information, and coercive power. Personal power
comes from followers and includes referent and expert power. Followers give it to leaders
because followers believe leaders have something of value. Treating power as a shared
resource is important because it de-emphasizes the idea that leaders are power wielders.
While coercion has been a common power brought to bear by many individuals in charge,
it should not be viewed as ideal leadership. Our definition of leadership stresses using
influence to bring individuals toward a common goal, while coercion involves the use of
threats and punishment to induce change in followers for the sake of the leaders. Coercion
runs counter to leadership because it does not treat leadership as a process that emphasizes
57
working with followers to achieve shared objectives.
Leadership and management are different concepts that overlap. They are different in that
management traditionally focuses on the activities of planning, organizing, staffing, and
controlling, whereas leadership emphasizes the general influence process. According to
some researchers, management is concerned with creating order and stability, whereas
leadership is about adaptation and constructive change. Other researchers go so far as to
argue that managers and leaders are different types of people, with managers being more
reactive and less emotionally involved and leaders being more proactive and more
emotionally involved. The overlap between leadership and management is centered on how
both involve influencing a group of individuals in goal attainment.
In this book, we discuss leadership as a complex process. Based on the research literature,
we describe selected approaches to leadership and assess how they can be used to improve
leadership in real situations.
Sharpen your skills with SAGE edge at edge.sagepub.com/northouse8e
58
http://edge.sagepub.com/northouse8e
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2 Trait Approach
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Description
Of interest to scholars throughout the 20th century, the trait approach was one of the first
systematic attempts to study leadership. In the early 20th century, leadership traits were
studied to determine what made certain people great leaders. The theories that were
developed were called “great man” theories because they focused on identifying the innate
qualities and characteristics possessed by great social, political, and military leaders (e.g.,
Catherine the Great, Mohandas Gandhi, Indira Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Joan of Arc,
and Napoleon Bonaparte). It was believed that people were born with these traits, and that
only the “great” people possessed them. During this time, research concentrated on
determining the specific traits that clearly differentiated leaders from followers (Bass, 2008;
Jago, 1982).
In the mid-20th century, the trait approach was challenged by research that questioned the
universality of leadership traits. In a major review, Stogdill (1948) suggested that no
consistent set of traits differentiated leaders from nonleaders across a variety of situations.
An individual with leadership traits who was a leader in one situation might not be a leader
in another situation. Rather than being a quality that individuals possess, leadership was
reconceptualized as a relationship between people in a social situation. Personal factors
related to leadership continued to be important, but researchers contended that these
factors were to be considered as relative to the requirements of the situation.
The trait approach has generated much interest among researchers for its explanation of
how traits influence leadership (Bryman, 1992). For example, Kirkpatrick and Locke
(1991) went so far as to claim that effective leaders are actually distinct types of people.
Lord, DeVader, and Alliger (1986) found that traits were strongly associated with
individuals’ perceptions of leadership. More recently, Dinh and Lord (2012) examined the
relationship between leadership effectiveness and followers’ perception of leadership traits.
The trait approach has earned new interest through the current emphasis given by many
researchers to visionary and charismatic leadership (see Bass, 2008; Bennis & Nanus, 2007;
Jacquart & Antonakis, 2015; Nadler & Tushman, 2012; Zaccaro, 2007; Zaleznik, 1977).
Charismatic leadership catapulted to the forefront of public attention with the 2008
election of the United States’ first African American president, Barack Obama, who is
perceived by many to be charismatic, among many other attributes. In a study to determine
what distinguishes charismatic leaders from others, Jung and Sosik (2006) found that
charismatic leaders consistently possess traits of self-monitoring, engagement in impression
management, motivation to attain social power, and motivation to attain self-actualization.
In short, the trait approach is alive and well. It began with an emphasis on identifying the
qualities of great persons, shifted to include the impact of situations on leadership, and,
currently, has shifted back to reemphasize the critical role of traits in effective leadership.
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Although the research on traits spanned the entire 20th century, a good overview of this
approach is found in two surveys completed by Stogdill (1948, 1974). In his first survey,
Stogdill analyzed and synthesized more than 124 trait studies conducted between 1904 and
1947. In his second study, he analyzed another 163 studies completed between 1948 and
1970. By taking a closer look at each of these reviews, we can obtain a clearer picture of
how individuals’ traits contribute to the leadership process.
Stogdill’s first survey identified a group of important leadership traits that were related to
how individuals in various groups became leaders. His results showed that an average
individual in a leadership role is different from an average group member with regard to the
following eight traits: intelligence, alertness, insight, responsibility, initiative, persistence,
self-confidence, and sociability.
The findings of Stogdill’s first survey also indicated that an individual does not become a
leader solely because that individual possesses certain traits. Rather, the traits that leaders
possess must be relevant to situations in which the leader is functioning. As stated earlier,
leaders in one situation may not necessarily be leaders in another situation. Findings
showed that leadership was not a passive state but resulted from a working relationship
between the leader and other group members. This research marked the beginning of a new
approach to leadership research that focused on leadership behaviors and leadership
situations.
Stogdill’s second survey, published in 1974, analyzed 163 new studies and compared the
findings of these studies to the findings he had reported in his first survey. The second
survey was more balanced in its description of the role of traits and leadership. Whereas the
first survey implied that leadership is determined principally by situational factors and not
traits, the second survey argued more moderately that both traits and situational factors
were determinants of leadership. In essence, the second survey validated the original trait
idea that a leader’s characteristics are indeed a part of leadership.
Similar to the first survey, Stogdill’s second survey identified traits that were positively
associated with leadership. The list included the following 10 characteristics:
1. drive for responsibility and task completion;
2. vigor and persistence in pursuit of goals;
3. risk taking and originality in problem solving;
4. drive to exercise initiative in social situations;
5. self-confidence and sense of personal identity;
6. willingness to accept consequences of decision and action;
7. readiness to absorb interpersonal stress;
8. willingness to tolerate frustration and delay;
9. ability to influence other people’s behavior; and
10. capacity to structure social interaction systems to the purpose at hand.
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Mann (1959) conducted a similar study that examined more than 1,400 findings regarding
traits and leadership in small groups, but he placed less emphasis on how situational factors
influenced leadership. Although tentative in his conclusions, Mann suggested that certain
traits could be used to distinguish leaders from nonleaders. His results identified leaders as
strong in the following six traits: intelligence, masculinity, adjustment, dominance,
extraversion, and conservatism.
Lord et al. (1986) reassessed Mann’s (1959) findings using a more sophisticated procedure
called meta-analysis. Lord et al. found that intelligence, masculinity, and dominance were
significantly related to how individuals perceived leaders. From their findings, the authors
argued strongly that traits could be used to make discriminations consistently across
situations between leaders and nonleaders.
Both of these studies were conducted during periods in American history where male
leadership was prevalent in most aspects of business and society. In Chapter 15, we explore
more contemporary research regarding the role of gender in leadership, and we look at
whether traits such as masculinity and dominance still bear out as important factors in
distinguishing between leaders and nonleaders.
Yet another review argues for the importance of leadership traits: Kirkpatrick and Locke
(1991, p. 59) contended that “it is unequivocally clear that leaders are not like other
people.” From a qualitative synthesis of earlier research, Kirkpatrick and Locke postulated
that leaders differ from nonleaders on six traits: drive, motivation, integrity, confidence,
cognitive ability, and task knowledge. According to these writers, individuals can be born
with these traits, they can learn them, or both. It is these six traits that make up the “right
stuff” for leaders. Kirkpatrick and Locke asserted that leadership traits make some people
different from others, and this difference should be recognized as an important part of the
leadership process.
Table 2.1 Studies of Leadership Traits and Characteristics
Stogdill
(1948)
Mann
(1959)
Stogdill (1974)
Lord,
DeVader,
and Alliger
(1986)
Kirkpatrick
and Locke
(1991)
Zaccaro, Kemp,
and Bader
(2017)
intelligence
alertness intelligence
achievement
persistence
insight
drive
cognitive ability
extraversion
conscientiousness
emotional
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insight
responsibility
initiative
persistence
self-
confidence
sociability
masculinity
adjustment
dominance
extraversion
conservatism
initiative
self-confidence
responsibility
cooperativeness
tolerance
influence
sociability
intelligence
masculinity
dominance
motivation
integrity
confidence
cognitive
ability
task
knowledge
stability
openness
agreeableness
motivation
social intelligence
self-monitoring
emotional
intelligence
problem solving
Sources: Adapted from “The Bases of Social Power,” by J. R. P. French Jr. and B. Raven, 1962, in D.
Cartwright (Ed.), Group Dynamics: Research and Theory (pp. 259–269), New York, NY: Harper and Row;
Zaccaro, Kemp, & Bader (2004).
In the 1990s, researchers began to investigate the leadership traits associated with “social
intelligence,” which is characterized as the ability to understand one’s own and others’
feelings, behaviors, and thoughts and act appropriately (Marlowe, 1986). Zaccaro (2002)
defined social intelligence as having such capacities as social awareness, social acumen, self-
monitoring, and the ability to select and enact the best response given the contingencies of
the situation and social environment. A number of empirical studies showed these
capacities to be a key trait for effective leaders. Zaccaro, Kemp, and Bader (2017) included
such social abilities in the categories of leadership traits they outlined as important
leadership attributes (Table 2.1).
Table 2.1 provides a summary of the traits and characteristics that were identified by
researchers from the trait approach. It illustrates clearly the breadth of traits related to
leadership. Table 2.1 also shows how difficult it is to select certain traits as definitive
leadership traits; some of the traits appear in several of the survey studies, whereas others
appear in only one or two studies. Regardless of the lack of precision in Table 2.1, however,
it represents a general convergence of research regarding which traits are leadership traits.
Table 2.2 Major Leadership
Traits
• Intelligence
• Self-confidence
• Determination
• Integrity
• Sociability
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What, then, can be said about trait research? What has a century of research on the trait
approach given us that is useful? The answer is an extended list of traits that individuals
might hope to possess or wish to cultivate if they want to be perceived by others as leaders.
Some of the traits that are central to this list include intelligence, self-confidence,
determination, integrity, and sociability (Table 2.2).
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Intelligence
Intelligence or intellectual ability is positively related to leadership (Sternberg, 2004). Based
on their analysis of a series of recent studies on intelligence and various indices of
leadership, Zaccaro et al. (2017) found support for the finding that leaders tend to have
higher intelligence than nonleaders. Having strong verbal ability, perceptual ability, and
reasoning appears to make one a better leader (Jacquart & Antonakis, 2015). Although it is
good to be bright, if the leader’s IQ is very different from that of the followers, it can have a
counterproductive impact on leadership. Leaders with higher abilities may have difficulty
communicating with followers because they are preoccupied or because their ideas are too
advanced for their followers to accept.
In a study of the relationship between intelligence and perceived leadership in midlevel
leaders from multinational companies, Antonakis, House, and Simonton (2017) found that
the optimal IQ for perceived leadership appeared to be just above one standard deviation
above the mean IQ of the group membership. Their study found a curvilinear relationship
between IQ and perceived leadership—that is, as IQ increased, so did perceived leadership
to a point, and then the IQ had a negative impact on leadership. Stated another way, it is
good for leaders to be intelligent, but if their intelligence scores become too high, the
benefits appear to taper off and can become negative.
An example of a leader for whom intelligence was a key trait was Steve Jobs, founder and
CEO of Apple who died in 2011. Jobs once said, “I have this really incredible product
inside me and I have to get it out” (Sculley, 2011, p. 27). Those visionary products, first
the Apple II and Macintosh computers and then the iMac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad,
revolutionized the personal computer and electronic device industry, changing the way
people play and work.
In the next chapter of this text, which addresses leadership from a skills perspective,
intelligence is identified as a trait that significantly contributes to a leader’s acquisition of
complex problem-solving skills and social judgment skills. Intelligence is described as
having a positive impact on an individual’s capacity for effective leadership.
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Self-Confidence
Self-confidence is another trait that helps one to be a leader. Self-confidence is the ability to
be certain about one’s competencies and skills. It includes a sense of self-esteem and self-
assurance and the belief that one can make a difference. Leadership involves influencing
others, and self-confidence allows the leader to feel assured that his or her attempts to
influence others are appropriate and right.
Again, Steve Jobs is a good example of a self-confident leader. When Jobs described the
devices he wanted to create, many people said they weren’t possible. But Jobs never
doubted his products would change the world, and despite resistance, he did things the way
he thought best. “Jobs was one of those CEOs who ran the company like he wanted to. He
believed he knew more about it than anyone else, and he probably did,” said a colleague
(Stone, 2011, p. 40).
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Determination
Many leaders also exhibit determination. Determination is the desire to get the job done
and includes characteristics such as initiative, persistence, dominance, and drive. People
with determination are willing to assert themselves, are proactive, and have the capacity to
persevere in the face of obstacles. Being determined includes showing dominance at times
and in situations where followers need to be directed.
Dr. Paul Farmer has shown determination in his efforts to secure health care and eradicate
tuberculosis for the very poor of Haiti and other third world countries. He began his efforts
as a recent college graduate, traveling and working in Cange, Haiti. While there, he was
accepted to Harvard Medical School. Knowing that his work in Haiti was invaluable to his
training, he managed to do both: spending months traveling back and forth between Haiti
and Cambridge, Massachusetts, for school. His first effort in Cange was to establish a one-
room clinic where he treated “all comers” and trained local health care workers. Farmer
found that there was more to providing health care than just dispensing medicine: He
secured donations to build schools, houses, and communal sanitation and water facilities in
the region. He spearheaded vaccinations of all the children in the area, dramatically
reducing malnutrition and infant mortality. In order to keep working in Haiti, he returned
to America and founded Partners In Health, a charitable foundation that raises money to
fund these efforts. Since its founding, PIH not only has succeeded in improving the health
of many communities in Haiti but now has projects in Haiti, Lesotho, Malawi, Peru,
Russia, Rwanda, and the United States, and supports other projects in Mexico and
Guatemala (Kidder, 2004; Partners In Health, 2017).
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Integrity
Integrity, another of the important leadership traits, is the quality of honesty and
trustworthiness. People who adhere to a strong set of principles and take responsibility for
their actions are exhibiting integrity. Leaders with integrity inspire confidence in others
because they can be trusted to do what they say they are going to do. They are loyal,
dependable, and not deceptive. Basically, integrity makes a leader believable and worthy of
our trust.
In our society, integrity has received a great deal of attention in recent years. For example,
as a result of two situations—the position taken by President George W. Bush regarding
Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction and the impeachment proceedings during the
Bill Clinton presidency—people are demanding more honesty of their public officials.
Similarly, scandals in the corporate world (e.g., Enron and WorldCom) have led people to
become skeptical of leaders who are not highly ethical. In the educational arena, new K–12
curricula are being developed to teach character, values, and ethical leadership. (For
instance, see the Character Counts! program developed by the Josephson Institute of Ethics
in California at www.charactercounts.org, and the Pillars of Leadership program taught at
the J. W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development in Georgia at
www.fanning.uga.edu.) In short, society is demanding greater integrity of character in its
leaders.
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Sociability
A final trait that is important for leaders is sociability. Sociability is a leader’s inclination to
seek out pleasant social relationships. Leaders who show sociability are friendly, outgoing,
courteous, tactful, and diplomatic. They are sensitive to others’ needs and show concern for
their well-being. Social leaders have good interpersonal skills and create cooperative
relationships with their followers.
An example of a leader with great sociability skills is Michael Hughes, a university
president. Hughes prefers to walk to all his meetings because it gets him out on campus
where he greets students, staff, and faculty. He has lunch in the dorm cafeterias or student
union and will often ask a table of strangers if he can sit with them. Students rate him as
very approachable, while faculty say he has an open-door policy. In addition, he takes time
to write personal notes to faculty, staff, and students to congratulate them on their
successes.
Although our discussion of leadership traits has focused on five major traits (i.e.,
intelligence, self-confidence, determination, integrity, and sociability), this list is not all-
inclusive. While other traits indicated in Table 2.1 are associated with effective leadership,
the five traits we have identified contribute substantially to one’s capacity to be a leader.
Until recently, most reviews of leadership traits have been qualitative. In addition, they
have lacked a common organizing framework. However, the research described in the
following section provides a quantitative assessment of leadership traits that is conceptually
framed around the five-factor model of personality. It describes how five major personality
traits are related to leadership.
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Five-Factor Personality Model and Leadership
Over the past 25 years, a consensus has emerged among researchers regarding the basic
factors that make up what we call personality (Goldberg, 1990; McCrae & Costa, 1987).
These factors, commonly called the Big Five, are neuroticism, extraversion (surgency),
openness (intellect), agreeableness, and conscientiousness (dependability) (Table 2.3).
To assess the links between the Big Five and leadership, Judge, Bono, Ilies, and Gerhardt
(2002) conducted a major meta-analysis of 78 leadership and personality studies published
between 1967 and 1998. In general, Judge et al. found a strong relationship between the
Big Five traits and leadership. It appears that having certain personality traits is associated
with being an effective leader.
Specifically, in their study, extraversion was the factor most strongly associated with
leadership. It is the most important trait of effective leaders. Extraversion was followed, in
order, by conscientiousness, openness, and low neuroticism. The last factor, agreeableness, was
found to be only weakly associated with leadership. In a more recent study, Sacket and
Walmsley (2014) found that conscientiousness had the highest correlation with overall job
performance, task performance, organizational citizenship behavior, and counterproductive
work behavior (negative correlation). It was found to be the most frequently assessed trait
in job interviews for a variety of occupations.
Table 2.3 Big Five Personality Factors
Neuroticism
The tendency to be depressed, anxious, insecure, vulnerable,
and hostile
Extraversion
The tendency to be sociable and assertive and to have positive
energy
Openness The tendency to be informed, creative, insightful, and curious
Agreeableness
The tendency to be accepting, conforming, trusting, and
nurturing
Conscientiousness
The tendency to be thorough, organized, controlled,
dependable, and decisive
Source: Goldberg, L. R. (1990). An alternative “description of personality”: The Big-Five factor structure.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59, 1216–1229.
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Strengths and Leadership
Very closely related to the traits approach is the more contemporary emphasis on strengths
and leadership. The idea behind strengths leadership is that everyone has talents in which
they excel or thrive and leaders are able to recognize and capitalize on not only their own
strengths but those of their followers as well. A strength is defined as an attribute or quality
of an individual that accounts for successful performance. Strength researchers
(Buckingham & Clifton, 2001; Rath, 2007) suggest that strengths are the ability to
consistently demonstrate exceptional work.
The seminal research in this area has been undertaken by the Gallup organization, which
has spent more than 40 years identifying and assessing individual strengths or “themes of
human talent” and designing and publishing the StrengthsFinder profile, now called
CliftonStrengths assessment, an online assessment of people’s talents and potential
strengths. Talents are similar to personality traits—they are relatively stable, fixed
characteristics that are not easily changed. From talents, strengths emerge. Strengths are
derived from having certain talents and then further developing those talents by gaining
additional knowledge, skills, and practice (Rath, 2007).
In the strengths perspective, extraordinary individuals are “distinguished less by their
impressive ‘raw power’ than by their ability to identify their strengths and then exploit
them” (Gardner, 1997, p. 15). MacKie (2016) suggests that our leadership capability is
enhanced when we are able to discover our fully utilized strengths, underutilized strengths,
and weaknesses.
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Emotional Intelligence
Another way of assessing the impact of traits on leadership is through the concept of
emotional intelligence, which emerged in the 1990s as an important area of study in
psychology. It has been widely studied by researchers, and has captured the attention of
many practitioners (Caruso & Wolfe, 2004; Goleman, 1995, 1998; Mayer & Salovey,
1995, 1997; Mayer, Salovey, & Caruso, 2000; Shankman & Allen, 2015).
As the two words suggest, emotional intelligence has to do with our emotions (affective
domain) and thinking (cognitive domain), and the interplay between the two. Whereas
intelligence is concerned with our ability to learn information and apply it to life tasks,
emotional intelligence is concerned with our ability to understand emotions and apply this
understanding to life’s tasks. Specifically, emotional intelligence can be defined as the ability
to perceive and express emotions, to use emotions to facilitate thinking, to understand and
reason with emotions, and to effectively manage emotions within oneself and in
relationships with others (Mayer, Salovey, & Caruso, 2000).
There are different ways to measure emotional intelligence. One scale is the Mayer-Salovey-
Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT; Mayer, Caruso, & Salovey, 2000). The
MSCEIT measures emotional intelligence as a set of mental abilities, including the abilities
to perceive, facilitate, understand, and manage emotion.
Goleman (1995, 1998) takes a broader approach to emotional intelligence, suggesting that
it consists of a set of personal and social competencies. Personal competence consists of self-
awareness, confidence, self-regulation, conscientiousness, and motivation. Social
competence consists of empathy and social skills such as communication and conflict
management.
Shankman and Allen (2015) developed a practice-oriented model of emotionally intelligent
leadership, which suggests that leaders must be conscious of three fundamental facets of
leadership: context, self, and others. In the model, emotionally intelligent leaders are
defined by 21 capacities to which a leader should pay attention, including group savvy,
optimism, initiative, and teamwork.
There is a debate in the field regarding how big a role emotional intelligence plays in
helping people be successful in life. Some researchers, such as Goleman (1995), suggested
that emotional intelligence plays a major role in whether people are successful at school,
home, and work. Others, such as Mayer, Salovey, and Caruso (2000) and Antonakis
(2009), made softer claims for the significance of emotional intelligence in meeting life’s
challenges.
As a leadership ability or trait, emotional intelligence appears to be an important construct.
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The underlying premise suggested by this framework is that people who are more sensitive
to their emotions and the impact of their emotions on others will be leaders who are more
effective. As more research is conducted on emotional intelligence, the intricacies of how
emotional intelligence relates to leadership will be better understood.
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How does the Trait Approach Work?
The trait approach is very different from the other approaches discussed in subsequent
chapters because it focuses exclusively on the leader, not on the followers or the situation.
This makes the trait approach theoretically more straightforward than other approaches. In
essence, the trait approach is concerned with what traits leaders exhibit and who has these
traits.
The trait approach does not lay out a set of hypotheses or principles about what kind of
leader is needed in a certain situation or what a leader should do, given a particular set of
circumstances. Instead, this approach emphasizes that having a leader with a certain set of
traits is crucial to having effective leadership. It is the leader and the leader’s traits that are
central to the leadership process.
The trait approach suggests that organizations will work better if the people in managerial
positions have designated leadership profiles. To find the right people, it is common for
organizations to use trait assessment instruments. The assumption behind these procedures
is that selecting the right people will increase organizational effectiveness. Organizations can
specify the characteristics or traits that are important to them for particular positions and
then use trait assessment measures to determine whether an individual fits their needs.
The trait approach is also used for personal awareness and development. By analyzing their
own traits, managers can gain an idea of their strengths and weaknesses, and can get a feel
for how others in the organization see them. A trait assessment can help managers
determine whether they have the qualities to move up or to move to other positions in the
company.
A trait assessment gives individuals a clearer picture of who they are as leaders and how they
fit into the organizational hierarchy. In areas where their traits are lacking, leaders can try to
make changes in what they do or where they work to increase their traits’ potential impact.
Near the end of the chapter, a leadership instrument is provided that you can use to assess
your leadership traits. This instrument is typical of the kind of assessments that companies
use to evaluate individuals’ leadership potential. As you will discover by completing this
instrument, trait measures are a good way to assess your own characteristics.
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Strengths
The trait approach has several identifiable strengths. First, the trait approach is intuitively
appealing. It fits clearly with our notion that leaders are the individuals who are out front
and leading the way in our society. The image in the popular press and community at large
is that leaders are a special kind of people—people with gifts who can do extraordinary
things. The trait approach is consistent with this perception because it is built on the
premise that leaders are different, and their difference resides in the special traits they
possess. People have a need to see their leaders as gifted people, and the trait approach
fulfills this need.
A second strength of the trait approach is that it has a century of research to back it up. No
other theory can boast of the breadth and depth of studies conducted on the trait approach.
The strength and longevity of this line of research give the trait approach a measure of
credibility that other approaches lack. Out of this abundance of research has emerged a
body of data that points to the important role of various traits in the leadership process.
Another strength, more conceptual in nature, results from the way the trait approach
highlights the leader component in the leadership process. Leadership is composed of
leaders, followers, and situations, but the trait approach is devoted to only the first of these
—leaders. Although this is also a potential weakness, by focusing exclusively on the role of
the leader in leadership the trait approach has been able to provide us with a deeper and
more intricate understanding of how the leader and the leader’s traits are related to the
leadership process.
Last, the trait approach has given us some benchmarks for what we need to look for if we
want to be leaders. It identifies what traits we should have and whether the traits we do
have are the best traits for leadership. Based on the findings of this approach, trait
assessment procedures can be used to offer invaluable information to supervisors and
managers about their strengths and weaknesses and ways to improve their overall leadership
effectiveness.
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Criticisms
In addition to its strengths, the trait approach has several weaknesses. First and foremost is
the failure of the trait approach to delimit a definitive list of leadership traits. Although an
enormous number of studies have been conducted over the past 100 years, the findings
from these studies have been ambiguous and uncertain at times. Furthermore, the list of
traits that has emerged appears endless. This is obvious from Table 2.1, which lists a
multitude of traits. In fact, these are only a sample of the many leadership traits that were
studied.
Another criticism is that the trait approach has failed to take situations into account. As
Stogdill (1948) pointed out more than 60 years ago, it is difficult to isolate a set of traits
that are characteristic of leaders without also factoring situational effects into the equation.
People who possess certain traits that make them leaders in one situation may not be
leaders in another situation. Some people may have the traits that help them emerge as
leaders but not the traits that allow them to maintain their leadership over time. In other
words, the situation influences leadership. It is therefore difficult to identify a universal set
of leadership traits in isolation from the context in which the leadership occurs.
A third criticism, derived from the prior two criticisms, is that this approach has resulted in
highly subjective determinations of the most important leadership traits. Because the
findings on traits have been so extensive and broad, there has been much subjective
interpretation of the meaning of the data. This subjectivity is readily apparent in the many
self-help, practice-oriented management books. For example, one author might identify
ambition and creativity as crucial leadership traits; another might identify empathy and
calmness. In both cases, it is the author’s subjective experience and observations that are the
basis for the identified leadership traits. These books may be helpful to readers because they
identify and describe important leadership traits, but the methods used to generate these
lists of traits are weak. To respond to people’s need for a set of definitive traits of leaders,
authors have set forth lists of traits, even if the origins of these lists are not grounded in
strong, reliable research.
Research on traits can also be criticized for failing to look at traits in relationship to
leadership outcomes. This research has emphasized the identification of traits, but has not
addressed how leadership traits affect group members and their work. In trying to ascertain
universal leadership traits, researchers have focused on the link between specific traits and
leader emergence, but they have not tried to link leader traits with other outcomes such as
productivity or employee satisfaction. For example, trait research does not provide data on
whether leaders who have high intelligence and strong integrity have better results than
leaders without these traits. The trait approach is weak in describing how leaders’ traits
affect the outcomes of groups and teams in organizational settings.
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A final criticism of the trait approach is that it is not a useful approach for training and
development for leadership. Even if definitive traits could be identified, teaching new traits
is not an easy process because traits are not easily changed. For example, it is not reasonable
to send managers to a training program to raise their IQ or to train them to become
extraverted. The point is that traits are largely fixed psychological structures, and this limits
the value of teaching and leadership training.
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Application
Despite its shortcomings, the trait approach provides valuable information about
leadership. It can be applied by individuals at all levels and in all types of organizations.
Although the trait approach does not provide a definitive set of traits, it does provide
direction regarding which traits are good to have if one aspires to a leadership position. By
taking trait assessments and other similar questionnaires, people can gain insight into
whether they have certain traits deemed important for leadership, and they can pinpoint
their strengths and weaknesses with regard to leadership.
As we discussed previously, managers can use information from the trait approach to assess
where they stand in their organization and what they need to do to strengthen their
position. Trait information can suggest areas in which their personal characteristics are very
beneficial to the company and areas in which they may want to get more training to
enhance their overall approach. Using trait information, managers can develop a deeper
understanding of who they are and how they will affect others in the organization.
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Case Studies
In this section, three case studies (Cases 2.1, 2.2, and 2.3) are provided to illustrate the trait approach and to help
you understand how the trait approach can be used in making decisions in organizational settings. The settings of
the cases are diverse—directing research and development at a large snack food company, running an office
supply business, and being head of recruitment for a large bank—but all of the cases deal with trait leadership. At
the end of each case, you will find questions that will help in analyzing the cases.
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Case 2.1: Choosing a New Director of Research
Sandra Coke is vice president for research and development at Great Lakes Foods (GLF), a large snack food
company that has approximately 1,000 employees. As a result of a recent reorganization, Sandra must choose the
new director of research. The director will report directly to Sandra and will be responsible for developing and
testing new products. The research division of GLF employs about 200 people. The choice of directors is
important because Sandra is receiving pressure from the president and board of GLF to improve the company’s
overall growth and productivity.
Sandra has identified three candidates for the position. Each candidate is at the same managerial level. She is
having difficulty choosing one of them because each has very strong credentials. Alexa Smith is a longtime
employee of GLF who started part-time in the mailroom while in high school. After finishing school, Alexa
worked in as many as 10 different positions throughout the company to become manager of new product
marketing. Performance reviews of Alexa’s work have repeatedly described her as being very creative and
insightful. In her tenure at GLF, Alexa has developed and brought to market four new product lines. Alexa is also
known throughout GLF as being very persistent about her work: When she starts a project, she stays with it until
it is finished. It is probably this quality that accounts for the success of each of the four new products with which
she has been involved.
A second candidate for the new position is Kelsey Metts, who has been with GLF for five years and is manager of
quality control for established products. Kelsey has a reputation for being very bright. Before joining GLF, she
received her MBA at Harvard, graduating at the top of her class. People talk about Kelsey as the kind of person
who will be president of her own company someday. Kelsey is also very personable. On all her performance
reviews, she received extra-high scores on sociability and human relations. There isn’t a supervisor in the
company who doesn’t have positive things to say about how comfortable it is to work with Kelsey. Since joining
GLF, Kelsey has been instrumental in bringing two new product lines to market.
Thomas Santiago, the third candidate, has been with GLF for 10 years and is often consulted by upper
management regarding strategic planning and corporate direction setting. Thomas has been very involved in
establishing the vision for GLF and is a company person all the way. He believes in the values of GLF, and
actively promotes its mission. The two qualities that stand out above the rest in Thomas’s performance reviews
are his honesty and integrity. Employees who have worked under his supervision consistently report that they feel
they can trust Thomas to be fair and consistent. Thomas is highly respected at GLF. In his tenure at the
company, Thomas has been involved in some capacity with the development of three new product lines.
The challenge confronting Sandra is to choose the best person for the newly established director’s position.
Because of the pressure she feels from upper management, Sandra knows she must select the best leader for the
new position.
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Questions
1. Based on the information provided about the trait approach in Tables 2.1 and 2.2, if you were Sandra,
whom would you select?
2. In what ways is the trait approach helpful in this type of selection?
3. In what ways are the weaknesses of the trait approach highlighted in this case?
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Case 2.2: A Remarkable Turnaround
Carol Baines was married for 20 years to the owner of the Baines Company until he died in a car accident. After
his death, Carol decided not to sell the business but to try to run it herself. Before the accident, her only
involvement in the business was in informal discussions with her husband over dinner, although she has a college
degree in business, with a major in management.
The Baines Company was one of three office supply stores in a city with a population of 200,000 people. The
other two stores were owned by national chains. Baines was not a large company, and employed only five people.
Baines had stable sales of about $200,000 a year, serving mostly the smaller companies in the city. The firm had
not grown in a number of years and was beginning to feel the pressure of the advertising and lower prices of the
national chains.
For the first six months, Carol spent her time familiarizing herself with the employees and the operations of the
company. Next, she did a citywide analysis of companies that had reason to purchase office supplies. Based on
her understanding of the company’s capabilities and her assessment of the potential market for their products and
services, Carol developed a specific set of short-term and long-term goals for the company. Behind all of her
planning, Carol had a vision that Baines could be a viable, healthy, and competitive company. She wanted to
carry on the business that her husband had started, but more than that she wanted it to grow.
Over the first five years, Carol invested significant amounts of money in advertising, sales, and services. These
efforts were well spent because the company began to show rapid growth immediately. Because of the growth, the
company hired another 20 people.
The expansion at Baines was particularly remarkable because of another major hardship Carol had to confront.
Carol was diagnosed with breast cancer a year after her husband died. The treatment for her cancer included two
months of radiation therapy and six months of strong chemotherapy. Although the side effects included hair loss
and fatigue, Carol continued to manage the company throughout the ordeal. Despite her difficulties, Carol was
successful. Under the strength of her leadership, the growth at Baines continued for 10 consecutive years.
Interviews with new and old employees at Baines revealed much about Carol’s leadership. Employees said that
Carol was a very solid person. She cared deeply about others and was fair and considerate. They said she created a
family-like atmosphere at Baines. Few employees had quit Baines since Carol took over. Carol was devoted to all
the employees, and she supported their interests. For example, the company sponsored a softball team in the
summer and a basketball team in the winter. Others described Carol as a strong person. Even though she had
cancer, she continued to be positive and interested in them. She did not get depressed about the cancer and its
side effects, even though coping with cancer was difficult. Employees said she was a model of strength, goodness,
and quality.
At age 55, Carol turned the business over to her two sons. She continues to act as the president but does not
supervise the day-to-day operations. The company is doing more than $3.1 million in sales, and it outpaces the
two chain stores in the city.
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Questions
1. How would you describe Carol’s leadership traits?
2. How big a part did Carol’s traits play in the expansion of the company?
3. Would Carol be a leader in other business contexts?
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Case 2.3: Recruiting for the Bank
Pat Nelson is the assistant director of human resources in charge of recruitment for Central Bank, a large, full-
service banking institution. One of Pat’s major responsibilities each spring is to visit as many college campuses as
he can to interview graduating seniors for credit analyst positions in the commercial lending area at Central Bank.
Although the number varies, he usually ends up hiring about 20 new people, most of whom come from the same
schools, year after year.
Pat has been doing recruitment for the bank for more than 10 years, and he enjoys it very much. However, for
the upcoming spring he is feeling increased pressure from management to be particularly discriminating about
whom he recommends hiring. Management is concerned about the retention rate at the bank because in recent
years as many as 25% of the new hires have left. Departures after the first year have meant lost training dollars
and strain on the staff who remain. Although management understands that some new hires always leave, the
executives are not comfortable with the present rate, and they have begun to question the recruitment and hiring
procedures.
The bank wants to hire people who can be groomed for higher-level leadership positions. Although certain
competencies are required of entry-level credit analysts, the bank is equally interested in skills that will allow
individuals to advance to upper management positions as their careers progress.
In the recruitment process, Pat always looks for several characteristics. First, applicants need to have strong
interpersonal skills, they need to be confident, and they need to show poise and initiative. Next, because banking
involves fiduciary responsibilities, applicants need to have proper ethics, including a strong sense of the
importance of confidentiality. In addition, to do the work in the bank, they need to have strong analytical and
technical skills, and experience in working with computers. Last, applicants need to exhibit a good work ethic,
and they need to show commitment and a willingness to do their job even in difficult circumstances.
Pat is fairly certain that he has been selecting the right people to be leaders at Central Bank, yet upper
management is telling him to reassess his hiring criteria. Although he feels that he has been doing the right thing,
he is starting to question himself and his recruitment practices.
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Questions
1. Based on ideas described in the trait approach, do you think Pat is looking for the right characteristics in
the people he hires?
2. Could it be that the retention problem raised by upper management is unrelated to Pat’s recruitment
criteria?
3. If you were Pat, would you change your approach to recruiting?
Leadership Instrument
Organizations use a wide variety of questionnaires to measure individuals’ traits. In many organizations, it is
common practice to use standard trait measures such as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory or
the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. These measures provide valuable information to the individual and the
organization about the individual’s unique attributes for leadership and where the individual could best
serve the organization.
In this section, the Leadership Trait Questionnaire (LTQ) is provided as an example of a measure that can
be used to assess your personal leadership characteristics. The LTQ quantifies the perceptions of the
individual leader and selected observers, such as followers or peers. It measures an individual’s traits and
points the individual to the areas in which he or she may have special strengths or weaknesses.
By taking the LTQ, you can gain an understanding of how trait measures are used for leadership
assessment. You can also assess your own leadership traits.
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Leadership Trait Questionnaire (LTQ)
Instructions: The purpose of this questionnaire is to measure personal characteristics of leadership. The
questionnaire should be completed by the leader and five people who are familiar with the leader.
Make five additional copies of this questionnaire. This questionnaire should be completed by you and five
people you know (e.g., roommates, coworkers, relatives, friends). Using the following scale, have each
individual indicate the degree to which he or she agrees or disagrees with each of the 14 statements below.
Do not forget to complete one for yourself.
______________________________________ (leader’s name) is
Key: 1 = Strongly disagree 2 = Disagree 3 = Neutral 4 = Agree 5 = Strongly agree
1. Articulate: Communicates effectively with others 1 2 3 4 5
2. Perceptive: Is discerning and insightful 1 2 3 4 5
3. Self-confident: Believes in himself/herself and his/her ability 1 2 3 4 5
4. Self-assured: Is secure with self, free of doubts 1 2 3 4 5
5. Persistent: Stays fixed on the goals, despite interference 1 2 3 4 5
6. Determined: Takes a firm stand, acts with certainty 1 2 3 4 5
7. Trustworthy: Is authentic and inspires confidence 1 2 3 4 5
8. Dependable: Is consistent and reliable 1 2 3 4 5
9. Friendly: Shows kindness and warmth 1 2 3 4 5
10. Outgoing: Talks freely, gets along well with others 1 2 3 4 5
11. Conscientious: Is thorough, organized, and controlled 1 2 3 4 5
12. Diligent: Is persistent, hardworking 1 2 3 4 5
13. Sensitive: Shows tolerance, is tactful and sympathetic 1 2 3 4 5
14. Empathic: Understands others, identifies with others 1 2 3 4 5
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Scoring
1. Enter the responses for Raters 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 in the appropriate columns as shown in Example
2.1. The example provides hypothetical ratings to help explain how the questionnaire can be used.
2. For each of the 14 items, compute the average for the five raters and place that number in the
“average rating” column.
3. Place your own scores in the “self-rating” column.
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Example 2.1 Leadership Traits Questionnaire Ratings
Rater
1
Rater
2
Rater
3
Rater
4
Rater 5 Average rating Self-rating
1. Articulate 4 4 3 2 4 3.4 4
2. Perceptive 2 5 3 4 4 3.6 5
3. Self-confident 4 4 5 5 4 4.4 4
4. Self-assured 5 5 5 5 5 5 5
5. Persistent 4 4 3 3 3 3.4 3
6. Determined 4 4 4 4 4 4 4
7. Trustworthy 5 5 5 5 5 5 5
8. Dependable 4 5 4 5 4 4.4 4
9. Friendly 5 5 5 5 5 5 5
10. Outgoing 5 4 5 4 5 4.6 4
11.
Conscientious
2 3 2 3 3 2.6 4
12. Diligent 3 3 3 3 3 3 4
13. Sensitive 4 4 5 5 5 4.6 3
14. Empathic 5 5 4 5 4 4.6 3
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Scoring Interpretation
The scores you received on the LTQ provide information about how you see yourself and how others see
you as a leader. The chart allows you to see where your perceptions are the same as those of others and
where they differ.
The example ratings show how the leader self-rated higher than the observers did on the characteristic
articulate. On the second characteristic, perceptive, the leader self-rated substantially higher than others. On
the self-confident characteristic, the leader self-rated quite close to others’ ratings but lower. There are no
best ratings on this questionnaire. The purpose of the instrument is to give you a way to assess your
strengths and weaknesses and to evaluate areas where your perceptions are congruent with those of others
and where there are discrepancies.
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Summary
The trait approach has its roots in leadership theory that suggested that certain people were
born with special traits that made them great leaders. Because it was believed that leaders
and nonleaders could be differentiated by a universal set of traits, throughout the 20th
century researchers were challenged to identify the definitive traits of leaders.
Around the mid-20th century, several major studies questioned the basic premise that a
unique set of traits defined leadership. As a result, attention shifted to incorporating the
impact of situations and of followers on leadership. Researchers began to study the
interactions between leaders and their context instead of focusing only on leaders’ traits.
More recently, there have been signs that trait research has come full circle, with a renewed
interest in focusing directly on the critical traits of leaders.
From the multitude of studies conducted through the years on personal characteristics, it is
clear that many traits contribute to leadership. Some of the important traits that are
consistently identified in many of these studies are intelligence, self-confidence,
determination, integrity, and sociability. In addition, researchers have found a strong
relationship between leadership and the traits described by the five-factor personality model.
Extraversion was the trait most strongly associated with leadership, followed by
conscientiousness, openness, low neuroticism, and agreeableness. Another recent line of research
has focused on emotional intelligence and its relationship to leadership. This research
suggests that leaders who are sensitive to their emotions and to the impact of their emotions
on others may be leaders who are more effective.
On a practical level, the trait approach is concerned with which traits leaders exhibit and
who has these traits. Organizations use personality assessment instruments to identify how
individuals will fit within their organizations. The trait approach is also used for personal
awareness and development because it allows managers to analyze their strengths and
weaknesses and to gain a clearer understanding of how they should try to change to
enhance their leadership.
There are several advantages to viewing leadership from the trait approach. First, it is
intuitively appealing because it fits clearly into the popular idea that leaders are special
people who are out front, leading the way in society. Second, a great deal of research
validates the basis of this perspective. Third, by focusing exclusively on the leader, the trait
approach provides an in-depth understanding of the leader component in the leadership
process. Last, it has provided some benchmarks against which individuals can evaluate their
own personal leadership attributes.
On the negative side, the trait approach has failed to provide a definitive list of leadership
traits. In analyzing the traits of leaders, the approach has failed to take into account the
94
impact of situations. In addition, the approach has resulted in subjective lists of the most
important leadership traits, which are not necessarily grounded in strong, reliable research.
Furthermore, the trait approach has not adequately linked the traits of leaders with other
outcomes such as group and team performance. Last, this approach is not particularly
useful for training and development for leadership because individuals’ personal attributes
are largely stable and fixed, and their traits are not amenable to change.
Sharpen your skills with SAGE edge at edge.sagepub.com/northouse8e
95
http://edge.sagepub.com/northouse8e
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3 Skills Approach
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Description
Like the trait approach discussed in Chapter 2, the skills approach takes a leader-centered
perspective on leadership. However, in the skills approach we shift our thinking from a
focus on personality characteristics, which usually are viewed as innate and largely fixed, to
an emphasis on skills and abilities that can be learned and developed. Although personality
certainly plays an integral role in leadership, the skills approach suggests that knowledge
and abilities are needed for effective leadership.
Researchers have studied leadership skills directly or indirectly for a number of years (see
Bass, 2008, pp. 97–109). However, the impetus for research on skills was a classic article
published by Robert Katz in the Harvard Business Review in 1955, titled “Skills of an
Effective Administrator.” Katz’s article appeared at a time when researchers were trying to
identify a definitive set of leadership traits. Katz’s approach was an attempt to transcend the
trait problem by addressing leadership as a set of developable skills. More recently, a
revitalized interest in the skills approach has emerged. Beginning in the early 1990s, a
multitude of studies have been published that contend that a leader’s effectiveness depends
on the leader’s ability to solve complex organizational problems. This research has resulted
in a comprehensive skill-based model of leadership that was advanced by Mumford and his
colleagues (Mumford, Zaccaro, Harding, Jacobs, & Fleishman, 2000; Yammarino, 2000).
In this chapter, our discussion of the skills approach is divided into two parts. First, we
discuss the general ideas set forth by Katz regarding three basic administrative skills:
technical, human, and conceptual. Second, we discuss the recent work of Mumford and
colleagues that has resulted in a skills-based model of organizational leadership.
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Three-Skill Approach
Based on field research in administration and his own firsthand observations of executives
in the workplace, Katz (1955, p. 34) suggested that effective administration (i.e.,
leadership) depends on three basic personal skills: technical, human, and conceptual. Katz
argued that these skills are quite different from traits or qualities of leaders. Skills are what
leaders can accomplish, whereas traits are who leaders are (i.e., their innate characteristics).
Leadership skills are defined in this chapter as the ability to use one’s knowledge and
competencies to accomplish a set of goals or objectives. This chapter shows that these
leadership skills can be acquired and leaders can be trained to develop them.
Technical Skills
Technical skills are knowledge about and proficiency in a specific type of work or activity.
They include competencies in a specialized area, analytical ability, and the ability to use
appropriate tools and techniques (Katz, 1955). For example, in a computer software
company, technical skills might include knowing software language and programming, the
company’s software products, and how to make these products function for clients.
Similarly, in an accounting firm, technical skills might include understanding and having
the ability to apply generally accepted accounting principles to a client’s audit. In both
these examples, technical skills involve a hands-on activity with a basic product or process
within an organization. Technical skills play an essential role in producing the actual
products a company is designed to produce.
As illustrated in Figure 3.1, technical skills are most important at lower and middle levels of
management and less important in upper management. For leaders at the highest level,
such as CEOs, presidents, and senior officers, technical competencies are not as essential.
Individuals at the top level depend on skilled followers to handle technical issues of the
physical operation.
Human Skills
Human skills are knowledge about and ability to work with people. They are quite different
from technical skills, which have to do with working with things (Katz, 1955). Human
skills are “people skills.” They are the abilities that help a leader to work effectively with
followers, peers, and superiors to accomplish the organization’s goals. Human skills allow a
leader to assist group members in working cooperatively as a group to achieve common
goals. For Katz, it means being aware of one’s own perspective on issues and, at the same
time, being aware of the perspective of others. Leaders with human skills adapt their own
ideas to those of others. Furthermore, they create an atmosphere of trust where employees
can feel comfortable and secure and where they can feel encouraged to become involved in
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the planning of things that will affect them. Being a leader with human skills means being
sensitive to the needs and motivations of others and taking into account others’ needs in
one’s decision making. In short, human skills are the capacity to get along with others as
you go about your work.
Figure 3.1 Management Skills Necessary at Various Levels of an Organization
Source: Adapted from “Skills of an Effective Administrator,” by R. L. Katz, 1955,
Harvard Business Review, 33(1), pp. 33–42.
Figure 3.1 shows that human skills are important in all three levels of management.
Although managers at lower levels may communicate with a far greater number of
employees, human skills are equally important at middle and upper levels.
Conceptual Skills
Broadly speaking, conceptual skills are the ability to work with ideas and concepts. Whereas
technical skills deal with things and human skills deal with people, conceptual skills involve
the ability to work with ideas. A leader with conceptual skills is comfortable talking about
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the ideas that shape an organization and the intricacies involved. He or she is good at
putting the company’s goals into words and can understand and express the economic
principles that affect the company. A leader with conceptual skills works easily with
abstractions and hypothetical notions.
Conceptual skills are central to creating a vision and strategic plan for an organization. For
example, it would take conceptual skills for a CEO in a struggling manufacturing company
to articulate a vision for a line of new products that would steer the company into
profitability. Similarly, it would take conceptual skills for the director of a nonprofit health
organization to create a strategic plan that could compete successfully with for-profit health
organizations in a market with scarce resources. The point of these examples is that
conceptual skills have to do with the mental work of shaping the meaning of organizational
or policy issues—understanding what a company stands for and where it is or should be
going.
As shown in Figure 3.1, conceptual skills are most important at the top management levels.
In fact, when upper-level managers do not have strong conceptual skills, they can
jeopardize the whole organization. Conceptual skills are also important in middle
management; as we move down to lower management levels, conceptual skills become less
important.
Summary of the Three-Skill Approach
To summarize, the three-skill approach includes technical, human, and conceptual skills. It
is important for leaders to have all three skills; depending on where they are in the
management structure, however, some skills are more important than others are.
Katz’s work in the mid-1950s set the stage for conceptualizing leadership in terms of skills,
but it was not until the mid-1990s that an empirically based skills approach received
recognition in leadership research. In the next section, the comprehensive skill-based model
of leadership is presented.
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Skills Model
Beginning in the early 1990s, a group of researchers, with funding from the U.S. Army and
Department of Defense, set out to test and develop a comprehensive theory of leadership
based on problem-solving skills in organizations. The studies were conducted over a
number of years using a sample of more than 1,800 Army officers, representing six grade
levels, from second lieutenant to colonel. The project used a variety of new measures and
tools to assess the skills of these officers, their experiences, and the situations in which they
worked.
The researchers’ main goal was to explain the underlying elements of effective performance.
They addressed questions such as these: What accounts for why some leaders are good
problem solvers and others are not? What specific skills do high-performing leaders exhibit?
How do leaders’ individual characteristics, career experiences, and environmental influences
affect their job performance? As a whole, researchers wanted to identify the leadership
factors that create exemplary job performance in an actual organization.
Figure 3.2 Three Components of the Skills Model
Source: Adapted from “Leadership Skills for a Changing World: Solving Complex
Social Problems,” by M. D. Mumford, S. J. Zaccaro, F. D. Harding, T. O. Jacobs,
and E. A. Fleishman, The Leadership Quarterly, 11(1), p. 23. Copyright 2000 by
Elsevier. Adapted with permission.
Based on the extensive findings from the project, Mumford and colleagues formulated a
skill-based model of leadership. The model is characterized as a capability model because it
examines the relationship between a leader’s knowledge and skills (i.e., capabilities) and the
leader’s performance (Mumford, Zaccaro, Harding, et al., 2000, p. 12). Leadership
capabilities can be developed over time through education and experience. Unlike the
“great man” approach (discussed in Chapter 2 of this text), which implies that leadership is
reserved for only the gifted few, the skills approach suggests that many people have the
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potential for leadership. If people are capable of learning from their experiences, they can
acquire leadership. The skills approach can also be distinguished from the leadership
approaches we will discuss in subsequent chapters, which focus on behavioral patterns of
leaders (e.g., the style approach, transformational leadership, or leader–member exchange
theory). Rather than emphasizing what leaders do, the skills approach frames leadership as
the capabilities (knowledge and skills) that make effective leadership possible (Mumford,
Zaccaro, Harding, et al., 2000, p. 12).
The skill-based model of Mumford’s group has five components: competencies, individual
attributes, leadership outcomes, career experiences, and environmental influences. A
portion of the model, illustrating three of these components, appears in Figure 3.2. This
portion of the model is essential to understanding the overall skill-based leadership model.
Competencies
As can be observed in the middle box of Figure 3.2, problem-solving skills, social judgment
skills, and knowledge are at the heart of the skills model. These three competencies are the
key factors that account for effective performance (Mumford et al., 2012).
Problem-Solving Skills.
What are problem-solving skills? According to Mumford, Zaccaro, Harding, et al. (2000),
problem-solving skills are a leader’s creative ability to solve new and unusual, ill-defined
organizational problems. The skills include being able to define significant problems, gather
problem information, formulate new understandings about the problem, and generate
prototype plans for problem solutions. Mumford, Todd, Higgs, and McIntosh (2017, p.
28) identified nine key problem-solving skills leaders employ to address problems:
1. problem definition, the ability to define noteworthy issues or significant problems
affecting the organization;
2. cause/goal analysis, the ability to analyze the causes and goals relevant to addressing
problems;
3. constraint analysis, the ability to identify the constraints, or limiting factors,
influencing any problem solution;
4. planning, the ability to formulate plans, mental simulations, and actions arising from
cause/goal and constraint analysis;
5. forecasting, the ability to anticipate the implications of executing the plans;
6. creative thinking, the ability to develop alternative approaches and new ideas for
addressing potential pitfalls of a plan identified in forecasting;
7. idea evaluation, the ability to evaluate these alternative approaches’ viability in
executing the plan;
8. wisdom, the ability to evaluate the appropriateness of these alternative approaches
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within the context, or setting, in which the leader acts; and
9. sensemaking/visioning, the ability to articulate a vision that will help followers
understand, make sense of, and act on the problem.
Figure 3.3 shows the relationship between these different skills as a developing process,
where employment of one skill can lead to the next.
To clarify how these problem-solving skills work in conjunction with one another, consider
the following hypothetical situation. Imagine that you are the director of human resources
for a medium-sized company and you have been informed by the president that you have
to develop a plan to reduce the company’s health care costs. In deciding what you will do,
you demonstrate problem-solving skills in the following ways. First, you identify the full
ramifications for employees of changing their health insurance coverage (problem
definition; forecasting). What is the impact going to be (cause/goal analysis)? Second, you
gather information about how benefits can be scaled back (constraint analysis). What other
companies have attempted a similar change, and what were their results (forecasting)?
Third, you find a way to teach and inform the employees about the needed change
(planning; creative thinking). How can you frame the change in such a way that it is clearly
understood (planning; creative thinking; wisdom)? Fourth, you create possible scenarios for
how the changes will be instituted (forecasting; idea evaluation). How will the plan be
described? Fifth, you look closely at the solution itself (idea evaluation). How will
implementing this change affect the company’s mission and your own career (sensemaking;
vision)? Last, are there issues in the organization (e.g., union rules) that may affect the
implementation of these changes (constraint analysis; forecasting)?
Figure 3.3 Hypothetical Relationships
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Source: Reprinted from “Cognitive Skills and Leadership Performance: The Nine
Critical Skills,” by M. D. Mumford, E. M. Todd, C. Higgs, and T. McIntosh, The
Leadership Quarterly, 28(1), p. 28. Copyright 2017 by Elsevier. Reprinted with
permission.
Problem-solving skills also demand that leaders understand their own leadership capacities
as they apply possible solutions to the unique problems in their organization (Mumford,
Zaccaro, Connelly, & Marks, 2000).
Being able to construct solutions plays a special role in problem solving. In considering
solutions to organizational problems, skilled leaders need to attend to the time frame for
constructing and implementing a solution, short-term and long-term goals, career goals and
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organizational goals, and external issues, all of which could influence the solution
(Mumford, Zaccaro, Harding, et al., 2000, p. 15).
The process of dealing with novel, ill-defined organizational problems is complex and
demanding for leaders. In many ways, it is like a puzzle to be solved. For leaders to solve
such puzzles, the skill-based model suggests that problem-solving skills are essential.
Social Judgment Skills.
In addition to problem-solving skills, effective leadership performance requires social
judgment skills (Figure 3.2). In general, social judgment skills are the capacity to
understand people and social systems (Zaccaro, Mumford, Connelly, Marks, & Gilbert,
2000, p. 46). They enable leaders to work with others to solve problems and to marshal
support to implement change within an organization. Social judgment skills are the people
skills that are necessary to solve unique organizational problems.
Conceptually, social judgment skills are similar to Katz’s (1955) early work on the role of
human skills in management. In contrast to Katz’s work, Mumford and colleagues have
delineated social judgment skills into the following: perspective taking, social
perceptiveness, behavioral flexibility, and social performance.
Perspective taking means understanding the attitudes that others have toward a particular
problem or solution. It is empathy applied to problem solving. Perspective taking means
being sensitive to other people’s perspectives and goals—being able to understand their
point of view on different issues. Included in perspective taking is knowing how different
constituencies in an organization view a problem and possible solutions (Gasiorek & Ebesu
Hubbard, 2017). According to Zaccaro, Gilbert, Thor, and Mumford (1991), perspective-
taking skills can be likened to social intelligence. These skills are concerned with knowledge
about people, the social fabric of organizations, and the interrelatedness of each of them.
Social perceptiveness is insight and awareness into how others in the organization function.
What is important to others? What motivates them? What problems do they face, and how
do they react to change? Social perceptiveness means understanding the unique needs,
goals, and demands of different organizational constituencies (Zaccaro et al., 1991). A
leader with social perceptiveness has a keen sense of how followers will respond to any
proposed change in the organization. In a sense, you could say it allows the leader to know
the pulse of followers on any issue at any time.
In addition to understanding others accurately, social judgment skills involve reacting to
others with flexibility. Behavioral flexibility is the capacity to change and adapt one’s
behavior in light of an understanding of others’ perspectives in the organization. Being
flexible means one is not locked into a singular approach to a problem. One is not
dogmatic but rather maintains an openness and willingness to change. As the circumstances
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of a situation change, a flexible leader changes to meet the new demands.
Social performance includes a wide range of leadership competencies. Based on an
understanding of followers’ perspectives, leaders need to be able to communicate their own
vision to others. Skill in persuasion and communicating change is essential to do this.
When there is resistance to change or interpersonal conflict about change, leaders need to
function as mediators. To this end, skill in conflict resolution is an important aspect of
social performance competency. In addition, social performance sometimes requires that
leaders coach followers, giving them direction and support as they move toward selected
organizational goals. In all, social performance includes many related skills that may come
under the umbrella of communication.
To review, social judgment skills are about being sensitive to how your ideas fit in with
others. Can you understand others’ perspectives and their unique needs and motivations?
Are you flexible, and can you adapt your own ideas to others? Can you work with others
even when there is resistance and conflict? Social judgment skills are the people skills
needed to advance change in an organization.
Knowledge.
As shown in the model (Figure 3.2), the third aspect of competencies is knowledge.
Knowledge is inextricably related to the application and implementation of problem-
solving skills in organizations. It directly influences a leader’s capacity to define complex
organizational problems and to attempt to solve them (Mumford, Zaccaro, Harding, et al.,
2000). Knowledge is the accumulation of information and the mental structures used to
organize that information. Such a mental structure is called a schema (a summary, a
diagrammatic representation, or an outline). Knowledge results from having developed an
assortment of complex schemata for learning and organizing data.
For example, all of us take various kinds of facts and information into our minds. As we
organize that information into categories or schemata, the information becomes more
meaningful. Knowledge emerges from the facts and the organizational structures we apply
to them. People with a lot of knowledge have more complex organizing structures than
those with less knowledge. These knowledgeable people are called experts.
Consider the following baseball example. A baseball expert knows a lot of facts about the
game; the expert knows the rules, strategies, equipment, players, and much, much more.
The expert’s knowledge about baseball includes the facts, but it also includes the complex
mental structures used in organizing and structuring those facts. That person knows not
only the season and lifetime statistics for each player, but also that player’s quirks and
injuries, the personality of the manager, the strengths and weaknesses of available
substitutes, and so on. The expert knows baseball because she or he comprehends the
complexities and nuances of the game. The same is true for leadership in organizations.
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Leaders with knowledge know much about the products, the tasks, the people, the
organization, and all the different ways these elements are related to each other. A
knowledgeable leader has many mental structures with which to organize the facts of
organizational life.
Knowledge has a positive impact on how leaders engage in problem solving. It is knowledge
and expertise that make it possible for people to think about complex system issues and
identify possible strategies for appropriate change. Furthermore, this capacity allows people
to use prior cases and incidents in order to plan for needed change. It is knowledge that
allows people to use the past to constructively confront the future.
To summarize, the skills model consists of three competencies: problem-solving skills,
social judgment skills, and knowledge. Collectively, these three components are positively
related to effective leadership performance (Figure 3.2).
Individual Attributes
Returning to Figure 3.2, the box on the left identifies four individual attributes that have
an impact on leadership skills and knowledge: general cognitive ability, crystallized
cognitive ability, motivation, and personality. These attributes play important roles in the
skills model. Complex problem solving is a very difficult process and becomes more
difficult as people move up in the organization. These attributes support people as they
apply their leadership competencies.
General Cognitive Ability.
General cognitive ability can be thought of as a person’s intelligence. It includes perceptual
processing, information processing, general reasoning skills, creative and divergent thinking
capacities, and memory skills. General cognitive ability is linked to biology, not to
experience.
General cognitive ability is sometimes described as fluid intelligence, a type of intelligence
that usually grows and expands up through early adulthood and then declines with age. In
the skills model, intelligence is described as having a positive impact on the leader’s
acquisition of complex problem-solving skills and the leader’s knowledge.
Crystallized Cognitive Ability.
Crystallized cognitive ability is intellectual ability that is learned or acquired over time. It is
the store of knowledge we acquire through experience. We learn and increase our capacities
over a lifetime, increasing our leadership potential (e.g., problem-solving skills, conceptual
ability, and social judgment skills). In normally functioning adults, this type of cognitive
ability grows continuously and typically does not fall off in adulthood. It includes being
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able to comprehend complex information and learn new skills and information, as well as
being able to communicate to others in oral and written forms (Connelly et al., 2000, p.
71). Stated another way, crystallized cognitive ability is acquired intelligence: the ideas and
mental abilities people learn through experience. Because it stays fairly stable over time, this
type of intelligence is not diminished as people get older (Rose & Gordon, 2015).
Motivation.
Motivation is listed as the third attribute in the model. While Kerns (2015) identified three
categories of motivations (self-interest, career considerations, and higher purposes) that
propel leaders, the skills model takes a different approach, instead suggesting there are three
aspects of motivation—willingness, dominance, and social good—that are essential to
developing leadership skills (Mumford, Zaccaro, Harding, et al., 2000, p. 22).
First, leaders must be willing to tackle complex organizational problems. This first step is
critical. For leadership to occur, a person must want to lead. Second, leaders must be
willing to express dominance—to exert their influence, as we discussed in Chapter 2. In
influencing others, the leader must take on the responsibility of dominance because the
influence component of leadership is inextricably bound to dominance. Third, leaders must
be committed to the social good of the organization. Social good is a broad term that can
refer to a host of outcomes. However, in the skills model it refers to the leader’s willingness
to take on the responsibility of trying to advance the overall human good and value of the
organization. Taken together, these three aspects of motivation (willingness, dominance,
and social good) prepare people to become leaders.
Personality.
Personality is the fourth individual attribute in the skills model. Placed where it is in the
model, this attribute reminds us that our personality has an impact on the development of
our leadership skills. For example, openness, tolerance for ambiguity, and curiosity may
affect a leader’s motivation to try to solve some organizational problems. Or, in conflict
situations, traits such as confidence and adaptability may be beneficial to a leader’s
performance. The skills model hypothesizes that any personality characteristic that helps
people to cope with complex organizational situations probably is related to leader
performance (Mumford, Zaccaro, Harding, et al., 2000).
Leadership Outcomes
In the right-hand box in Figure 3.2, effective problem solving and performance are the
outcomes of leadership. These outcomes are strongly influenced by the leader’s
competencies (i.e., problem-solving skills, social judgment skills, and knowledge). When
leaders exhibit these competencies, they increase their chances of problem solving and
overall performance.
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Effective Problem Solving.
As we discussed earlier, the skills model is a capability model, designed to explain why some
leaders are good problem solvers and others are not. Problem solving is the keystone in the
skills approach. In the model (Figure 3.2), problem-solving skills, as competencies, lead to
effective problem solving as a leadership outcome. The criteria for good problem solving are
determined by the originality and the quality of expressed solutions to problems. Good
problem solving involves creating solutions that are logical, effective, and unique, and that
go beyond given information (Zaccaro et al., 2000).
Performance.
In the model, performance outcomes reflect how well the leader has done her or his job. To
measure performance, standard external criteria are used. If the leader has done well and
been successful, the leader’s evaluations will be positive. Leaders who are effective receive
good annual performance reviews, get merit raises, and are recognized by superiors and
followers as competent leaders. In the end, performance is the degree to which a leader has
successfully performed the assigned duties.
Taken together, effective problem solving and performance are the two ways to assess
leadership effectiveness using the skills model. Furthermore, good problem solving and
good performance go hand in hand. A full depiction of the comprehensive skills model
appears in Figure 3.4. It contains two other components, not depicted in Figure 3.2, that
contribute to overall leadership performance: career experiences and environmental
influences.
Career Experiences
As you can see in Figure 3.4, career experiences have an impact on the characteristics and
competencies of leaders. The skills model suggests that the experiences acquired in the
course of leaders’ careers influence their knowledge and skills to solve complex problems.
Mumford, Zaccaro, Harding, et al. (2000, p. 24) pointed out that leaders can be helped
through challenging job assignments, mentoring, appropriate training, and hands-on
experience in solving new and unusual problems. In addition, the authors think that career
experiences can positively affect the individual characteristics of leaders. For example,
certain on-the-job assignments could enhance a leader’s motivation or intellectual ability.
In the first section of this chapter, we discussed Katz’s (1955) work, which notes that
conceptual skills are essential for upper-level administrators. This is consistent with
Mumford, Zaccaro, Harding, et al.’s (2000) skills model, which contends that leaders
develop competencies over time. Career experience helps leaders to improve their skills and
knowledge over time. Leaders learn and develop higher levels of conceptual capacity if the
kinds of problems they confront are progressively more complex and more long term as
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they ascend the organizational hierarchy (Mumford, Zaccaro, Connelly, et al., 2000).
Similarly, upper-level leaders, as opposed to first-line supervisors, develop new
competencies because they are required to address problems that are more novel, that are
more poorly defined, and that demand more human interaction. As these people move
through their careers, higher levels of problem-solving and social judgment skills become
increasingly important (Mumford & Connelly, 1991).
So the skills and knowledge of leaders are shaped by their career experiences as they address
increasingly complex problems in the organization. This notion of developing leadership
skills is unique and quite different from other leadership perspectives. If we say, “Leaders
are shaped by their experiences,” then it means leaders are not born to be leaders
(Mumford, Zaccaro, Harding, et al., 2000). Leaders can develop their abilities through
experience, according to the skills model.
Environmental Influences
The final component of the skills model is environmental influences, which is illustrated at
the bottom of Figure 3.4. Environmental influences represent factors that lie outside the
leader’s competencies, characteristics, and experiences. These environmental influences can
be internal and external.
Internal environmental influences affecting leadership performance can include such factors
as technology, facilities, expertise of subordinates, and communication. For example, an
aging factory or one lacking in high-speed technology could have a major impact on the
nature of problem-solving activities. Another example might be the skill levels of followers:
If a leader’s followers are highly competent, they will definitely improve the group’s
problem solving and performance. Similarly, if a task is particularly complex or a group’s
communication poor, the leader’s performance will be affected.
External environmental influences, including economic, political, and social issues, as well
as natural disasters, can provide unique challenges to leaders. In March 2011, a massive
earthquake and tsunami devastated large parts of Japan, crippling that nation’s automobile
manufacturing industry. Toyota Motor Corp. alone had more than 650 of its suppliers and
component manufacturers wiped out, halting worldwide production of Toyota vehicles and
devastating the company’s sales. At the same time, this disaster was a boon to American
carmakers, which increased shipments and began outselling Toyota, which had dominated
the market. Leaders of these automobile companies, both Japanese and American, had to
respond to unique challenges posed by external forces completely beyond their control.
Figure 3.4 Skills Model of Leadership
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Source: Adapted from “Leadership Skills for a Changing World: Solving Complex
Social Problems,” by M. D. Mumford, S. J. Zaccaro, F. D. Harding, T. O. Jacobs,
and E. A. Fleishman, The Leadership Quarterly, 11(1), p. 23. Copyright 2000 by
Elsevier. Adapted with permission.
The skills model does not provide an inventory of specific environmental influences.
Instead, it acknowledges the existence of these factors and recognizes that they are indeed
influences that can affect a leader’s performance. In other words, environmental influences
are a part of the skills model but not usually under the control of the leader.
Summary of the Skills Model
In summary, the skills model frames leadership by describing five components of leader
performance. At the heart of the model are three competencies: problem-solving skills, social
judgment skills, and knowledge. These three competencies are the central determinants of
effective problem solving and performance, although individual attributes, career
experiences, and environmental influences all have impacts on leader competencies.
Through job experience and training, leaders can become better problem solvers and more
effective leaders.
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How does the Skills Approach Work?
The skills approach is primarily descriptive: It describes leadership from a skills perspective.
Rather than providing prescriptions for success in leadership, the skills approach provides a
structure for understanding the nature of effective leadership. In the previous sections, we
discussed the skills perspective based on the work of Katz (1955) and Mumford, Zaccaro,
Harding, et al. (2000). What does each of these bodies of work suggest about the structure
and functions of leadership?
The three-skill approach of Katz suggests that the importance of certain leadership skills
varies depending on where leaders are in a management hierarchy. For leaders operating at
lower levels of management, technical and human skills are most important. When leaders
move into middle management, it becomes important that they have all three skills:
technical, human, and conceptual. At the upper management levels, it is paramount for
leaders to exhibit conceptual and human skills.
This approach was reinforced in a 2007 study that examined the skills needed by executives
at different levels of management. The researchers used a four-skill model, similar to Katz’s
approach, to assess cognitive skills, interpersonal skills, business skills, and strategic skills of
1,000 managers at the junior, middle, and senior levels of an organization. The results
showed that interpersonal and cognitive skills were required more than business and
strategic skills for those on the lower levels of management. As one climbed the career
ladder, however, the execution of higher levels of all four of these leadership skills became
necessary (Mumford, Campion, & Morgeson, 2007).
In their skills model, Mumford, Zaccaro, Harding, et al. (2000) provided a more complex
picture of how skills relate to the manifestation of effective leadership. Their skills model
contends that leadership outcomes are the direct result of a leader’s competencies in
problem-solving skills, social judgment skills, and knowledge. Each of these competencies
includes a large repertoire of abilities, and each can be learned and developed. In addition,
the model illustrates how individual attributes such as general cognitive ability, crystallized
cognitive ability, motivation, and personality influence the leader’s competencies. And
finally, the model describes how career experiences and environmental influences play a
direct or indirect role in leadership performance.
The skills approach works by providing a map for how to reach effective leadership in an
organization: Leaders need to have problem-solving skills, social judgment skills, and
knowledge. Workers can improve their capabilities in these areas through training and
experience. Although each leader’s personal attributes affect his or her skills, it is the leader’s
skills themselves that are most important in addressing organizational problems.
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Strengths
In several ways, the skills approach contributes positively to our understanding about
leadership. First, it is a leader-centered model that stresses the importance of developing
particular leadership skills. It is the first approach to conceptualize and create a structure of
the process of leadership around skills. Whereas the early research on skills highlighted the
importance of skills and the value of skills across different management levels, the later
work placed learned skills at the center of effective leadership performance at all
management levels.
Second, the skills approach is intuitively appealing. To describe leadership in terms of skills
makes leadership available to everyone. Unlike personality traits, skills are competencies
that people can learn or develop. It is like playing a sport such as tennis or golf. Even
without natural ability in these sports, people can improve their games with practice and
instruction. The same is true with leadership. When leadership is framed as a set of skills, it
becomes a process that people can study and practice to become better at performing their
jobs.
Third, the skills approach provides an expansive view of leadership that incorporates a wide
variety of components, including problem-solving skills, social judgment skills, knowledge,
individual attributes, career experiences, and environmental influences. Each of these
components can further be subdivided into several subcomponents. The result is a picture
of leadership that encompasses a multitude of factors. Because it includes so many variables,
the skills approach can capture many of the intricacies and complexities of leadership not
found in other models.
Last, the skills approach provides a structure that is very consistent with the curricula of
most leadership education programs. Leadership education programs throughout the
country have traditionally taught classes in creative problem solving, conflict resolution,
listening, and teamwork, to name a few. The content of these classes closely mirrors many
of the components in the skills model. Clearly, the skills approach provides a structure that
helps to frame the curricula of leadership education and development programs.
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Criticisms
Like all other approaches to leadership, the skills approach also has certain weaknesses.
First, the breadth of the skills approach seems to extend beyond the boundaries of
leadership. For example, by including motivation, critical thinking, personality, and
conflict resolution, the skills approach addresses more than just leadership. Another
example of the model’s breadth is its inclusion of two types of intelligence (i.e., general
cognitive ability and crystallized cognitive ability). Although both areas are studied widely
in the field of cognitive psychology, they are seldom addressed in leadership research. By
including so many components, the skills model of Mumford and others becomes more
general and less precise in explaining leadership performance.
Second, related to the first criticism, the skills model is weak in predictive value. It does not
explain specifically how variations in social judgment skills and problem-solving skills affect
performance. The model suggests that these components are related, but it does not
describe with any precision just how that works. In short, the model can be faulted because
it does not explain how skills lead to effective leadership performance.
In addition, the skills approach can be criticized for claiming not to be a trait model when,
in fact, a major component in the model includes individual attributes, which are trait-like.
Although Mumford and colleagues describe cognitive abilities, motivation, and personality
variables as factors contributing to competencies, these are also factors that are typically
considered to be trait variables. The point is that the individual attributes component of the
skills model is trait driven, and that shifts the model away from being strictly a skills
approach to leadership.
The final criticism of the skills approach is that it may not be suitably or appropriately
applied to other contexts of leadership. The skills model was constructed by using a large
sample of military personnel and observing their performance in the armed services. This
raises an obvious question: Can the results be generalized to other populations or
organizational settings? Although some research suggests that these Army findings can be
generalized to other groups (Mumford, Zaccaro, Connelly, et al., 2000), more research is
needed to address this criticism.
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Application
Despite its appeal to theorists and academics, the skills approach has not been widely used
in applied leadership settings. For example, there are no training packages designed
specifically to teach people leadership skills from this approach. Although many programs
have been designed to teach leadership skills from a general self-help orientation, few of
these programs are based on the conceptual frameworks set forth in this chapter.
Despite the lack of formal training programs, the skills approach offers valuable
information about leadership. The approach provides a way to delineate the skills of the
leader, and leaders at all levels in an organization can use it. In addition, this approach helps
us to identify our strengths and weaknesses in regard to these technical, human, and
conceptual skills. By taking a skills inventory such as the one provided at the end of this
chapter, people can gain further insight into their own leadership competencies. Their
scores allow them to learn about areas in which they may want to seek further training to
enhance their overall contributions to their organization.
From a wider perspective, the skills approach may be used in the future as a template for
the design of extensive leadership development programs. This approach provides the
evidence for teaching leaders the important aspects of listening, creative problem solving,
conflict resolution skills, and much more.
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Case Studies
The following three case studies (Cases 3.1, 3.2, and 3.3) describe leadership situations that can be analyzed and
evaluated from the skills perspective. The first case involves the principal investigator of a federally funded
research grant. The second case takes place in a military setting and describes how a lieutenant colonel handles
the downsizing of a military base. In the third case, we learn about how the owner of an Italian restaurant has
created his own recipe for success.
As you read each case, try to apply the principles of the skills approach to the leaders and their situations. At the
end of each case are questions that will assist you in analyzing the case.
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Case 3.1: A Strained Research Team
Dr. Adam Wood is the principal investigator on a three-year, $1 million federally funded research grant to study
health education programs for older populations, called the Elder Care Project. Unlike previous projects, in
which Dr. Wood worked alone or with one or two other investigators, on this project Dr. Wood has 11
colleagues. His project team is made up of two co-investigators (with PhDs), four intervention staff (with MAs),
and five general staff members (with BAs). One year into the project, it has become apparent to Dr. Wood and
the team that the project is underbudgeted and has too few resources. Team members are spending 20%–30%
more time on the project than has been budgeted to pay them. Regardless of the resource strain, all team
members are committed to the project; they believe in its goals and the importance of its outcomes. Dr. Wood is
known throughout the country as the foremost scholar in this area of health education research. He is often asked
to serve on national review and advisory boards. His publication record is second to none. In addition, his
colleagues in the university know Dr. Wood as a very competent researcher. People come to Dr. Wood for advice
on research design and methodology questions. They also come to him for questions about theoretical
formulations. He has a reputation as someone who can see the big picture on research projects.
Despite his research competence, there are problems on Dr. Wood’s research team. Dr. Wood worries there is a
great deal of work to be done but that the members of the team are not devoting sufficient time to the Elder Care
Project. He is frustrated because many of the day-to-day research tasks of the project are falling into his lap. He
enters a research meeting, throws his notebook down on the table, and says, “I wish I’d never taken this project
on. It’s taking way too much of my time. The rest of you aren’t pulling your fair share.” Team members feel
exasperated at Dr. Wood’s comments. Although they respect his competence, they find his leadership style
frustrating. His negative comments at staff meetings are having a demoralizing effect on the research team.
Despite their hard work and devotion to the project, Dr. Wood seldom compliments or praises their efforts.
Team members believe that they have spent more time than anticipated on the project and have received less pay
or credit than expected. The project is sucking away a lot of staff energy, yet Dr. Wood does not seem to
understand the pressures confronting his staff.
The research staff is starting to feel burned out, but members realize they need to keep trying because they are
under time constraints from the federal government to do the work promised. The team needs to develop a
pamphlet for the participants in the Elder Care Project, but the pamphlet costs are significantly more than
budgeted in the grant. Dr. Wood has been very adept at finding out where they might find small pockets of
money to help cover those costs.
Although team members are pleased that he is able to obtain the money, they are sure he will use this as just
another example of how he was the one doing most of the work on the project.
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Questions
1. Based on the skills approach, how would you assess Dr. Wood’s leadership and his relationship to the
members of the Elder Care Project team? Will the project be successful?
2. Does Dr. Wood have the skills necessary to be an effective leader of this research team?
3. The skills model describes three important competencies for leaders: problem-solving skills, social
judgment skills, and knowledge. If you were to coach Dr. Wood using this model, what competencies
would you address with him? What changes would you suggest that he make in his leadership?
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Case 3.2: A Shift for Lieutenant Colonel Adams
Lt. Col. John Adams was an aeronautical engineer in the Air Force who was recognized as an accomplished
officer; he rose quickly through the ranks of lieutenant, captain, and major. In addition, he successfully
completed a number of professional development courses in the Air Force and received a master’s degree in
engineering. In the earlier part of his service, his career assignments required overseeing 15- to 20-person shifts
that were responsible for routine maintenance schedules for squadron and base aircraft. As he progressed in rank,
he moved to engineering projects, which were supported by small technical staffs.
Based on his strong performance, Major Adams was promoted to lieutenant colonel earlier than his peers. Instead
of moving him into another engineering position, the personnel bureau and his assignment officer decided that
Lieutenant Colonel Adams would benefit from a tour in which he could expand his professional background and
experience. Consequently, he was assigned to Base X as the commanding officer of the administration branch.
Base X was an airbase with approximately 5,000 military and civilian personnel.
As the administration officer, Adams was the senior human resource officer and the principal adviser to the base
commander on all human resource issues. Adams and his staff of 135 civilian and military personnel were
responsible for personnel issues, food services, recreation, family support, and medical services. In addition,
Lieutenant Colonel Adams was assigned to chair the Labor–Management Relations Committee for the base.
At the end of the Cold War, as part of the declared peace dividend, the government decided to reduce its defense
budget. In February, barely six months after Adams took over command of the administration branch, the federal
government announced a significant reduction in the size of the military and the closure of many bases. Base X
was to be closed as an air base and reassigned to the Army. The closure was to take place within one year, and the
base was to be prepared for the arrival of the first Army troops in two years. As part of the reduction program, the
federal government initiated voluntary retirement programs for civilian and military personnel. Those wanting to
retire had until April 1 to decide.
Orders for the conversion of the airbase included the following:
The base will continue normal operations for six months.
The squadrons—complete with aircrews, equipment, and families (1,000)—must be relocated to their
new bases and operational by August 1.
The remaining base personnel strength, both civilian and military, must be reduced by 30%.
The base must continue to provide personnel for operational missions.
The reduction of personnel must be consistent with federal voluntary early-retirement programs.
The base must be prepared with a support structure to accept 2,000 new soldiers, expected to arrive in
two years.
Adams was assigned to develop a human resource plan that would meet the imposed staff levels for the entire base
while ensuring that the base was still able to perform the operational tasks it had been given. Faced with this
daunting task, Adams conducted an extensive review of all of the relevant orders concerning the base
transformation, and he familiarized himself with all of the rules concerning the early-retirement program. After a
series of initial meetings with the other base branch chiefs, he laid out a plan that could be accomplished by the
established deadlines. At the same time, he chaired a number of meetings with his own staff about how to meet
the mandated reductions within his own branch.
After considering the target figures for the early-retirement program, it was clear that the mandated numbers
could not be reached. Simply allowing everyone who had applied for early retirement to leave was not considered
an option because doing so would devastate entire sections of the base. More job cuts were required, and choices
had to be made as to who would stay, why, and in what areas. Adams met stiff resistance in the meetings to
determine what sections would bear the brunt of the additional cutbacks.
Adams conducted his own independent analysis of his own branch before consulting with his staff. Based on his
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thorough examination of the data, he mandated further reductions in his sections. Specifically targeted were
personnel in base housing, single-person accommodations, family services, and recreational sections. He also
mandated a further 10% cut of military positions in his sections.
After meeting the mandated reduction targets, Lieutenant Colonel Adams was informed that the federal
government would accept all personnel who applied for early retirement, which was an unexpected decision.
When superimposed on the already mandated reductions, this move caused critical shortages in key areas. Within
weeks of implementation of the plan, the base commander was receiving mounting complaints from both civilian
and military members over the implementation of the plan.
Incidents of stress, frustration, and discontent rose dramatically. Families trying to move found support services
cut back or nonexistent. Members of the transition staff were forced to work evenings and weekends. Family
support services were swamped and asking for additional help.
Despite spending a large amount of overtime trying to address the diverse issues both base-wide and within his
branch, Adams found himself struggling to keep his head above water. To make matters worse, the base was
having difficulty meeting its operational mission, and vital sections were critically understaffed. The base
commander wanted answers. When pressed, Adams stated that his plan met all of the required deadlines and
targets, and the plan conformed to all of the guidelines of the early-retirement programs. “Maybe so,” replied the
base commander, “but you forgot about the bigger picture.”
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Questions
1. Based on the skills model, how would you assess Lt. Col. John Adams’s ability to meet the challenges of
the base administration position?
2. How would you assess his ability to meet the additional tasks he faced regarding the conversion of the
base?
3. If you were to coach Adams on how he could improve his leadership, what would you tell him?
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Case 3.3: Andy’s Recipe
Andy Garafallo owns an Italian restaurant that sits in the middle of a cornfield near a large Midwestern city. On
the restaurant’s far wall is an elaborate mural of the canals of Venice. A gondola hangs on the opposite wall, up by
the ceiling. Along another wall is a row of real potted lemon trees. “My ancestors are from Sicily,” says Andy. “In
fact, I can remember seeing my grandfather take a bite out of a lemon, just like the ones hanging on those trees.”
Andy is very confident about his approach to this restaurant, and he should be, because the restaurant is
celebrating its 25th anniversary. “I’m darned sure of what I want to do. I’m not trying different fads to get people
to come here. People come here because they know they will get great food. They also want to support someone
with whom they can connect. This is my approach. Nothing more, nothing less.” Although other restaurants
have folded, Andy seems to have found a recipe for success.
Since opening his restaurant, Andy has had a number of managers. Currently, he has three: Kelly, Danielle, and
Patrick. Kelly is a kitchen (food prep) manager who is known as very honest and dependable. She loves her work,
and is efficient, good with ordering, and good with preparation. Andy really likes Kelly but is frustrated with her
because she has such difficulty getting along with the salespeople, delivery people, and waitstaff.
Danielle, who works out front in the restaurant, has been with Andy the longest, six years. Danielle likes working
at Garafallo’s—she lives and breathes the place. She fully buys into Andy’s approach of putting customers first. In
fact, Andy says she has a knack for knowing what customers need even before they ask. Although she is very
hospitable, Andy says she is lousy with numbers. She just doesn’t seem to catch on to that side of the business.
Patrick, who has been with Andy for four years, usually works out front but can work in the kitchen as well.
Although Patrick has a strong work ethic and is great with numbers, he is weak on the people side. For some
reason, Patrick treats customers as if they are faceless, coming across as very unemotional. In addition, Patrick
tends to approach problems with an either–or perspective. This has gotten him into trouble on more than one
occasion. Andy wishes that Patrick would learn to lighten up. “He’s a good manager, but he needs to recognize
that some things just aren’t that important,” says Andy.
Andy’s approach to his managers is that of a teacher and coach. He is always trying to help them improve. He
sees part of his responsibility as teaching them every aspect of the restaurant business. Andy’s stated goal is that he
wants his managers to be “A” players when they leave his business to take on jobs elsewhere. Helping people to
become the best they can be is Andy’s goal for his restaurant employees.
Although Andy works 12 hours a day, he spends little time analyzing the numbers. He does not think about ways
to improve his profit margin by cutting corners, raising an item price here, or cutting quality there. Andy says,
“It’s like this: The other night I got a call from someone who said they wanted to come in with a group and
wondered if they could bring along a cake. I said ‘yes’ with one stipulation. . . . I get a piece! Well, the people
came and spent a lot of money. Then they told me that they had actually wanted to go to another restaurant, but
the other place would not allow them to bring in their own cake.” Andy believes very strongly in his approach.
“You get business by being what you should be.” Compared with other restaurants, his restaurant is doing quite
well. Although many places are happy to net 5%–7% profit, Andy’s Italian restaurant nets 30% profit, year in
and year out.
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Questions
1. What accounts for Andy’s success in the restaurant business?
2. From a skills perspective, how would you describe the three managers, Kelly, Danielle, and Patrick? What
does each of them need to do to improve his or her skills?
3. How would you describe Andy’s competencies? Does Andy’s leadership suggest that one does not need all
three skills in order to be effective?
Leadership Instrument
Many questionnaires assess an individual’s skills for leadership. A quick search of the Internet provides a
host of these questionnaires. Almost all of them are designed to be used in training and development to give
people a feel for their leadership abilities. Surveys have been used for years to help people understand and
improve their leadership style, but most questionnaires are not used in research because they have not been
tested for reliability and validity. Nevertheless, they are useful as self-help instruments because they provide
specific information to people about their leadership skills.
In this chapter, we present a comprehensive skills model that is based on many empirical studies of leaders’
skills. Although the questionnaires used in these studies are highly reliable and are valid instruments, they
are not suitable for our more pragmatic discussion of leadership in this text. In essence, they are too
complex and involved. For example, Mumford, Zaccaro, Harding, et al. (2000) used measures that included
open-ended responses and very sophisticated scoring procedures. Though critically important for validating
the model, these complicated measures are less valuable as self-instruction questionnaires.
A skills inventory is provided in the next section to assist you in understanding how leadership skills are
measured and what your own skills might be. Your scores on the inventory will give you a sense of your
own leadership competencies. You may be strong in all three skills, or you may be stronger in some skills
than in others. The questionnaire will give you a sense of your own skills profile. If you are stronger in one
skill and weaker in another, this may help you determine where you want to improve in the future.
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Skills Inventory
Instructions: Read each item carefully and decide whether the item describes you as a person. Indicate your
response to each item by circling one of the five numbers to the right of each item.
Key: 1 = Not true 2 = Seldom true 3 = Occasionally true 4 = Somewhat true 5 = Very true
1. I enjoy getting into the details of how things work. 1 2 3 4 5
2. As a rule, adapting ideas to people’s needs is easy for me. 1 2 3 4 5
3. I enjoy working with abstract ideas. 1 2 3 4 5
4. Technical things fascinate me. 1 2 3 4 5
5. Being able to understand others is the most important part of my work. 1 2 3 4 5
6. Seeing the big picture comes easy for me. 1 2 3 4 5
7. One of my skills is being good at making things work. 1 2 3 4 5
8. My main concern is to have a supportive communication climate. 1 2 3 4 5
9. I am intrigued by complex organizational problems. 1 2 3 4 5
10. Following directions and filling out forms comes easily for me. 1 2 3 4 5
11. Understanding the social fabric of the organization is important to me. 1 2 3 4 5
12. I would enjoy working out strategies for my organization’s growth. 1 2 3 4 5
13. I am good at completing the things I’ve been assigned to do. 1 2 3 4 5
14. Getting all parties to work together is a challenge I enjoy. 1 2 3 4 5
15. Creating a mission statement is rewarding work. 1 2 3 4 5
16. I understand how to do the basic things required of me. 1 2 3 4 5
17. I am concerned with how my decisions affect the lives of others. 1 2 3 4 5
18. Thinking about organizational values and philosophy appeals to me. 1 2 3 4 5
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Scoring
The skills inventory is designed to measure three broad types of leadership skills: technical, human, and
conceptual. Score the questionnaire by doing the following. First, sum the responses on items 1, 4, 7, 10,
13, and 16. This is your technical skill score. Second, sum the responses on items 2, 5, 8, 11, 14, and 17.
This is your human skill score. Third, sum the responses on items 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, and 18. This is your
conceptual skill score.
Total scores: Technical skill ______ Human skill ______ Conceptual skill ______
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Scoring Interpretation
23–30 High Range
14–22 Moderate Range
6–13 Low Range
The scores you received on the skills inventory provide information about your leadership skills in three
areas. By comparing the differences between your scores, you can determine where you have leadership
strengths and where you have leadership weaknesses. Your scores also point toward the level of management
for which you might be most suited.
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Summary
The skills approach is a leader-centered perspective that emphasizes the competencies of
leaders. It is best represented in the early work of Katz (1955) on the three-skill approach
and the more recent work of Mumford and his colleagues (Mumford, Zaccaro, Harding, et
al., 2000), who initiated the development of a comprehensive skills model of leadership.
In the three-skill approach, effective leadership depends on three basic personal skills:
technical, human, and conceptual. Although all three skills are important for leaders, the
importance of each skill varies between management levels. At lower management levels,
technical and human skills are most important. For middle managers, the three different
skills are equally important. At upper management levels, conceptual and human skills are
most important, and technical skills become less important. Leaders are more effective
when their skills match their management level.
In the 1990s, the skills model was developed to explain the capabilities (knowledge and
skills) that make effective leadership possible. Far more complex than Katz’s paradigm, this
model delineated five components of effective leader performance: competencies, individual
attributes, leadership outcomes, career experiences, and environmental influences. The
leader competencies at the heart of the model are problem-solving skills, social judgment
skills, and knowledge. These competencies are directly affected by the leader’s individual
attributes, which include the leader’s general cognitive ability, crystallized cognitive ability,
motivation, and personality. The leader’s competencies are also affected by his or her career
experiences and the environment. The model postulates that effective problem solving and
performance can be explained by the leader’s basic competencies and that these
competencies are in turn affected by the leader’s attributes, experience, and environment.
There are several strengths in conceptualizing leadership from a skills perspective. First, it is
a leader-centered model that stresses the importance of the leader’s abilities, and it places
learned skills at the center of effective leadership performance. Second, the skills approach
describes leadership in such a way that it makes it available to everyone. Skills are
competencies that we all can learn to develop and improve. Third, the skills approach
provides a sophisticated map that explains how effective leadership performance can be
achieved. Based on the model, researchers can develop complex plans for studying the
leadership process. Last, this approach provides a structure for leadership education and
development programs that include creative problem solving, conflict resolution, listening,
and teamwork.
In addition to the positive features, there are some negative aspects to the skills approach.
First, the breadth of the model seems to extend beyond the boundaries of leadership,
including, for example, conflict management, critical thinking, motivation theory, and
personality theory. Second, the skills model is weak in predictive value. It does not explain
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how a person’s competencies lead to effective leadership performance.
Third, the skills model claims not to be a trait approach; nevertheless, individual traits such
as cognitive abilities, motivation, and personality play a large role in the model. Finally, the
skills model is weak in general application because it was constructed using data only from
military personnel. Until the model has been tested with other populations, such as small
and large organizations and businesses, its basic tenets must still be questioned.
Sharpen your skills with SAGE edge at edge.sagepub.com/northouse8e
132
http://edge.sagepub.com/northouse8e
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4 Behavioral Approach
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Description
The behavioral approach emphasizes the behavior of the leader. This distinguishes it from
the trait approach (Chapter 2), which emphasizes the personality characteristics of the
leader, and the skills approach (Chapter 3), which emphasizes the leader’s capabilities. The
behavioral approach focuses exclusively on what leaders do and how they act. In shifting
the study of leadership to leader behaviors, the behavioral approach expanded the research
of leadership to include the actions of leaders toward followers in various contexts.
Researchers studying the behavioral approach determined that leadership is composed of
two general kinds of behaviors: task behaviors and relationship behaviors. Task behaviors
facilitate goal accomplishment: They help group members to achieve their objectives.
Relationship behaviors help followers feel comfortable with themselves, with each other,
and with the situation in which they find themselves. The central purpose of the behavioral
approach is to explain how leaders combine these two kinds of behaviors to influence
followers in their efforts to reach a goal.
Many studies have been conducted to investigate the behavioral approach. Some of the first
studies to be done were conducted at The Ohio State University in the late 1940s, based on
the findings of Stogdill’s (1948) work, which pointed to the importance of considering
more than leaders’ traits in leadership research. At about the same time, another group of
researchers at the University of Michigan was conducting a series of studies that explored
how leadership functioned in small groups. A third line of research was begun by Blake and
Mouton in the early 1960s; it explored how managers used task and relationship behaviors
in the organizational setting.
Although many research studies could be categorized under the heading of the behavioral
approach, the Ohio State studies, the Michigan studies, and the studies by Blake and
Mouton (1964, 1978, 1985) are strongly representative of the ideas in this approach. By
looking closely at each of these groups of studies, we can draw a clearer picture of the
underpinnings and implications of the behavioral approach.
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The Ohio State Studies
A group of researchers at Ohio State believed that the results of studying leadership as a
personality trait seemed fruitless and decided to analyze how individuals acted when they
were leading a group or an organization. This analysis was conducted by having followers
complete questionnaires about their leaders. On the questionnaires, followers had to
identify the number of times their leaders engaged in certain types of behaviors.
The original questionnaire used in these studies was constructed from a list of more than
1,800 items describing different aspects of leader behavior. From this long list of items, a
questionnaire composed of 150 questions was formulated; it was called the Leader Behavior
Description Questionnaire (LBDQ; Hemphill & Coons, 1957). The LBDQ was given to
hundreds of people in educational, military, and industrial settings, and the results showed
that certain clusters of behaviors were typical of leaders. Six years later, Stogdill (1963)
published a shortened version of the LBDQ. The new form, which was called the LBDQ-
XII, became the most widely used instrument in leadership research. A questionnaire
similar to the LBDQ, which you can use to assess your own leadership behavior, appears
later in this chapter.
Researchers found that followers’ responses on the questionnaire clustered around two
general types of leader behaviors: initiating structure and consideration (Stogdill, 1974).
Initiating structure behaviors are essentially task behaviors, including such acts as
organizing work, giving structure to the work context, defining role responsibilities, and
scheduling work activities. Consideration behaviors are essentially relationship behaviors
and include building camaraderie, respect, trust, and liking between leaders and followers.
The two types of behaviors identified by the LBDQ-XII represent the core of the
behavioral approach and are central to what leaders do: Leaders provide structure for
followers, and they nurture them. The Ohio State studies viewed these two behaviors as
distinct and independent. They were thought of not as two points along a single
continuum, but as two different continua. For example, a leader can be high in initiating
structure and high or low in task behavior. Similarly, a leader can be low in setting
structure and low or high in consideration behavior. The degree to which a leader exhibits
one behavior is not related to the degree to which she or he exhibits the other behavior.
Many studies have been done to determine which leadership behavior is most effective in a
particular situation. In some contexts, high consideration has been found to be most
effective, but in other situations, high initiating structure is most effective. Some research
has shown that being high in both behaviors is the best form of leadership. Determining
how a leader optimally mixes task and relationship behaviors has been the central task for
researchers from the behavioral approach. The path–goal approach, which is discussed in
Chapter 6, exemplifies a leadership theory that attempts to explain how leaders should
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integrate consideration and structure into their behaviors.
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The University of Michigan Studies
While researchers at Ohio State were developing the LBDQ, researchers at the University
of Michigan were also exploring leadership behavior, giving special attention to the impact
of leaders’ behaviors on the performance of small groups (Cartwright & Zander, 1970;
Katz & Kahn, 1951; Likert, 1961, 1967).
The program of research at Michigan identified two types of leadership behaviors: employee
orientation and production orientation. Employee orientation is the behavior of leaders who
approach followers with a strong human relations emphasis. They take an interest in
workers as human beings, value their individuality, and give special attention to their
personal needs (Bowers & Seashore, 1966). Employee orientation is very similar to the
cluster of behaviors identified as consideration in the Ohio State studies.
Production orientation consists of leadership behaviors that stress the technical and
production aspects of a job. From this orientation, workers are viewed as a means for
getting work accomplished (Bowers & Seashore, 1966). Production orientation parallels
the initiating structure cluster found in the Ohio State studies.
Unlike the Ohio State researchers, the Michigan researchers, in their initial studies,
conceptualized employee and production orientations as opposite ends of a single
continuum. This suggested that leaders who were oriented toward production were less
oriented toward employees, and those who were employee oriented were less production
oriented. As more studies were completed, however, the researchers reconceptualized the
two constructs, as in the Ohio State studies, as two independent leadership orientations
(Kahn, 1956). When the two behaviors are treated as independent orientations, leaders are
seen as being able to be oriented toward both production and employees at the same time.
In the 1950s and 1960s, a multitude of studies were conducted by researchers from both
Ohio State and the University of Michigan to determine how leaders could best combine
their task and relationship behaviors to maximize the impact of these behaviors on the
satisfaction and performance of followers. In essence, the researchers were looking for a
universal theory of leadership that would explain leadership effectiveness in every situation.
The results that emerged from this large body of literature were contradictory and unclear
(Yukl, 2003). Although some of the findings pointed to the value of a leader being both
highly task oriented and highly relationship oriented in all situations (Misumi, 1985), the
preponderance of research in this area was inconclusive.
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Blake and Mouton’s Managerial (Leadership) Grid
Perhaps the best known model of managerial behavior is the Managerial Grid®, which first
appeared in the early 1960s and has been refined and revised several times (Blake &
McCanse, 1991; Blake & Mouton, 1964, 1978, 1985). It is a model that has been used
extensively in organizational training and development. The Managerial Grid, which has
been renamed the Leadership Grid®, was designed to explain how leaders help organizations
to reach their purposes through two factors: concern for production and concern for people.
Although these factors are described as leadership orientations in the model, they closely
parallel the task and relationship leadership behaviors we have been discussing throughout
this chapter.
Concern for production refers to how a leader is concerned with achieving organizational
tasks. It involves a wide range of activities, including attention to policy decisions, new
product development, process issues, workload, and sales volume, to name a few. Not
limited to an organization’s manufactured product or service, concern for production can
refer to whatever the organization is seeking to accomplish (Blake & Mouton, 1964).
Concern for people refers to how a leader attends to the people in the organization who are
trying to achieve its goals. This concern includes building organizational commitment and
trust, promoting the personal worth of followers, providing good working conditions,
maintaining a fair salary structure, and promoting good social relations (Blake & Mouton,
1964).
The Leadership (Managerial) Grid joins concern for production and concern for people in
a model that has two intersecting axes (Figure 4.1). The horizontal axis represents the
leader’s concern for results, and the vertical axis represents the leader’s concern for people.
Each of the axes is drawn as a 9-point scale on which a score of 1 represents minimum
concern and 9 represents maximum concern. By plotting scores from each of the axes, various
leadership styles can be illustrated. The Leadership Grid portrays five major leadership
styles: authority–compliance (9,1), country-club management (1,9), impoverished
management (1,1), middle-of-the-road management (5,5), and team management (9,9).
Figure 4.1 The Leadership Grid
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Source: The Leadership Grid© figure, Paternalism figure, and Opportunism figure
from Leadership Dilemmas—Grid Solutions, by Robert R. Blake and Anne Adams
McCanse. (Formerly the Managerial Grid by Robert R. Blake and Jane S. Mouton.)
Houston, TX: Gulf Publishing Company (Grid figure: p. 29, Paternalism figure: p.
30, Opportunism figure: p. 31). Copyright 1991 by Scientific Methods, Inc.
Reproduced by permission of the owners.
Authority–Compliance (9,1)
The 9,1 style of leadership places heavy emphasis on task and job requirements, and less
emphasis on people, except to the extent that people are tools for getting the job done.
Communicating with followers is not emphasized except for the purpose of giving
instructions about the task. This style is result driven, and people are regarded as tools to
that end. The 9,1 leader is often seen as controlling, demanding, hard driving, and
overpowering.
Country-Club Management (1,9)
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The 1,9 style represents a low concern for task accomplishment coupled with a high
concern for interpersonal relationships. De-emphasizing production, 1,9 leaders stress the
attitudes and feelings of people, making sure the personal and social needs of followers are
met. They try to create a positive climate by being agreeable, eager to help, comforting, and
uncontroversial.
Impoverished Management (1,1)
The 1,1 style is representative of a leader who is unconcerned with both the task and
interpersonal relationships. This type of leader goes through the motions of being a leader
but acts uninvolved and withdrawn. The 1,1 leader often has little contact with followers
and could be described as indifferent, noncommittal, resigned, and apathetic.
Middle-of-the-Road Management (5,5)
The 5,5 style describes leaders who are compromisers, who have an intermediate concern
for the task and an intermediate concern for the people who do the task. They find a
balance between taking people into account and still emphasizing the work requirements.
Their compromising style gives up some of the push for production and some of the
attention to employee needs. To arrive at an equilibrium, the 5,5 leader avoids conflict and
emphasizes moderate levels of production and interpersonal relationships. This type of
leader often is described as one who is expedient, prefers the middle ground, soft-pedals
disagreement, and swallows convictions in the interest of “progress.”
Team Management (9,9)
The 9,9 style places a strong emphasis on both tasks and interpersonal relationships. It
promotes a high degree of participation and teamwork in the organization and satisfies a
basic need in employees to be involved and committed to their work. The following are
some of the phrases that could be used to describe the 9,9 leader: stimulates participation,
acts determined, gets issues into the open, makes priorities clear, follows through, behaves open-
mindedly, and enjoys working.
In addition to the five major styles described in the Leadership Grid, Blake and his
colleagues have identified two other behaviors that incorporate multiple aspects of the grid.
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Paternalism/Maternalism
Paternalism/maternalism refers to a leader who uses both 1,9 and 9,1 styles but does not
integrate the two (Figure 4.2). This is the “benevolent dictator” who acts graciously but
does so for the purpose of goal accomplishment. In essence, the paternalistic/maternalistic
style treats people as if they were dissociated from the task. Paternalistic/maternalistic
leaders are often described as “fatherly” or “motherly” toward their followers; regard the
organization as a “family”; make most of the key decisions; and reward loyalty and
obedience while punishing noncompliance.
Figure 4.2 Paternalism/Maternalism
Source: The Leadership Grid© figure, Paternalism figure, and Opportunism figure
from Leadership Dilemmas—Grid Solutions, by Robert R. Blake and Anne Adams
McCanse. (Formerly the Managerial Grid by Robert R. Blake and Jane S. Mouton.)
Houston, TX: Gulf Publishing Company (Grid figure: p. 29, Paternalism figure: p.
30, Opportunism figure: p. 31). Copyright 1991 by Scientific Methods, Inc.
Reproduced by permission of the owners.
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Opportunism
Opportunism refers to a leader who uses any combination of the basic five styles for the
purpose of personal advancement (Figure 4.3). An opportunistic leader will adapt and shift
his or her leadership behavior to gain personal advantage, putting self-interest ahead of
other priorities. Both the performance and the effort of the leader are to realize personal
gain. Some phrases used to describe this leadership behavior include ruthless, cunning, and
self-motivated, while some could argue that these types of leaders are adaptable and strategic.
Blake and Mouton (1985) indicated that people usually have a dominant grid style (which
they use in most situations) and a backup style. The backup style is what the leader reverts
to when under pressure, when the usual way of accomplishing things does not work.
In summary, the Leadership Grid is an example of a practical model of leadership that is
based on the two major leadership behaviors: task and relationship. It closely parallels the
ideas and findings that emerged in the Ohio State and University of Michigan studies. It is
used in consulting for organizational development throughout the world.
Figure 4.3 Opportunism
Source: The Leadership Grid© figure, Paternalism figure, and Opportunism figure
from Leadership Dilemmas—Grid Solutions, by Robert R. Blake and Anne Adams
McCanse. (Formerly the Managerial Grid by Robert R. Blake and Jane S. Mouton.)
Houston, TX: Gulf Publishing Company (Grid figure: p. 29, Paternalism figure: p.
30, Opportunism figure: p. 31). Copyright 1991 by Scientific Methods, Inc.
Reproduced by permission of the owners.
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How does the Behavioral Approach Work?
Unlike many of the other approaches discussed in the book, the behavioral approach is not
a refined theory that provides a neatly organized set of prescriptions for effective leadership
behavior. Rather, the behavioral approach provides a framework for assessing leadership in
a broad way, as behavior with a task and relationship dimension. The behavioral approach
works not by telling leaders how to behave, but by describing the major components of
their behavior.
The behavioral approach reminds leaders that their actions toward others occur on a task
level and a relationship level. In some situations, leaders need to be more task oriented,
whereas in others they need to be more relationship oriented. Similarly, some followers
need leaders who provide a lot of direction, whereas others need leaders who can show
them a great deal of nurturance and support. And in some cases, a leader must combine
both approaches (Casimir & Ng, 2010).
An example may help explain how the behavioral approach works. Imagine two college
classrooms on the first day of class and two professors with entirely different styles.
Professor Smith comes to class, introduces herself, takes attendance, goes over the syllabus,
explains the first assignment, and dismisses the class. Professor Jones comes to class and,
after introducing herself and handing out the syllabus, tries to help the students to get to
know one another by having each of the students describe a little about themselves, their
majors, and their favorite nonacademic activities. The leadership behaviors of Professors
Smith and Jones are quite different. The preponderance of what Professor Smith does
could be labeled task behavior, and the majority of what Professor Jones does could be
labeled relationship behavior. The behavioral approach provides a way to inform the
professors about the differences in their behaviors. Depending on the response of the
students to their leadership behaviors, the professors may want to change their behavior to
improve their teaching on the first day of class.
Overall, the behavioral approach offers a means of assessing in a general way the behaviors
of leaders. It reminds leaders that their impact on others occurs through the tasks they
perform as well as in the relationships they create.
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Strengths
The behavioral approach makes several positive contributions to our understanding of the
leadership process. First, the behavioral approach marked a major shift in the general focus
of leadership research. Before the inception of this approach, researchers treated leadership
exclusively as a trait (see Chapter 2). The behavioral approach broadened the scope of
leadership research to include the behaviors of leaders and what they do in various
situations. No longer was the focus of leadership on the personal characteristics of leaders:
It was expanded to include what leaders did and how they acted.
Second, a wide range of studies on leadership behavior validates and gives credibility to the
basic tenets of the approach. First formulated and reported by researchers from The Ohio
State University and the University of Michigan, and subsequently reported in the works of
Blake and Mouton (1964, 1978, 1985); Blake and McCanse (1991); Judge, Piccolo, and
Ilies (2004); and Littrell (2013), the behavioral approach is substantiated by a multitude of
research studies that offer a viable approach to understanding the leadership process. An
extensive meta-analysis of the LBDQ-XII developed by the Ohio State studies has been
carried out by Judge et al. (2004), who found that all the survey instruments had significant
predictive validity for leader success (Littrell, 2013).
Third, on a conceptual level, researchers of the behavioral approach have ascertained that a
leader’s style consists primarily of two major types of behaviors: task and relationship. The
significance of this idea is not to be understated. Whenever leadership occurs, the leader is
acting out both task and relationship behaviors; the key to being an effective leader often
rests on how the leader balances these two behaviors. Together they form the core of the
leadership process.
Fourth, the behavioral approach is heuristic. It provides us with a broad conceptual map
that is worthwhile to use in our attempts to understand the complexities of leadership.
Leaders can learn a lot about themselves and how they come across to others by trying to
see their behaviors in light of the task and relationship dimensions. Based on the behavioral
approach, leaders can assess their actions and determine how they may want to change to
improve their leadership behaviors.
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Criticisms
Along with its strengths, the behavioral approach has several weaknesses. First, the research
on the behavioral approach has not adequately shown how leaders’ behaviors are associated
with performance outcomes (Bryman, 1992; Yukl, 2003). Researchers have not been able
to establish a consistent link between task and relationship behaviors and outcomes such as
morale, job satisfaction, and productivity. According to Yukl (2003, p. 75), the “results
from this massive research effort have been mostly contradictory and inconclusive.” He
further pointed out that the only strong finding about leadership behaviors is that leaders
who are considerate have followers who are more satisfied.
Another criticism is that this approach has failed to find a universal style of leadership that
could be effective in almost every situation. The overarching goal for researchers studying
the behavioral approach appeared to be the identification of a universal set of leadership
behaviors that would consistently result in effective outcomes. Because of inconsistencies in
the research findings, this goal was never reached. Similar to the trait approach, which was
unable to identify the definitive personal characteristics of leaders, the behavioral approach
has been unable to identify the universal behaviors that are associated with effective
leadership.
The difficulty in identifying a universal style may be due to the impact of contextual
factors. For example, research by Martin, Rowlinson, Fellows, and Liu (2012) found that
there is a strong situational element that impacts whether one leadership behavior or
another is more effective. In their research on leadership style and cross-functional teams,
they found that different leadership behaviors may be needed depending on team goals.
They noted that managers of projects that span organizational, national, and ethnic
boundaries (cross-functional teams) must “juggle between both task and person-oriented
leadership when involved in managing problem solving teams across boundaries” (p. 19).
Another criticism of the behavioral approach is that it implies that the most effective
leadership style is the high–high style (i.e., high task and high relationship). Although some
researchers (e.g., Blake & McCanse, 1991; Misumi, 1985) suggested that high–high
managers are most effective, that may not be the case in all situations. In fact, the full range
of research findings provides only limited support for a universal high–high style (Yukl,
2003). In a thought-provoking article on popular leadership styles, Andersen (2009) argues
that in modern business the high-task leadership orientation is essential in order to be
successful.
Certain situations may require different leadership styles; some may be complex and require
high-task behavior, and others may be simple and require supportive behavior. At this point
in the development of research on the behavioral approach, it remains unclear whether the
high–high style is the best style of leadership.
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A final criticism is that most of the research undertaken on the behavioral approach has
come from a U.S.- centric perspective, reflecting the norms and values of U.S. culture.
More recently, a small number of studies applying behavioral leadership concepts to non-
U.S. contexts have been undertaken, and results show that different cultures prefer different
leadership styles than those often espoused or favored by current U.S. management practice
(Begum & Mujtaba, 2016; Engle, Elahee, & Tatoglu, 2013; Iguisi, 2014; Martin et al.,
2012).
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Application
The behavioral approach can be applied easily in ongoing leadership settings. At all levels in
all types of organizations, managers are continually engaged in task and relationship
behaviors. By assessing their own behaviors, managers can determine how they are coming
across to others and how they could change their behaviors to be more effective. In essence,
the behavioral approach provides a mirror for managers that is helpful in answering the
frequently asked question, “How am I doing as a leader?”
Many leadership training and development programs throughout the country are
structured along the lines of the behavioral approach. Almost all are designed similarly and
include giving managers questionnaires that assess in some way their task and relationship
behaviors toward followers. Participants use these assessments to improve their overall
leadership behavior.
An example of a training and development program that deals exclusively with leader
behaviors is Blake and Mouton’s Leadership Grid (formerly Managerial Grid) seminar.
Grid seminars are about increasing productivity, improving morale, and gaining employee
commitment. They are offered by Grid International, an international organization
development company (http://www.gridinternational.com). At grid seminars, self-
assessments, small-group experiences, and candid critiques allow managers to learn how to
define effective leadership, how to manage for optimal results, and how to identify and
change ineffective leadership behaviors. The conceptual framework around which the grid
seminars are structured is the behavioral approach to leadership.
In short, the behavioral approach applies to nearly everything a leader does. It is an
approach that is used as a model by many training and development companies to teach
managers how to improve their effectiveness and organizational productivity.
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http://www.gridinternational.com
Case Studies
In this section, you will find three case studies (Cases 4.1, 4.2, and 4.3) that describe the leadership behaviors of
three different managers, each of whom is working in a different organizational setting. The first case is about a
maintenance director in a large hospital, the second deals with a supervisor in a small sporting goods store, and
the third is concerned with the director of marketing and communications at a college. At the end of each case
are questions that will help you to analyze the case from the perspective of the behavioral approach.
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Case 4.1: A Drill Sergeant at First
Mark Young is the head of the painting department in a large hospital; 20 union employees report to him. Before
coming on board at the hospital, he had worked as an independent contractor. At the hospital, he took a position
that was newly created because the hospital believed change was needed in how painting services were provided.
Upon beginning his job, Mark did a four-month analysis of the direct and indirect costs of painting services. His
findings supported the perceptions of his administrators that painting services were inefficient and costly. As a
result, Mark completely reorganized the department, designed a new scheduling procedure, and redefined the
expected standards of performance.
Mark says that when he started out in his new job, he was “all task,” like a drill sergeant who didn’t seek any
input from his soldiers. From Mark’s point of view, the hospital environment did not leave much room for
errors, so he needed to be strict about getting painters to do a good job within the constraints of the hospital
environment.
As time went along, Mark relaxed his style and was less demanding. He delegated some responsibilities to two
crew leaders who reported to him, but he always stayed in close touch with each of the employees. On a weekly
basis, Mark was known to take small groups of workers to the local sports bar for burgers on the house. He loved
to banter with the employees and could take it as well as dish it out.
Mark is very proud of his department. He says he always wanted to be a coach, and that’s how he feels about
running his department. He enjoys working with people; in particular, he says he likes to see the glint in their
eyes when they realize that they’ve done a good job and they have done it on their own.
Because of Mark’s leadership, the painting department has improved substantially and is now seen by workers in
other departments as the most productive department in hospital maintenance. Painting services received a
customer rating of 92%, which is the highest of any service in the hospital.
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Questions
1. From the behavioral perspective, how would you describe Mark’s leadership?
2. How did his behavior change over time?
3. In general, do you think he is more task oriented or more relationship oriented?
4. What score do you think he would get on Blake and Mouton’s grid?
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Case 4.2: Eating Lunch Standing Up
Susan Parks is the part-owner and manager of Marathon Sports, an athletic equipment store that specializes in
running shoes and accessories. The store employs about 10 people, most of whom are college students who work
part-time during the week and full-time on weekends. Marathon Sports is the only store of its kind in a college
town with a population of 125,000. The annual sales figures for the store have shown 15% growth each year.
Susan has a lot invested in the store, and she works very hard to make sure the store continues to maintain its
reputation and pattern of growth. She works 50 hours a week at the store, where she wears many hats, including
those of buyer, scheduler, trainer, planner, and salesperson. There is never a moment when Susan is not doing
something. Rumor has it that she eats her lunch standing up.
Employees’ reactions to Susan are strong and varied. Some people like her style, and others do not. Those who
like her style talk about how organized and efficient the store is when she is in charge. Susan makes the tasks and
goals for everyone very clear. She keeps everyone busy; when they go home at night, they feel as if they have
accomplished something. They like to work for Susan because she knows what she is doing. Those who do not
like her style complain that she is too driven. It seems that her sole purpose for being at the store is to get the job
done. She seldom, if ever, takes a break or just hangs out with the staff. These people say Susan is pretty hard to
relate to, and as a result, it is not much fun working at Marathon Sports.
Susan is beginning to sense that employees have a mixed reaction to her leadership style. This bothers her, but she
does not know what to do about it. In addition to her work at the store, Susan struggles hard to be a good spouse
and mother of three children.
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Questions
1. According to the behavioral approach, how would you describe Susan’s leadership?
2. Why does her leadership behavior create such a pronounced reaction from her employees?
3. Do you think she should change her behavior?
4. Would she be effective if she changed?
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Case 4.3: We Are Family
Betsy Moore has been hired as the director of marketing and communications for a medium-sized college in the
Midwest. With a long history of success as a marketing and public relations professional, she was the unanimous
choice of the hiring committee. Betsy is excited to be working for Marianne, the vice president of college
advancement, who comes from a similar background to Betsy’s. In a meeting with Marianne, Betsy is told the
college needs an aggressive plan to revamp and energize the school’s marketing and communications efforts. Betsy
and Marianne seem in perfect sync with the direction they believe is right for the college’s program. Marianne
also explains that she has established a departmental culture of teamwork and empowerment and that she is a
strong advocate of being a mentor to her team members rather than a manager.
Betsy has four direct reports: two writers, Bridget and Suzanne, who are young women in their 20s; and Carol
and Francine, graphic designers who are in their 50s. In her first month, Betsy puts together a meeting with her
direct reports to develop a new communications plan for the college, presenting the desired goals to the team and
asking for their ideas on initiatives and improvements to meet those goals. Bridget and Suzanne provide little in
the way of suggested changes, with Bridget asking pointedly, “Why do we need to change anything?”
In her weekly meeting with the vice president, Betsy talks about the resistance to change she encountered from
the team. Marianne nods, saying she heard some of the team members’ concerns when she went to lunch with
them earlier in the week. When Betsy looks surprised, Marianne gives her a knowing smile. “We are like a family
here; we have close relationships outside of work. I go to lunch or the movies with Suzanne and Bridget at least
once a week. But don’t worry; I am only a sounding board for them, and encourage them to come to you to
resolve their issues. They know you are their boss.”
But they don’t come to Betsy. Soon, Bridget stops coming to work at 8 a.m., showing up at 10 a.m. daily. As a
result, she misses the weekly planning meetings. When Betsy approaches her about it, Bridget tells her, “It’s OK
with Marianne; she says as long as I am using the time to exercise and improve my health she supports it.”
Betsy meets with Suzanne to implement some changes to Suzanne’s pet project, the internal newsletter. Suzanne
gets blustery and tearful, accusing Betsy of insulting her work. Later, Betsy watches Suzanne and Marianne leave
the office together for lunch. A few hours later, Marianne comes into Betsy’s office and tells her, “Go easy on the
newsletter changes. Suzanne is an insecure person, and she is feeling criticized and put down by you right now.”
Betsy’s relationship with the other two staff members is better. Neither seems to have the close contact with
Marianne that the younger team members have. They seem enthusiastic and supportive of the new direction
Betsy wants to take the program in.
As the weeks go by, Marianne begins having regular “Mentor Meetings” with Bridget and Suzanne, going to
lunch with both women at least twice a week. After watching the three walk out together one day, Francine asks
Betsy if it troubles her. Betsy replies, as calmly as she can, “It is part of Marianne’s mentoring program.”
Francine rolls her eyes and says, “Marianne’s not mentoring anyone; she just wants someone to go to lunch with
every day.”
After four months on the job, Betsy goes to Marianne and outlines the challenges that the vice president’s close
relationships with Bridget and Suzanne have presented to the progress of the marketing and communications
program. She asks her directly, “Please stop.”
Marianne gives her the knowing, motherly smile again. “I see a lot of potential in Bridget and Suzanne and want
to help foster that,” she explains. “They are still young in their careers, and my relationship with them is
important because I can provide the mentoring and guidance to develop their abilities.”
“But it’s creating problems between them and me,” Betsy points out. “I can’t manage them if they can
circumvent me every time they disagree with me. We aren’t getting any work done. You and I have to be on the
155
same team.”
Marianne shakes her head. “The problem is that we have very different leadership styles. I like to empower
people, and you like to boss them around.”
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Questions
1. Marianne and Betsy do indeed have different leadership styles. What style would you ascribe to Betsy? To
Marianne?
2. Does Betsy need to change her leadership style to improve the situation with Bridget and Suzanne? Does
Marianne need to change her style of leadership?
3. How can Marianne and Betsy work together?
Leadership Instrument
Researchers and practitioners alike have used many different instruments to assess the behaviors of leaders.
The two most commonly used measures have been the LBDQ (Stogdill, 1963) and the Leadership Grid
(Blake & McCanse, 1991). Both of these measures provide information about the degree to which a leader
acts task directed or people directed. The LBDQ was designed primarily for research and has been used
extensively since the 1960s. The Leadership Grid was designed primarily for training and development; it
continues to be used today for training managers and supervisors in the leadership process.
To assist you in developing a better understanding of how leadership behaviors are measured and what your
own behavior might be, a leadership behavior questionnaire is included in this section. This questionnaire is
made up of 20 items that assess two orientations: task and relationship. By scoring the Leadership Behavior
Questionnaire, you can obtain a general profile of your leadership behavior.
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Leadership Behavior Questionnaire
Instructions: Read each item carefully and think about how often you (or the person you are evaluating)
engage in the described behavior. Indicate your response to each item by circling one of the five numbers to
the right of each item.
Key:1 = Never 2 = Seldom 3 = Occasionally 4 = Often 5 = Always
1. Tells group members what they are supposed to do. 1 2 3 4 5
2. Acts friendly with members of the group. 1 2 3 4 5
3. Sets standards of performance for group members. 1 2 3 4 5
4. Helps others in the group feel comfortable. 1 2 3 4 5
5. Makes suggestions about how to solve problems. 1 2 3 4 5
6. Responds favorably to suggestions made by others. 1 2 3 4 5
7. Makes his or her perspective clear to others. 1 2 3 4 5
8. Treats others fairly. 1 2 3 4 5
9. Develops a plan of action for the group. 1 2 3 4 5
10. Behaves in a predictable manner toward group members. 1 2 3 4 5
11. Defines role responsibilities for each group member. 1 2 3 4 5
12. Communicates actively with group members. 1 2 3 4 5
13. Clarifies his or her own role within the group. 1 2 3 4 5
14. Shows concern for the well-being of others. 1 2 3 4 5
15. Provides a plan for how the work is to be done. 1 2 3 4 5
16. Shows flexibility in making decisions. 1 2 3 4 5
17. Provides criteria for what is expected of the group. 1 2 3 4 5
18. Discloses thoughts and feelings to group members. 1 2 3 4 5
19. Encourages group members to do high-quality work. 1 2 3 4 5
20. Helps group members get along with each other. 1 2 3 4 5
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Scoring
The Leadership Behavior Questionnaire is designed to measure two major types of leadership behaviors:
task and relationship. Score the questionnaire by doing the following: First, sum the responses on the odd-
numbered items. This is your task score. Second, sum the responses on the even-numbered items. This is
your relationship score.
Total scores: Task _____________________ Relationship _____________________
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Scoring Interpretation
45–50 Very high range
40–44 High range
35–39 Moderately high range
30–34 Moderately low range
25–29 Low range
10–24 Very low range
The score you receive for task refers to the degree to which you help others by defining their roles and
letting them know what is expected of them. This factor describes your tendencies to be task directed
toward others when you are in a leadership position. The score you receive for relationship is a measure of
the degree to which you try to make followers feel comfortable with themselves, each other, and the group
itself. It represents a measure of how people oriented you are.
Your results on the Leadership Behavior Questionnaire give you data about your task orientation and
people orientation. What do your scores suggest about your leadership style? Are you more likely to lead
with an emphasis on task or with an emphasis on relationship? As you interpret your responses to the
Leadership Behavior Questionnaire, ask yourself if there are ways you could change your behavior to shift
the emphasis you give to tasks and relationships. To gain more information about your style, you may want
to have four or five of your coworkers fill out the questionnaire based on their perceptions of you as a
leader. This will give you additional data to compare and contrast to your own scores about yourself.
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Summary
The behavioral approach is strikingly different from the trait and skills approaches to
leadership because the behavioral approach focuses on what leaders do rather than who
leaders are. It suggests that leaders engage in two primary types of behaviors: task behaviors
and relationship behaviors. How leaders combine these two types of behaviors to influence
others is the central focus of the behavioral approach.
The behavioral approach originated from three different lines of research: the Ohio State
studies, the University of Michigan studies, and the work of Blake and Mouton on the
Managerial Grid.
Researchers at Ohio State developed a leadership questionnaire called the Leader Behavior
Description Questionnaire (LBDQ), which identified initiation of structure and
consideration as the core leadership behaviors. The Michigan studies provided similar
findings but called the leader behaviors production orientation and employee orientation.
Using the Ohio State and Michigan studies as a basis, much research has been carried out
to find the best way for leaders to combine task and relationship behaviors. The goal has
been to find a universal set of leadership behaviors capable of explaining leadership
effectiveness in every situation. The results from these efforts have not been conclusive,
however. Researchers have had difficulty identifying one best style of leadership.
Blake and Mouton developed a practical model for training managers that described
leadership behaviors along a grid with two axes: concern for results and concern for people.
How leaders combine these orientations results in five major leadership styles: authority–
compliance (9,1), country-club management (1,9), impoverished management (1,1),
middle-of-the-road management (5,5), and team management (9,9).
The behavioral approach has several strengths and weaknesses. On the positive side, it has
broadened the scope of leadership research to include the study of the behaviors of leaders
rather than only their personal traits or characteristics. Second, it is a reliable approach
because it is supported by a wide range of studies. Third, the behavioral approach is
valuable because it underscores the importance of the two core dimensions of leadership
behavior: task and relationship. Fourth, it has heuristic value in that it provides us with a
broad conceptual map that is useful in gaining an understanding of our own leadership
behaviors. On the negative side, researchers have not been able to associate the behaviors of
leaders (task and relationship) with outcomes such as morale, job satisfaction, and
productivity. In addition, researchers from the behavioral approach have not been able to
identify a universal set of leadership behaviors that would consistently result in effective
leadership. Last, the behavioral approach implies but fails to support fully the idea that the
most effective leadership style is a high–high style (i.e., high task and high relationship).
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Overall, the behavioral approach is not a refined theory that provides a neatly organized set
of prescriptions for effective leadership behavior. Rather, the behavioral approach provides
a valuable framework for assessing leadership in a broad way as assessing behavior with task
and relationship dimensions. Finally, the behavioral approach reminds leaders that their
impact on others occurs along both dimensions.
Sharpen your skills with SAGE edge at edge.sagepub.com/northouse8e
162
http://edge.sagepub.com/northouse8e
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5 Situational Approach
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Description
One of the more widely recognized approaches to leadership is the situational approach,
which was developed by Hersey and Blanchard (1969a) based on Reddin’s (1967) 3-D
management style theory. The situational approach has been refined and revised several
times since its inception (see Blanchard, 1985; Blanchard, Zigarmi, & Nelson, 1993;
Blanchard, Zigarmi, & Zigarmi, 2013; Hersey & Blanchard, 1977, 1988), and it has been
used extensively in organizational leadership training and development.
As the name of the approach implies, the situational approach focuses on leadership in
situations. The premise of the theory is that different situations demand different kinds of
leadership. From this perspective, to be an effective leader requires that a person adapt his
or her style to the demands of different situations.
The situational approach is illustrated in the model developed by Blanchard and his
colleagues (Blanchard et al., 1993; Blanchard et al., 2013), called the Situational
Leadership® II (SLII®) model (Figure 5.1). The model is an extension and refinement of the
original model developed by Hersey and Blanchard (1969a). This chapter focuses on the
SLII® model.
The situational approach stresses that leadership is composed of both a directive and a
supportive dimension, and that each has to be applied appropriately in a given situation.
To determine what is needed in a particular situation, a leader must evaluate her or his
followers and assess how competent and committed they are to perform a given goal. Based
on the assumption that followers’ skills and motivation vary over time, situational
leadership suggests that leaders should change the degree to which they are directive or
supportive to meet the changing needs of followers.
In brief, the essence of the situational approach demands that leaders match their style to
the competence and commitment of the followers. Effective leaders are those who can
recognize what followers need and then adapt their own style to meet those needs.
The dynamics of this approach are clearly illustrated in the SLII® model, which comprises
two major dimensions: leadership style and development level of followers.
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Leadership Style
Leadership style consists of the behavior pattern of a person who attempts to influence
others. It includes both directive behaviors and supportive behaviors. Directive behaviors help
group members accomplish goals by giving directions, establishing goals and methods of
evaluation, setting timelines, defining roles, and showing how the goals are to be achieved.
Directive behaviors clarify, often with one-way communication, what is to be done, how it
is to be done, and who is responsible for doing it. Supportive behaviors help group
members feel comfortable about themselves, their coworkers, and the situation. Supportive
behaviors involve two-way communication and responses that show social and emotional
support to others. Examples of supportive behaviors include asking for input, solving
problems, praising, sharing information about oneself, and listening. Supportive behaviors
are mostly job related. Leadership styles can be classified further into four distinct categories
of directive and supportive behaviors (Figure 5.1). The first style (S1) is a high directive–low
supportive style, which is also called a directing style. In this approach, the leader focuses
communication on goal achievement, and spends a smaller amount of time using
supportive behaviors. Using this style, a leader gives instructions about what and how goals
are to be achieved by the followers and then supervises them carefully.
The second style (S2) is called a coaching approach and is a high directive–high supportive
style. In this approach, the leader focuses communication on both achieving goals and
meeting followers’ socioemotional needs. The coaching style requires that the leader involve
himself or herself with followers by giving encouragement and soliciting follower input.
However, coaching is an extension of S1 in that it still requires that the leader make the
final decision on the what and how of goal accomplishment.
The third style (S3) is a supporting approach that requires that the leader take a high
supportive–low directive style. In this approach, the leader does not focus exclusively on
goals but uses supportive behaviors that bring out followers’ skills around the goal to be
accomplished. The supportive style includes listening, praising, asking for input, and giving
feedback. A leader using this style gives followers control of day-to-day decisions but
remains available to facilitate problem solving. An S3 leader is quick to give recognition and
social support to followers.
Figure 5.1 Situational Leadership® II
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Source: From Leadership and the One Minute Manager: Increasing Effectiveness
Through Situational Leadership® II, by K. Blanchard, P. Zigarmi, and D. Zigarmi,
2013, New York, NY: William Morrow. Used with permission. This model cannot be
used without the expressed, written consent of The Ken Blanchard Companies. To
learn more, visit www.kenblanchard.com
Last, the fourth style (S4) is called the low supportive–low directive style, or a delegating
approach. In this approach, the leader offers less goal input and social support, facilitating
followers’ confidence and motivation in reference to the goal. The delegative leader lessens
involvement in planning, control of details, and goal clarification. After the group agrees on
what it is to do, this style lets followers take responsibility for getting the job done the way
they see fit. A leader using S4 gives control to followers and refrains from intervening with
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unnecessary social support.
The SLII® model (Figure 5.1) illustrates how directive and supportive leadership behaviors
combine for each of the four different leadership styles. As shown by the arrows on the
bottom and left side of the model, directive behaviors are high in the S1 and S2 quadrants
and low in S3 and S4, whereas supportive behaviors are high in S2 and S3 and low in S1
and S4.
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Development Level
A second major part of the SLII® model concerns the development level of followers.
Development level is the degree to which followers have the competence and commitment
necessary to accomplish a given goal or activity (Blanchard et al., 2013). Stated another
way, it indicates whether a person has mastered the skills to achieve a specific goal and
whether a person has developed a positive attitude regarding the goal (Blanchard et al.,
1993). In earlier versions of the model, this was referred to as the readiness or maturity of
the follower (Bass, 2008; Hersey & Blanchard, 1969a, 1969b, 1977, 1996).
Followers are at a high development level if they are interested and confident in their work
and know how to achieve the goal. Followers are at a developing level if they have little skill
for the goal at hand but believe that they have the motivation or confidence to get the job
done.
The levels of development are illustrated in the lower portion of the diagram in Figure 5.1.
The levels describe various combinations of commitment and competence for followers on
a given goal. They are intended to be goal specific and are not intended to be used for the
purpose of labeling followers.
On a particular goal, followers can be classified into four categories: D1, D2, D3, and D4,
from developing to developed. Specifically, D1 followers are low in competence and high
in commitment. They are new to a goal and do not know exactly how to do it, but they are
excited about the challenge of it. D2 followers are described as having some competence
but low commitment. They have started to learn a job, but they also have lost some of their
initial motivation about the job. D3 represents followers who have moderate to high
competence but may have variable commitment. They have essentially developed the skills
for the job, but they are uncertain as to whether they can accomplish the goal by
themselves. Finally, D4 followers are the highest in development, having both a high degree
of competence and a high degree of commitment to getting the job done. They have the
skills to do the job and the motivation to get it done.
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How does the Situational Approach Work?
The situational approach is constructed around the idea that followers move forward and
backward along the developmental continuum, which represents the relative competence
and commitment of followers. For leaders to be effective, it is essential that they determine
where followers are on the developmental continuum and adapt their leadership styles to
directly match their followers’ development levels.
In a given situation, the first task for a leader is to determine the nature of the situation.
Questions such as the following must be addressed: What goal are followers being asked to
achieve? How complex is the goal? Are the followers sufficiently skilled to accomplish the
goal? Do they have the desire to complete the job once they start it? Answers to these
questions will help leaders to identify correctly the specific development level at which their
followers are functioning. For example, new followers who are very excited but lack
understanding of job requirements would be identified as D1-level followers. Conversely,
seasoned followers with proven abilities and great devotion to an organization would be
identified as functioning at the D4 level.
Having identified the correct development level, the second task for the leader is to adapt
his or her style to the prescribed leadership style represented in the SLII® model. There is a
one-to-one relationship between the development level of followers (D1, D2, etc.) and the
leader’s style (S1, S2, etc.). For example, if followers are at the first level of development,
D1, the leader needs to adopt a high directive–low supportive leadership style (S1, or
directing). If followers are more advanced and at the second development level, D2, the
leader needs to adopt a high directive–high supportive leadership style (S2, or coaching).
For each level of development, there is a specific style of leadership that the leader should
adopt.
An example of this would be Rene Martinez, who owns a house painting business. Rene
specializes in restoration of old homes and over 30 years has acquired extensive knowledge
of the specialized abilities required including understanding old construction, painting
materials and techniques, plaster repair, carpentry, and window glazing. Rene has three
employees: Ashley, who has worked for him for seven years and whom he trained from the
beginning of her career; Levi, who worked for a commercial painter for four years before
being hired by Rene two years ago; and Anton, who is just starting out.
Because of Ashley’s years of experience and training, Rene would classify her as primarily
D3. She is very competent, but still seeks Rene’s insight on some tasks. She is completely
comfortable prepping surfaces for painting and directing the others, but has some
reluctance to taking on jobs that involve carpentry. Depending on the work he assigns
Ashley, Rene moves between S3 (supporting) and S4 (delegating) leadership behaviors.
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When it comes to painting, Levi is a developed follower needing little direction or support
from Rene. But Levi has to be trained in many other aspects of home restoration, making
him a D1 or D2 in those skills. Levi is a quick learner, and Rene finds he only needs to be
shown or told how to do something once before he is able to complete it easily. In most
situations, Rene uses an S2 (coaching) leadership behavior with Levi. If the goal is more
complicated and requires detailed training, Rene moves back into the S1 (directing)
behavior with Levi.
Anton is completely new to this field, developing his skills but at the D1 level. What he
lacks in experience he more than makes up for in energy. He is always willing to jump in
and do whatever he’s asked to do. He is not as careful as he needs to be, however, often
neglecting the proper prepping techniques and cleanup about which Rene is a stickler.
Rene finds that not only he, but also Ashley, uses an S1 (directing) behavior with Anton.
Because Levi is also fairly new, he finds it difficult to be directive with Anton, but likes to
give him help when he seems unsure of himself, falling into the S3 (supporting) behavior.
This example illustrates how followers can move back and forth along the development
continuum, requiring leaders to be flexible in their leadership behavior. Followers may
move from one development level to another rather quickly over a short period (e.g., a day
or a week), or more slowly on goals that proceed over much longer periods of time (e.g., a
month). Leaders cannot use the same style in all contexts; rather, they need to adapt their
style to followers and their unique situations. Unlike the trait approach, which emphasizes
that leaders have a fixed style, the situational approach demands that leaders demonstrate a
high degree of flexibility.
With the growing cross-cultural and technical influences on our society, it appears that the
need for leaders to be flexible in their leadership style is increasingly important. Recent
studies have examined situational leadership in different cultural and workplace contexts. In
a study of situational leadership and air traffic control employees, Arvidsson, Johansson,
Ek, and Akselsson (2007) assessed leaders in different contexts and found that the leader’s
style should change in different group and individual situations. In addition, they found
that the most frequently used leadership style was high supportive–low directive and the
most seldom-used style was high directive–low supportive. In another study, Larsson and
Vinberg (2010), using a case study approach, found that successful leaders use a relation
orientation as a base but include along with it a structure orientation and a change
orientation.
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Strengths
The situational approach to leadership has several strengths, particularly for practitioners.
The first strength is that it has a history of usefulness in the marketplace. Situational
Leadership® is well known and frequently used for training leaders within organizations.
Hersey and Blanchard (1993) reported that it has been a factor in training programs of
more than 400 of the Fortune 500 companies. It is perceived by corporations as offering a
useful model for training people to become effective leaders.
A second strength of the approach is its practicality. Situational Leadership® is easy to
understand, intuitively sensible, and easily applied in a variety of settings. Whereas some
leadership approaches provide complex and sophisticated ways to assess your own
leadership behavior (e.g., the decision-making approach in Vroom & Yetton, 1973),
Situational Leadership® provides a straightforward approach that is easily used. Because it is
described at an abstract level that is easily grasped, the ideas behind the approach are
quickly acquired. In addition, the principles suggested by this approach are easy to apply
across a variety of settings, including work, school, and family.
Closely akin to the strength of practicality is a third strength: It has prescriptive value.
Whereas many theories of leadership are descriptive in nature, the situational approach is
prescriptive. It tells you what you should and should not do in various contexts. For
example, if your followers are very low in competence, Situational Leadership® prescribes a
directing style for you as the leader. On the other hand, if your followers appear to be
competent but lack confidence, the situational approach suggests that you lead with a
supporting style. These prescriptions provide leaders with a valuable set of guidelines that
can facilitate and enhance leadership. For example, in a recent study, Meirovich and Gu
(2015) reported that the closer a leader’s style is to the prescribed style, the better the
performance and satisfaction of the employees.
A fourth strength of Situational Leadership® is that it emphasizes leader flexibility (Graeff,
1983; Yukl, 1989). The approach stresses that leaders need to find out about their
followers’ needs and then adapt their leadership style accordingly. Leaders cannot lead using
a single style: They must be willing to change their style to meet the requirements of the
situation. This approach recognizes that followers act differently when doing different
goals, and that they may act differently during different stages of the same goal. Effective
leaders are those who can change their own style based on the goal requirements and the
followers’ needs, even in the middle of a project. For example, Zigarmi and Roberts (2017)
reported that when followers perceive a fit between the leader’s behavior and their own
needs, it is positively related to job affect, trust, and favorable work intentions.
Finally, Situational Leadership® reminds us to treat each follower differently based on the
goal at hand and to seek opportunities to help followers learn new skills and become more
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confident in their work (Fernandez & Vecchio, 1997; Yukl, 1998). Overall, this approach
underscores that followers have unique needs and deserve our help in trying to become
better at doing their work.
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Criticisms
Despite its history of use in leadership training and development, Situational Leadership®
has several limitations. The following criticisms point out several weaknesses in this
approach and help to provide a more balanced picture of the general utility of this approach
in studying and practicing leadership.
The first criticism of Situational Leadership® is that only a few research studies have been
conducted to justify the assumptions and propositions set forth by the approach. Although
many doctoral dissertations address dimensions of Situational Leadership®, most of these
research studies have not been published. The lack of a strong body of research on this
approach raises questions about the theoretical basis of the approach (Fernandez &
Vecchio, 1997; Graeff, 1997; Meirovich & Gu, 2015; Vecchio & Boatwright, 2002;
Vecchio, Bullis, & Brazil, 2006). Can we be sure it is a valid approach? Is it certain that this
approach does indeed improve performance? Does this approach compare favorably with
other leadership approaches in its impact on followers? It is difficult to give firm answers to
these questions when the testing of this approach has not resulted in a significant amount
of published research findings.
A second criticism that can be directed at the situational approach concerns the ambiguous
conceptualization in the model of followers’ development levels. The authors of the model
do not make clear how commitment is combined with competence to form four distinct
levels of development (Graeff, 1997; Yukl, 1989). In one of the earliest versions of the
model, Hersey and Blanchard (1969b) defined the four levels of commitment (maturity) as
unwilling and unable (Level 1), willing and unable (Level 2), unwilling and able (Level 3),
and willing and able (Level 4). In a more recent version, represented by the SLII® model,
development level is described as high commitment and low competence in D1, low
commitment and some competence in D2, variable commitment and high competence in
D3, and high commitment and high competence in D4.
The authors of Situational Leadership® do not explain the theoretical basis for these changes
in the composition of each of the development levels. Furthermore, they do not explain
how competence and commitment are weighted across different development levels. As
pointed out by Blanchard et al. (1993), there is a need for further research to establish how
competence and commitment are conceptualized for each development level. Closely
related to the general criticism of ambiguity about followers’ development levels is a
concern with how commitment itself is conceptualized in the model. For example, Graeff
(1997) suggested the conceptualization is very unclear. Blanchard et al. (2013) stated that
followers’ commitment is composed of confidence and motivation, but it is not clear how
confidence and motivation combine to define commitment. According to the SLII® model,
commitment starts out high in D1, moves down in D2, becomes variable in D3, and rises
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again in D4. Intuitively, it appears more logical to describe follower commitment as
existing on a continuum moving from low to moderate to high.
The argument provided by Blanchard et al. (1993) for how commitment varies in the SLII®
model is that followers usually start out motivated and eager to learn, and then they may
become discouraged and disillusioned. Next they may begin to lack confidence or
motivation, or both, and last they become highly confident and motivated. But why is this
so? Why do followers who learn a task become less committed? Why is there a decrease in
commitment at Development Levels 2 and 3?
Some clarification of the ambiguity surrounding development levels is suggested by
Thompson and Glasø (2015), who studied a sample of 80 supervisors and 357 followers in
financial organizations and found that the predictions of the earlier model of situational
leadership are more likely to hold true when the leaders’ ratings and followers’ ratings of
competence and commitment are congruent. They stressed the importance of finding
mutual agreement between leaders and followers on these ratings.
Without more research findings to substantiate the way follower commitment is
conceptualized, this dimension of Situational Leadership® remains unclear.
A fourth criticism of the situational approach has to do with how the model matches leader
style with follower development levels—the prescriptions of the model. To determine the
validity of the prescriptions suggested by the Hersey and Blanchard approach, Vecchio
(1987) conducted a study of more than 300 high school teachers and their principals. He
found that newly hired teachers were more satisfied and performed better under principals
who had highly structured leadership styles, but that the performance of more experienced
and mature teachers was unrelated to the style their principals exhibited.
Vecchio and his colleagues have replicated this study twice: first in 1997, using university
employees (Fernandez & Vecchio, 1997), and most recently in 2006, studying more than
800 U.S. Military Academy cadets (Vecchio et al., 2006). Both studies failed to find strong
evidence to support the basic prescriptions suggested in the situational approach.
To further test the assumptions and validity of the Situational Leadership® model,
Thompson and Vecchio (2009) analyzed the original and revised versions of the model
using data collected from 357 banking employees and 80 supervisors. They found no clear
empirical support for the model in any of its versions. At best, they found some evidence to
support leaders being more directive with newer employees, and being more supportive and
less directive as employees become more senior. Also, Meirovich and Gu (2015) found
evidence that followers with more experience indicated a more positive response to
autonomy and participation, a finding supporting the importance of leaders being less
directive with experienced employees.
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A fifth criticism of Situational Leadership® is that it fails to account for how certain
demographic characteristics (e.g., education, experience, age, and gender) influence the
leader–follower prescriptions of the model. For example, a study conducted by Vecchio and
Boatwright (2002) showed that level of education and job experience were inversely related
to directive leadership and were not related to supportive leadership. In other words,
followers with more education and more work experience desired less structure. An
interesting finding is that age was positively related to desire for structure: The older
followers desired more structure than the younger followers did. In addition, their findings
indicated that female and male followers had different preferences for styles of leadership.
Female followers expressed a stronger preference for supportive leadership, whereas male
followers had a stronger desire for directive leadership. These findings indicate that
demographic characteristics may affect followers’ preferences for a particular leadership
style. However, these characteristics are not considered in the Situational Leadership®
approach.
Situational Leadership® can also be criticized from a practical standpoint because it does not
fully address the issue of one-to-one versus group leadership in an organizational setting.
For example, should a leader with a group of 20 followers lead by matching her or his style
to the overall development level of the group or to the development level of individual
members of the group? Carew, Parisi-Carew, and Blanchard (1990) suggested that groups
go through development stages that are similar to individuals’, and that therefore leaders
should try to match their styles to the group’s development level. However, if the leader
matches her or his style to the mean development level of a group, how will this affect the
individuals whose development levels are quite different from those of their colleagues?
Existing research on Situational Leadership® does not answer this question. More research is
needed to explain how leaders can adapt their styles simultaneously to the development
levels of individual group members and to the group as a whole.
A final criticism of Situational Leadership® can be directed at the leadership questionnaires
that accompany the model. Questionnaires on the situational approach typically ask
respondents to analyze various work situations and select the best leadership style for each
situation. The questionnaires are constructed to force respondents to describe leadership
style in terms of four specific parameters (i.e., directing, coaching, supporting, and
delegating) rather than in terms of other leadership behaviors. Because the best answers
available to respondents have been predetermined, the questionnaires are biased in favor of
Situational Leadership® (Graeff, 1983; Yukl, 1989).
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Application
As we discussed earlier in this chapter, Situational Leadership® is used in consulting because
it is an approach that is easy to conceptualize and apply. The straightforward nature of
Situational Leadership® makes it practical for managers to use.
The principles of this approach can be applied at many different levels in an organization.
They can apply to how a CEO of a large corporation works with a board of directors, and
they can also apply to how a crew chief in an assembly plant leads a small group of
production workers. Middle managers can use Situational Leadership® to direct staff
meetings, and heads of departments can use this approach in planning structural changes
within an organization. There is no shortage of opportunities for using Situational
Leadership®.
Situational Leadership® applies during the initial stages of a project, when idea formation is
important, and during the various subsequent phases of a project, when implementation
issues are important. The fluid nature of Situational Leadership® makes it ideal for applying
to followers as they move forward or go backward (regress) on various projects. Because
Situational Leadership® stresses adapting to followers, it is ideal for use with followers whose
commitment and competence change over the course of a project.
Given the breadth of the situational approach, it is applicable in almost any type of
organization, at any level, for nearly all types of goals. It is an encompassing model with a
wide range of applications.
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Case Studies
To see how Situational Leadership® can be applied in different organizational settings, you may want to assess
Cases 5.1, 5.2, and 5.3. For each of these cases, ask yourself what you would do if you found yourself in a similar
situation. At the end of each case, there are questions that will help you analyze the context from the perspective
of Situational Leadership®.
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Case 5.1: Marathon Runners at Different Levels
David Abruzzo is the newly elected president of the Metrocity Striders Track Club (MSTC). One of his duties is
to serve as the coach for runners who hope to complete the New York City Marathon. Because David has run
many marathons and ultramarathons successfully, he feels quite comfortable assuming the role and
responsibilities of coach for the marathon runners.
The training period for runners intending to run New York is 16 weeks. During the first couple of weeks of
training, David was pleased with the progress of the runners and had little difficulty in his role as coach.
However, when the runners reached Week 8, the halfway mark, some things began to occur that raised questions
in David’s mind regarding how best to help his runners. The issues of concern seemed quite different from those
that David had expected to hear from runners in a marathon training program. All in all, the runners and their
concerns could be divided into three different groups.
One group of runners, most of whom had never run a marathon, peppered the coach with all kinds of questions.
They were very concerned about how to do the marathon and whether they had the ability to complete such a
challenging event successfully. They asked questions about how far to run in training, what to eat, how much to
drink, and what kind of shoes to wear. One runner wanted to know what to eat the night before the marathon,
and another wanted to know whether it was likely that he would pass out when he crossed the finish line. For
David the questions were never-ending and rather basic. He wanted to treat the runners like informed adults, but
they seemed to be acting immature, and rather childish.
The second group of runners, all of whom had finished the New York City Marathon in the previous year,
seemed most concerned about the effects of training on their running. For example, they wanted to know
precisely how their per-week running mileage related to their possible marathon finishing time. Would running
long practice runs help them through the wall at the 20-mile mark? Would taking a rest day during training
actually help their overall conditioning? Basically, the runners in this group seemed to want assurances from
David that they were training in the right way for New York. For David, talking to this group was easy because
he enjoyed giving them encouragement and motivational pep talks.
A third group was made up of seasoned runners, most of whom had run several marathons and many of whom
had finished in the top 10 of their respective age divisions. Sometimes they complained of feeling flat and acted a
bit moody and down about training. Even though they had confidence in their ability to compete and finish well,
they lacked an element of excitement about running in the New York event. The occasional questions they raised
usually concerned such things as whether their overall training strategy was appropriate or whether their training
would help them in other races besides the New York City Marathon. Because of his running experience, David
liked to offer running tips to this group. However, when he did, he felt like the runners ignored and discounted
his suggestions. He was concerned that they might not appreciate him or his coaching.
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Questions
1. Based on the principles of the SLII® model (Figure 5.1), how would you describe the runners in Group 1?
What kind of leadership do they want from David, and what kind of leadership does David seem
prepared to give them?
2. How would you describe the fit between the runners in Group 2 and David’s coaching style? Discuss.
3. The experienced runners in Group 3 appear to be a challenge to David. Using SLII®, explain why David
appears ineffective with this group.
4. If you were helping David with his coaching, how would you describe his strengths and weaknesses?
What suggestions would you make to him about how to improve?
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Case 5.2: Why Aren’t They Listening?
Jim Anderson is a training specialist in the human resource department of a large pharmaceutical company. In
response to a recent companywide survey, Jim specifically designed a six-week training program on listening and
communication skills to encourage effective management in the company. Jim’s goals for the seminar are
twofold: for participants to learn new communication behaviors and for participants to enjoy the seminar so they
will want to attend future seminars.
The first group to be offered the program was middle-level managers in research and development. This group
consisted of about 25 people, nearly all of whom had advanced degrees. Most of this group had attended several
in-house training programs in the past, so they had a sense of how the seminar would be designed and run.
Because the previous seminars had not always been very productive, many of the managers felt a little
disillusioned about coming to the seminar. As one of the managers said, “Here we go again: a fancy in-house
training program from which we will gain nothing.”
Because Jim recognized that the managers were very experienced, he did not put many restrictions on attendance
and participation. He used a variety of presentation methods and actively solicited involvement from the
managers in the seminar. Throughout the first two sessions, he went out of his way to be friendly with the group.
He gave them frequent coffee breaks during the sessions; during these breaks, he promoted socializing and
networking.
During the third session, Jim became aware of some difficulties with the seminar. Rather than the full
complement of 25 managers, attendance had dropped to about only 15 managers. Although the starting time was
established at 8:30, attendees had been arriving as late as 10:00. During the afternoon sessions, some of the
managers were leaving the sessions to return to their offices at the company.
As he approached the fourth session, Jim was apprehensive about why things had been going poorly. He had
become quite uncertain about how he should approach the group. Many questions were running through his
mind: Had he treated the managers in the wrong way? Had he been too easy regarding attendance at the sessions?
Should he have said something about the managers skipping out in the afternoon? Were the participants taking
the seminar seriously? Jim was certain that the content of the seminars was innovative and substantive, but he
could not figure out what he could change to make the program more successful. He sensed that his style was not
working for this group, but he didn’t have a clue as to how he should change what he was doing to make the
sessions better.
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Questions
1. According to the SLII® model (Figure 5.1), what style of leadership is Jim using to run the seminars?
2. At what level are the managers?
3. From a leadership perspective, what is Jim doing wrong?
4. What specific changes could Jim implement to improve the seminars?
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Case 5.3: Getting the Message Across
Ann Caldera is the program director of a college campus radio station (WCBA) that is supported by the
university. WCBA has a long history and is viewed favorably by students, faculty, the board of trustees, and the
people in the community.
Ann does not have a problem getting students to work at WCBA. In fact, it is one of the most sought-after
university-related activities. The few students who are accepted to work at WCBA are always highly motivated
because they value the opportunity to get hands-on media experience. In addition, those who are accepted tend
to be highly confident (sometimes naïvely so) of their own radio ability. Despite their eagerness, most of them
lack a full understanding of the legal responsibilities of being on the air.
One of the biggest problems that confronts Ann every semester is how to train new students to follow the rules
and procedures of WCBA when they are doing on-air announcing for news, sports, music, and other radio
programs. It seems as if every semester numerous incidents arise in which an announcer violates in no small way
the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules for appropriate airtime communication. For example,
rumor has it that one year a first-year student disc jockey on the evening shift announced that a new band was
playing in town, the cover was $10, and everyone should go to hear the group. Making an announcement such as
this is a clear violation of FCC rules: It is illegal.
Ann is frustrated with her predicament but cannot seem to figure out why it keeps occurring. She puts a lot of
time and effort into helping new DJs, but they just do not seem to get the message that working at WCBA is a
serious job and that obeying the FCC rules is an absolute necessity. Ann wonders whether her leadership style is
missing the mark.
Each semester, Ann gives the students a very complete handout on policies and procedures. In addition, she tries
to get to know each of the new students personally. Because she wants everybody to be happy at WCBA, she tries
very hard to build a relational climate at the station. Repeatedly, students say that Ann is the nicest adviser on
campus. Because she recognizes the quality of her students, Ann mostly lets them do what they want at the
station.
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Questions
1. What’s the problem at WCBA?
2. Using SLII® as a basis, what would you advise Ann to do differently at the station?
3. Based on Situational Leadership®, what creative schemes could Ann use to reduce FCC infractions at
WCBA?
Leadership Instrument
Although different versions of instruments have been developed to measure Situational Leadership®, nearly
all of them are constructed similarly. As a rule, the questionnaires provide 12 to 20 work-related situations
and ask respondents to select their preferred style for each situation from four alternatives. The situations
and styles are written to directly represent the leadership styles of the four quadrants in the model.
Questionnaire responses are scored to give respondents information about their primary and secondary
leadership styles, their flexibility, and their leadership effectiveness.
The brief questionnaire provided in this section illustrates how leadership style is measured in
questionnaires of Situational Leadership®. For each situation on the questionnaire, you have to identify the
development level of the followers in the situation and then select one of the four response alternatives that
indicate the style of leadership you would use in that situation.
Expanded versions of the brief questionnaire give respondents an overall profile of their leadership style. By
analyzing the alternatives a respondent makes on the questionnaire, one can determine that respondent’s
primary and secondary leadership styles. By analyzing the range of choices a respondent makes, one can
determine that respondent’s leadership flexibility. Leadership effectiveness and diagnostic ability can be
measured by analyzing the number of times the respondent made accurate assessments of a preferred
leadership style.
In addition to these self-scored questionnaires, Situational Leadership® uses similar forms to tap the
concurrent perceptions that bosses, associates, and followers have of a person’s leadership style. These
questionnaires give respondents a wide range of feedback on their leadership styles and the opportunity to
compare their own views of leadership with the way others view them in a leadership role.
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Situational Leadership® Questionnaire: Sample Items
Instructions: Look at the following four leadership situations and indicate what the development level is in
each situation, which leadership style each response represents, and which leadership style is needed in the
situation (i.e., action A, B, C, or D).
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Situation 1
Because of budget restrictions imposed on your department, it is necessary to consolidate. You are thinking
of asking a highly capable and experienced member of your department to take charge of the consolidation.
This person has worked in all areas of your department and has the trust and respect of most of the staff.
She is very willing to help with the consolidation.
A. Assign the project to her and let her determine how to accomplish it.
B. Assign the task to her, indicate to her precisely what must be done, and supervise her work closely.
C. Assign the task to her and provide support and encouragement as needed.
D. Assign the task to her and indicate to her precisely what needs to be done but make sure you
incorporate her suggestions.
Development level ____________ Action ____________
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Situation 2
You have recently been made a department head of the new regional office. In getting to know your
departmental staff, you have noticed that one of your inexperienced employees is not following through on
assigned tasks. She is enthusiastic about her new job and wants to get ahead in the organization.
A. Discuss the lack of follow-through with her and explore the alternative ways this problem can be
solved.
B. Specify what she must do to complete the tasks but incorporate any suggestions she may have.
C. Define the steps necessary for her to complete the assigned tasks and monitor her performance
frequently.
D. Let her know about the lack of follow-through and give her more time to improve her performance.
Development level ____________ Action ___________
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Situation 3
Because of a new and very important unit project, for the past three months you have made sure that your
staff members understood their responsibilities and expected level of performance, and you have supervised
them closely. Due to some recent project setbacks, your staff members have become somewhat discouraged.
Their morale has dropped, and so has their performance.
A. Continue to direct and closely supervise their performance.
B. Give the group members more time to overcome the setbacks but occasionally check their progress.
C. Continue to define group activities but involve the group members more in decision making and
incorporate their ideas.
D. Participate in the group members’ problem-solving activities and encourage and support their
efforts to overcome the project setbacks.
Development level ____________ Action ____________
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Situation 4
As a director of the sales department, you have asked a member of your staff to take charge of a new sales
campaign. You have worked with this person on other sales campaigns, and you know he has the job
knowledge and experience to be successful at new assignments. However, he seems a little unsure about his
ability to do the job.
A. Assign the new sales campaign to him and let him function on his own.
B. Set goals and objectives for this new assignment but consider his suggestions and involve him in
decision making.
C. Listen to his concerns but assure him he can do the job and support his efforts.
D. Tell him exactly what the new campaign involves and what you expect of him, and supervise his
performance closely.
Development level ____________ Action ____________
Source: Adapted from Game Plan for Leadership and the One Minute Manager (Figure 5.20, Learning
Activity, p. 5), by K. Blanchard, P. Zigarmi, and D. Zigarmi, 1992, Escondido, CA: Blanchard Training
and Development (phone 760-489-5005). Used with permission.
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Scoring Interpretation
A short discussion of the correct answers to the brief questionnaire will help to explain the nature of
Situational Leadership® questionnaires.
Situation 1 in the brief questionnaire describes a common problem faced by organizations during
downsizing: the need to consolidate. In this particular situation, the leader has identified a person who
appears to be highly competent, experienced, and motivated to direct the downsizing project. According to
the SLII® model, this person is at Development Level 4, which calls for a delegative approach. Of the four
response alternatives, it is the (A) response, “Assign the project to her and let her determine how to
accomplish it,” that best represents delegating (S4): low supportive–low directive leadership.
Situation 2 describes a problem familiar to leaders at all levels in nearly all organizations: lack of follow-
through by an enthusiastic follower. In the given example, the follower falls in Development Level 1
because she lacks the experience to do the job even though she is highly motivated to succeed. The SLII®
approach prescribes directing (S1) leadership for this type of follower. She needs to be told when and how
to do her specific job. After she is given directions, her performance should be supervised closely. The
correct response is (C), “Define the steps necessary to complete the assigned tasks and monitor her
performance frequently.”
Situation 3 describes a very different circumstance. In this situation, the followers seem to have developed
some experience and an understanding of what is required of them, but they have lost some of their
motivation to complete the goal. Their performance and commitment have stalled because of recent
setbacks, even though the leader has been directing them closely. According to SLII®, the correct response
for the leader is to shift to a more supportive coaching style (S2) of leadership. The action response that
reflects coaching is (C), “Continue to define group activities but involve the group members more in
decision making and incorporate their ideas.”
Situation 4 describes some of the concerns that arise for a director attempting to identify the correct person
to head a new sales campaign. The person identified for the position obviously has the skills necessary to do
a good job with the new sales campaign, but he appears apprehensive about his own abilities. In this
context, SLII® suggests that the director should use a supportive style (S3), which is consistent with leading
followers who are competent but lacking a certain degree of confidence. A supportive style is represented by
action response (C), “Listen to his concerns but assure him he can do the job and support his efforts.”
Now select two of your own followers. Diagnose their current development level on three different goals
and your style of leadership in each situation. Is there a match? If not, what specifically can you do for them
as a leader to ensure that they have what they need to succeed?
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Summary
Situational Leadership® is a prescriptive approach to leadership that suggests how leaders
can become effective in many different types of organizational settings involving a wide
variety of organizational goals. This approach provides a model that suggests to leaders how
they should behave based on the demands of a particular situation.
Situational Leadership® II classifies leadership into four styles: S1 is high directive–low
supportive, S2 is high directive–high supportive, S3 is low directive–high supportive, and
S4 is low directive–low supportive. The model describes how each of the four leadership
styles applies to followers who work at different levels of development, from D1 (low in
competence and high in commitment), to D2 (low to some competence and low in
commitment), to D3 (moderately competent but lacking commitment), to D4 (a great deal
of competence and a high degree of commitment).
Effective leadership occurs when the leader can accurately diagnose the development level
of followers in a goal situation and then exhibit the prescribed leadership style that matches
that situation.
Leadership is measured in this approach with questionnaires that ask respondents to assess a
series of work-related situations. The questionnaires provide information about the leader’s
diagnostic ability, flexibility, and effectiveness. They are useful in helping leaders to learn
about how they can change their leadership style to become more effective across different
situations.
There are four major strengths to the situational approach. First, it is recognized by many
as a standard for training leaders. Second, it is a practical approach, which is easily
understood and easily applied. Third, this approach sets forth a clear set of prescriptions for
how leaders should act if they want to enhance their leadership effectiveness. Fourth,
Situational Leadership® recognizes and stresses that there is not one best style of leadership;
instead, leaders need to be flexible and adapt their style to the requirements of the situation.
Criticisms of Situational Leadership® suggest that it also has limitations. Unlike many other
leadership theories, this approach does not have a strong body of research findings to justify
and support the theoretical underpinnings on which it stands. As a result, there is
ambiguity regarding how the approach conceptualizes certain aspects of leadership. It is not
clear in explaining how followers move from developing levels to developed levels, nor is it
clear on how commitment changes over time for followers. Without the basic research
findings, the validity of the basic prescriptions for matching leaders’ styles to followers’
development levels must be questioned. In addition, the model does not address how
demographic characteristics affect followers’ preferences for leadership. Finally, the model
does not provide guidelines for how leaders can use this approach in group settings as
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opposed to one-to-one contexts.
Sharpen your skills with SAGE edge at edge.sagepub.com/northouse8e
194
http://edge.sagepub.com/northouse8e
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6 Path–Goal Theory
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Description
Path–goal theory discusses how leaders motivate followers to accomplish designated goals.
Drawing heavily from research on what motivates followers, path–goal theory first appeared
in the leadership literature in the early 1970s in the works of Evans (1970), House (1971),
House and Dessler (1974), and House and Mitchell (1974). The stated goal of this theory
is to enhance follower performance and follower satisfaction by focusing on follower
motivation and the nature of the work tasks. At its inception, path–goal theory was
incredibly innovative in the sense that it shifted attention to follower needs and
motivations, and away from the predominant focus on tasks and relationships.
In contrast to the situational approach, which suggests that a leader must adapt to the
development level of followers (see Chapter 5), path–goal theory emphasizes the
relationship between the leader’s style and the characteristics of the followers and the
organizational setting. For the leader, the imperative is to use a leadership style that best
meets followers’ motivational needs. This is done by choosing behaviors that complement
or supplement what is missing in the work setting. Leaders try to enhance followers’ goal
attainment by providing information or rewards in the work environment (Indvik, 1986);
leaders provide followers with the elements they think followers need to reach their goals.
According to House (1996), the heart of path–goal theory suggests that in order for leaders
to be effective they must “engage in behaviors that complement subordinates’ environments
and abilities in a manner that compensates for deficiencies and is instrumental to
subordinate satisfaction and individual and work unit performance” (p. 335). Put simply,
path–goal theory puts much of the onus on leaders in terms of designing and facilitating a
healthy and productive work environment to propel followers toward success.
Figure 6.1 The Basic Idea Behind Path–Goal Theory
According to House and Mitchell (1974), leadership generates motivation when it increases
the number and kinds of payoffs that followers receive from their work. Leadership also
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motivates when it makes the path to the goal clear and easy to travel through coaching and
direction, removing obstacles and roadblocks to attaining the goal, and making the work
itself more personally satisfying (Figure 6.1). For example, even in professions where
employees are presumed to be self-motivated such as in technical industries, leaders can
greatly enhance follower motivation, engagement, satisfaction, performance, and intent to
stay (Stumpf, Tymon, Ehr, & vanDam, 2016). Relatedly, research (Asamani, Naab, &
Ansah Ofei, 2016) indicates that follower satisfaction and intent to leave are greatly
impacted by a leader’s communicative style. In other words, employing path–goal theory in
terms of leader behavior and the needs of followers and the tasks they have to do could hold
substantial implications for organizations that seek to enhance follower engagement and
motivation while also decreasing turnover.
In brief, path–goal theory is designed to explain how leaders can help followers along the
path to their goals by selecting specific behaviors that are best suited to followers’ needs and
to the situation in which followers are working. By choosing the appropriate behaviors,
leaders increase followers’ expectations for success and satisfaction.
Within path–goal theory, motivation is conceptualized from the perspective of the
expectancy theory of motivation (Vroom, 1964). The underlying assumption of expectancy
theory is that followers will be motivated if they think they are capable of performing their
work, if they believe their efforts will result in a certain outcome, and if they believe that
the payoffs for doing their work are worthwhile. The challenge for a leader using ideas from
expectancy theory is to understand fully the goals of each follower and the rewards
associated with the goals. Followers want to feel efficacious, like they can accomplish what
they set out to do. But, they also want to know that they will be rewarded if they can
accomplish their work. A leader needs to find out what is rewarding to followers about their
work and then make those rewards available to them when they accomplish the
requirements of their work. Expectancy theory is about the goals that followers choose and
how leaders help them and reward them for meeting those goals.
Figure 6.2 Major Components of Path–Goal Theory
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Conceptually, path–goal theory is complex, and it is useful to break it down into smaller
units so we can better understand the complexities of this approach.
Figure 6.2 illustrates the different components of path–goal theory, including leader
behaviors, follower characteristics, task characteristics, and motivation. Path–goal theory
suggests that each type of leader behavior has a different kind of impact on followers’
motivation. Whether a particular leader behavior is motivating to followers is contingent
on the followers’ characteristics and the characteristics of the task.
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Leader Behaviors
Since its inception, path–goal leadership has undergone numerous iterations and revisions
(i.e., House, 1971, 1996; House & Mitchell, 1974) that have increased the number of
contingencies associated with the theory. However, for our purposes, we will discuss only
the primary four leadership behaviors identified as part of path–goal theory—directive,
supportive, participative, and achievement-oriented (House & Mitchell, 1974, p. 83). These
four leader behaviors are not only foundational to understanding how path–goal theory
works but are still more commonly used by researchers in contemporary studies of the
path–goal leadership approach (e.g., Asamani et al., 2016).
Directive Leadership
Directive leadership is similar to the “initiating structure” concept described in the Ohio
State studies (Halpin & Winer, 1957) and the “telling” style described in Situational
Leadership® (Hersey & Blanchard, 1969). It characterizes a leader who gives followers
instructions about their task, including what is expected of them, how it is to be done, and
the timeline for when it should be completed. It is thought that by providing explicit
expectations and removing ambiguity, followers will have the clarity needed to focus on
their jobs. A directive leader sets clear standards of performance and makes the rules and
regulations clear to followers.
Supportive Leadership
Supportive leadership resembles the consideration behavior construct that was identified by
the Ohio State studies discussed in Chapter 4 (Hemphill & Coons, 1957; Stogdill, 1963).
Supportive leadership consists of being friendly and approachable as a leader and includes
attending to the well-being and human needs of followers. Leaders using supportive
behaviors go out of their way to make work pleasant for followers, which, in turn, provides
followers with the confidence necessary to succeed (House, 1971). In addition, supportive
leaders treat followers as equals and give them respect for their status.
Participative Leadership
Participative leadership consists of inviting followers to share in the decision making. A
participative leader consults with followers, obtains their ideas and opinions, and integrates
their suggestions into the decisions about how the group or organization will proceed. This
particular leadership style may also result in increased group performance through member
participation and dedication to shared group goals.
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Achievement-Oriented Leadership
Achievement-oriented leadership is characterized by a leader who challenges followers to
perform work at the highest level possible. This leader establishes a high standard of
excellence for followers and seeks continuous improvement. In addition to bringing
significant expectations for followers, achievement-oriented leaders show a high degree of
confidence that followers are capable of establishing and accomplishing challenging goals.
House and Mitchell (1974) suggested that leaders might exhibit any or all of these styles
with various followers and in different situations. Path–goal theory is not a trait approach
that locks leaders into only one kind of leadership. Leaders should adapt their styles to the
situation or to the motivational needs of their followers. For example, if followers need
participative leadership at one point in a task and directive leadership at another, the leader
can change her or his style as needed. Different situations may call for different types of
leadership behavior. Furthermore, there may be instances when it is appropriate for a leader
to use more than one style at the same time.
In addition to leader behaviors, Figure 6.2 illustrates two other major components of path–
goal theory: follower characteristics and task characteristics. Each of these two sets of
characteristics influences the way leaders’ behaviors affect follower motivation. In other
words, the impact of leadership is contingent on the characteristics of both followers and
their task.
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Follower Characteristics
Follower characteristics determine how a leader’s behavior is interpreted by followers in a
given work context. Researchers have focused on followers’ needs for affiliation, preferences
for structure, desires for control, and self-perceived level of task ability. These characteristics
and many others determine the degree to which followers find the behavior of a leader an
immediate source of satisfaction or instrumental to some future satisfaction.
Path–goal theory predicts that followers who have strong needs for affiliation prefer
supportive leadership because friendly and concerned leadership is a source of satisfaction.
For followers who are dogmatic and authoritarian and have to work in uncertain situations,
path–goal theory suggests directive leadership because that provides psychological structure
and task clarity. Directive leadership helps these followers by clarifying the path to the goal,
making it less ambiguous. The authoritarian type of follower feels more comfortable when
the leader provides a greater sense of certainty in the work setting.
Followers’ desires for control have received special attention in path–goal research through
studies of a personality construct locus of control that can be subdivided into internal and
external dimensions. Followers with an internal locus of control believe that they are in
charge of the events that occur in their life, whereas those with an external locus of control
believe that chance, fate, or outside forces determine life events. Path–goal theory suggests
that for followers with an internal locus of control participative leadership is most satisfying
because it allows them to feel in charge of their work and to be an integral part of decision
making. For followers with an external locus of control, path–goal theory suggests that
directive leadership is best because it parallels followers’ feelings that outside forces control
their circumstances.
Another way in which leadership affects follower motivation is the followers’ perceptions of
their own abilities to perform a specific task. As followers’ perceptions of their abilities and
competence goes up, the need for directive leadership goes down. In effect, directive
leadership becomes redundant and perhaps excessively controlling when followers feel
competent to complete their own work.
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Task Characteristics
In addition to follower characteristics, task characteristics have a major impact on the way a
leader’s behavior influences followers’ motivation (Figure 6.2). Task characteristics include
the design of the followers’ task, the formal authority system of the organization, and the
primary work group of followers. Collectively, these characteristics in themselves can provide
motivation for followers. When a situation provides a clearly structured task, strong group
norms, and an established authority system, followers will find the paths to desired goals
apparent and will not need a leader to clarify goals or coach them in how to reach these
goals. Followers will feel as if they can accomplish their work and that their work is of
value. Leadership in these types of contexts could be seen as unnecessary, un-empathic, and
excessively controlling.
In some situations, however, the task characteristics may call for leadership involvement.
Tasks that are unclear and ambiguous call for leadership input that provides structure. In
addition, highly repetitive tasks call for leadership that gives support in order to maintain
followers’ motivation. In work settings where the formal authority system is weak,
leadership becomes a tool that helps followers by making the rules and work requirements
clear. In contexts where the group norms are weak or nonsupportive, leadership assists in
building cohesiveness and role responsibility.
A special focus of path–goal theory is helping followers overcome obstacles. Obstacles could
be just about anything in the work setting that gets in the way of followers. Specifically,
obstacles create excessive uncertainties, frustrations, or threats for followers. In these
settings, path–goal theory suggests that it is the leader’s responsibility to help followers by
removing these obstacles or helping them around them. Helping followers around these
obstacles will increase followers’ expectations that they can complete the task and increase
their sense of job satisfaction.
As we mentioned earlier in the chapter, path–goal theory has undergone many revisions. In
1996, House published a reformulated path–goal theory that extends his original work to
include eight classes of leadership behaviors. Besides the four leadership behaviors discussed
previously in this chapter—(a) directive, (b) supportive, (c) participative, and (d)
achievement-oriented behavior—the new theory adds (e) work facilitation, (f) group-
oriented decision process, (g) work-group representation and networking, and (h) value-
based leadership behavior. The essence of the new theory is the same as the original: To be
effective, leaders need to help followers by giving them what is missing in their
environment and by helping them compensate for deficiencies in their abilities.
Table 6.1 Path–Goal Theory: How It Works
Follower Task
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Leadership Behavior Characteristics Characteristics
Directive
Provides guidance and psychological
structure
Dogmatic
Authoritarian
Ambiguous
Unclear rules
Complex
Supportive
Provides nurturance
Unsatisfied
Need for affiliation
Need for human
touch
Repetitive
Unchallenging
Mundane
Participative
Provides involvement
Autonomous
Need for control
Need for clarity
Ambiguous
Unclear
Unstructured
Achievement Oriented
Provides challenges
High expectations
Need to excel
Ambiguous
Challenging
Complex
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How does Path–Goal Theory Work?
Path–goal theory is an approach to leadership that is not only theoretically complex, but
also pragmatic. It provides a set of assumptions about how various leadership styles interact
with characteristics of both followers and the work setting to affect the motivation of
followers. In practice, the theory provides direction about how leaders can help followers to
accomplish their work in a satisfactory manner. Table 6.1 illustrates how leadership
behaviors are related to follower and task characteristics in path–goal theory.
Theoretically, the path–goal approach suggests that leaders need to choose a leadership style
that best fits the needs of followers and the work they are doing. The theory predicts that a
directive style of leadership is best in situations in which followers are dogmatic and
authoritarian, the task demands are ambiguous, the organizational rules are unclear, and the
task is complex. In these situations, directive leadership complements the work by
providing guidance and psychological structure for followers (House & Mitchell, 1974, p.
90).
For tasks that are structured, unsatisfying, or frustrating, path–goal theory suggests that
leaders should use a supportive style. The supportive style provides what is missing by
nurturing followers when they are engaged in tasks that are repetitive and unchallenging.
Supportive leadership offers a sense of human touch for followers engaged in mundane,
mechanized activity.
Participative leadership is considered best when a task is ambiguous: Participation gives
greater clarity to how certain paths lead to certain goals, and helps followers learn what
leads to what (House & Mitchell, 1974, p. 92). In addition, participative leadership has a
positive impact when followers are autonomous and have a strong need for control because
this kind of follower responds favorably to being involved in decision making and in the
structuring of work.
Furthermore, path–goal theory predicts that achievement-oriented leadership is most
effective in settings in which followers are required to perform ambiguous tasks. In settings
such as these, leaders who challenge and set high standards for followers raise followers’
confidence that they have the ability to reach their goals. In effect, achievement-oriented
leadership helps followers feel that their efforts will result in effective performance. In
settings where the task is more structured and less ambiguous, however, achievement-
oriented leadership appears to be unrelated to followers’ expectations about their work
efforts.
Pragmatically, path–goal theory is straightforward. An effective leader has to attend to the
needs of followers. The leader should help followers to define their goals and the paths they
want to take in reaching those goals. When obstacles arise, the leader needs to help
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followers confront them. This may mean helping the follower around the obstacle, or it
may mean removing the obstacle. The leader’s job is to help followers reach their goals by
directing, guiding, and coaching them along the way.
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Strengths
Path–goal theory has several positive features. First, path–goal theory provides a useful
theoretical framework for understanding how various leadership behaviors affect followers’
satisfaction and work performance. It was one of the first theories to specify conceptually
distinct varieties of leadership (e.g., directive, supportive, participative, achievement-
oriented), expanding the focus of prior research, which dealt exclusively with task- and
relationship-oriented behaviors (Jermier, 1996). The path–goal approach was also one of
the first situational contingency theories of leadership to explain how task and follower
characteristics affect the impact of leadership on follower performance. The framework
provided in path–goal theory informs leaders about how to choose an appropriate
leadership style based on the various demands of the task and the type of followers being
asked to do the task. Additionally, later iterations of the theory offer suggestions for how to
motivate work groups for increased collaboration and enhanced performance.
A second positive feature of path–goal theory is that it attempts to integrate the motivation
principles of expectancy theory into a theory of leadership. This makes path–goal theory
unique because no other leadership approach deals directly with motivation in this way.
Path–goal theory forces us continually to ask questions such as these about follower
motivation: How can I motivate followers to feel that they have the ability to do the work?
How can I help them feel that if they successfully do their work, they will be rewarded?
What can I do to improve the payoffs that followers expect from their work?
Understanding the processes and dynamics behind motivation is critical in any organization
(Kanfer, Frese, & Johnson, 2017), and path–goal theory is designed to keep those questions
that address issues of motivation at the forefront of the leader’s mind.
Path–goal’s third strength, and perhaps its greatest, is that the theory provides a model that
in certain ways is very practical. The representation of the model (Figure 6.1) underscores
and highlights the important ways leaders help followers. It shouts out for leaders to clarify
the paths to the goals and remove or help followers around the obstacles to the goals. In its
simplest form, the theory reminds leaders that the overarching purpose of leadership is to
guide and coach followers as they move along the path to achieve a goal.
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Criticisms
Although path–goal theory has various strengths, it also has several identifiable weaknesses.
First, path–goal theory is so complex and incorporates so many different aspects of
leadership and related contingencies that interpreting the theory can be confusing. For
example, path–goal theory makes predictions about which of the different leadership styles
is appropriate for tasks with different degrees of structure, for goals with different levels of
clarity, for followers at different levels of ability, and for organizations with different
degrees of formal authority. To say the least, it is a daunting task to incorporate all of these
factors simultaneously into one’s selection of a preferred leadership style. Because the scope
of path–goal theory is so broad and encompasses so many different interrelated sets of
assumptions, it is difficult to use this theory fully in trying to improve the leadership
process in a given organizational context.
A second limitation of path–goal theory is that it has received only partial support from the
many empirical research studies that have been conducted to test its validity (House &
Mitchell, 1974; Indvik, 1986; Schriesheim, Castro, Zhou, & DeChurch, 2006;
Schriesheim & Kerr, 1977; Schriesheim & Schriesheim, 1980; Stinson & Johnson, 1975;
Wofford & Liska, 1993). For example, some research supports the prediction that leader
directiveness is positively related to follower satisfaction when tasks are ambiguous, but
other research has failed to confirm this relationship. Furthermore, not all aspects of the
theory have been given equal attention. A great deal of research has been designed to study
directive and supportive leadership, but fewer studies address the other articulated
leadership behaviors. The claims of path–goal theory remain tentative because the research
findings to date do not provide a full and consistent picture of the basic assumptions and
corollaries of path–goal theory (Evans, 1996; Jermier, 1996; Schriesheim & Neider, 1996).
A third and more recent criticism is that the theory does not account for gender differences
in how leadership is enacted or perceived (Mendez & Busenbark, 2015). Research has been
done on the impact of gender on directive, supportive, and participative leadership but has
not been integrated into path–goal theory.
Relatedly, path–goal theory presumes that leaders possess the advanced communication
skills necessary to swiftly jockey between the various leadership behaviors to effectively
interact with followers in all given situations. As such, others (Cote, 2017) have criticized
the theory for relying on leader behavior as the primary means to motivate followers.
Another criticism of path–goal theory is that it fails to explain adequately the relationship
between leadership behavior and follower motivation. Path–goal theory is unique in that it
incorporates the tenets of expectancy theory; however, it does not go far enough in
explicating how leadership is related to these tenets. The principles of expectancy theory
suggest that followers will be motivated if they feel competent and trust that their efforts
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will get results, but path–goal theory does not describe how a leader could use various styles
directly to help followers feel competent or assured of success. For example, path–goal
theory does not explain how directive leadership during ambiguous tasks increases follower
motivation. Similarly, it does not explain how supportive leadership during tedious work
relates to follower motivation. The result is that the practitioner is left with an inadequate
understanding of how her or his leadership will affect followers’ expectations about their
work.
A final criticism that can be made of path–goal theory concerns a practical outcome of the
theory. Path–goal theory suggests that it is important for leaders to provide coaching,
guidance, and direction for followers; to help followers define and clarify goals; and to help
followers around obstacles as they attempt to reach their goals. In effect, this approach
treats leadership as a one-way event: The leader affects the follower. The potential difficulty
in this type of “helping” leadership is that followers may easily become dependent on the
leader to accomplish their work. Path–goal theory places a great deal of responsibility on
leaders and much less on followers. Over time, this kind of leadership could be
counterproductive because it promotes dependency and fails to recognize the full abilities of
followers.
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Application
Path–goal theory is not an approach to leadership for which many management training
programs have been developed. You will not find many seminars with titles such as
“Improving Your Path–Goal Leadership” or “Assessing Your Skills in Path–Goal
Leadership,” either. Nevertheless, path–goal theory does offer significant insights that can
be applied in ongoing settings to improve one’s leadership.
Path–goal theory provides a set of general recommendations based on the characteristics of
followers and tasks for how leaders should act in various situations if they want to be
effective. It informs us about when to emphasize certain leader behaviors including
clarifying goal behavior, lending support, and enhancing group decision-making processes,
among others (House, 1996). For instance, the theory suggests that leaders should be
directive when tasks are complex and that leaders should give support when tasks are dull.
Similarly, it suggests that leaders should be participative when followers need control and
that leaders should be achievement oriented when followers need to excel. In a general way,
path–goal theory offers leaders a road map that gives directions about ways to improve
follower satisfaction and performance.
The principles of path–goal theory can be used by leaders at all levels in the organization
and for all types of tasks. To apply path–goal theory, a leader must carefully assess the
followers and their tasks, and then choose an appropriate leadership style to match those
characteristics. If followers are feeling insecure about doing a task, the leader needs to adopt
a style that builds follower confidence. For example, in a university setting where a junior
faculty member feels apprehensive about his or her teaching and research, a department
chair should give supportive leadership. By giving care and support, the chair helps the
junior faculty member gain a sense of confidence about his or her ability to perform the
work (Bess & Goldman, 2001). If followers are uncertain whether their efforts will result in
reaching their goals, the leader needs to prove to them that their efforts will be rewarded. As
discussed earlier in the chapter, path–goal theory is useful because it continually reminds
leaders that their central purpose is to help followers define their goals and then to help followers
reach their goals in the most efficient manner.
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Case Studies
The following cases provide descriptions of various situations in which a leader is attempting to apply path–goal
theory. Two of the cases, Cases 6.1 and 6.2, are from traditional business contexts; the third, Case 6.3, is from
the academic perspective of teaching orchestra students. As you read the cases, try to apply the principles of path–
goal theory to determine the degree to which you think the leaders in the cases have done a good job of using this
theory.
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Case 6.1: Three Shifts, Three Supervisors
Brako is a small manufacturing company that produces parts for the automobile industry. The company has
several patents on parts that fit in the brake assembly of nearly all domestic and foreign cars. Each year, the
company produces 3 million parts that it ships to assembly plants throughout the world. To produce the parts,
Brako runs three shifts with about 40 workers on each shift.
The supervisors for the three shifts (Art, Bob, and Carol) are experienced employees, and each has been with the
company for more than 20 years. The supervisors appear satisfied with their work and have reported no major
difficulty in supervising employees at Brako.
Art supervises the first shift. Employees describe him as being a very hands-on type of leader. He gets very
involved in the day-to-day operations of the facility. Workers joke that Art knows to the milligram the amount of
raw materials the company has on hand at any given time. Art often can be found walking through the plant and
reminding people of the correct procedures to follow in doing their work. Even for those working on the
production line, Art always has some directions and reminders.
Workers on the first shift have few negative comments to make about Art’s leadership. However, they are
negative about many other aspects of their work. Most of the work on this shift is very straightforward and
repetitive; as a result, it is monotonous. The rules for working on the production line or in the packaging area are
all clearly spelled out and require no independent decision making on the part of workers. Workers simply need
to show up and go through the motions. On lunch breaks, workers often are heard complaining about how bored
they are doing the same old thing over and over. Workers do not criticize Art, but they do not think he really
understands their situation.
Bob supervises the second shift. He really enjoys working at Brako and wants all the workers on the afternoon
shift to enjoy their work as well. Bob is a people-oriented supervisor whom workers describe as very genuine and
caring. Hardly a day goes by that Bob does not post a message about someone’s birthday or someone’s personal
accomplishment. Bob works hard at creating camaraderie, including sponsoring a company softball team, taking
people out to lunch, and having people over to his house for social events.
Despite Bob’s personableness, absenteeism and turnover are highest on the second shift. The second shift is
responsible for setting up the machines and equipment when changes are made from making one part to making
another. In addition, the second shift is responsible for the complex computer programs that monitor the
machines. Workers on the second shift take a lot of heat from others at Brako for not doing a good job.
Workers on the second shift feel pressure because it is not always easy to figure out how to do their tasks. Each
setup is different and entails different procedures. Although the computer is extremely helpful when it is
calibrated appropriately to the task, it can be extremely problematic when the software it uses is off the mark.
Workers have complained to Bob and upper management many times about the difficulty of their jobs.
Carol supervises the third shift. Her style is different from that of the others at Brako. Carol routinely has
meetings, which she labels troubleshooting sessions, for the purpose of identifying problems workers are
experiencing. Any time there is a glitch on the production line, Carol wants to know about it so she can help
workers find a solution. If workers cannot do a particular job, she shows them how. For those who are uncertain
of their competencies, Carol gives reassurance. Carol tries to spend time with each worker and help the workers
focus on their personal goals. In addition, she stresses company goals and the rewards that are available if workers
are able to make the grade.
People on the third shift like to work for Carol. They find she is good at helping them do their job. They say she
has a wonderful knack for making everything fall into place. When there are problems, she addresses them. When
workers feel down, she builds them up. Carol was described by one worker as an interesting mixture of part
parent, part coach, and part manufacturing expert. Upper management at Brako is pleased with Carol’s
leadership, but they have experienced problems repeatedly when workers from Carol’s shift have been rotated to
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other shifts at Brako.
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Questions
1. Based on the principles of path–goal theory, describe why Art and Bob appear to be less effective than
Carol.
2. How does the leadership of each of the three supervisors affect the motivation of their respective
followers?
3. If you were consulting with Brako about leadership, what changes and recommendations would you
make regarding the supervision of Art, Bob, and Carol?
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Case 6.2: Direction for Some, Support for Others
Daniel Shivitz is the manager of a small business called The Copy Center, which is located near a large university.
The Copy Center employs about 18 people, most of whom work part-time while going to school full-time. The
store caters to the university community by specializing in course packs, but it also provides desktop publishing
and standard copying services. It has three large, state-of-the-art copy machines and several computer
workstations.
There are two other national chain copy stores in the immediate vicinity of The Copy Center, yet this store does
more business than both of the other stores combined. A major factor contributing to the success of this store is
Daniel’s leadership style.
One of the things that stands out about Daniel is the way he works with his part-time staff. Most of them are
students, who have to schedule their work hours around their class schedules, and Daniel has a reputation for
being really helpful with working out schedule conflicts. No conflict is too small for Daniel, who is always willing
to juggle schedules to meet the needs of everyone. Students talk about how much they feel included and like the
spirit at The Copy Center. It is as if Daniel makes the store like a second family for them.
Work at The Copy Center divides itself into two main areas: duplicating services and desktop publishing. In both
areas, Daniel’s leadership is effective.
Duplicating is a straightforward operation that entails taking a customer’s originals and making copies of them.
Because this job is tedious, Daniel goes out of his way to help the staff make it tolerable. He promotes a friendly
work atmosphere by doing such things as letting the staff wear casual attire, letting them choose their own
background music, and letting them be a bit wild on the job. Daniel spends a lot of time each day conversing
informally with each employee; he also welcomes staff talking with each other. Daniel has a knack for making
each worker feel significant even when the work is insignificant. He promotes camaraderie among his staff, and
he is not afraid to become involved in their activities.
The desktop publishing area is more complex than duplicating. It involves creating business forms, advertising
pieces, and résumés for customers. Working in desktop publishing requires skills in writing, editing, design, and
layout. It is challenging work because it is not always easy to satisfy customers’ needs. Most of the employees in
this area are full-time workers.
Through the years, Daniel has found that employees who work best in desktop publishing are very different from
those who work in duplicating. They are usually quite independent, self-assured, and self-motivated. In
supervising them, Daniel gives them a lot of space, is available when they need help, but otherwise leaves them
alone.
Daniel likes the role of being the resource person for these employees. For example, if an employee is having
difficulty on a customer’s project, he willingly joins the employee in troubleshooting the problem. Similarly, if
one of the staff is having problems with a software program, Daniel is quick to offer his technical expertise.
Because the employees in desktop publishing are self-directed, Daniel spends far less time with them than with
those who work in duplicating.
Overall, Daniel feels successful with his leadership at The Copy Center. Profits for the store continue to grow
each year, and its reputation for high-quality service is widespread.
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Questions
1. According to path–goal theory, why is Daniel an effective leader?
2. How does his leadership style affect the motivation of employees at The Copy Center?
3. How do characteristics of the task and the followers influence Daniel’s leadership?
4. One of the principles of path–goal theory is to make the end goal valuable to workers. What could
Daniel do to improve follower motivation in this area?
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Case 6.3: Playing in the Orchestra
Martina Bates is the newly hired orchestra teacher at Middletown School District in rural Sparta, Kansas. After
graduating from the Juilliard School of Music, Martina had intended to play violin professionally, but when no
jobs became available, she accepted an offer to teach orchestra in her hometown, believing it would be a good
place to hone her skills until a professional position became available.
Being the orchestra instructor at Middletown is challenging because it involves teaching music classes, directing
the high school orchestra, and directing both the middle school and grade school orchestra programs. When
classes started, Martina hit the ground running and found she liked teaching, and was exhilarated by her work
with students. After her first year, however, she is having misgivings about her decision to teach. Most of all, she
is feeling troubled by how different students are in each of the three programs, and how her leadership does not
seem to be effective with all the students.
Running the elementary orchestra program is demanding, but fun. A lot of parents want their children to play an
instrument, so the turnout for orchestra is really strong, and it is the largest of the three Middletown programs.
Many students have never held an instrument before, so teaching them is quite a challenge. Learning to make the
cornet sound like a cornet or moving the bow so a cello sounds like a cello is a huge undertaking. Whether it is
drums, bass viol, clarinet, or saxophone, Martina patiently shows the kids how to play and consistently
compliments them every small step of the way. First and foremost, she wants each child to feel like he or she can
“do it.” She instructs her students with great detail about how to hold the instruments, position their tongues,
and read notes. They respond well to Martina’s kindness and forbearance, and the parents are thrilled. The
orchestra’s spring concert had many wild sounds but was also wildly successful, with excited children and happy
parents.
The middle school orchestra is somewhat smaller in size and presents different challenges for Martina. The
students in this orchestra are starting to sound good on their instruments and are willing to play together as a
group, but some of them are becoming disinterested and want to quit. Martina uses a different style of leadership
with the middle schoolers, stressing practice and challenging students to improve their skills. At this level,
students are placed in “chairs” for each instrument. The best players sit in the first chair, the next best are second
chair, and so on down to the last chair. Each week, the students engage in “challenges” for the chairs. If students
practice hard and improve, they can advance to a higher chair; students who don’t practice can slip down to a
lower chair. Martina puts up charts to track students’ practice hours, and when they reach established goals, they
can choose a reward from “the grab bag of goodies,” which has candy, trinkets, and gift cards. Never knowing
what their prize will be motivates the students, especially as they all want to get the gift cards. Although some
kids avoid practice because they find it tedious and boring, many enjoy it because it improves their performance,
to say nothing about the chance to get a prize. The spring concert for this group is Martina’s favorite, because the
sounds are better and the students are interested in playing well.
Middletown’s high school orchestra is actually very small, which is surprising to Martina. Why does she have
nearly a hundred kids in the elementary orchestra and less than half that number in the high school program? She
likes teaching the high school students, but they do not seem excited about playing. Because she is highly trained
herself, Martina likes to show students advanced techniques and give them challenging music to play. She spends
hours listening to each student play, providing individualized feedback that, unfortunately in many cases, doesn’t
seem to have any impact on the students. For example, Chris Trotter, who plays third-chair trumpet, is
considering dropping orchestra to go out for cross-country. Similarly, Lisa Weiss, who is first-chair flute, seems
bored and may quit the orchestra to get a part-time job. Martina is frustrated and baffled; why would these
students want to quit? They are pretty good musicians, and most of them are willing to practice. The students
have such wonderful potential but don’t seem to want to use it. Students profess to liking Martina, but many of
them just don’t seem to want to be in the orchestra.
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Questions
1. Path–goal leadership is about how leaders can help followers reach their goals. Generally, what are the
goals for the students in each of the different orchestras? What obstacles do they face? In what way does
Martina help them address obstacles and reach their goals?
2. Based on the principles of expectancy theory described in the chapter, why is Martina effective with the
elementary and middle school orchestras? Why do both of these groups seem motivated to play for her?
In what ways did she change her leadership style for the middle schoolers?
3. Martina’s competencies as a musician do not seem to help her with the students who are becoming
disinterested in orchestra. Why? Using ideas from expectancy theory, what would you advise her to do to
improve her leadership with the high school orchestra?
4. Achievement-oriented leadership is one of the possible behaviors of path–goal leadership. For which of
the three orchestras do you think this style would be most effective? Discuss.
Leadership Instrument
Because the path–goal theory was developed as a complex set of theoretical assumptions to direct researchers
in developing new leadership theory, it has used many different instruments to measure the leadership
process. The Path–Goal Leadership Questionnaire has been useful in measuring and learning about
important aspects of path–goal leadership (Indvik, 1985, 1988) and is still used in contemporary research
(Asamani et al., 2016). This questionnaire provides information for respondents on the four leadership
behaviors: directive, supportive, participative, and achievement-oriented. Respondents’ scores on each of the
different styles provide them with information on their strong and weak styles and the relative importance
they place on each of the styles.
To understand the path–goal questionnaire better, it may be useful to analyze a hypothetical set of scores.
For example, hypothesize that your scores on the questionnaire were 29 for directive, which is high; 22 for
supportive, which is low; 21 for participative, which is average; and 25 for achievement-oriented, which is
high. These scores suggest that you are a leader who is typically more directive and achievement-oriented
than most other leaders, less supportive than other leaders, and quite similar to other leaders in the degree to
which you are participative.
According to the principles of path–goal theory, if your scores matched these hypothetical scores, you would
be effective in situations where the tasks and procedures are unclear and your followers have a need for
certainty. You would be less effective in work settings that are structured and unchallenging. In addition,
you would be moderately effective in ambiguous situations with followers who want control. Last, you
would do very well in uncertain situations where you could set high standards, challenge followers to meet
these standards, and help them feel confident in their abilities.
In addition to the Path–Goal Leadership Questionnaire, leadership researchers have commonly used
multiple instruments to study path–goal theory, including measures of task structure, locus of control,
follower expectancies, and follower satisfaction. Although the primary use of these instruments has been for
theory building, many of the instruments offer valuable information related to practical leadership issues.
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Path–Goal Leadership Questionnaire
Instructions: This questionnaire contains questions about different styles of path–goal leadership. Indicate
how often each statement is true of your own behavior.
Key: 1 = Never 2 = Hardly ever 3 = Seldom 4 = Occasionally 5 = Often 6 = Usually 7 = Always
1. I let followers know what is expected of them. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
2. I maintain a friendly working relationship with followers. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
3. I consult with followers when facing a problem. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
4. I listen receptively to followers’ ideas and suggestions. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
5.
I inform followers about what needs to be done and how it
needs to be done.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
6.
I let followers know that I expect them to perform at their
highest level.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
7. I act without consulting my followers. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8.
I do little things to make it pleasant to be a member of the
group.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
9. I ask followers to follow standard rules and regulations. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
10.
I set goals for followers’ performance that are quite
challenging.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
11. I say things that hurt followers’ personal feelings. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
12.
I ask for suggestions from followers concerning how to carry
out assignments.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
13. I encourage continual improvement in followers’ performance. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
14. I explain the level of performance that is expected of followers. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
15. I help followers overcome problems that stop them from
carrying out their tasks.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
16.
I show that I have doubts about followers’ ability to meet most
objectives.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
17.
I ask followers for suggestions on what assignments should be
made.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
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18. I give vague explanations of what is expected of followers on
the job.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
19. I consistently set challenging goals for followers to attain. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
20.
I behave in a manner that is thoughtful of followers’ personal
needs.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
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Scoring
1. Reverse the scores for Items 7, 11, 16, and 18.
2. Directive style: Sum of scores on Items 1, 5, 9, 14, and 18.
3. Supportive style: Sum of scores on Items 2, 8, 11, 15, and 20.
4. Participative style: Sum of scores on Items 3, 4, 7, 12, and 17.
5. Achievement-oriented style: Sum of scores on Items 6, 10, 13, 16, and 19.
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Scoring Interpretation
Directive style: A common score is 23, scores above 28 are considered high, and scores below 18 are
considered low.
Supportive style: A common score is 28, scores above 33 are considered high, and scores below 23
are considered low.
Participative style: A common score is 21, scores above 26 are considered high, and scores below 16
are considered low.
Achievement-oriented style: A common score is 19, scores above 24 are considered high, and scores
below 14 are considered low.
The scores you received on the Path–Goal Leadership Questionnaire provide information about which
styles of leadership you use most often and which you use less often. In addition, you can use these scores to
assess your use of each style relative to your use of the other styles.
Sources: Adapted from A Path-Goal Theory Investigation of Superior-Subordinate Relationships, by J. Indvik,
unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Wisconsin–Madison, 1985; and from Indvik (1988). Based
on the work of House and Dessler (1974) and House (1977) cited in Fulk and Wendler (1982). Used by
permission.
224
Summary
Path–goal theory was developed to explain how leaders motivate followers to be productive
and satisfied with their work. It is a contingency approach to leadership because
effectiveness depends on the fit between the leader’s behavior and the characteristics of
followers and the task.
The basic principles of path–goal theory are derived from expectancy theory, which
suggests that followers will be motivated if they feel competent, if they think their efforts
will be rewarded, and if they find the payoff for their work valuable. A leader can help
followers by selecting a style of leadership (directive, supportive, participative, or
achievement oriented) that provides what is missing for followers in a particular work
setting. In simple terms, it is the leader’s responsibility to help followers reach their goals by
directing, guiding, and coaching them along the way.
Path–goal theory offers a large set of predictions for how a leader’s style interacts with
followers’ needs and the nature of the task. Among other things, it predicts that directive
leadership is effective with ambiguous tasks, that supportive leadership is effective for
repetitive tasks, that participative leadership is effective when tasks are unclear and followers
are autonomous, and that achievement-oriented leadership is effective for challenging tasks.
Path–goal theory has three major strengths. First, it provides a theoretical framework that is
useful for understanding how various styles of leadership affect the productivity and
satisfaction of followers. Second, path–goal theory is unique in that it integrates the
motivation principles of expectancy theory into a theory of leadership. Third, it provides a
practical model that underscores the important ways in which leaders help followers.
On the negative side, several criticisms can be leveled at path–goal theory. First, the scope
of path–goal theory encompasses so many interrelated sets of assumptions that it is hard to
use this theory in a given organizational setting. Second, research findings to date do not
support a full and consistent picture of the claims of the theory. Third, path–goal theory
does not account for gender differences in how leadership is enacted or perceived. The
theory also assumes that leaders have the skills to allow them to switch between various
leadership behaviors needed by differing followers, and it assumes that leader behavior is
the primary means to motivate followers.
Also, path–goal theory does not show in a clear way how leader behaviors directly affect
follower motivation levels. Last, path–goal theory is predominantly leader oriented and fails
to recognize the interactional nature of leadership. It does not promote follower
involvement in the leadership process.
Sharpen your skills with SAGE edge at edge.sagepub.com/northouse8e
225
http://edge.sagepub.com/northouse8e
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7 Leader–Member Exchange Theory
229
Description
Most of the leadership theories discussed thus far in this book have emphasized leadership
from the point of view of the leader (e.g., trait approach, skills approach, and style
approach) or the follower and the context (e.g., Situational Leadership® and path–goal
theory). Leader–member exchange (LMX) theory takes still another approach and
conceptualizes leadership as a process that is centered on the interactions between leaders
and followers. As Figure 7.1 illustrates, LMX theory makes the dyadic relationship between
leaders and followers the focal point of the leadership process.
Before LMX theory, researchers treated leadership as something leaders did toward all of
their followers. This assumption implied that leaders treated followers in a collective way, as
a group, using an average leadership style. LMX theory challenged this assumption and
directed researchers’ attention to the differences that might exist between the leader and
each of the leader’s followers.
230
Early Studies
In the first studies of exchange theory, which was then called vertical dyad linkage (VDL)
theory, researchers focused on the nature of the vertical linkages leaders formed with each of
their followers (Figure 7.2). A leader’s relationship to the work unit as a whole was viewed
as a series of vertical dyads (Figure 7.3).
In assessing the characteristics of these vertical dyads, researchers found two general types of
linkages (or relationships): those that were based on expanded and negotiated role
responsibilities (extra-roles), which were called the in-group, and those that were based on
the formal employment contract (defined roles), which were called the out-group (Figure
7.4).
Figure 7.1 Dimensions of Leadership
Source: Reprinted from The Leadership Quarterly, 6(2), G. B. Graen & M. Uhl-Bien,
“Relationship-Based Approach to Leadership: Development of Leader–Member
Exchange (LMX) Theory of Leadership Over 25 Years: Applying a Multi-Level,
Multi-Domain Perspective,” pp. 219–247, Copyright (1995), with permission from
Elsevier.
Note: LMX theory was first described 28 years ago in the works of Dansereau, Graen,
and Haga (1975), Graen (1976), and Graen and Cashman (1975). Since it first
appeared, it has undergone several revisions, and it continues to be of interest to
researchers who study the leadership process.
Within an organizational work unit, followers become a part of the in-group or the out-
group based on how well they work with the leader and how well the leader works with
them. Personality and other personal characteristics are related to this process (Dansereau,
Graen, & Haga, 1975; Maslyn, Schyns, & Farmer, 2017; Randolph-Seng et al., 2016). In
addition, membership in one group or the other is based on how followers involve
231
themselves in expanding their role responsibilities with the leader (Graen, 1976). Followers
who are interested in negotiating with the leader what they are willing to do for the group
can become a part of the in-group. These negotiations involve exchanges in which followers
do certain activities that go beyond their formal job descriptions, and the leader, in turn,
does more for these followers. If followers are not interested in taking on new and different
job responsibilities, they become a part of the out-group.
Followers in the in-group receive more information, influence, confidence, and concern
from their leaders than do out-group followers (Dansereau et al., 1975). In addition, they
are more dependable, more highly involved, and more communicative than out-group
followers (Dansereau et al., 1975). Whereas in-group members do extra things for the
leader and the leader does the same for them, followers in the out-group are less compatible
with the leader and usually just come to work, do their job, and go home.
Figure 7.2 The Vertical Dyad
Note: The leader (L) forms an individualized working relationship with each of his or
her followers (F). The exchanges (both content and process) between the leader and
follower define their dyadic relationship.
Figure 7.3 Vertical Dyads
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Note: The leader (L) forms special relationships with all of his or her followers (F).
Each of these relationships is special and has unique characteristics.
233
Later Studies
After the first set of studies, there was a shift in the focus of LMX theory. Whereas the
initial studies of this theory addressed primarily the nature of the differences between in-
groups and out-groups, a subsequent line of research addressed how LMX theory was
related to organizational effectiveness.
Specifically, these studies focus on how the quality of leader–member exchanges was related
to positive outcomes for leaders, followers, groups, and the organization in general (Graen
& Uhl-Bien, 1995).
Researchers found that high-quality leader–member exchanges produced less employee
turnover, more positive performance evaluations, higher frequency of promotions, greater
organizational commitment, more desirable work assignments, better job attitudes, more
attention and support from the leader, greater participation, and faster career progress over
25 years (Buch, Kuvaas, Dysvik, & Schyns, 2014; Graen & Uhl-Bien, 1995; Liden,
Wayne, & Stilwell, 1993; Malik, Wan, Ahmad, Naseem, & Rehman, 2015).
Figure 7.4 In-Groups and Out-Groups
Note: A leader (L) and his or her followers (F) form unique relationships.
Relationships within the in-group are marked by mutual trust, respect, liking, and
reciprocal influence. Relationships within the out-group are marked by formal
communication based on job descriptions. Plus 3 is a high-quality relationship, and
zero is a stranger.
In a meta-analysis of 164 LMX studies, Gerstner and Day (1997) found that leader–
member exchange was consistently related to member job performance, satisfaction (overall
and supervisory), commitment, role conflict and clarity, and turnover intentions. In
addition, they found strong support in these studies for the psychometric properties of the
234
LMX 7 Questionnaire (included in this chapter). For purposes of research, they highlighted
the importance of measuring leader–member exchange from the perspective of both the
leader and the follower.
Most recently, researchers are investigating the processual nature of leader–member
exchange and how work relationships are co-constructed through communication. Hill,
Kang, and Seo (2014) studied the role of electronic communication in employee
empowerment and work outcomes and found that a higher degree of electronic
communication between leaders and followers resulted in more positive leader–member
relationships. Omilion-Hodges and Baker (2017) analyzed leader communication behaviors
and developed scales to assess how these behaviors can affect the growth or stagnation of
leader–member relationships.
Based on a review of 130 studies of LMX research conducted since 2002, Anand, Hu,
Liden, and Vidyarthi (2011) found that interest in studying leader–member exchange has
not diminished. A large majority of these studies (70%) examined the antecedents (e.g.,
Maslyn et al., 2017) and outcomes of leader–member exchange. The research trends show
increased attention to the context surrounding LMX relationships (e.g., group dynamics),
analyzing leader–member exchange from individual and group levels, and studying leader–
member exchange with non-U.S. samples (Malik et al., 2015) or racially diverse dyads
(Randolph-Seng et al., 2016).
For example, using a sample of employees in a variety of jobs in Israeli organizations,
Atwater and Carmeli (2009) examined the connection between employees’ perceptions of
leader–member exchange and their energy and creativity at work. They found that
perceived high-quality leader–member exchange was positively related to feelings of energy
in employees, which, in turn, was related to greater involvement in creative work. LMX
theory was not directly associated with creativity, but it served as a mechanism to nurture
people’s feelings, which then enhanced their creativity.
Ilies, Nahrgang, and Morgeson (2007) did a meta-analysis of 51 research studies that
examined the relationship between leader–member exchange and employee citizenship
behaviors. Citizenship behaviors are discretionary employee behaviors that go beyond the
prescribed role, job description, or reward system (Katz, 1964; Organ, 1988). They found a
positive relationship between the quality of leader–member relationships and citizenship
behaviors. In other words, followers who had higher-quality relationships with their leaders
were more likely to engage in more discretionary (positive “payback”) behaviors that
benefited the leader and the organization.
Researchers have also studied how LMX theory is related to empowerment (Malik et al.,
2015). Harris, Wheeler, and Kacmar (2009) explored how empowerment moderates the
impact of leader–member exchange on job outcomes such as job satisfaction, turnover, job
performance, and organizational citizenship behaviors. Based on two samples of college
235
alumni, they found that empowerment and leader–member exchange quality had a slight
synergistic effect on job outcomes. The quality of leader–member exchange mattered most
for employees who felt little empowerment. For these employees, high-quality leader–
member exchange appeared to compensate for the drawbacks of not being empowered.
Volmer, Spurk, and Niessen (2012) investigated the role of job autonomy in the
relationship between leader–member exchange and creativity of followers. Their study of a
high-technology firm found that greater autonomy increased the positive relationship
between leader–member exchange and creativity at work.
In essence, these findings clearly illustrate that organizations stand to gain much from
having leaders who can create good working relationships. When leaders and followers have
good exchanges, they feel better and accomplish more, and the organization prospers.
236
Leadership Making
Research into LMX theory has also focused on how exchanges between leaders and
followers can be used for leadership making (Graen & Uhl-Bien, 1991). Leadership making
is a prescriptive approach to leadership emphasizing that leaders should develop high-
quality exchanges with all of their followers rather than just a few. It attempts to make
every follower feel as if he or she is a part of the in-group and, by so doing, avoids the
inequities and negative implications of being in an out-group. In general, leadership
making promotes partnerships in which the leader tries to build effective dyads with all
followers in the work unit (Graen & Uhl-Bien, 1995). In addition, leadership making
suggests that leaders can create networks of partnerships throughout the organization,
which will benefit the organization’s goals and the leader’s own career progress. Herman
and Troth’s (2013) findings regarding the emotional experiences described by followers in
high- and low-quality LMX relationships align with the assertion that positive relationships
benefit organizational and personal leader goals.
Graen and Uhl-Bien (1991) suggested that leadership making develops progressively over
time in three phases: (1) the stranger phase, (2) the acquaintance phase, and (3) the mature
partnership phase (Table 7.1). During Phase 1, the stranger phase, the interactions in the
leader–follower dyad generally are rule bound, relying heavily on contractual relationships.
Leaders and followers relate to each other within prescribed organizational roles. They have
lower-quality exchanges, similar to those of out-group members discussed earlier in the
chapter. The follower complies with the formal leader, who has hierarchical status for the
purpose of achieving the economic rewards the leader controls. The motives of the follower
during the stranger phase are directed toward self-interest rather than toward the good of
the group (Graen & Uhl-Bien, 1995).
Phase 2, the acquaintance phase, begins with an offer by the leader or the follower for
improved career-oriented social exchanges, which involve sharing more resources and
personal or work-related information. It is a testing period for both the leader and the
follower to assess whether the follower is interested in taking on more roles and
responsibilities and to assess whether the leader is willing to provide new challenges for the
follower. During this time, dyads shift away from interactions that are governed strictly by
job descriptions and defined roles and move toward new ways of relating. As measured by
LMX theory, it could be said that the quality of their exchanges has improved to medium
quality. Successful dyads in the acquaintance phase begin to develop greater trust and
respect for each other. They also tend to focus less on their own self-interests and more on
the purposes and goals of the group.
Phase 3, mature partnership, is marked by high-quality leader–member exchanges. People
who have progressed to this stage in their relationships experience a high degree of mutual
237
trust, respect, and obligation toward each other. They have tested their relationship and
found that they can depend on each other. In mature partnerships, there is a high degree of
reciprocity between leaders and followers: Each affects and is affected by the other. For
example, in a study of 75 bank managers and 58 engineering managers, Schriesheim,
Castro, Zhou, and Yammarino (2001) found that good leader–member relations were more
egalitarian and that influence and control were more evenly balanced between the
supervisor and the follower.
Table 7.1 Phases in Leadership Making
Phase 1 Stranger Phase 2 Acquaintance Phase 3 Partnership
Roles Scripted Tested Negotiated
Influences One way Mixed Reciprocal
Exchanges Low quality Medium quality High quality
Interests Self Self and other Group
Time
Source: Adapted from “Relationship-Based Approach to Leadership: Development of Leader–Member Exchange
(LMX) Theory of Leadership Over 25 Years: Applying a Multi-Level, Multi-Domain Perspective,” by G. B.
Graen and M. Uhl-Bien, The Leadership Quarterly, 6(2), pp. 219–247. Copyright 1995 by Elsevier. Reprinted
with permission.
In a study of leader–member relationship development, Nahrgang, Morgeson, and Ilies
(2009) found that leaders look for followers who exhibit enthusiasm, participation,
gregariousness, and extraversion. In contrast, followers look for leaders who are pleasant,
trusting, cooperative, and agreeable. Leader extraversion did not influence relationship
quality for the followers, and follower agreeableness did not influence relationship quality
for the leaders. A key predictor of relationship quality for both leaders and followers over
time was both leader and follower performance. Kelley (2014) investigated the ways leaders
use narrative story lines to determine how leaders identify trustworthy, indeterminate, and
untrustworthy followers. Others have suggested the importance of looking at the social
interaction (Sheer, 2014) or cooperative communication between leaders and followers
(Bakar & Sheer, 2013) as a means to predict and explore relationship quality. It has also
been suggested that exploring the use of traditional relationship building and maintenance
techniques such as conflict management, shared tasks, and positivity in leader–member
relationships can shed light on how leader and follower behaviors impact the quality of
these relationships (Madlock & Booth-Butterfield, 2012; Omilion-Hodges, Ptacek, &
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Zerilli, 2015).
In addition, during Phase 3, members may depend on each other for favors and special
assistance. For example, leaders may rely on followers to do extra assignments, and
followers may rely on leaders for needed support or encouragement. The point is that
leaders and followers are tied together in productive ways that go well beyond a traditional
hierarchically defined work relationship. They have developed an extremely effective way of
relating that produces positive outcomes for themselves and the organization. In effect,
partnerships are transformational in that they assist leaders and followers in moving beyond
their own self-interests to accomplish the greater good of the team and organization (see
Chapter 8).
The benefits for employees who develop high-quality leader–member relationships include
preferential treatment, increased job-related communication, ample access to supervisors,
and increased performance-related feedback (Harris et al., 2009). The disadvantages for
those with low-quality leader–member relationships include limited trust and support from
supervisors and few benefits outside the employment contract (Harris et al., 2009). To
evaluate leader–member exchanges, researchers typically use a brief questionnaire that asks
leaders and followers to report on the effectiveness of their working relationships. The
questionnaire assesses the degree to which respondents express respect, trust, and obligation
in their exchanges with others. At the end of this chapter, a version of the LMX
questionnaire is provided for you to take for the purpose of analyzing some of your own
leader–member relationships.
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How does LMX Theory Work?
LMX theory works in two ways: It describes leadership, and it prescribes leadership. In
both instances, the central concept is the dyadic relationship that leaders form with each of
their followers. Descriptively, LMX theory suggests that it is important to recognize the
existence of in-groups and out-groups within a group or an organization.
The differences in how goals are accomplished by in-groups and out-groups are substantial.
Working with an in-group allows a leader to accomplish more work in a more effective
manner than he or she can accomplish working without one. In-group members are willing
to do more than is required in their job description and look for innovative ways to advance
the group’s goals. In response to their extra effort and devotion, leaders give them more
responsibilities and more opportunities. Leaders also give in-group members more of their
time and support.
Out-group members act quite differently than in-group members. Rather than trying to do
extra work, out-group members operate strictly within their prescribed organizational roles.
They do what is required of them but nothing more. Leaders treat out-group members
fairly and according to the formal contract, but they do not give them special attention. For
their efforts, out-group members receive the standard benefits as defined in the job
description.
Prescriptively, LMX theory is best understood within the leadership-making model of
Graen and Uhl-Bien (1991). Graen and Uhl-Bien advocated that leaders should create a
special relationship with all followers, similar to the relationships described as in-group
relationships. Leaders should offer each follower the opportunity to take on new roles and
responsibilities. Furthermore, leaders should nurture high-quality exchanges with their
followers. Herman and Troth (2013) found that high-quality exchanges are described by
followers as mentoring, respectful, and based on good communication. Rather than
focusing on the differences between in-group and out-group members, the leadership-
making model suggests that leaders should look for ways to build trust and respect with all
of their followers, thus making the entire work unit an in-group. Hill et al. (2014) found
that electronic communication mediates the LMX relationship and can have a positive
impact, thus broadening avenues for developing good communication and positive
relationships across organizations—even those where workers are dispersed and work
primarily online. In addition, leaders should look beyond their own work unit and create
high-quality partnerships with people throughout the organization.
Whether descriptive or prescriptive, LMX theory works by focusing our attention on the
unique relationships that leaders can create with individual followers. When these
relationships are of high quality, the goals of the leader, the followers, and the organization
are all advanced.
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Strengths
LMX theory makes several positive contributions to our understanding of the leadership
process. First, it is a strong descriptive theory. Intuitively, it makes sense to describe work
units in terms of those who contribute more and those who contribute less (or the bare
minimum) to the organization. Anyone who has ever worked in an organization has felt the
presence of in-groups and out-groups. Despite the potential harm of out-groups, we all
know that leaders have special relationships with certain people who do more and get more.
We may not like this because it seems unfair, but it is a reality, and the LMX theory has
accurately described this situation. LMX theory validates our experience of how people
within organizations relate to each other and the leader. Some contribute more and receive
more; others contribute less and get less.
Second, LMX theory is unique in that it is the only leadership approach that makes the
concept of the dyadic relationship the centerpiece of the leadership process. Other
approaches emphasize the characteristics of leaders, followers, contexts, or a combination of
these, but none of them addresses the specific relationships between the leader and each
follower. LMX theory underscores that effective leadership is contingent on effective
leader–member exchanges.
Third, LMX theory is noteworthy because it directs our attention to the importance of
communication in leadership. The high-quality exchanges advocated in LMX theory are
inextricably bound to effective communication. Communication is the vehicle through
which leaders and followers create, nurture, and sustain useful exchanges. Effective
leadership occurs when the communication of leaders and followers is characterized by
mutual trust, respect, and commitment.
Fourth, LMX theory provides an important alert for leaders. It warns leaders to avoid
letting their conscious or unconscious biases influence who is invited into the in-group
(e.g., biases regarding race, gender, ethnicity, religion, or age) (see Randolph-Seng et al.,
2016). The principles outlined in LMX theory serve as a good reminder for leaders to be
fair and equal in how they approach each of their followers.
Finally, a large body of research substantiates how the practice of LMX theory is related to
positive organizational outcomes. In a review of this research, Graen and Uhl-Bien (1995)
pointed out that leader–member exchange is related to performance, organizational
commitment, job climate, innovation, organizational citizenship behavior, empowerment,
procedural and distributive justice, career progress, and many other important
organizational variables. By linking the use of LMX theory to real outcomes, researchers
have been able to validate the theory and increase its practical value.
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Criticisms
LMX theory also has some limitations. First, leader–member exchange in its initial
formulation (vertical dyad linkage theory) runs counter to the basic human value of
fairness. Throughout our lives, beginning when we are very young, we are taught to try to
get along with everyone and to treat everyone equally. We have been taught that it is wrong
to form in-groups or cliques because they are harmful to those who cannot be a part of
them. Because LMX theory divides the work unit into two groups and one group receives
special attention, it gives the appearance of discrimination against the out-group.
Our culture is replete with examples of people of different genders, ages, cultures, and
abilities who have been discriminated against. Although LMX theory was not designed to
do so, it supports the development of privileged groups in the workplace. In so doing, it
appears unfair and discriminatory. Furthermore, as reported by McClane (1991), the
existence of in-groups and out-groups may have undesirable effects on the group as a
whole.
Whether LMX theory actually creates inequalities is questionable (cf. Harter & Evanecky,
2002; Scandura, 1999). If a leader does not intentionally keep out-group members “out,”
and if they are free to become members of the in-group, then LMX theory may not create
inequalities. However, the theory does not elaborate on strategies for how one gains access
to the in-group if one chooses to do so.
Furthermore, LMX theory does not address other fairness issues, such as followers’
perceptions of the fairness of pay increases and promotion opportunities (distributive
justice), decision-making rules (procedural justice), or communication of issues within the
organization (interactional justice) (Scandura, 1999). There is a need for further research
on how these types of fairness issues affect the development and maintenance of LMX
relationships.
A second criticism of LMX theory is that the basic ideas of the theory are not fully
developed. For example, the theory does not fully explain how high-quality leader–member
exchanges are created (Anand et al., 2011). In the early studies, it was implied that they
were formed when a leader found certain followers more compatible in regard to
personality, interpersonal skills, or job competencies, but these studies never described the
relative importance of these factors or how this process worked (Yukl, 1994). Research has
suggested that leaders should work to create high-quality exchanges with all followers, but
the guidelines for how this is done are not clearly spelled out. Fairhurst and Uhl-Bien
(2012) have done research into the construction of the LMX relationship, but more work
needs to be done to substantiate and clarify guidelines. For example, the model of
leadership making highlights the importance of role making, incremental influence, and
type of reciprocity (Table 7.1), but it does not explain how these concepts function to build
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mature partnerships. Similarly, the model strongly promotes building trust, respect, and
obligation in leader–follower relationships, but it does not describe the means by which
these factors are developed in relationships.
Based on an examination of 147 studies of leader–member exchange, Schriesheim, Castro,
and Cogliser (1999) concluded that improved theorization about leader–member exchange
and its basic processes is needed. Similarly, in a review of the research on relational
leadership, Uhl-Bien, Maslyn, and Ospina (2012) point to the need for further
understanding of how high- and low-quality relationships develop in leader–member
exchange. Although many studies have been conducted on leader–member exchange, these
studies have not resulted in a clear, refined set of definitions, concepts, and propositions
about the theory.
A third criticism of the theory is that researchers have not adequately explained the
contextual factors that may have an impact on LMX relationships (Anand et al., 2011).
Since leader–member exchange is often studied in isolation, researchers have not examined
the potential impact of other variables on LMX dyads. For example, workplace norms and
other organizational culture variables are likely to influence leader–member exchange.
There is a need to explore how the surrounding constellations of social networks influence
specific LMX relationships and the individuals in those relationships.
Finally, questions have been raised about the measurement of leader–member exchanges in
LMX theory (Graen & Uhl-Bien, 1995; Schriesheim et al., 1999; Schriesheim et al., 2001).
For example, no empirical studies have used dyadic measures to analyze the LMX process
(Schriesheim et al., 2001). In addition, leader–member exchanges have been measured with
different versions of leader–member exchange scales and with different levels of analysis, so
the results are not always directly comparable. Furthermore, the content validity and
dimensionality of the scales have been questioned (Graen & Uhl-Bien, 1995; Schriesheim
et al., 2001).
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Application
Although LMX theory has not been packaged in a way to be used in standard management
training and development programs, it offers many insights that leaders could use to
improve their own leadership behavior. Foremost, LMX theory directs leaders to assess their
leadership from a relationship perspective. This assessment will sensitize leaders to how in-
groups and out-groups develop within their own organization. In addition, LMX theory
suggests ways in which leaders can improve their organization by building strong leader–
member exchanges with all of their followers.
The ideas set forth in LMX theory can be used by leaders at all levels within an
organization. A CEO selects vice presidents and develops dyadic relationships with them.
Vice presidents lead their own units, with their own dyadic relationships with followers.
These paired relationships between leader and follower repeat down each level of an
organizational chart.
On a lower level, LMX theory could be used to explain how line managers in a
manufacturing plant use a select few workers to accomplish the production quotas of their
work unit. The ideas presented in LMX theory are applicable throughout organizations, not
just at the highest levels.
In addition, the ideas of LMX theory can be used to explain how individuals create
leadership networks throughout an organization to help them accomplish work more
effectively (Graen & Scandura, 1987). A person with a network of high-quality
partnerships can call on many people to help solve problems and advance the goals of the
organization.
LMX theory can also be applied in different types of organizations. It applies in volunteer
settings as well as traditional business, education, and government settings. Imagine a
community leader who heads a volunteer program that assists older adults. To run the
program effectively, the leader depends on a few of the volunteers who are more
dependable and committed than the rest of the volunteers. This process of working closely
with a small cadre of trusted volunteers is explained by the principles of LMX theory.
Similarly, a manager in a traditional business setting might use certain individuals to
achieve a major change in the company’s policies and procedures. The way the manager
goes about this process is explicated in LMX theory.
In summary, LMX theory tells leaders to be aware of how they relate to their followers. It
tells leaders to be sensitive to whether some followers receive special attention and some
followers do not. In addition, it tells leaders to be fair to all followers and allow each of
them to become as involved in the work of the unit as they want to be. LMX theory tells
leaders to be respectful and to build trusting relationships with all of their followers,
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recognizing that each follower is unique and wants to relate to leadership in a special way.
245
Case Studies
In the following section, three case studies (Cases 7.1, 7.2, and 7.3) are presented to clarify how LMX theory can
be applied to various group settings. The first case is about the creative director at an advertising agency, the
second is about a production manager at a mortgage company, and the third is about the leadership of the
manager of a district office of the Social Security Administration. After each case, there are questions that will
help you analyze it, using the ideas from LMX theory.
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Case 7.1: His Team Gets the Best Assignments
Carly Peters directs the creative department of the advertising agency of Mills, Smith, & Peters. The agency has
about 100 employees, 20 of whom work for Carly in the creative department. Typically, the agency maintains 10
major accounts and a number of smaller accounts. It has a reputation for being one of the best advertising and
public relations agencies in the country.
In the creative department, there are four major account teams. Each is led by an associate creative director, who
reports directly to Carly. In addition, each team has a copywriter, an art director, and a production artist. These
four account teams are headed by Jack, Terri, Julie, and Sarah.
Jack and his team get along really well with Carly, and they have done excellent work for their clients at the
agency. Of all the teams, Jack’s team is the most creative and talented and the most willing to go the extra mile
for Carly. As a result, when Carly has to showcase accounts to upper management, she often uses the work of
Jack’s team. Jack and his team members are comfortable confiding in Carly and she in them. Carly is not afraid
to allocate extra resources to Jack’s team or to give them free rein on their accounts because they always come
through for her.
Terri’s team also performs well for the agency, but Terri is unhappy with how Carly treats her team. She feels
that Carly is not fair because she favors Jack’s team. For example, Terri’s team was counseled out of pursuing an
ad campaign because the campaign was too risky, whereas Jack’s group was praised for developing a very
provocative campaign. Terri feels that Jack’s team is Carly’s pet: His team gets the best assignments, accounts,
and budgets. Terri finds it hard to hold back the animosity she feels toward Carly.
Like Terri, Julie is concerned that her team is not in the inner circle, close to Carly. She has noticed repeatedly
that Carly favors the other teams. For example, whenever additional people are assigned to team projects, it is
always the other teams who get the best writers and art directors. Julie is mystified as to why Carly doesn’t notice
her team or try to help it with its work. She feels Carly undervalues her team because Julie knows the quality of
her team’s work is indisputable.
Although Sarah agrees with some of Terri’s and Julie’s observations about Carly, she does not feel any
antagonism about Carly’s leadership. Sarah has worked for the agency for nearly 10 years, and nothing seems to
bother her. Her account teams have never been earthshaking, but they have never been problematic either. Sarah
views her team and its work more as a nuts-and-bolts operation in which the team is given an assignment and
carries it out. Being in Carly’s inner circle would entail putting in extra time in the evening or on weekends and
would create more headaches for Sarah. Therefore, Sarah is happy with her role as it is, and she has little interest
in trying to change the way the department works.
247
Questions
1. Based on the principles of LMX theory, what observations would you make about Carly’s leadership at
Mills, Smith, & Peters?
2. Is there an in-group and out-group, and if so, which are they?
3. In what way are Carly’s relationships with the four groups productive or counterproductive to the overall
goals of the agency?
4. Do you think Carly should change her approach toward the associate directors? If so, what should she do
differently?
248
Case 7.2: Working Hard at Being Fair
City Mortgage is a medium-sized mortgage company that employs about 25 people. Jenny Hernandez, who has
been with the company for 10 years, is the production manager, overseeing its day-to-day operations.
Reporting to Jenny are loan originators (salespeople), closing officers, mortgage underwriters, and processing and
shipping personnel. Jenny is proud of the company and feels as if she has contributed substantially to its steady
growth and expansion.
The climate at City Mortgage is very positive. People like to come to work because the office environment is
comfortable. They respect each other at the company and show tolerance for those who are different from
themselves.
Whereas at many mortgage companies it is common for resentments to build between people who earn different
incomes, this is not the case at City Mortgage.
Jenny’s leadership has been instrumental in shaping the success of City Mortgage. Her philosophy stresses
listening to employees and then determining how each employee can best contribute to the mission of the
company. She makes a point of helping each person explore her or his own talents, and challenges each one to try
new things.
At the annual holiday party, Jenny devised an interesting event that symbolizes her leadership style. She bought a
large piece of colorful glass and had it cut into 25 pieces and handed out one piece to each person. Then she
asked each employee to come forward with the piece of glass and briefly state what he or she liked about City
Mortgage and how he or she had contributed to the company in the past year. After the statements were made,
the pieces of glass were formed into a cut glass window that hangs in the front lobby of the office. The glass is a
reminder of how each individual contributes his or her uniqueness to the overall purpose of the company.
Another characteristic of Jenny’s style is her fairness. She does not want to give anyone the impression that certain
people have the inside track, and she goes to great lengths to prevent this from happening. For example, she
avoids social lunches because she thinks they foster the perception of favoritism. Similarly, even though her best
friend is one of the loan originators, she is seldom seen talking with her, and if she is, it is always about business
matters.
Jenny also applies her fairness principle to how information is shared in the office. She does not want anyone to
feel as if he or she is out of the loop, so she tries very hard to keep her employees informed on all the matters that
could affect them. Much of this she does through her open-door office policy. Jenny does not have a special
group of employees with whom she confides her concerns; rather, she shares openly with each of them.
Jenny is very committed to her work at City Mortgage. She works long hours and carries a beeper on the
weekend. At this point in her career, her only concern is that she could be burning out.
249
Questions
1. Based on the LMX model, how would you describe Jenny’s leadership?
2. How do you think the employees at City Mortgage respond to Jenny?
3. If you were asked to follow in Jenny’s footsteps, do you think you could or would want to manage City
Mortgage with a similar style?
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Case 7.3: Taking on Additional Responsibilities
Jim Madison is manager of a district office for the Social Security Administration. The office serves a community
of 200,000 people and has a staff of 30 employees, most of whom work as claim representatives. The primary
work of the office is to provide the public with information about Social Security benefits and to process
retirement, survivor, disability, and Medicare claims.
Jim has been the manager of the office for six years; during that time, he has made many improvements in the
overall operations of the office. People in the community have a favorable view of the office and have few
complaints about the services it provides. On the annual survey of community service organizations, the district
office receives consistently high marks for overall effectiveness and customer satisfaction.
Almost all of the employees who work for Jim have been employed at the district office for six years or more; one
employee has been there for 22 years. Although Jim takes pride in knowing all of them personally, he calls on a
few of them more frequently than others to help him accomplish his goals.
When it comes to training staff members about new laws affecting claim procedures, Jim relies heavily on two
particular claim representatives, Shirley and Patti, both of whom are very knowledgeable and competent. Shirley
and Patti view the additional training responsibilities as a challenge. This helps Jim: He does not need to do the
job himself or supervise them closely because they are highly respected people within the office, and they have a
history of being mature and conscientious about their work. Shirley and Patti like the additional responsibility
because it gives them greater recognition and increased benefits from receiving positive job appraisals.
To showcase the office’s services to the community, Jim calls on two other employees, Ted and Jana. Ted and
Jana serve as field representatives for the office and give presentations to community organizations about the
nature of Social Security and how it serves the citizens of the district. In addition, they speak on local radio
stations, answering call-in questions about the various complexities of Social Security benefits.
Although many of the claim people in the office could act as field representatives, Jim typically calls on Ted and
Jana because of their willingness to take on the public relations challenge and because of their special capabilities
in this area. This is advantageous for Jim for two reasons: First, these people do an outstanding job in
representing the office to the public. Second, Jim is a reticent person, and he finds it quite threatening to be in
the public eye. Ted and Jana like to take on this additional role because it gives them added prestige and greater
freedom. Being a field representative has its perks; because field staff can function as their own bosses when they
are not in the office, they can set their own schedules and come and go as they please.
A third area in which Jim calls on a few representatives for added effort is in helping him supervise the slower
claim representatives, who seem to be continually behind in writing up the case reports of their clients. When
even a few staff members get behind with their work, it affects the entire office operation. To ameliorate this
problem, Jim calls on Glenda and Annie, who are both highly talented, to help the slower staff complete their
case reports. Although it means taking on more work themselves, Glenda and Annie do it to be kind and to help
the office run more smoothly. Other than personal satisfaction, no additional benefits accrue to them for taking
on the additional responsibilities.
Overall, the people who work under Jim’s leadership are satisfied with his supervision. There are some who feel
that he caters too much to a few special representatives, but most of the staff think Jim is fair and impartial. Even
though he depends more on a few, Jim tries very hard to attend to the wants and needs of his entire staff.
251
Questions
1. From an LMX theory point of view, how would you describe Jim’s relationships with his employees at
the district Social Security office?
2. Can you identify an in-group and an out-group?
3. Do you think Jim’s placement of trust and respect in some of his staff is productive or counterproductive?
Why?
4. As suggested in the chapter, leadership making recommends that the leader build high-quality
relationships with all of the followers. How would you evaluate Jim’s leadership in regards to leadership
making? Discuss.
Leadership Instrument
Researchers have used many different questionnaires to study LMX theory. All of them have been designed
to measure the quality of the working relationship between leaders and followers. We have chosen to
include the LMX 7 in this chapter, a seven-item questionnaire that provides a reliable and valid measure of
the quality of leader–member exchanges (Graen & Uhl-Bien, 1995).
The LMX 7 is designed to measure three dimensions of leader–member relationships: respect, trust, and
obligation. It assesses the degree to which leaders and followers have mutual respect for each other’s
capabilities, feel a deepening sense of reciprocal trust, and have a strong sense of obligation to one another.
Taken together, these dimensions are the ingredients of strong partnerships.
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LMX 7 Questionnaire
Instructions: This questionnaire contains items that ask you to describe your relationship with either your
leader or one of your followers. For each of the items, indicate the degree to which you think the item is
true for you by circling one of the responses that appear below the item.
1. Do you know where you stand with your leader (follower) . . . [and] do you usually know how
satisfied your leader (follower) is with what you do?
Rarely Occasionally Sometimes Fairly often Very often
1     2    3     4     5
2. How well does your leader (follower) understand your job problems and needs?
Not a bit A little A fair amount Quite a bit A great deal
1     2    3     4     5
3. How well does your leader (follower) recognize your potential?
Not at all A little Moderately Mostly Fully
1    2    3    4    5
4. Regardless of how much formal authority your leader (follower) has built into his or her position,
what are the chances that your leader (follower) would use his or her power to help you solve
problems in your work?
None Small Moderate High Very high
 1   2    3   4   5
5. Again, regardless of the amount of formal authority your leader (follower) has, what are the chances
that he or she would “bail you out” at his or her expense?
None Small Moderate High Very high
 1   2    3   4   5
6. I have enough confidence in my leader (follower) that I would defend and justify his or her decision
if he or she were not present to do so.
Strongly disagree Disagree Neutral Agree Strongly agree
 1       2    3    4     5
7. How would you characterize your working relationship with your leader (follower)?
Extremely ineffective Worse than average Average Better than average Extremely
effective
   1       2        3     4        5
By completing the LMX 7, you can gain a fuller understanding of how LMX theory works. The score you
obtain on the questionnaire reflects the quality of your leader–member relationships, and indicates the
degree to which your relationships are characteristic of partnerships, as described in the LMX model.
You can complete the questionnaire both as a leader and as a follower. In the leader role, you would
complete the questionnaire multiple times, assessing the quality of the relationships you have with each of
your followers. In the follower role, you would complete the questionnaire based on the leaders to whom
you report.
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Scoring Interpretation
Although the LMX 7 is most commonly used by researchers to explore theoretical questions, you can also
use it to analyze your own leadership style. You can interpret your LMX 7 scores using the following
guidelines: very high = 30–35, high = 25–29, moderate = 20–24, low = 15–19, and very low = 7–14. Scores
in the upper ranges indicate stronger, higher-quality leader–member exchanges (e.g., in-group members),
whereas scores in the lower ranges indicate exchanges of lesser quality (e.g., out-group members).
Source: Reprinted from The Leadership Quarterly, 6(2), G. B. Graen and M. Uhl-Bien, “Relationship-Based
Approach to Leadership: Development of Leader–Member Exchange (LMX) Theory of Leadership Over 25
Years: Applying a Multi- Level, Multi-Domain Perspective,” pp. 219–247. Copyright (1995) with
permission from Elsevier.
254
Summary
Since it first appeared more than 30 years ago under the title “vertical dyad linkage (VDL)
theory,” leader–member exchange theory has been and continues to be a much-studied
approach to leadership. LMX theory addresses leadership as a process centered on the
interactions between leaders and followers. It makes the leader–member relationship the
pivotal concept in the leadership process.
In the early studies of LMX theory, a leader’s relationship to the overall work unit was
viewed as a series of vertical dyads, categorized as being of two different types: Leader–
member dyads based on expanded role relationships were called the leader’s in-group, and
those based on formal job descriptions were called the leader’s out-group. According to
LMX theory, followers become in-group members based on how well they get along with
the leader and whether they are willing to expand their role responsibilities. Followers who
maintain only formal hierarchical relationships with their leader are out-group members.
Whereas in-group members receive extra influence, opportunities, and rewards, out-group
members receive standard job benefits.
Subsequent studies of LMX theory were directed toward how leader–member exchanges
affect organizational performance. Researchers found that high-quality exchanges between
leaders and followers produced multiple positive outcomes (e.g., less employee turnover,
greater organizational commitment, and more promotions). In general, researchers
determined that good leader–member exchanges result in followers feeling better,
accomplishing more, and helping the organization prosper.
A select body of LMX research focuses on leadership making, which emphasizes that leaders
should try to develop high-quality exchanges with all of their followers. Leadership making
develops over time and includes a stranger phase, an acquaintance phase, and a mature
partnership phase. By taking on and fulfilling new role responsibilities, followers move
through these three phases to develop mature partnerships with their leaders. These
partnerships, which are marked by a high degree of mutual trust, respect, and obligation,
have positive payoffs for the individuals themselves, and help the organization run more
effectively.
There are several positive features to LMX theory. First, LMX theory is a strong descriptive
approach that explains how leaders use some followers (in-group members) more than
others (out-group members) to accomplish organizational goals effectively. Second, LMX
theory is unique in that, unlike other approaches, it makes the leader–member relationship
the focal point of the leadership process. Related to this focus, LMX theory is noteworthy
because it directs our attention to the importance of effective communication in leader–
member relationships. In addition, it reminds us to be evenhanded in how we relate to our
followers. Last, LMX theory is supported by a multitude of studies that link high-quality
255
leader–member exchanges to positive organizational outcomes.
There are also negative features in LMX theory. First, the early formulation of LMX theory
(VDL theory) runs counter to our principles of fairness and justice in the workplace by
suggesting that some members of the work unit receive special attention and others do not.
The perceived inequalities created by the use of in-groups can have a devastating impact on
the feelings, attitudes, and behavior of out-group members. Second, LMX theory
emphasizes the importance of leader–member exchanges but fails to explain the intricacies
of how one goes about creating high-quality exchanges. Although the model promotes
building trust, respect, and commitment in relationships, it does not fully explicate how
this takes place. Third, researchers have not adequately explained the contextual factors that
influence LMX relationships. Finally, there are questions about whether the measurement
procedures used in LMX research are adequate to fully capture the complexities of the
leader–member exchange process.
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256
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Yukl, G. (1994). Leadership in organizations (3rd ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice
Hall.
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8 Transformational Leadership
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Description
One of the current and most popular approaches to leadership that has been the focus of
much research since the early 1980s is the transformational approach. Transformational
leadership is part of the “New Leadership” paradigm (Bryman, 1992), which gives more
attention to the charismatic and affective elements of leadership. In a content analysis of
articles published in The Leadership Quarterly, Lowe and Gardner (2001) found that one
third of the research was about transformational or charismatic leadership. Similarly,
Antonakis (2012) found that the number of papers and citations in the field has grown at
an increasing rate, not only in traditional areas like management and social psychology, but
in other disciplines such as nursing, education, and industrial engineering. Bass and Riggio
(2006) suggested that transformational leadership’s popularity might be due to its emphasis
on intrinsic motivation and follower development, which fits the needs of today’s work
groups, who want to be inspired and empowered to succeed in times of uncertainty.
Clearly, many scholars are studying transformational leadership, and it occupies a central
place in leadership research. However, others (i.e., Andersen, 2015; Anderson, Baur,
Griffith, & Buckley, 2017) have suggested that the interest in transformational leadership
may be exaggerated and that this approach to leading may be less significant as millennials
continue to flood into the workplace.
As its name implies, transformational leadership is a process that changes and transforms
people. It is concerned with emotions, values, ethics, standards, and long-term goals. It
includes assessing followers’ motives, satisfying their needs, and treating them as full human
beings. Transformational leadership involves an exceptional form of influence that moves
followers to accomplish more than what is usually expected of them. It is a process that
often incorporates charismatic and visionary leadership.
An encompassing approach, transformational leadership can be used to describe a wide
range of leadership, from very specific attempts to influence followers on a one-to-one level,
to very broad attempts to influence whole organizations and even entire cultures. Although
the transformational leader plays a pivotal role in precipitating change, followers and
leaders are inextricably bound together in the transformation process. In fact,
transformational leadership focuses so heavily on the relationship between leader and
follower that some (Andersen, 2015) have suggested that this bias may limit explanations
for transformational leadership on organizational effectiveness.
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Transformational Leadership Defined
The emergence of transformational leadership as an important approach to leadership began
with a classic work by political sociologist James MacGregor Burns titled Leadership (1978).
In his work, Burns attempted to link the roles of leadership and followership. He wrote of
leaders as people who tap the motives of followers in order to better reach the goals of
leaders and followers (p. 18). For Burns, leadership is quite different from power because it
is inseparable from followers’ needs.
Transformational vs. Transactional Leadership.
Burns distinguished between two types of leadership: transactional and transformational.
Transactional leadership refers to the bulk of leadership models, which focus on the
exchanges that occur between leaders and their followers. Politicians who win votes by
promising “no new taxes” are demonstrating transactional leadership. Similarly, managers
who offer promotions to employees who surpass their goals are exhibiting transactional
leadership. In the classroom, teachers are being transactional when they give students a
grade for work completed. The exchange dimension of transactional leadership is very
common and can be observed at many levels throughout all types of organizations. While
exchanges or transactions between leader and member are a natural component of
employment contracts, research suggests that employees do not necessarily perceive
transactional leaders as those most capable of creating trusting, mutually beneficial leader–
member relationships (Notgrass, 2014). Instead, employees prefer managers to perform
transformational leadership behaviors such as encouraging creativity, recognizing
accomplishments, building trust, and inspiring a collective vision (Notgrass, 2014).
In contrast to transactional leadership, transformational leadership is the process whereby a
person engages with others and creates a connection that raises the level of motivation and
morality in both the leader and the follower. This type of leader is attentive to the needs
and motives of followers and tries to help followers reach their fullest potential. Burns
points to Mohandas Gandhi as a classic example of transformational leadership. Gandhi
raised the hopes and demands of millions of his people and, in the process, was changed
himself.
Another good example of transformational leadership can be observed in the life of Ryan
White. This teenager raised the American people’s awareness about AIDS and in the
process became a spokesperson for increasing government support of AIDS research. In the
organizational world, an example of transformational leadership would be a manager who
attempts to change his or her company’s corporate values to reflect a more humane
standard of fairness and justice. In the process, both the manager and the followers may
emerge with a stronger and higher set of moral values. In fact, Mason, Griffin, and Parker
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(2014) demonstrated that through transformational leadership training, leaders were able to
enhance their self-efficacy, positive affect, and ability to consider multiple perspectives.
Their findings suggest that transformational leadership can result in positive psychological
gains for both leader and follower.
Pseudotransformational Leadership.
Because the conceptualization of transformational leadership set forth by Burns (1978)
includes raising the level of morality in others, it is difficult to use this term when
describing a leader such as Adolf Hitler, who was transforming but in a negative way. To
deal with this problem, Bass (1998) coined the term pseudotransformational leadership. This
term refers to leaders who are self-consumed, exploitive, and power oriented, with warped
moral values (Bass & Riggio, 2006). Pseudotransformational leadership is considered
personalized leadership, which focuses on the leader’s own interests rather than on the
interests of others (Bass & Steidlmeier, 1999). Authentic transformational leadership is
socialized leadership, which is concerned with the collective good. Socialized
transformational leaders transcend their own interests for the sake of others (Howell &
Avolio, 1993).
In a series of four experimental studies, Christie, Barling, and Turner (2011) set forth a
preliminary model of pseudotransformational leadership that reflected four components of
transformational leadership discussed later in this chapter: idealized influence, inspirational
motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration. This model helps to
clarify the meaning of pseudotransformational leadership. It suggests that
pseudotransformational leadership is inspired leadership that is self-serving, is unwilling to
encourage independent thought in followers, and exhibits little general caring for others. A
pseudotransformational leader has strong inspirational talent and appeal but is
manipulative and dominates and directs followers toward his or her own values. It is
leadership that is threatening to the welfare of followers because it ignores the common
good.
To sort out the complexities related to the “moral uplifting” component of authentic
transformational leadership, Zhu, Avolio, Riggio, and Sosik (2011) proposed a theoretical
model examining how authentic transformational leadership influences the ethics of
individual followers and groups. The authors hypothesize that authentic transformational
leadership positively affects followers’ moral identities and moral emotions (e.g., empathy
and guilt) and this, in turn, leads to moral decision making and moral action by the
followers. Furthermore, the authors theorize that authentic transformational leadership is
positively associated with group ethical climate, decision making, and moral action. In the
future, research is needed to test the validity of the assumptions laid out in this model.
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Transformational Leadership and Charisma
At about the same time Burns’s book was published, House (1976) published a theory of
charismatic leadership. Since its publication, charismatic leadership has received a great deal
of attention by researchers (e.g., Conger, 1999; Hunt & Conger, 1999). It is often
described in ways that make it similar to, if not synonymous with, transformational
leadership.
The word charisma was first used to describe a special gift that certain individuals possess
that gives them the capacity to do extraordinary things. Weber (1947) provided the most
well-known definition of charisma as a special personality characteristic that gives a person
superhuman or exceptional powers and is reserved for a few, is of divine origin, and results
in the person being treated as a leader. Despite Weber’s emphasis on charisma as a
personality characteristic, he also recognized the important role played by followers in
validating charisma in these leaders (Bryman, 1992; House, 1976).
In his theory of charismatic leadership, House suggested that charismatic leaders act in
unique ways that have specific charismatic effects on their followers (Table 8.1). For House,
the personality characteristics of a charismatic leader include being dominant, having a
strong desire to influence others, being self-confident, and having a strong sense of one’s
own moral values.
In addition to displaying certain personality characteristics, charismatic leaders demonstrate
specific types of behaviors. First, they are strong role models for the beliefs and values they
want their followers to adopt. For example, Gandhi advocated nonviolence and was an
exemplary role model of civil disobedience. Second, charismatic leaders appear competent
to followers. Third, they articulate ideological goals that have moral overtones. Martin
Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech is an example of this type of charismatic
behavior.
Fourth, charismatic leaders communicate high expectations for followers, and they exhibit
confidence in followers’ abilities to meet these expectations. The impact of this behavior is
to increase followers’ sense of competence and self-efficacy (Avolio & Gibbons, 1988),
which in turn improves their performance.
Table 8.1 Personality Characteristics, Behaviors, and Effects on Followers of
Charismatic Leadership
Personality
Characteristics
Behaviors Effects on Followers
Sets strong role model
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Sets strong role model
Desire to influence Shows competence
Belief similarity between leader
and follower
Self-confident Articulates goals Unquestioning acceptance
Strong moral values
Communicates high
expectations
Affection toward leader
Expresses confidence Obedience
Arouses motives Identification with leader
Emotional involvement
Heightened goals
Increased confidence
Fifth, charismatic leaders arouse task-relevant motives in followers that may include
affiliation, power, or esteem. For example, former U.S. president John F. Kennedy
appealed to the human values of the American people when he stated, “Ask not what your
country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Within the organizational
context, charismatic CEOs may motivate members of their organization by modeling and
fostering a transformational leadership climate (Boehm, Dwertmann, Bruch, & Shamir,
2015), which may result in increases in employee identification with their organization and
in overall organizational performance.
According to House’s charismatic theory, several effects are the direct result of charismatic
leadership. They include follower trust in the leader’s ideology, similarity between the
followers’ beliefs and the leader’s beliefs, unquestioning acceptance of the leader, expression
of affection toward the leader, follower obedience, identification with the leader, emotional
involvement in the leader’s goals, heightened goals for followers, and increased follower
confidence in goal achievement. Consistent with Weber, House contends that these
charismatic effects are more likely to occur in contexts in which followers feel distress
because in stressful situations followers look to leaders to deliver them from their
difficulties.
House’s charismatic theory has been extended and revised through the years (see Conger,
1999; Conger & Kanungo, 1998). One major revision to the theory was made by Shamir,
House, and Arthur (1993). They postulated that charismatic leadership transforms
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followers’ self-concepts and tries to link the identity of followers to the collective identity of
the organization. Charismatic leaders forge this link by emphasizing the intrinsic rewards of
work and de-emphasizing the extrinsic rewards. The hope is that followers will view work
as an expression of themselves. Throughout the process, leaders express high expectations
for followers and help them gain a sense of confidence and self-efficacy.
In summary, charismatic leadership works because it ties followers and their self-concepts
to the organizational identity.
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A Model of Transformational Leadership
In the mid-1980s, Bass (1985) provided a more expanded and refined version of
transformational leadership that was based on, but not fully consistent with, the prior
works of Burns (1978) and House (1976). In his approach, Bass extended Burns’s work by
giving more attention to followers’ rather than leaders’ needs, by suggesting that
transformational leadership could apply to situations in which the outcomes were not
positive, and by describing transactional and transformational leadership as a single
continuum (Figure 8.1) rather than mutually independent continua (Yammarino, 1993).
Bass extended House’s work by giving more attention to the emotional elements and
origins of charisma and by suggesting that charisma is a necessary but not sufficient
condition for transformational leadership (Yammarino, 1993).
Figure 8.1 Leadership Continuum From Transformational to Laissez-Faire
Leadership
Bass (1985, p. 20) argued that transformational leadership motivates followers to do more
than expected by (a) raising followers’ levels of consciousness about the importance and
value of specified and idealized goals, (b) getting followers to transcend their own self-
interest for the sake of the team or organization, and (c) moving followers to address
higher-level needs. An elaboration of the dynamics of the transformation process is
provided in his model of transformational and transactional leadership (Bass, 1985, 1990;
Bass & Avolio, 1993, 1994). Additional clarification of the model is provided by Avolio in
his book Full Leadership Development: Building the Vital Forces in Organizations (1999).
Table 8.2 Leadership Factors
Transformational
Leadership
Transactional Leadership Laissez-Faire Leadership
Factor 1
Idealized influence
Charisma
Factor 5
Contingent reward
Constructive transactions
Factor 7
Laissez-faire
Nontransactional
Factor 2
Factor 6
Management by
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Factor 2
Inspirational motivation
exception
Active and passive
Corrective transactions
Factor 3
Intellectual stimulation
Factor 4
Individualized consideration
As can be seen in Table 8.2, the model of transformational and transactional leadership
incorporates seven different factors. These factors are also illustrated in the Full Range of
Leadership model, which is provided in Figure 8.2 on page 170. A discussion of each of
these seven factors will help to clarify Bass’s model. This discussion will be divided into
three parts: transformational factors (4), transactional factors (2), and the nonleadership,
nontransactional factor (1).
Transformational Leadership Factors
Transformational leadership is concerned with improving the performance of followers and
developing followers to their fullest potential (Avolio, 1999; Bass & Avolio, 1990a). People
who exhibit transformational leadership often have a strong set of internal values and ideals,
and they are effective at motivating followers to act in ways that support the greater good
rather than their own self-interests (Kuhnert, 1994). Individuals’ intentions to lead in a
transformational manner appear related to effective transformational leadership behaviors
(Gilbert, Horsman, & Kelloway, 2016).
Idealized Influence.
Factor 1 is called charisma or idealized influence. It is the emotional component of
leadership (Antonakis, 2012). Idealized influence describes leaders who act as strong role
models for followers; followers identify with these leaders and want very much to emulate
them. These leaders usually have very high standards of moral and ethical conduct and can
be counted on to do the right thing. They are deeply respected by followers, who usually
place a great deal of trust in them. They provide followers with a vision and a sense of
mission.
Figure 8.2 Full Range of Leadership Model
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Source: From Improving Organizational Effectiveness Through Transformational
Leadership, by B. M. Bass and B. J. Avolio, 1993, Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.
Copyright 1994 by SAGE Publications, Inc. Reprinted with permission.
The idealized influence factor is measured on two components: an attributional component
that refers to the attributions of leaders made by followers based on perceptions they have
of their leaders, and a behavioral component that refers to followers’ observations of leader
behavior.
In essence, the charisma factor describes people who are special and who make others want
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to follow the vision they put forward. A person whose leadership exemplifies the charisma
factor is Nelson Mandela, the first non-White president of South Africa. Mandela is viewed
as a leader with high moral standards and a vision for South Africa that resulted in
monumental change in how the people of South Africa would be governed. His charismatic
qualities and the people’s response to them transformed an entire nation.
Inspirational Motivation.
Factor 2 is called inspiration or inspirational motivation. This factor is descriptive of leaders
who communicate high expectations to followers, inspiring them through motivation to
become committed to and a part of the shared vision in the organization. In practice,
leaders use symbols and emotional appeals to focus group members’ efforts to achieve more
than they would in their own self-interest. Team spirit is enhanced by this type of
leadership. An example of this factor would be a sales manager who motivates members of
the sales force to excel in their work through encouraging words and pep talks that clearly
communicate the integral role they play in the future growth of the company.
Intellectual Stimulation.
Factor 3 is intellectual stimulation. It includes leadership that stimulates followers to be
creative and innovative and to challenge their own beliefs and values as well as those of the
leader and the organization.
This type of leadership supports followers as they try new approaches and develop
innovative ways of dealing with organizational issues. It encourages followers to think
things out on their own and engage in careful problem solving. An example of this type of
leadership is a plant manager who promotes workers’ individual efforts to develop unique
ways to solve problems that have caused slowdowns in production.
Individualized Consideration.
Factor 4 of transformational leadership is called individualized consideration. This factor is
representative of leaders who provide a supportive climate in which they listen carefully to
the individual needs of followers. Leaders act as coaches and advisers while trying to assist
followers in becoming fully actualized. These leaders may use delegation to help followers
grow through personal challenges. An example of this type of leadership is a manager who
spends time treating each employee in a caring and unique way. To some employees, the
leader may give strong affiliation; to others, the leader may give specific directives with a
high degree of structure.
In essence, transformational leadership produces greater effects than transactional
leadership (Figure 8.3). Whereas transactional leadership results in expected outcomes,
transformational leadership results in performance that goes well beyond what is expected.
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In a meta-analysis of 39 studies in the transformational literature, for example, Lowe,
Kroeck, and Sivasubramaniam (1996) found that people who exhibited transformational
leadership were perceived to be more effective leaders with better work outcomes than those
who exhibited only transactional leadership. These findings were true for higher- and
lower-level leaders, and for leaders in both public and private settings.
Figure 8.3 The Additive Effect of Transformational Leadership
Source: Adapted from “The Implications of Transactional and Transformational
Leadership for Individual, Team, and Organizational Development,” by B. M. Bass
and B. J. Avolio, 1990a, Research in Organizational Change and Development, 4, pp.
231–272.
Transformational leadership has an additive effect; it moves followers to accomplish more
than what is usually expected of them. They become motivated to transcend their own self-
interests for the good of the group or organization (Bass & Avolio, 1990a). In fact,
transformational leaders are most likely to have a positive impact on followers when
followers identify with or find meaning in their work (Mohammed, Fernando, & Caputi,
2013).
In a study of 220 employees at a large public transport company in Germany, Rowold and
Heinitz (2007) found that transformational leadership augmented the impact of
transactional leadership on employees’ performance and company profit. In addition, they
found that transformational leadership and charismatic leadership were overlapping but
unique constructs, and that both were different from transactional leadership.
Similarly, Nemanich and Keller (2007) examined the impact of transformational leadership
on 447 employees from a large multinational firm who were going through a merger and
being integrated into a new organization. They found that transformational leadership
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behaviors such as idealized influence, inspirational motivation, individualized
consideration, and intellectual stimulation were positively related to acquisition acceptance,
job satisfaction, and performance.
Tims, Bakker, and Xanthopoulou (2011) examined the relationship between
transformational leadership and work engagement in 42 employees and their supervisors in
two different organizations in the Netherlands. Findings revealed that employees became
more engaged in their work (i.e., vigor, dedication, and absorption) when their supervisors
were able to boost employees’ optimism through a transformational leadership style. These
findings underscore the important role played by personal characteristics (i.e., optimism) in
the transformational leadership-performance process. Similarly, Hamstra, Van Yperen,
Wisse, and Sassenberg (2014) found that transformational leaders were more likely than
transactional leaders to promote achievement of followers’ mastery goals. This suggests that
transformational leaders may be especially effective in environments where followers need
to focus on learning, development, and mastering job-related tasks rather than a more
competitive or performance-based work context. Transformational leaders can propel
followers to even greater levels of success when they have a high-quality relationship based
on trust, loyalty, and mutual respect (Notgrass, 2014).
Transactional Leadership Factors
Transactional leadership differs from transformational leadership in that the transactional
leader does not individualize the needs of followers or focus on their personal development.
Transactional leaders exchange things of value with followers to advance their own and
their followers’ agendas (Kuhnert, 1994). Transactional leaders are influential because it is
in the best interest of followers for them to do what the leader wants (Kuhnert & Lewis,
1987).
Contingent Reward.
Factor 5, contingent reward, is the first of two transactional leadership factors (Figure 8.3).
It is an exchange process between leaders and followers in which effort by followers is
exchanged for specified rewards. With this kind of leadership, the leader tries to obtain
agreement from followers on what must be done and what the payoffs will be for the people
doing it. An example of this type of constructive transaction is a parent who negotiates with a
child about how much time the child can spend playing video games after doing homework
assignments. Another example often occurs in the academic setting: A dean negotiates with
a college professor about the number and quality of publications he or she needs to have
written in order to receive tenure and promotion. Notgrass (2014) found that contingent
rewards, or the leader’s use of clarifying or supporting achievement behaviors, are most
effective when followers feel that they have a high-quality relationship with their leader.
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Management by Exception.
Factor 6 is called management by exception. It is leadership that involves corrective criticism,
negative feedback, and negative reinforcement. Management by exception takes two forms:
active and passive. A leader using the active form of management-by-exception watches
followers closely for mistakes or rule violations and then takes corrective action. An example
of active management by exception can be illustrated in the leadership of a sales supervisor
who daily monitors how employees approach customers. She quickly corrects salespeople
who are slow to approach customers in the prescribed manner. A leader using the passive
form intervenes only after standards have not been met or problems have arisen. An
example of passive management by exception is illustrated in the leadership of a supervisor
who gives an employee a poor performance evaluation without ever talking with the
employee about her or his prior work performance. In essence, both the active and passive
management types use more negative reinforcement patterns than the positive
reinforcement pattern described in Factor 5 under contingent reward.
Nonleadership Factor
In the model, the nonleadership factor diverges farther from transactional leadership and
represents behaviors that are nontransactional.
Laissez-Faire.
Factor 7 describes leadership that falls at the far right side of the transactional–
transformational leadership continuum (Figure 8.1). This factor represents the absence of
leadership. As the French phrase implies, the laissez-faire leader takes a “hands-off, let-
things-ride” (nontransactional) approach. This leader abdicates responsibility, delays
decisions, gives no feedback, and makes little effort to help followers satisfy their needs.
There is no exchange with followers or attempt to help them grow. An example of a laissez-
faire leader is the president of a small manufacturing firm who calls no meetings with plant
supervisors, has no long-range plan for the firm, acts detached, and makes little contact
with employees. While laissez-faire leadership has traditionally been viewed negatively,
recent research (Yang, 2015) argues that laissez-faire leadership may not be the absence of
leadership, but instead may be a strategic behavioral choice by the leader to acknowledge
and defer to followers’ abilities, decrease their dependency, and increase their self-
determination, self-competence, and autonomy. In this case, the leader would be
strategically performing laissez-faire leadership by empowering followers to lead.
Interestingly, research does indicate that leaders may be most effective when they combine
transformational leadership behaviors with elements of laissez-faire and transactional
leadership (Antonakis & House, 2014). This reiterates what most of the leadership theories
in this book suggest: All approaches to leadership have strengths and weaknesses, and
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because leading effectively means consistently surveying follower, task, and environmental
needs and pressures, oftentimes the best approach is a combination of leadership
approaches.
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Other Transformational Perspectives
In addition to Bass’s (1985, 1990; Bass & Avolio, 1994) work, two other lines of research
have contributed in unique ways to our understanding of the nature of transformational
leadership. They are the research of Bennis and Nanus (1985) and the work of Kouzes and
Posner (2002, 2017). These scholars used similar research methods. They identified a
number of middle- or senior-level leaders and conducted interviews with them, using open-
ended, semistructured questionnaires. From this information, they constructed their
models of leadership.
Bennis and Nanus
Bennis and Nanus (2007) asked 90 leaders basic questions such as “What are your strengths
and weaknesses?” “What past events most influenced your leadership approach?” and
“What were the critical points in your career?” From the answers leaders provided to these
questions, Bennis and Nanus identified four common strategies used by leaders in
transforming organizations.
First, transforming leaders had a clear vision of the future state of their organizations. It was
an image of an attractive, realistic, and believable future (Bennis & Nanus, 2007, p. 89).
The vision usually was simple, understandable, beneficial, and energy creating. The
compelling nature of the vision touched the experiences of followers and pulled them into
supporting the organization. When an organization has a clear vision, it is easier for people
within the organization to learn how they fit in with the overall direction of the
organization and even the society in general. It empowers them because they feel they are a
significant dimension of a worthwhile enterprise (pp. 90–91). Bennis and Nanus found
that, to be successful, the vision had to grow out of the needs of the entire organization and
to be claimed by those within it. Although leaders play a large role in articulating the
vision, the emergence of the vision originates from both the leaders and the followers.
Second, transforming leaders were social architects for their organizations. This means they
created a shape or form for the shared meanings people maintained within their
organizations. These leaders communicated a direction that transformed their
organization’s values and norms. In many cases, these leaders were able to mobilize people
to accept a new group identity or a new philosophy for their organizations.
Third, transforming leaders created trust in their organizations by making their own
positions clearly known and then standing by them. Trust has to do with being predictable
or reliable, even in situations that are uncertain. For organizations, leaders built trust by
articulating a direction and then consistently implementing the direction even though the
vision may have involved a high degree of uncertainty. Bennis and Nanus (2007) found
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that when leaders established trust in an organization, it gave the organization a sense of
integrity analogous to a healthy identity (p. 48).
Fourth, transforming leaders used creative deployment of self through positive self-regard.
Leaders knew their strengths and weaknesses, and they emphasized their strengths rather
than dwelling on their weaknesses. Based on an awareness of their own competence,
effective leaders were able to immerse themselves in their tasks and the overarching goals of
their organizations. They were able to fuse a sense of self with the work at hand. Bennis and
Nanus also found that positive self-regard in leaders had a reciprocal impact on followers,
creating in them feelings of confidence and high expectations. In addition, leaders in the
study were committed to learning and relearning, so in their organizations there was
consistent emphasis on education.
Kouzes and Posner
Kouzes and Posner (2002, 2017) developed their model by interviewing leaders about
leadership. They interviewed more than 1,300 middle- and senior-level managers in private
and public sector organizations and asked them to describe their “personal best” experiences
as leaders. Based on a content analysis of these descriptions, Kouzes and Posner constructed
a model of leadership.
The Kouzes and Posner model consists of five fundamental practices that enable leaders to
get extraordinary things accomplished: model the way, inspire a shared vision, challenge the
process, enable others to act, and encourage the heart. For each of the five practices of
exemplary leadership, Kouzes and Posner also have identified two commitments that serve
as strategies for practicing exemplary leadership.
Model the Way.
To model the way, leaders need to be clear about their own values and philosophy. They
need to find their own voice and express it to others. Exemplary leaders set a personal
example for others by their own behaviors. They also follow through on their promises and
commitments and affirm the common values they share with others.
Inspire a Shared Vision.
Effective leaders create compelling visions that can guide people’s behavior. They are able
to visualize positive outcomes in the future and communicate them to others. Leaders also
listen to the dreams of others and show them how their dreams can be realized. Through
inspiring visions, leaders challenge others to transcend the status quo to do something for
others.
Challenge the Process.
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Challenging the process means being willing to change the status quo and step into the
unknown. It includes being willing to innovate, grow, and improve. Exemplary leaders are
like pioneers: They want to experiment and try new things. They are willing to take risks to
make things better. When exemplary leaders take risks, they do it one step at a time,
learning from their mistakes as they go.
Enable Others to Act.
Outstanding leaders are effective at working with people. They build trust with others and
promote collaboration. Teamwork and cooperation are highly valued by these leaders. They
listen closely to diverse points of view and treat others with dignity and respect. They also
allow others to make choices, and they support the decisions that others make. In short,
they create environments where people can feel good about their work and how it
contributes to the greater community.
Interestingly, research indicates that women tend to display transformational leadership
through more enabling behaviors whereas men tend to enact more challenging behavior
(Brandt & Laiho, 2013).
Encourage the Heart.
Leaders encourage the heart by rewarding others for their accomplishments. It is natural for
people to want support and recognition. Effective leaders are attentive to this need and are
willing to give praise to workers for jobs well done. They use authentic celebrations and
rituals to show appreciation and encouragement to others. The outcome of this kind of
support is greater collective identity and community spirit.
Overall, the Kouzes and Posner model emphasizes behaviors and has a prescriptive quality:
It recommends what people need to do in order to become effective leaders. The five
practices and their accompanying commitments provide a unique set of prescriptions for
leaders. Kouzes and Posner (2002, p. 13) stressed that the five practices of exemplary
leadership are available to everyone and are not reserved for those with “special” ability.
The model is not about personality: It is about practice.
To measure the behaviors described in the model, Kouzes and Posner developed the
Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI). The LPI is a 360-degree leadership assessment tool
that consists of 30 questions that assess individual leadership competencies. It has been
widely used in leadership training and development.
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How does the Transformational Leadership Approach Work?
The transformational approach to leadership is a broad-based perspective that encompasses
many facets and dimensions of the leadership process. In general, it describes how leaders
can initiate, develop, and carry out significant changes in organizations. Although not
definitive, the steps followed by transformational leaders usually take the following form.
Transformational leaders set out to empower followers and nurture them in change. They
attempt to raise the consciousness in individuals and to get them to transcend their own
self-interests for the sake of others. For example, Jung, Chow, and Wu (2003) studied
upper-level leadership in 32 Taiwanese companies and found that transformational
leadership was directly related to organizational innovation. Transformational leadership
created a culture in which employees felt empowered and encouraged to freely discuss and
try new things.
To create change, transformational leaders become strong role models for their followers.
They have a highly developed set of moral values and a self-determined sense of identity
(Avolio & Gibbons, 1988). They are confident, competent, and articulate, and they express
strong ideals.
They listen to followers and are not intolerant of opposing viewpoints. A spirit of
cooperation often develops between these leaders and their followers. Followers want to
emulate transformational leaders because they learn to trust them and believe in the ideas
for which they stand.
It is common for transformational leaders to create a vision. The vision emerges from the
collective interests of various individuals and units in an organization. The vision is a focal
point for transformational leadership. It gives the leader and the organization a conceptual
map for where the organization is headed; it gives meaning and clarifies the organization’s
identity. Furthermore, the vision gives followers a sense of identity within the organization
and also a sense of self-efficacy (Shamir et al., 1993).
The transformational approach also requires that leaders become social architects. This
means that they make clear the emerging values and norms of the organization. They
involve themselves in the culture of the organization and help shape its meaning. People
need to know their roles and understand how they contribute to the greater purposes of the
organization. Transformational leaders are out front in interpreting and shaping for
organizations the shared meanings that exist within them. As Mason et al. (2014) pointed
out, enacting transformational behaviors changes leaders too, not just followers.
Throughout the process, transformational leaders are effective at working with people.
They build trust and foster collaboration with others. Transformational leaders encourage
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others and celebrate their accomplishments. In the end, transformational leadership results
in people feeling better about themselves and their contributions to the greater common
good.
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Strengths
In its present stage of development, the transformational approach has several strengths.
First, transformational leadership has been widely researched from many different
perspectives, including a series of qualitative studies of prominent leaders and CEOs in
large, well-known organizations. It has also been the focal point for a large body of
leadership research since its introduction in the 1970s. For example, content analysis of all
the articles published in The Leadership Quarterly from 1990 to 2000 showed that 34% of
the articles were about transformational or charismatic leadership (Lowe & Gardner, 2001).
Second, transformational leadership has intuitive appeal. The transformational perspective
describes how the leader is out front advocating change for others; this concept is consistent
with society’s popular notion of what leadership means. People are attracted to
transformational leadership because it makes sense to them. It is appealing that a leader will
provide a vision for the future.
Third, transformational leadership treats leadership as a process that occurs between
followers and leaders. Because this process incorporates both the followers’ and the leader’s
needs, leadership is not the sole responsibility of a leader but rather emerges from the
interplay between leaders and followers. The needs of others are central to the
transformational leader. As a result, followers gain a more prominent position in the
leadership process because their attributions are instrumental in the evolving
transformational process (Bryman, 1992, p. 176).
Fourth, the transformational approach provides a broader view of leadership that augments
other leadership models. Many leadership models focus primarily on how leaders exchange
rewards for achieved goals—the transactional process. The transformational approach
provides an expanded picture of leadership that includes not only the exchange of rewards,
but also leaders’ attention to the needs and growth of followers (Avolio, 1999; Bass, 1985).
Transformational leadership has also been demonstrated to contribute to the leader’s
personal growth (Notgrass, 2014).
Fifth, transformational leadership places a strong emphasis on followers’ needs, values, and
morals. Burns (1978) suggested that transformational leadership involves attempts by
leaders to move people to higher standards of moral responsibility. It includes motivating
followers to transcend their own self-interests for the good of the team, organization, or
community (Howell & Avolio, 1993; Shamir et al., 1993). Transformational leadership is
fundamentally morally uplifting (Avolio, 1999). This emphasis sets the transformational
approach apart from all other approaches to leadership because it suggests that leadership
has a moral dimension. Therefore, the coercive uses of power by people such as Hitler, cult
leader David Koresh, and Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte can be disregarded as
models of leadership.
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Finally, there is substantial evidence that transformational leadership is an effective form of
leadership (Yukl, 1999). In a critique of transformational and charismatic leadership, Yukl
reported that in studies using the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (MLQ) to appraise
leaders, transformational leadership was positively related to follower satisfaction,
motivation, and performance. Furthermore, in studies that used interviews and
observations, transformational leadership was shown to be effective in a variety of different
situations.
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Criticisms
Transformational leadership has several weaknesses. One criticism is that it lacks conceptual
clarity. Because it covers such a wide range of activities and characteristics—including
creating a vision, motivating, being a change agent, building trust, giving nurturance, and
acting as a social architect, to name a few—it is difficult to define exactly the parameters of
transformational leadership. Specifically, research by Tracey and Hinkin (1998) has shown
substantial overlap between each of the Four Is (idealized influence, inspirational
motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration), suggesting that the
dimensions are not clearly delimited. Furthermore, the parameters of transformational
leadership often overlap with similar conceptualizations of leadership. Bryman (1992), for
example, pointed out that transformational and charismatic leadership often are treated
synonymously, even though in some models of leadership (e.g., Bass, 1985) charisma is
only one component of transformational leadership. Others have questioned whether the
four dimensions of transformational leadership (i.e., the Four Is) are the reasons for
transformational leadership or if they are simply descriptions of transformational leadership
(e.g., Andersen, 2015; Tourish, 2013). At present researchers are not sure if these
dimensions predict transformational leadership or just help to explain the presence of
transformational leadership.
In addition, Andersen (2015) suggested that transformational leadership was created to be
used within social and political contexts—not in corporations. However, many researchers
have been using the theory to explore managerial rather than political leadership.
Another criticism revolves around how transformational leadership is measured.
Researchers typically have used some version of the MLQ to measure transformational
leadership. However, some studies have challenged the validity of the MLQ. In some
versions of the MLQ, the four factors of transformational leadership (the Four Is) correlate
highly with each other, which means they are not distinct factors (Tejeda, Scandura, &
Pillai, 2001). In addition, some of the transformational factors correlate with the
transactional and laissez-faire factors, which means they may not be unique to the
transformational model (Tejeda et al., 2001). It has also been suggested that
transformational leadership could be better measured and understood through a narrative
perspective (Andersen, 2015; Tengblad, 2012).
A third criticism is that transformational leadership treats leadership as a personality trait or
personal predisposition rather than a behavior that people can learn (Bryman, 1992, pp.
100–102). If it is a trait, training people in this approach becomes more problematic
because it is difficult to teach people how to change their traits. Even though many
scholars, including Weber, House, and Bass, emphasized that transformational leadership is
concerned with leader behaviors, such as how leaders involve themselves with followers,
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there is an inclination to see this approach from a trait perspective. Perhaps this problem is
exacerbated because the word transformational creates images of one person being the most
active component in the leadership process. For example, even though “creating a vision”
involves follower input, there is a tendency to see transformational leaders as visionaries.
There is also a tendency to see transformational leaders as people who have special qualities
that transform others. These images accentuate a trait characterization of transformational
leadership.
Fourth, researchers have not established that transformational leaders are actually able to
transform individuals and organizations (Antonakis, 2012). There is evidence that indicates
that transformational leadership is associated with positive outcomes, such as organizational
effectiveness; however, studies have not yet clearly established a causal link between
transformational leaders and changes in followers or organizations. However, there may be
a glimmer of hope in this regard as Arthur and Hardy (2014) were able to use an
experimental design to evaluate the effectiveness of a transformational leadership
intervention in remediating poor performance in an organization. This provides initial
evidence that transformational leadership behaviors may result in some expected positive
changes.
A fifth criticism some have made is that transformational leadership is elitist and
antidemocratic (Avolio, 1999; Bass & Avolio, 1993). Transformational leaders often play a
direct role in creating changes, establishing a vision, and advocating new directions. This
gives the strong impression that the leader is acting independently of followers or putting
himself or herself above the followers’ needs. Although this criticism of elitism has been
refuted by Bass and Avolio (1993) and Avolio (1999), who contended that
transformational leaders can be directive and participative as well as democratic and
authoritarian, the substance of the criticism raises valid questions about transformational
leadership.
Related to this criticism, some have argued that transformational leadership suffers from a
“heroic leadership” bias (Yukl, 1999). Transformational leadership stresses that it is the
leader who moves followers to do exceptional things. By focusing primarily on the leader,
researchers have failed to give attention to shared leadership or reciprocal influence.
Followers can influence leaders just as leaders can influence followers. More attention
should be directed toward how leaders can encourage followers to challenge the leader’s
vision and share in the leadership process.
Another criticism of transformational leadership is that it has the potential to be abused.
Transformational leadership is concerned with changing people’s values and moving them
to a new vision. But who is to determine whether the new directions are good and more
affirming? Who decides that a new vision is a better vision? If the values to which the leader
is moving his or her followers are not better, and if the set of human values is not more
redeeming, then the leadership must be challenged. However, the dynamics of how
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followers challenge leaders or respond to their visions are not fully understood. There is a
need to understand how transformational leaders affect followers psychologically and how
leaders respond to followers’ reactions. In fact, Burns (1978) argued that understanding this
area (i.e., charisma and follower worship) is one of the central problems in leadership
studies today (Bailey & Axelrod, 2001). The charismatic nature of transformational
leadership presents significant risks for organizations because it can be used for destructive
purposes (Conger, 1999; Howell & Avolio, 1993).
History is full of examples of charismatic individuals who used coercive power to lead
people to evil ends. For this reason, transformational leadership puts a burden on
individuals and organizations to be aware of how they are being influenced and in what
directions they are being asked to go. Christie et al. (2011) warn that astute followers need
to be vigilant and pay careful attention to the vision of their leader, whether the vision is
collective or self-focused, whether the leader is tolerant or intolerant of opposing
viewpoints, and whether or not the leader is caring of followers. The potential for abuse of
transformational leadership is mitigated when followers are aware and engaged in how they
are being led.
A final potential weakness of transformational leadership is the fact that it may not be well
received by millennials (Anderson et al., 2017). As millennials continue to replace baby
boomers, organizations are recognizing that they are having to modify previous ways of
doing things to meet millennials’ needs. Transformational leadership is one such example.
Drawing from the individualistic orientation of many millennials, Anderson and colleagues
predict that transformational leaders may be less effective because this cohort may be less
willing to collaborate with others to achieve common goals. Relatedly, today’s
transformational leaders communicate in a way to encourage followers to prioritize
organizational and task needs and goals over individual interests (Anderson et al., 2017).
However, it is predicted that this will be met with resistance as millennials have expressed a
greater desire for work–life balance and want to “work to live” rather than “live to work”
(Ng, Schweitzer, & Lyons, 2010). Finally, it has been suggested that because millennials
expect frequent promotions and value extrinsic rewards, two of the fundamental
components of transformational leadership—idealized influence and inspirational
motivation—may be ineffective (Anderson et al., 2017).
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Application
Rather than being a model that tells leaders what to do, transformational leadership
provides a broad set of generalizations of what is typical of leaders who are transforming or
who work in transforming contexts. Unlike other leadership approaches, such as Situational
Leadership® (discussed in Chapter 5), transformational leadership does not provide a clearly
defined set of assumptions about how leaders should act in a particular situation to be
successful. Rather, it provides a general way of thinking about leadership that emphasizes
ideals, inspiration, innovations, and individual concerns. Transformational leadership
requires that leaders be aware of how their own behavior relates to the needs of their
followers and the changing dynamics within their organizations.
Bass and Avolio (1990a) suggested that transformational leadership can be taught to people
at all levels in an organization and that it can positively affect a firm’s performance. It can
be used in recruitment, selection and promotion, and training and development. It can also
be used in improving team development, decision-making groups, quality initiatives, and
reorganizations (Bass & Avolio, 1994).
Programs designed to develop transformational leadership usually require that leaders or
their associates take the MLQ (Bass & Avolio, 1990b) or a similar questionnaire to
determine the leader’s particular strengths and weaknesses in transformational leadership.
Taking the MLQ helps leaders pinpoint areas in which they could improve their leadership.
For example, leaders might learn that it would be beneficial if they were more confident in
expressing their goals, or that they need to spend more time nurturing followers, or that
they need to be more tolerant of opposing viewpoints. The MLQ is the springboard to
helping leaders improve a whole series of their leadership attributes.
One particular aspect of transformational leadership that has been given special emphasis in
training programs is the process of building a vision. For example, it has become quite
common for training programs to have leaders write elaborate statements that describe their
own five-year career plans and their perceptions of the future directions for their
organizations. Working with leaders on vision statements is one way to help them enhance
their transformational leadership behavior. Another important aspect of training is teaching
leaders to exhibit greater individual consideration and promote intellectual stimulation for
their followers. Lowe et al. (1996) found that this is particularly valuable for lower-level
leaders in organizations.
The desire to provide effective training in how to be more successful in demonstrating
transactional and transformational leadership resulted in the development of a guide by
Sosik and Jung (2010). This comprehensive, evidence-based approach includes self-
assessments, 360-degree feedback, and leadership development planning. Their work serves
as a thorough training guide that explains how, when, and why the full range of leadership
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behaviors work.
Overall, transformational leadership provides leaders with information about a full range of
their behaviors, from nontransactional to transactional to transformational. In the next
section, we provide some actual leadership examples to which the principles of
transformational leadership can be applied.
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Case Studies
In the following section, three brief case studies (Cases 8.1, 8.2, and 8.3) from very different contexts are
provided. Each case describes a situation in which transformational leadership is present to some degree. The
questions at the end of each case point to some of the unique issues surrounding the use of transformational
leadership in ongoing organizations.
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Case 8.1: The Vision Failed
High Tech Engineering (HTE) is a 50-year-old family-owned manufacturing company with 250 employees that
produces small parts for the aircraft industry. The president of HTE is Harold Barelli, who came to the company
from a smaller business with strong credentials as a leader in advanced aircraft technology. Before Harold, the
only other president of HTE was the founder and owner of the company. The organizational structure at HTE
was very traditional, and it was supported by a very rich organizational culture.
As the new president, Harold sincerely wanted to transform HTE. He wanted to prove that new technologies and
advanced management techniques could make HTE one of the best manufacturing companies in the country. To
that end, Harold created a vision statement that was displayed throughout the company. The two-page
statement, which had a strong democratic tone, described the overall purposes, directions, and values of the
company.
During the first three years of Harold’s tenure as president, several major reorganizations took place at the
company. These were designed by Harold and a select few of his senior managers. The intention of each
reorganization was to implement advanced organizational structures to bolster the declared HTE vision.
Yet the major outcome of each of the changes was to dilute the leadership and create a feeling of instability
among the employees. Most of the changes were made from the top down, with little input from lower or middle
management. Some of the changes gave employees more control in circumstances where they needed less,
whereas other changes limited employee input in contexts where employees should have been given more input.
There were some situations in which individual workers reported to three different bosses, and other situations in
which one manager had far too many workers to oversee. Rather than feeling comfortable in their various roles at
HTE, employees began to feel uncertain about their responsibilities and how they contributed to stated goals of
the company. The overall effect of the reorganizations was a precipitous drop in worker morale and production.
In the midst of all the changes, the vision that Harold had for the company was lost. The instability that
employees felt made it difficult for them to support the company’s vision. People at HTE complained that
although mission statements were displayed throughout the company, no one understood in which direction they
were going.
To the employees at HTE, Harold was an enigma. HTE was an American company that produced U.S.
products, but Harold drove a foreign car. Harold claimed to be democratic in his style of leadership, but he was
arbitrary in how he treated people. He acted in a nondirective style toward some people, and he showed arbitrary
control toward others. He wanted to be seen as a hands-on manager, but he delegated operational control of the
company to others while he focused on external customer relations and matters of the board of directors.
At times Harold appeared to be insensitive to employees’ concerns. He wanted HTE to be an environment in
which everyone could feel empowered, but he often failed to listen closely to what employees were saying.
He seldom engaged in open, two-way communication. HTE had a long, rich history with many unique stories,
but the employees felt that Harold either misunderstood or did not care about that history.
Four years after arriving at HTE, Harold stepped down as president after his operations officer ran the company
into a large debt and cash-flow crisis. His dream of building HTE into a world-class manufacturing company was
never realized.
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Questions
1. If you were consulting with the HTE board of directors soon after Harold started making changes, what
would you advise them regarding Harold’s leadership from a transformational perspective?
2. Did Harold have a clear vision for HTE? Was he able to implement it?
3. How effective was Harold as a change agent and social architect for HTE?
4. What would you advise Harold to do differently if he had the chance to return as president of HTE?
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Case 8.2: An Exploration in Leadership
Every year, Dr. Cook, a college professor, leads a group of 25 college students to the Middle East on an
archaeological dig that usually lasts about eight weeks. The participants, who come from big and small colleges
throughout the country, usually have little prior knowledge or background in what takes place during an
excavation. Dr. Cook enjoys leading these expeditions because he likes teaching students about archaeology and
because the outcomes of the digs actually advance his own scholarly work.
While planning for his annual summer excavation, Dr. Cook told the following story:
This summer will be interesting because I have 10 people returning from last year. Last year was quite a dig.
During the first couple of weeks everything was very disjointed. Team members seemed unmotivated and tired.
In fact, there was one time early on when it seemed as if nearly half the students were either physically ill or
mentally exhausted. Students seemed lost and uncertain about the meaning of the entire project.
For example, it is our tradition to get up every morning at 4:30 a.m. to depart for the excavation site at 5:00 a.m.
However, during the first weeks of the dig, few people were ever ready on time, even after several reminders.
Every year it takes some time for people to learn where they fit with each other and with the purposes of the dig.
The students all come from such different backgrounds. Some are from small, private, religious schools, and
others are from large state universities. Each comes with a different agenda, different skills, and different work
habits. One person may be a good photographer, another a good artist, and another a good surveyor. It is my job
to complete the excavation with the resources available to us.
At the end of Week 2, I called a meeting to assess how things were going. We talked about a lot of things
including personal things, how our work was progressing, and what we needed to change. The students seemed
to appreciate the chance to talk at this meeting. Each of them described his or her special circumstances and
hopes for the summer.
I told the students several stories about past digs; some were humorous, and others highlighted accomplishments.
I shared my particular interests in this project and how I thought we as a group could accomplish the work that
needed to be done at this important historical site. In particular, I stressed two points: (a) that they shared the
responsibility for the successful outcome of the venture, and (b) that they had independent authority to design,
schedule, and carry out the details of their respective assignments, with the director and other senior staff
available at all times as advisers and resource persons. In regard to the departure time issue, I told the participants
that the standard departure time on digs was 5:00 a.m.
Well, shortly after our meeting I observed a real shift in the group attitude and atmosphere. People seemed to
become more involved in the work, there was less sickness, and there was more camaraderie. All assignments were
completed without constant prodding and in a spirit of mutual support. Each morning at 5:00 a.m. everyone was
ready to go.
I find that each year my groups are different. It’s almost as if each of them has a unique personality. Perhaps that
is why I find it so challenging. I try to listen to the students and use their particular strengths. It really is quite
amazing how these students can develop in eight weeks. They really become good at archaeology, and they
accomplish a great deal.
This coming year will again be different because of the 10 returning “veterans.”
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Questions
1. How is this an example of transformational leadership?
2. Where are Dr. Cook’s strengths on the Full Range of Leadership model (Figure 8.2)?
3. What is the vision Dr. Cook has for the archaeology excavations?
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Case 8.3: Her Vision of a Model Research Center
Rachel Adams began as a researcher at a large pharmaceutical company. After several years of observing how
clinical drug studies were conducted, she realized that there was a need and an opportunity for a research center
not connected with a specific pharmaceutical company. In collaboration with other researchers, she launched a
new company that was the first of its kind in the country. Within five years, Rachel had become president and
CEO of the Independent Center for Clinical Research (ICCR). Under Rachel’s leadership, ICCR has grown to a
company with revenues of $6 million and profits of $1 million. ICCR employs 100 full-time employees, most of
whom are women.
Rachel wants ICCR to continue its pattern of formidable growth. Her vision for the company is to make it a
model research center that will blend credible science with efficient and cost-effective clinical trials. To that end,
the company, which is situated in a large urban setting, maintains strong links to academia, industry, and the
community.
Rachel and her style have a great deal to do with the success of ICCR. She is a freethinker who is always open to
new ideas, opportunities, and approaches. She is a positive person who enjoys the nuances of life, and she is not
afraid to take risks. Her optimistic approach has had a significant influence on the company’s achievements and
its organizational climate. People employed at ICCR claim they have never worked at a place that is so
progressive and so positive in how it treats its employees and customers. The women employees at ICCR feel
particularly strongly about Rachel’s leadership, and many of them use Rachel as a role model. It is not by accident
that the majority (85%) of the people who work at ICCR are women. Her support for women’s concerns is
evident in the type of drug studies the company selects to conduct and in her service to national committees on
women’s health and research issues. Within ICCR, Rachel has designed an on-site day care program, flextime
scheduling for mothers with young children, and a benefit package that gives full health coverage to part-time
employees. At a time when most companies are searching for ways to include more women in decision making,
ICCR has women in established leadership positions at all levels.
Although Rachel has been extremely effective at ICCR, the success of the company has resulted in many changes
that have affected Rachel’s leadership at the company.
Rapid growth of ICCR has required that Rachel spend a great deal of time traveling throughout the country.
Because of her excessive travel, Rachel has begun to feel distant from the day-to-day operations of ICCR. She has
begun to feel as if she is losing her handle on what makes the company tick. For example, although she used to
give weekly pep talks to supervisors, she finds that she now gives two formal presentations a year. Rachel also
complains of feeling estranged from employees at the company. At a recent directors’ meeting, she expressed
frustration that people no longer called her by her first name, and others did not even know who she was.
Growth at ICCR has also demanded that more planning and decision making be delegated to department heads.
This has been problematic for Rachel, particularly in the area of strategic planning. Rachel finds that the
department heads are beginning to shift the focus of ICCR in a direction that contradicts her ideal model of what
the company should be and what it is best at doing. Rachel built the company on the idea that ICCR would be a
strong blend of credible science and cost-effective clinical trials, and she does not want to give up that model. The
directors, on the other hand, would like to see ICCR become similar to a standard pharmaceutical company
dedicated primarily to the research and development of new drugs.
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Questions
1. What is it about Rachel’s leadership that clearly suggests that she is engaged in transformational
leadership?
2. In what ways has the growth of ICCR had an impact on Rachel’sleadership?
3. Given the problems Rachel is confronting as a result of the growth of the company, what should she do
to reestablish herself as a transformational leader at ICCR?
Leadership Instrument
The most widely used measure of transformational leadership is the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire
(MLQ). An earlier version of the MLQ was developed by Bass (1985), based on a series of interviews he and
his associates conducted with 70 senior executives in South Africa. These executives were asked to recall
leaders who had raised their awareness to broader goals, moved them to higher motives, or inspired them to
put others’ interests ahead of their own. The executives were then asked to describe how these leaders
behaved—what they did to effect change. From these descriptions and from numerous other interviews
with both junior and senior executives, Bass constructed the questions that make up the MLQ. The
questions measure followers’ perceptions of a leader’s behavior for each of the factors in the Full Range of
Leadership model (Figure 8.2).
Antonakis, Avolio, and Sivasubramaniam (2003) assessed the psychometric properties of the MLQ using a
business sample of more than 3,000 raters and found strong support for the validity of the MLQ. They
found that the MLQ (Form 5X) clearly distinguished nine factors in the Full Range of Leadership model.
Similarly, Hinkin and Schriesheim (2008) examined the empirical properties of the transactional and the
nonleadership factors on the MLQ and identified several ways to use the questionnaire to generate more
reliable and valid results. Since the MLQ was first designed, it has gone through many revisions, and it
continues to be refined to strengthen its reliability and validity.
Based on a summary analysis of a series of studies that used the MLQ to predict how transformational
leadership relates to outcomes such as effectiveness, Bryman (1992) and Bass and Avolio (1994) have
suggested that the charisma and motivation factors on the MLQ are the most likely to be related to positive
effects. Individualized consideration, intellectual stimulation, and contingent reward are the next most
important factors. Management by exception in its passive form has been found to be somewhat related to
outcomes, and in its active form it has been found to be negatively related to outcomes. Generally, laissez-
faire leadership has been found to be negatively related to outcomes such as effectiveness and satisfaction in
organizations.
We present sample items from the MLQ (Form 5X-short) in this section so that you can explore your
beliefs and perceptions about transformational, transactional, and nontransactional leadership. This
questionnaire should give you a clearer picture of your own style and the complexity of transformational
leadership itself.
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Sample Items From the Multifactor Leadership
Questionnaire (MLQ) Form 5X-Short
These questions provide examples of the items that are used to evaluate leadership style. The MLQ is
provided in both Self and Rater forms. The Self form measures self-perception of leadership behaviors. The
Rater form is used to measure leadership. By thinking about the leadership styles as exemplified below, you
can get a sense of your own belief about your leadership.
Key: 0 = Not at all 1 = Once in a while 2 = Sometimes 3 = Fairly often 4 = Frequently, if
not always
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Transformational Leadership Styles
Idealized Influence
(Attributes)
I go beyond self-interest for the good of the group. 0 1 2 3 4
Idealized Influence
(Behaviors)
I consider the moral and ethical consequences of
decisions.
0 1 2 3 4
Inspirational
Motivation
I talk optimistically about the future. 0 1 2 3 4
Intellectual
Stimulation
I reexamine critical assumptions to question whether
they are appropriate.
0 1 2 3 4
Individualized
Consideration
I help others to develop their strengths. 0 1 2 3 4
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Transactional Leadership Styles
Contingent Reward
I make clear what one can expect to receive when
performance goals are achieved.
0 1 2 3 4
Management by
Exception: Active
I keep track of all mistakes. 0 1 2 3 4
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Passive/Avoidant Leadership Styles
Management by Exception:
Passive
I wait for things to go wrong before taking
action.
0 1 2 3 4
Laissez-Faire I avoid making decisions. 0 1 2 3 4
Source: Reproduced by special permission of the publisher, MIND GARDEN, Inc., www.mindgarden.com
from the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire by Bernard M. Bass and Bruce J. Avolio. Copyright © 1995,
2000, 2004 by Bernard M. Bass and Bruce J. Avolio. Further reproduction is prohibited without the
publisher’s written consent.
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http://www.mindgarden.com
Summary
One of the most encompassing approaches to leadership—transformational leadership—is
concerned with the process of how certain leaders are able to inspire followers to
accomplish great things. This approach stresses that leaders need to understand and adapt
to the needs and motives of followers. Transformational leaders are recognized as change
agents who are good role models, who can create and articulate a clear vision for an
organization, who empower followers to meet higher standards, who act in ways that make
others want to trust them, and who give meaning to organizational life.
Transformational leadership emerged from and is rooted in the writings of Burns (1978)
and Bass (1985). The works of Bennis and Nanus (1985, 2007) and Kouzes and Posner
(2002, 2017) are also representative of transformational leadership.
Transformational leadership can be assessed through use of the Multifactor Leadership
Questionnaire (MLQ), which measures a leader’s behavior in seven areas: idealized
influence (charisma), inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, individualized
consideration, contingent reward, management by exception, and laissez-faire. High scores
on individualized consideration and motivation factors are most indicative of strong
transformational leadership.
There are several positive features of the transformational approach, including that it is a
popular model that has received a lot of attention by researchers, it has strong intuitive
appeal, it emphasizes the importance of followers in the leadership process, it goes beyond
traditional transactional models and broadens leadership to include the growth of followers,
and it places strong emphasis on morals and values.
Balancing against the positive features of transformational leadership are several weaknesses.
These include that the approach lacks conceptual clarity; it is based on the MLQ, which
has been challenged by some research; it creates a framework that implies that
transformational leadership has a trait-like quality; it is sometimes seen as elitist and
undemocratic; it suffers from a “heroic leadership” bias; and it has the potential to be used
counterproductively in negative ways by leaders. Despite the weaknesses, transformational
leadership appears to be a valuable and widely used approach.
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300
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9 Authentic Leadership
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Description
Authentic leadership represents one of the newer areas of leadership research. It focuses on
whether leadership is genuine and “real.” As the title of this approach implies, authentic
leadership is about the authenticity of leaders and their leadership. Unlike many of the
theories that we have discussed in this book, authentic leadership is still in the formative
phase of development. As a result, authentic leadership needs to be considered more
tentatively: It is likely to change as new research about the theory is published.
In recent times, upheavals in society have energized a tremendous demand for authentic
leadership. The destruction on 9/11, corporate scandals at companies like WorldCom and
Enron, “fake news,” and fears of foreign influence in presidential elections have all created
anxiety and uncertainty. People feel apprehensive and insecure about what is going on
around them, and as a result, they long for bona fide leadership they can trust and for
leaders who are honest and good. People’s demands for trustworthy leadership make the
study of authentic leadership timely and worthwhile.
In addition to the public’s interest, authentic leadership has been intriguing to researchers:
It was identified earlier in transformational leadership research but never fully articulated
(Bass, 1990; Bass & Steidlmeier, 1999; Burns, 1978; Howell & Avolio, 1993).
Furthermore, practitioners had developed approaches to authentic leadership that were not
evidence based and so needed further clarification and testing. In attempts to more fully
explore authentic leadership, researchers set out to identify the parameters of authentic
leadership and more clearly conceptualize it, efforts that continue today.
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Authentic Leadership Defined
On the surface, authentic leadership appears easy to define. In actuality, it is a complex
process that is difficult to characterize. Among leadership scholars, there is no single
accepted definition of authentic leadership. Instead, there are multiple definitions, each
written from a different viewpoint and with a different emphasis (Chan, 2005).
One of those viewpoints is the intrapersonal perspective, which focuses closely on the leader
and what goes on within the leader. It incorporates the leader’s self-knowledge, self-
regulation, and self-concept. In their description of the intrapersonal approach, Shamir and
Eilam (2005) suggest that authentic leaders exhibit genuine leadership, lead from
conviction, and are originals. This perspective emphasizes the life experiences of a leader
and the meaning he or she attaches to those experiences as being critical to the development
of the authentic leader.
A second way of defining authentic leadership is as an interpersonal process. This
perspective outlines authentic leadership as relational, created by leaders and followers
together (Eagly, 2005). It results not from the leader’s efforts alone, but also from the
response of followers. Authenticity emerges from the interactions between leaders and
followers. It is a reciprocal process because leaders affect followers and followers affect
leaders.
Finally, authentic leadership can be defined from a developmental perspective, which is
exemplified in the work of Avolio and his associates (Avolio & Gardner, 2005; Gardner,
Avolio, & Walumbwa, 2005b; Walumbwa, Avolio, Gardner, Wernsing, & Peterson,
2008). This perspective, which underpins the approaches to authentic leadership discussed
in the following section, views authentic leadership as something that can be nurtured in a
leader, rather than as a fixed trait. Authentic leadership develops in people over a lifetime
and can be triggered by major life events, such as a severe illness or a new career.
Taking a developmental approach, Walumbwa et al. (2008) conceptualized authentic
leadership as a pattern of leader behavior that develops from, and is grounded in, the
leader’s positive psychological qualities and strong ethics. They suggest that authentic
leadership is composed of four distinct but related components: self-awareness, internalized
moral perspective, balanced processing, and relational transparency (Avolio, Walumbwa, &
Weber, 2009). Over a lifetime, authentic leaders learn and develop each of these four types
of behavior.
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Approaches to Authentic Leadership
Formulations about authentic leadership can be differentiated into two areas: (1) the
practical approach, which evolved from real-life examples as well as the training and
development literature; and (2) the theoretical approach, which is based on findings from
social science research. Both approaches offer interesting insights about the complex process
of authentic leadership.
Practical Approach
Books and programs about authentic leadership are popular today; people are interested in
the basics of this type of leadership. Specifically, they want to know the “how to” steps to
become an authentic leader. In this section, we discuss Bill George’s (2003) authentic
leadership approach.
Bill George’s Authentic Leadership Approach.
The authentic leadership approach developed by George (2003; George & Sims, 2007)
focuses on the characteristics of authentic leaders. George describes, in a practical way, the
essential qualities of authentic leadership and how individuals can develop these qualities if
they want to become authentic leaders.
Based on his experience as a corporate executive and through interviews with a diverse
sample of 125 successful leaders, George found that authentic leaders have a genuine desire
to serve others, they know themselves, and they feel free to lead from their core values.
Specifically, authentic leaders demonstrate five basic characteristics: (1) They have a strong
sense of purpose, (2) they have strong values about the right thing to do, (3) they establish
trusting relationships with others, (4) they demonstrate self-discipline and act on their
values, and (5) they are sensitive and empathetic to the plight of others (Figure 9.1; George,
2003).
Figure 9.1 illustrates five dimensions of authentic leadership identified by George: purpose,
values, relationships, self-discipline, and heart. The figure also illustrates each of the related
characteristics—passion, behavior, connectedness, consistency, and compassion—that
individuals need to develop to become authentic leaders.
In his interviews, George found that authentic leaders have a real sense of purpose. They
know what they are about and where they are going. In addition to knowing their purpose,
authentic leaders are inspired and intrinsically motivated about their goals. They are
passionate individuals who have a deep-seated interest in what they are doing and truly care
about their work.
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A good example of an authentic leader who exhibited passion about his goals was Terry
Fox, a cancer survivor, whose leg was amputated above his right knee after a malignant
tumor was discovered. Using a customized leg prosthesis, Terry attempted to run across
Canada, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, to raise awareness and money for cancer research.
Although he died before he finished his run, his courage and passion affected the lives of
millions of people. He also accomplished his goals to increase cancer awareness and to raise
money for cancer research. Today, the Terry Fox Foundation is going strong and has raised
more than $750 million (Canadian) for cancer research (www.terryfox.org). Of the
dimensions and characteristics in Figure 9.1, Terry Fox clearly demonstrated purpose and
passion in his leadership.
Figure 9.1 Authentic Leadership Characteristics
Source: From Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting
Value by Bill George. Copyright 2003 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Reproduced with
permission.
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Authentic leaders understand their own values and behave toward others based on these
values. Stated another way, George suggests that authentic leaders know their “True
North.” They have a clear idea of who they are, where they are going, and what the right
thing is to do. When tested in difficult situations, authentic leaders do not compromise
their values, but rather use those situations to strengthen their values.
An example of a leader with a strong set of values is Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nelson
Mandela. Mandela was a deeply moral man with a strong conscience. While fighting to
abolish apartheid in South Africa, he was unyielding in his pursuit of justice and equality
for all. When he was in prison and was offered early release in exchange for denouncing his
viewpoint, he chose to remain incarcerated rather than compromise his position. Nelson
Mandela knew who he was at his core. He knew his values, and his leadership reflected
those values.
A third characteristic of authentic leadership in the George approach is strong relationships.
Authentic leaders have the capacity to open themselves up and establish a connection with
others. They are willing to share their own story with others and listen to others’ stories.
Through mutual disclosure, leaders and followers develop a sense of trust and closeness.
George argued that people today want to have access to their leaders and they want their
leaders to be open with them. In a sense, people are asking leaders to soften the boundary
around their leadership role and to be more transparent. People want to have a trusting
relationship with their leaders. In exchange, people are willing to give leaders greater loyalty
and commitment.
As we discussed in Chapter 7 (leader–member exchange theory), effective leader–follower
relationships are marked by high-quality communication in which leaders and followers
demonstrate a high degree of mutual trust, respect, and obligation toward each other.
Leaders and followers are tied together in productive ways that go beyond the stereotypical
leader–follower relationship. This results in strong leader–member relationships, greater
understanding, and higher productivity.
Self-discipline is another dimension of authentic leadership and is the quality that helps
leaders to reach their goals. Self-discipline gives leaders focus and determination. When
leaders establish objectives and standards of excellence, self-discipline helps them to reach
these goals and to keep everyone accountable. Furthermore, self-discipline gives authentic
leaders the energy to carry out their work in accordance with their values.
Like long-distance runners, authentic leaders with self-discipline are able to stay focused on
their goals. They are able to listen to their inner compass and can discipline themselves to
move forward, even in challenging circumstances. In stressful times, self-discipline allows
authentic leaders to remain cool, calm, and consistent. Because disciplined leaders are
predictable in their behavior, other people know what to expect and find it easier to
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communicate with them. When the leader is self-directed and “on course,” it gives other
people a sense of security.
Last, the George approach identifies compassion and heart as important aspects of authentic
leadership. Compassion refers to being sensitive to the plight of others, opening one’s self
to others, and being willing to help them. George (2003, p. 40) argued that as leaders
develop compassion, they learn to be authentic. Leaders can develop compassion by getting
to know others’ life stories, doing community service projects, being involved with other
racial or ethnic groups, or traveling to developing countries (George, 2003). These activities
increase the leader’s sensitivity to other cultures, backgrounds, and living situations.
In summary, George’s authentic leadership approach highlights five important features of
authentic leaders. Collectively, these features provide a practical picture of what people
need to do to become authentic in their leadership. Authentic leadership is a lifelong
developmental process, which is formed and informed by each individual’s life story.
Theoretical Approach
Although still in its initial stages of development, a theory of authentic leadership is
emerging in social science literature (see Kumar, 2014; Leroy, Anseel, Gardner, & Sels,
2015; Peus, Wescher, Streicher, Braun, & Frey, 2012). In this section, we identify the basic
components of authentic leadership and describe how these components are related to one
another.
Background to the Theoretical Approach. Although people’s interest in “authenticity” is
probably timeless, research on authentic leadership is rather recent. Luthans and Avolio
(2003) published one of the first articles on the topic, focusing on authentic leadership
development and positive organizational scholarship. Initial writing on authentic leadership
gave rise to a leadership summit at the University of Nebraska. This summit was sponsored
by the Gallup Leadership Institute, and focused on the nature of authentic leadership and
its development. From the summit, two sets of publications emerged: (1) a special issue of
The Leadership Quarterly in the summer of 2005, and (2) Monographs in Leadership and
Management, titled “Authentic Leadership Theory and Process: Origins, Effects and
Development,” also published in 2005.
Interest in authentic leadership increased following 9/11, a time in which there was a great
deal of societal upheaval and instability in the United States. The attacks of 9/11,
widespread corporate corruption, and a troubled economy all created a sense of uncertainty
and anxiety in people about leadership. Widespread unethical and ineffective leadership
necessitated the need for more humane, constructive leadership that served the common
good (Fry & Whittington, 2005; Luthans & Avolio, 2003).
In addition, researchers felt the need to extend the work of Bass (1990) and Bass and
313
Steidlmeier (1999) regarding the meaning of authentic transformational leadership. There
was a need to operationalize the meaning of authentic leadership and create a theoretical
framework to explain it. To develop a theory of authentic leadership, researchers drew from
the fields of leadership, positive organizational scholarship, and ethics (Cooper, Scandura,
& Schriesheim, 2005; Gardner et al., 2005b).
A major challenge confronting researchers in developing a theory was to define the
construct and identify its characteristics. As we discussed earlier in the chapter, authentic
leadership has been defined in multiple ways, with each definition emphasizing a different
aspect of the process. For this chapter, we have selected the definition set forth by
Walumbwa et al. (2008), who defined authentic leadership as
a pattern of leader behavior that draws upon and promotes both positive
psychological capacities and a positive ethical climate, to foster greater self-
awareness, an internalized moral perspective, balanced processing of information,
and relational transparency on the part of leaders working with followers,
fostering positive self-development. (p. 94)
Although complex, this definition captures the current thinking of scholars regarding the
phenomenon of authentic leadership and how it works.
In the research literature, different models have been developed to illustrate the process of
authentic leadership. Gardner et al. (2005b) created a model that frames authentic
leadership around the developmental processes of leader and follower self-awareness and
self-regulation. Ilies, Morgeson, and Nahrgang (2005) constructed a multicomponent
model that discusses the impact of authenticity on leaders’ and followers’ happiness and
well-being. In contrast, Luthans and Avolio (2003) formulated a model that explains
authentic leadership as a developmental process. In this chapter, we will present a basic
model of authentic leadership that is derived from the research literature that focuses on the
core components of authentic leadership. Our discussion will focus on authentic leadership
as a process.
Components of Authentic Leadership.
In an effort to further our understanding of authentic leadership, Walumbwa and associates
(2008) conducted a comprehensive review of the literature and interviewed groups of
content experts in the field to determine what components constituted authentic leadership
and to develop a valid measure of this construct. Their research identified four
components: self-awareness, internalized moral perspective, balanced processing, and
relational transparency (Figure 9.2). Together, these four components form the foundation
for a theory of authentic leadership.
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Self-awareness refers to the personal insights of the leader. It is not an end in itself but a
process in which individuals understand themselves, including their strengths and
weaknesses, and the impact they have on others. Self-awareness includes reflecting on your
core values, identity, emotions, motives, and goals, and coming to grips with who you
really are at the deepest level. In addition, it includes being aware of and trusting your own
feelings (Kernis, 2003). When leaders know themselves and have a clear sense of who they
are and what they stand for, they have a strong anchor for their decisions and actions
(Gardner et al., 2005b). Other people see leaders who have greater self-awareness as more
authentic. More recently, research has shown that self-knowledge and self-consistency also
have a positive impact on followers’ satisfaction with leaders, organizational commitment,
and perceived team effectiveness (Peus et al., 2012; Leroy et al., 2015). Internalized moral
perspective refers to a self-regulatory process whereby individuals use their internal moral
standards and values to guide their behavior rather than allow outside pressures to control
them (e.g., group or societal pressure). It is a self-regulatory process because people have
control over the extent to which they allow others to influence them. Others see leaders
with an internalized moral perspective as authentic because their actions are consistent with
their expressed beliefs and morals.
Figure 9.2 Authentic Leadership
Source: Adapted from “Authentic Leadership Development,” by F. Luthans and B. J.
Avolio, in K. S. Cameron, J. E. Dutton, and R. E. Quinn (Eds.), Positive
Organizational Scholarship (pp. 241–258), 2003, San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler;
and “’Can you see the real me?’ A self-based model of authentic leader and follower
development,” by W. L. Gardner, B. J. Avolio, F. Luthans, D. R. May, and F. O.
Walumbwa, 2005, The Leadership Quarterly, 16, pp. 343–372.
315
Balanced processing is also a self-regulatory behavior. Although not completely clear from its
title, it refers to an individual’s ability to analyze information objectively and explore other
people’s opinions before making a decision. It also means avoiding favoritism about certain
issues and remaining unbiased. Balanced processing includes soliciting viewpoints from
those who disagree with you and fully considering their positions before taking your own
action. Leaders with balanced processing are seen as authentic because they are open about
their own perspectives, but are also objective in considering others’ perspectives.
Relational transparency refers to being open and honest in presenting one’s true self to
others. It is self-regulating because individuals can control their transparency with others.
Relational transparency occurs when individuals share their core feelings, motives, and
inclinations with others in an appropriate manner (Kernis, 2003). It includes the
individuals showing both positive and negative aspects of themselves to others. In short,
relational transparency is about communicating openly and being real in relationships with
others.
Fundamentally, authentic leadership comprises the above four factors—self-awareness,
internalized moral perspective, balanced processing, and relational transparency. These
factors form the basis for authentic leadership.
Factors That Influence Authentic Leadership.
There are other factors such as positive psychological capacities, moral reasoning, and
critical life events that influence authentic leadership (Figure 9.2).
Table 9.1 Related Positive
Psychological Capacities
• Confidence • Optimism
• Hope • Resilience
Source: From “Authentic Leadership Development,” by F. Luthans and B. J. Avolio, in K. S. Cameron, J. E.
Dutton, and R. E. Quinn (Eds.), Positive Organizational Scholarship (pp. 241–258), 2003, San Francisco, CA:
Berrett-Koehler.
The four key positive psychological attributes that have an impact on authentic leadership—
confidence, hope, optimism, and resilience—have been drawn from the fields of positive
psychology and positive organizational behavior (Table 9.1; Luthans & Avolio, 2003).
Positive attributes predispose or enhance a leader’s capacity to develop the components of
authentic leadership discussed in the previous section. Each of these attributes has a trait-
like and a state-like quality. They are trait-like because they may characterize a relatively
fixed aspect of someone’s personality that has been evident throughout his or her life (e.g.,
extraversion), and they are state-like because, with training or coaching, individuals are
capable of developing or changing their characteristics.
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Confidence refers to having self-efficacy—the belief that one has the ability to successfully
accomplish a specified task. Leaders who have confidence are more likely to be motivated to
succeed, to be persistent when obstacles arise, and to welcome a challenge (Bandura, 1997;
Luthans & Avolio, 2003). Hope is a positive motivational state based on willpower and goal
planning (Luthans & Avolio, 2003). Authentic leaders with hope have goals they know can
be accomplished; their hope inspires followers to trust them and believe in their goals.
Optimism refers to the cognitive process of viewing situations from a positive light and
having favorable expectations about the future. Leaders with optimism are positive about
their capabilities and the outcomes they can achieve. They approach life with a sense of
abundance rather than scarcity (Covey, 1990). Resilience is the capacity to recover from and
adjust to adverse situations. It includes the ability to positively adapt to hardships and
suffering. During difficult times, resilient people are able to bounce back from challenging
situations and feel strengthened and more resourceful as a result of them (Sutcliffe &
Vogus, 2003).
Moral reasoning is another factor that can influence authentic leadership (Figure 9.2). It is
the capacity to make ethical decisions about issues of right or wrong and good or bad.
Developing the capacity for moral reasoning is a lifelong process. Higher levels of moral
reasoning make it possible for the authentic leader to make decisions that transcend
individual differences and align individuals toward a common goal. They enable leaders to
be selfless and make judgments that serve the greater good of the group, organization, or
community. Moral reasoning capacity also enables authentic leaders to use this ability to
promote justice and achieve what is right for a community. An extended discussion of how
moral reasoning develops is provided in Chapter 13.
Critical life events are major events that shape people’s lives, and therefore also shape an
individual’s development as an authentic leader (Figure 9.2). They can be positive events,
like receiving an unexpected promotion, having a child, or reading an important book; or
they can be negative events, like being diagnosed with cancer, getting a negative year-end
evaluation, or experiencing the death of a loved one. Critical life events act as catalysts for
change. Shamir and Eilam (2005) argued that authentic leadership rests heavily on the
insights people attach to their life experiences. When leaders tell their life stories, they gain
greater self-knowledge, more clarity about who they are, and a better understanding of their
role. By understanding their own life experiences, leaders become more authentic.
Critical life events also stimulate growth in individuals and help them become stronger
leaders (Luthans & Avolio, 2003). For example, Howard Schultz (founder and executive
chairman of Starbucks) tells a story about when he was little: His father, who was a delivery
driver, fell and was hurt on the job. His father did not have health insurance or worker’s
compensation. Seeing the problems that resulted from his father’s difficulties, when Schultz
built Starbucks he provided comprehensive health insurance for employees who worked as
few as 20 hours a week. Schultz’s style of leadership was triggered by his childhood
experience (“Howard Schultz,” 2008).
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As the theory of authentic leadership develops further, other antecedent factors that
influence the process may be identified. To date, however, it is positive psychological
capacities, moral reasoning capacities, and critical life events that have been identified as
factors that are influential in a person’s ability to become an authentic leader.
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How does Authentic Leadership Work?
In this chapter, we have discussed authentic leadership from a practical and theoretical
perspective. Both perspectives describe authentic leadership as a process that develops in
leaders over time; however, both perspectives provide different descriptions for how
authentic leadership works.
The practical approach provides prescriptions for how to be authentic and how to develop
authentic leadership. For example, the George approach focuses on five characteristics
leaders should develop to become authentic leaders. More specifically, George (2003)
advocates that leaders become more purposeful, value centered, relational, self-disciplined, and
compassionate. The essence of authentic leadership is being a leader who strongly
demonstrates these five qualities.
Rather than simple prescriptions, the theoretical approach describes what authentic
leadership is and what accounts for it. From this perspective, authentic leadership works
because leaders demonstrate self-awareness, an internalized moral perspective, balanced
processing, and relational transparency. Leaders develop these attributes through a lifelong
process that is often influenced by critical life events. In addition, the literature suggests
that positive psychological characteristics and moral reasoning have a significant impact on
authentic leaders.
Authentic leadership is a complex process that emphasizes the development of qualities that
help leaders to be perceived as trustworthy and believable by their followers. The leader’s
job is to learn to develop these qualities and apply them to the common good as he or she
serves others.
Throughout this chapter, we have focused on the development of authentic leadership in the
leader. Recent research has focused on the effects of authentic leadership on followers, and
the impact of followers on authentic leadership development. Xu, Zhao, Li, and Lin (2017)
and Semedo, Coehlo, and Ribeiro (2016) not only found that authentic leadership
correlates directly to followers who thrive at work, but also found a positive relationship
between employee creativity and authentic leadership. Rego, Sousa, Marques, and Pina e
Cunha (2014) found similar results regarding creativity, and also found positive
relationships between authentic leadership and employees’ hope. Stander, de Beer, and
Stander (2015) found that authentic leadership led significantly to optimism and trust, and
that those qualities led directly to stronger work engagement.
Furthermore, Wang, Sui, Luthans, Wang, and Wu (2014) directly investigated, and
positively correlated, the impact of authentic leadership on follower performance. Azanza,
Moriano, Molero, and Lévy Mangin (2015) extended the findings of positive relationships
between authentic leadership and work engagement to also include employee satisfaction
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and intent to stay while Kumar (2014) studied the effects of authentic leadership on
followers’ psychological ownership of their organizations.
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Strengths
Although it is in its initial stages of development, the authentic leadership approach has
several strengths. First, it fulfills an expressed need for trustworthy leadership in society.
During the past 20 years, failures in public and private leadership have created distrust in
people. Authentic leadership helps to fill a void and provides an answer to people who are
searching for good and sound leadership in an uncertain world. When leaders are authentic,
it gives followers a clear picture of who they are and how they will act. It informs their
understanding of the leader and whether or not they can depend on his or her leadership.
Second, authentic leadership provides broad guidelines for individuals who want to become
authentic leaders. Both the practical and theoretical approaches clearly point to what
leaders should do to become authentic leaders. Social science literature emphasizes that it is
important for leaders to have self-awareness, an internalized moral perspective, balanced
processing, and relational transparency to be authentic. Taken together, these approaches
provide a map for becoming an authentic leader.
Third, similar to transformational and servant leadership, authentic leadership has an
explicit moral dimension. Underlying both the practical and theoretical approaches is the
idea that authenticity requires leaders to do what is “right” and “good” for their followers
and society. Authentic leaders understand their own values, place followers’ needs above
their own, and work with followers to align their interests in order to create a greater
common good. Steffens, Mols, Haslam, and Okimoto (2016) found that when leaders
champion the collective good, followers are more inspired, and the leader’s authenticity is
enhanced.
Authentic leadership emphasizes that authentic values and behaviors can be developed in
leaders over time. Authentic leadership is not an attribute that only some people exhibit:
Everyone can develop authenticity and learn to be more authentic. For example, leaders can
learn to become more aware and transparent, or they can learn to be more relational and
other-directed. Leaders can also develop moral reasoning capacities. Furthermore, Luthans
and Avolio (2003) contended that leaders can learn to develop positive psychological
capacities such as confidence, hope, optimism, and resilience, and can use these to create a
positive organizational climate. They contended that there are many ways that leaders can
learn to become authentic leaders over a lifetime.
Finally, authentic leadership can be measured using the Authentic Leadership
Questionnaire (ALQ). The ALQ is a validated, theory-based instrument comprising 16
items that measure four factors of authentic leadership (Avolio et al., 2009; Walumbwa et
al., 2008). As research moves forward in refining authentic leadership theory, it is valuable
to have an established instrument of this construct that is theory-based and can be used to
measure authentic leadership in future research.
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Criticisms
Authentic leadership is still in the formative stages of development, and a number of
questions still need to be addressed about the theory. First, the concepts and ideas
presented in George’s practical approach are not fully substantiated. While the practical
approach is interesting and offers insight on authentic leadership, it is not built on a broad
empirical base, nor has it been tested for validity. Without research support, the ideas set
forth in the practical approach should be treated cautiously as explanations of the authentic
leadership process.
Second, the moral component of authentic leadership is not fully explained. Whereas
authentic leadership implies that leaders are motivated by higher-order end values such as
justice and community, the way that these values function to influence authentic leadership
is not clear. For example, how are a leader’s values related to a leader’s self-awareness? Or,
what is the path or underlying process through which moral values affect other components
of authentic leadership? In its present form, authentic leadership does not offer thorough
answers to these questions.
Third, researchers have questioned whether positive psychological capacities should be
included as components of authentic leadership. Although there is an interest in the social
sciences to study positive human potential and the best of the human condition (Cameron,
Dutton, & Quinn, 2003), the rationale for including positive psychological capacities as an
inherent part of authentic leadership has not been clearly explained by researchers. In
addition, some have argued that the inclusion of positive leader capacities in authentic
leadership broadens the construct of authentic leadership too much and makes it difficult
to measure (Cooper et al., 2005). At this point in the development of research on authentic
leadership, the role of positive psychological capacities in authentic leadership theory needs
further clarification.
In addition, new research is required to determine if the millennial generation can be
effectively led by authentic leaders. This generation’s individualism, commitment to work–
life balance, and subsequent preference for extrinsic rewards have been identified by
Anderson, Baur, Griffith, and Buckley (2017) as potential stumbling points for effectively
leading millennials as followers using the model of authentic leadership.
Finally, it is not clear how authentic leadership results in positive organizational outcomes.
Given that it is a new area of research, it is not unexpected that there are few data on
outcomes. Research has begun to come out on organizational outcomes (see Azanza et al.,
2015; Gatling, Kang, & Kim, 2016; Rego, Sousa, Marques, & Pina e Cunha, 2012;
Semedo et al., 2016; Xu et al., 2017), but more data are necessary to substantiate the value
of the theory. Although authentic leadership is intuitively appealing on the surface,
questions remain about whether this approach is effective, in what contexts it is effective,
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and whether authentic leadership results in productive outcomes. In some contexts,
authenticity may be counterproductive. Relatedly, it is also not clear in the research
whether authentic leadership is sufficient to achieve organizational goals. For example, can
an authentic leader who is disorganized and lacking in technical competence be an effective
leader? Authenticity is important and valuable to good leadership, but how authenticity
relates to effective leadership is unknown. Clearly, future research should be conducted to
explore how authentic leadership is related to organizational outcomes.
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Application
Because authentic leadership is still in the early phase of its development, there has been
little research on strategies that people can use to develop or enhance authentic leadership
behaviors. While there are prescriptions set forth in the practical approach, there is little
evidence-based research on whether these prescriptions or how-to strategies actually
increase authentic leadership behavior.
In spite of the lack of intervention research, there are common themes from the authentic
leadership literature that may be applicable to organizational or practice settings. One
theme common to all of the formulations of authentic leadership is that people have the
capacity to learn to be authentic leaders. In their original work on authentic leadership,
Luthans and Avolio (2003) constructed a model of authentic leadership development.
Conceptualizing it as a lifelong learning process, they argued that authentic leadership is a
process that can be developed over time. This suggests that human resource departments
may be able to foster authentic leadership behaviors in employees who move into leadership
positions.
Another theme that can be applied to organizations is the overriding goal of authentic
leaders to try to do the “right” thing, to be honest with themselves and others, and to work
for the common good. Authentic leadership can have a positive impact in organizations.
For example, Cianci, Hannah, Roberts, and Tsakumis (2014) investigated the impact of
authentic leadership on followers’ morality. Based on the responses of 118 MBA students,
they found that authentic leaders significantly inhibited followers from making unethical
choices in the face of temptation. Authentic leadership appears to be a critical contextual
factor that morally strengthens followers. Cianci et al. suggest that the four components of
authentic leadership (i.e., self-awareness, internalized moral perspective, balanced
processing, and relational transparency) should be developed in organizational leadership to
increase ethical organizational behavior.
Last, authentic leadership is shaped and reformed by critical life events that act as triggers to
growth and greater authenticity. Being sensitive to these events and using them as
springboards to growth may be relevant to many people who are interested in becoming
leaders who are more authentic.
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Case Studies
The following section provides three case studies (Cases 9.1, 9.2, and 9.3) of individuals who demonstrate
authentic leadership. The first case is about Sally Helgesen, author of The Female Advantage: Women’s Ways of
Leadership (1990). The second case is about Greg Mortenson and how his mission to promote schools and peace
in Pakistan and Afghanistan came under fire when he was accused of lying and financial impropriety. The final
case is about Betty Ford, former First Lady of the United States, and her work in the areas of breast cancer
awareness and substance abuse treatment. At the end of each of the cases, questions are provided to help you
analyze the case using ideas from authentic leadership.
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Case 9.1: Am I Really a Leader?
Sally Helgesen was born in the small Midwest town of Saint Cloud, Minnesota. Her mother was a housewife
who later taught English, and her father taught speech as a college professor. After attending a local state college,
where she majored in English and comparative religion, Sally spread her wings and moved to New York, inspired
by the classic film Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Sally found work as a writer, first in advertising and then as an assistant to a columnist at the then-influential
Village Voice. She contributed freelance articles to magazines such as Harper’s, Glamour, Vogue, Fortune, and
Inside Sports. She also returned to school, completing a degree in classics at Hunter College and taking language
courses at the city graduate center in preparation for a PhD in comparative religion. She envisioned herself as a
college professor, but also enjoyed freelancing. She felt a strong dichotomy within her, part quiet scholar and part
footloose dreamer. The conflict bothered her, and she wondered how she would resolve it. Choosing to be a
writer—actually declaring herself to be one—seemed scary, grandiose, and fraudulent.
Then one day, while walking on a New York side street in the rain, Sally saw an adventuresome black cat running
beside her. It reminded her of Holly Golightly’s cat in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, an emblem in the movie for Holly’s
dreamy temperament and rootlessness. It made her realize how much the freedom and independence offered by
her “temporary” career as a writer suited her temperament. Sally told the cat she was a writer—she’d never been
able to say the words before—and decided she was going to commit to full-time writing, at least for a time.
When she saw the opportunity to cover a prominent murder trial in Fort Worth, Texas, she took it.
While covering the trial, Sally became intrigued with the culture of Texas, and decided she wanted to write a
book on the role of independent oil producers in shaping the region. Doing so required a huge expenditure of
time and money, and for almost a year Sally lived out of the trunk of her car, staying with friends in remote
regions all over Texas. It was lonely and hard and exhilarating, but Sally was determined to see the project
through. When the book, Wildcatters (1981), was published, it achieved little recognition, but Sally felt an
enormous increase in confidence and commitment as a result of having finished the book. It strengthened her
conviction that, for better or worse, she was a writer.
Sally moved back to New York and continued to write articles and search around for another book. She also
began writing speeches for the CEO at a Fortune 500 company. She loved the work, and particularly enjoyed
being an observer of office politics, even though she did not perceive herself to be a part of them. Sally viewed her
role as being an “outsider looking in,” an observer of the culture. She sometimes felt like an actor in a play about
an office, but this detachment made her feel professional rather than fraudulent.
As a speechwriter, Sally spent a lot of time interviewing people in the companies she worked for. Doing so made
her realize that men and women often approach their work in fundamentally different ways. She also became
convinced that many of the skills and attitudes women brought to their work were increasingly appropriate for
the ways in which organizations were changing, and that women had certain advantages as a result. She also
noticed that the unique perspectives of women were seldom valued by CEOs or other organizational leaders, who
could have benefited if they had better understood and been more attentive to what women had to offer.
These observations inspired Sally to write another book. In 1988, she signed a contract with a major publisher to
write a book on what women had to contribute to organizations. Until then, almost everything written about
women at work focused on how they needed to change and adapt. Sally felt strongly that if women were
encouraged to emphasize the negative, they would miss a historic opportunity to help lead organizations in a time
of change. The time was right for this message, and The Female Advantage: Women’s Ways of Leadership (1990)
became very successful, topping a number of best-seller charts and remaining steadily in print for nearly 20 years.
The book’s prominence resulted in numerous speaking and consulting opportunities, and Sally began traveling
the world delivering seminars and working with a variety of clients.
This acclaim and visibility was somewhat daunting to Sally. While she recognized the value of her book, she also
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knew that she was not a social scientist with a body of theoretical data on women’s issues. She saw herself as an
author rather than an expert, and the old questions about fraudulence that she had dealt with in her early years in
New York began to reassert themselves in a different form. Was she really being authentic? Could she take on the
mantle of leadership and all it entailed? In short, she wondered if she could be the leader that people seemed to
expect.
The path Sally took to answer these questions was simply to present herself for who she was. She was Sally
Helgesen, an outsider looking in, a skilled and imaginative observer of current issues. For Sally, the path to
leadership did not manifest itself in a step-by-step process. Sally’s leadership began with her own journey of
finding herself and accepting her personal authenticity. Through this self-awareness, she grew to trust her own
expertise as a writer with a keen eye for current trends in organizational life.
Sally continues to be an internationally recognized consultant and speaker on contemporary issues, and has
published five books. She remains uncertain about whether she will finish her degree in comparative religion and
become a college professor, but always keeps in mind the career of I. F. Stone, an influential political writer in the
1950s and 1960s who went back to school and got an advanced degree in classics at the age of 75.
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Questions
1. Learning about one’s self is an essential step in becoming an authentic leader. What role did self-
awareness play in Sally Helgesen’s story of leadership?
2. How would you describe the authenticity of Sally Helgesen’s leadership?
3. At the end of the case, Sally Helgesen is described as taking on the “mantle of leadership.” Was this
important for her leadership? How is taking on the mantle of leadership related to a leader’s authenticity?
Does every leader reach a point in his or her career where embracing the leadership role is essential?
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Case 9.2: A Leader Under Fire
(The sixth edition of this book includes a case study outlining Greg Mortenson’s creation of the Central Asia Institute
and highlighting his authentic leadership qualities in more detail. For an additional perspective on Mortenson, you can
access the original case study at www.sagepub.com/northouse6e.)
By 2011, there were few people who had never heard of Greg Mortenson. He was the subject of two best-selling
books, Three Cups of Tea (2006, with David O. Relin) and Stones Into Schools (2009), both of which tell the story
of how the former emergency trauma room nurse became a hero who built schools in rural areas of Afghanistan
and Pakistan.
His story was phenomenal: lost and sick after attempting to scale K2, Greg was nursed back to health by the
villagers of remote Korphe, Afghanistan. Greg promised to build the village a school, a monumental effort that
took him three years as he learned to raise money, navigate the foreign culture, and build a bridge above a 60-
foot-deep chasm. His success led him to create the Central Asia Institute (CAI), a nonprofit organization whose
“mission is to empower communities of Central Asia through literacy and education, especially for girls; to
promote peace through education; and to convey the importance of these activities globally” (Central Asia
Institute, 2017). By 2011, the CAI had successfully established or supported more than 170 schools in Pakistan
and Afghanistan, and helped to educate more than 68,000 students (Haq, 2011).
Greg’s story seemed too good to be true. In April 2011, television news show 60 Minutes and author Jon
Krakauer (Into Thin Air, 1997, and Under the Banner of Heaven, 2003) alleged that it was. 60 Minutes accused
Greg of misusing money and benefiting excessively from the CAI. The show’s reporter visited schools the CAI
had built overseas and claimed that he could not find six of the schools and that others were abandoned. The
show featured an interview with Krakauer, who claimed Greg had fabricated parts of his best-selling book Three
Cups of Tea. When 60 Minutes approached Greg for comment at a book signing, he refused to talk to the
program.
The day following the 60 Minutes story, Krakauer published a short online book, Three Cups of Deceit (2011), in
which he claimed Greg lied many times in Three Cups of Tea, starting with his initial tale of being in Korphe.
Greg and the CAI were caught in a firestorm of media and public scrutiny. An investigation into the alleged
financial improprieties was launched by Montana’s attorney general (the CAI is based in Bozeman), and two
Montana legislators filed a $5 million class action lawsuit claiming Greg fooled 4 million people into buying his
books.
Greg withdrew from the public eye. The day the 60 Minutes program aired, he posted a letter on the CAI website
saying he stood by his books and claiming the news show “paints a distorted picture using inaccurate
information, innuendo and a microscopic focus on one year’s (2009) IRS 990 financial, and a few points in the
book Three Cups of Tea that occurred almost 18 years ago” (Schabner & Dolak, 2011). Many criticized the
organization’s founder for not more aggressively defending himself.
What many people did not know, however, was that two days before the 60 Minutes segment appeared, Greg had
been diagnosed with a hole and a large aneurysm in his heart and was scheduled for open-heart surgery in the
next few months. Meanwhile, the CAI worked to ensure its transparency by posting its tax returns and a master
list of projects and their status. The report documented 210 schools, 17 of which were listed as receiving “full
support” from the CAI, which includes teachers’ salaries, supplies, books, and furniture and monitoring by CAI
contractors (Flandro, 2011).
The attorney general investigation concluded in 2012 and determined that Greg, as well as CAI board members,
had mismanaged the CAI, and that Greg had personally profited from it. In a settlement, Greg agreed to pay $1
million to the CAI for expenses he incurred that were deemed personal. The attorney general’s conclusions did
not address the allegations that Greg fabricated parts of his book. While he continues to be a CAI employee,
Greg is not allowed to have any financial oversight for the organization or sit on its board of directors (Flandro,
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http://www.sagepub.com/northouse6e
2012).
Despite the controversy and subsequent finding of wrongdoing, former CAI board member Andrew Marcus
hopes the public will consider what Greg and the organization have accomplished.
“It’s hard to imagine anyone who’s done more for education in that part of the world,” Marcus has said. “It took
a real human being to do that” (Flandro, 2011).
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Questions
1. Would you describe Greg Mortenson as an authentic leader? Explain your answer.
2. In the chapter, we discussed moral reasoning and transparency as components of authentic leadership.
Do you think Greg Mortenson exhibited these components as part his leadership?
3. How was Greg Mortenson’s response to the allegations against him characteristic of an authentic leader?
4. How did the outcome of the investigation affect the authenticity of Greg Mortenson’s leadership?
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Case 9.3: The Reluctant First Lady
Betty Ford admits that August 9, 1974, the day her husband was sworn in as the 38th president of the United
States, was “the saddest day of my life” (Ford, 1978, p. 1).
Elizabeth Bloomer Ford was many things—a former professional dancer and dance teacher, the mother of four
nearly grown children, the wife of a 13-term U.S. congressman who was looking forward to their retirement—
but she never saw being the country’s First Lady as her destiny.
As she held the Bible her husband’s hand rested on while he took the oath of office, Betty began a journey in
which she would become many more things: a breast cancer survivor, an outspoken advocate of women’s rights, a
recovering alcoholic and addict, and cofounder and president of the Betty Ford Center, a nonprofit treatment
center for substance abuse.
The Fords’ path to the White House began in October 1973, when Gerald “Jerry” R. Ford was tapped to replace
then–U.S. vice president Spiro Agnew following Agnew’s resignation. After only nine months in that role, Jerry
became the U.S. president after Richard M. Nixon left office amidst the Watergate scandal.
In her first days as the First Lady, Betty became known for her openness and candor. At the time, women were
actively fighting for equal rights in the workplace and in society. Less than half of American women were
employed outside the home, and women’s earnings were only 38% of their male counterparts’ (Spraggins, 2005).
Betty raised a number of eyebrows in her first press conference, when she spoke out in support of abortion rights,
women in politics, and the Equal Rights Amendment.
Betty hadn’t even been in the White House a month when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She again broke
with social conventions and spoke openly about the diagnosis and treatment for a disease that was not widely
discussed in public. With her cooperation, Newsweek magazine printed a complete account of her surgery and
treatment, which included a radical mastectomy. This openness helped raise awareness of breast cancer screening
and treatment options and created an atmosphere of support and comfort for other women fighting the disease.
“Lying in the hospital, thinking of all those women going for cancer checkups because of me, I’d come to
recognize more clearly the power of the woman in the White House,” she said in her first autobiography, The
Times of My Life. “Not my power, but the power of the position, a power which could be used to help” (Ford,
1978, p. 194).
After her recuperation, Betty made good use of that newfound power. She openly supported and lobbied for
passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, a bill that would ensure that “equality of rights under the law shall not
be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex” (Francis, 2009).
In an interview with 60 Minutes, Betty drew the ire of many conservatives when she candidly shared her views on
the provocative issues of abortion rights, premarital sex, and marijuana use. After the interview aired, public
opinion of Betty plummeted, but her popularity quickly rebounded, and within months her approval rating had
climbed to 75%.
At the same time, Betty was busy with the duties of First Lady, entertaining dignitaries and heads of state from
countries across the globe. In 1975 she began actively campaigning for her husband for the 1976 presidential
election, inspiring buttons that read “Vote for Betty’s Husband.” Ford lost the election to Jimmy Carter and,
because he was suffering from laryngitis, Betty stepped into the spotlight to read Jerry’s concession speech to the
country, congratulating Carter on his victory. Betty’s time as First Lady ended in January 1977, and the Fords
retired to Rancho Mirage, California, and Vail, Colorado.
A little more than a year later, at the age of 60, Betty began another personal battle: overcoming alcoholism and
an addiction to prescription medicine. Betty had a 14-year dependence on painkillers for chronic neck spasms,
arthritis, and a pinched nerve, but refused to admit she was addicted to alcohol. After checking into the Long
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Beach Naval Hospital’s Alcohol and Drug Rehabilitation Service, she found the strength to face her demons and,
again, went public with her struggles.
“I have found that I am not only addicted to the medications I’ve been taking for my arthritis, but also to
alcohol,” she wrote in a statement released to the public. “I expect this treatment and fellowship to be a solution
for my problems and I embrace it not only for me but for all the others who are here to participate” (Ford, 1978,
p. 285).
Betty Ford found recovering from addiction was particularly daunting at a time when most treatment centers
were geared toward treating men. “The female alcoholic has more emotional problems, more health problems,
more parenting problems, makes more suicide attempts, than the alcoholic man,” Betty explained in her second
autobiography, Betty, a Glad Awakening (Ford, 1987, p. 129).
For this reason, Betty helped to establish the nonprofit Betty Ford Center in 1982 in Rancho Mirage. The center
splits its space equally between male and female patients, but the treatment is gender specific with programs for
the entire family system affected by addiction. The center’s success has attracted celebrities as well as everyday
people including middle-class moms, executives, college students, and laborers. Betty’s activism in the field of
recovery earned her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1991 and the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1999.
Speaking at an alumni reunion of Betty Ford Center patients, Betty said, “I’m really proud of this center. And
I’m really grateful for my own recovery, because with my recovery, I was able to help some other people come
forward and address their own addictions. And I don’t think there’s anything as wonderful in life as being able to
help someone else” (Ford, 1987, p. 217).
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Questions
1. How would you describe Betty Ford’s leadership? In what ways could her leadership be described as
authentic?
2. How did critical life events play a role in the development of her leadership?
3. Is there a clear moral dimension to Betty Ford’s leadership? In what way is her leadership about serving
the common good? Discuss.
4. As we discussed in the chapter, self-awareness and transparency are associated with authentic leadership.
How does Betty Ford exhibit these qualities?
Leadership Instrument
Although still in its early phases of development, the Authentic Leadership Questionnaire (ALQ) was
created by Walumbwa and associates (2008) to explore and validate the assumptions of authentic
leadership. It is a 16-item instrument that measures four factors of authentic leadership: self-awareness,
internalized moral perspective, balanced processing, and relational transparency. Based on samples in China,
Kenya, and the United States, Walumbwa and associates validated the dimensions of the instrument and
found it positively related to outcomes such as organizational citizenship, organizational commitment, and
satisfaction with supervisor and performance. To obtain this instrument, contact Mind Garden Inc., in
Menlo Park, California, or visit www.mindgarden.com.
In this section, we provide an authentic leadership self-assessment to help you determine your own level of
authentic leadership. This questionnaire will help you understand how authentic leadership is measured and
provide you with your own scores on items that characterize authentic leadership. The questionnaire
includes 16 questions that assess the four major components of authentic leadership discussed earlier in this
chapter: self-awareness, internalized moral perspective, balanced processing, and relational transparency.
Your results on this self-assessment questionnaire will give you information about your level of authentic
leadership on these underlying dimensions of authentic leadership. This questionnaire is intended for
practical applications to help you understand the complexities of authentic leadership. It is not designed for
research purposes.
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http://www.mindgarden.com
Authentic Leadership Self-Assessment Questionnaire
Instructions: This questionnaire contains items about different dimensions of authentic leadership. There are
no right or wrong responses, so please answer honestly. Use the following scale when responding to each
statement by writing the number from the scale below that you feel most accurately characterizes your
response to the statement.
Key: 1 = Strongly disagree 2 = Disagree 3 = Neutral 4 = Agree 5 = Strongly agree
1. I can list my three greatest weaknesses. 1 2 3 4 5
2. My actions reflect my core values. 1 2 3 4 5
3. I seek others’ opinions before making up my own mind. 1 2 3 4 5
4. I openly share my feelings with others. 1 2 3 4 5
5. I can list my three greatest strengths. 1 2 3 4 5
6. I do not allow group pressure to control me. 1 2 3 4 5
7. I listen closely to the ideas of those who disagree with me. 1 2 3 4 5
8. I let others know who I truly am as a person. 1 2 3 4 5
9. I seek feedback as a way of understanding who I really am as a person. 1 2 3 4 5
10. Other people know where I stand on controversial issues. 1 2 3 4 5
11. I do not emphasize my own point of view at the expense of others. 1 2 3 4 5
12. I rarely present a “false” front to others. 1 2 3 4 5
13. I accept the feelings I have about myself. 1 2 3 4 5
14. My morals guide what I do as a leader. 1 2 3 4 5
15. I listen very carefully to the ideas of others before making decisions. 1 2 3 4 5
16. I admit my mistakes to others. 1 2 3 4 5
335
Scoring
1. Sum the responses on items 1, 5, 9, and 13 (self-awareness).
2. Sum the responses on items 2, 6, 10, and 14 (internalized moral perspective).
3. Sum the responses on items 3, 7, 11, and 15 (balanced processing).
4. Sum the responses on items 4, 8, 12, and 16 (relational transparency).
336
Total Scores
Self-Awareness: ______
Internalized Moral Perspective: _____
Balanced Processing: _____
Relational Transparency: _____
337
Scoring Interpretation
This self-assessment questionnaire is designed to measure your authentic leadership by assessing four
components of the process: self-awareness, internalized moral perspective, balanced processing, and
relational transparency. By comparing your scores on each of these components, you can determine which
are your stronger and which are your weaker components in each category. You can interpret your authentic
leadership scores using the following guideline: high = 16–20 and low = 15 and below. Scores in the upper
range indicate stronger authentic leadership, whereas scores in the lower range indicate weaker authentic
leadership.
338
Summary
As a result of leadership failures in the public and private sectors, authentic leadership is
emerging in response to societal demands for genuine, trustworthy, and good leadership.
Authentic leadership describes leadership that is transparent, morally grounded, and
responsive to people’s needs and values. Even though authentic leadership is still in the
early stages of development, the study of authentic leadership is timely and worthwhile,
offering hope to people who long for true leadership.
Although there is no single accepted definition of authentic leadership, it can be
conceptualized intrapersonally, developmentally, and interpersonally. The intrapersonal
perspective focuses on the leader and the leader’s knowledge, self-regulation, and self-
concept. The interpersonal perspective claims that authentic leadership is a collective
process, created by leaders and followers together. The developmental perspective
emphasizes major components of authentic leadership that develop over a lifetime and are
triggered by major life events.
The practical approach to authentic leadership provides basic “how to” steps to become an
authentic leader. George’s (2003) approach identifies five basic dimensions of authentic
leadership and the corresponding behavioral characteristics individuals need to develop to
become authentic leaders.
In the social science literature, a theoretical approach to authentic leadership is emerging.
Drawing from the fields of leadership, positive organizational scholarship, and ethics,
researchers have identified four major components of authentic leadership: self-awareness,
internalized moral perspective, balanced processing, and relational transparency.
In addition, researchers have found that authentic leadership is influenced by a leader’s
positive psychological capacities, moral reasoning, and critical life events.
Authentic leadership has several positive features. First, it provides an answer to people who
are searching for good and sound leadership in an uncertain world. Second, authentic
leadership provides broad guidelines about how leaders can learn to become authentic.
Third, it has an explicit moral dimension that asserts that leaders need to do what is “right”
and “good” for their followers and society. Fourth, it is framed as a process that is
developed by leaders over time rather than as a fixed trait. Last, authentic leadership can be
measured with a theory-based instrument.
There are also negative features to authentic leadership. First, the ideas set forth in the
practical approach need to be treated cautiously because they have not been fully
substantiated by research. Second, the moral component of authentic leadership is not fully
explained. For example, it does not describe how values such as justice and community are
339
related to authentic leadership. Third, the rationale for including positive psychological
capacities as an inherent part of a model of authentic leadership has not been fully
explicated. Fourth, there is evidence emerging that authentic leadership may be ineffective
with the millennial generation. Finally, there is a lack of evidence regarding the
effectiveness of authentic leadership and how it is related to positive organizational
outcomes.
In summary, authentic leadership is a new and exciting area of research, which holds a great
deal of promise. As more research is conducted on authentic leadership, a clearer picture
will emerge about the true nature of the process and the assumptions and principles that it
encompasses.
Sharpen your skills with SAGE edge at edge.sagepub.com/northouse8e
340
http://edge.sagepub.com/northouse8e
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10 Servant Leadership
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Description
Servant leadership is a paradox—an approach to leadership that runs counter to common
sense. Our everyday images of leadership do not coincide with leaders being servants.
Leaders influence, and servants follow. How can leadership be both service and influence?
How can a person be a leader and a servant at the same time? Although servant leadership
seems contradictory and challenges our traditional beliefs about leadership, it is an
approach that offers a unique perspective.
Servant leadership, which originated in the writings of Greenleaf (1970, 1972, 1977), has
been of interest to leadership scholars for more than 40 years. Until recently, little empirical
research on servant leadership has appeared in established peer-reviewed journals. Most of
the academic and nonacademic writing on the topic has been prescriptive, focusing on how
servant leadership should ideally be, rather than descriptive, focusing on what servant
leadership actually is in practice (van Dierendonck, 2011). However, in the past 10 years,
multiple publications have helped to clarify servant leadership and substantiate its basic
assumptions.
Similar to earlier leadership theories discussed in this book (e.g., skills approach and
behavioral approach), servant leadership is an approach focusing on leadership from the
point of view of the leader and his or her behaviors. Servant leadership emphasizes that
leaders be attentive to the concerns of their followers, empathize with them, and nurture
them. Servant leaders put followers first, empower them, and help them develop their full
personal capacities. Furthermore, servant leaders are ethical (see Chapter 13, “Leadership
Ethics,” for an extended discussion of this topic) and lead in ways that serve the greater
good of the organization, community, and society at large.
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Servant Leadership Defined
What is servant leadership? Scholars have addressed this approach from many different
perspectives resulting in a variety of definitions of servant leadership. Greenleaf (1970)
provides the most frequently referenced definition:
[Servant leadership] begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to
serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. . . . The difference
manifests itself in the care taken by the servant—first to make sure that other
people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test . . . is: do those
served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer,
more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the
effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or, at least, will they not
be further deprived? (p. 15)
Although complex, this definition sets forth the basic ideas of servant leadership that have
been highlighted by current scholars. Servant leaders place the good of followers over their
own self-interests and emphasize follower development (Hale & Fields, 2007). They
demonstrate strong moral behavior toward followers (Graham, 1991; Walumbwa, Hartnell,
& Oke, 2010), the organization, and other stakeholders (Ehrhart, 2004). Practicing servant
leadership comes more naturally for some than others, but everyone can learn to be a
servant leader (Spears, 2010). Although servant leadership is sometimes treated by others as
a trait, in our discussion, servant leadership is viewed as a behavior.
349
Historical Basis of Servant Leadership
Robert K. Greenleaf coined the term servant leadership and is the author of the seminal
works on the subject. Greenleaf’s persona and writings have significantly influenced how
servant leadership has developed on the practical and theoretical level. He founded the
Center for Applied Ethics in 1964, now the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership,
which provides a clearinghouse and focal point for research and writing on servant
leadership.
Greenleaf worked for 40 years at AT&T and, after retiring, began exploring how
institutions function and how they could better serve society. He was intrigued by issues of
power and authority and how individuals in organizations could creatively support each
other. Decidedly against coercive leadership, Greenleaf advocated using communication to
build consensus in groups.
Greenleaf credits his formulation of servant leadership to Hermann Hesse’s (1956) novel
The Journey to the East. It tells the story of a group of travelers on a mythical journey who
are accompanied by a servant who does menial chores for the travelers but also sustains
them with his spirits and song. The servant’s presence has an extraordinary impact on the
group. When the servant becomes lost and disappears from the group, the travelers fall into
disarray and abandon the journey. Without the servant, they are unable to carry on. It was
the servant who was ultimately leading the group, emerging as a leader through his selfless
care of the travelers.
In addition to serving, Greenleaf states that a servant leader has a social responsibility to be
concerned about the “have-nots” and those less privileged. If inequalities and social
injustices exist, a servant leader tries to remove them (Graham, 1991). In becoming a
servant leader, a leader uses less institutional power and control while shifting authority to
those who are being led. Servant leadership values community because it provides a face-to-
face opportunity for individuals to experience interdependence, respect, trust, and
individual growth (Greenleaf, 1970).
350
Ten Characteristics of a Servant Leader
In an attempt to clarify servant leadership for practitioners, Spears (2002) identified 10
characteristics in Greenleaf’s writings that are central to the development of servant
leadership. Together, these characteristics comprise the first model or conceptualization of
servant leadership.
1. Listening. Communication between leaders and followers is an interactive process that
includes sending and receiving messages (i.e., talking and listening). Servant leaders
communicate by listening first. They recognize that listening is a learned discipline
that involves hearing and being receptive to what others have to say. Through
listening, servant leaders acknowledge the viewpoint of followers and validate these
perspectives.
2. Empathy. Empathy is “standing in the shoes” of another person and attempting to see
the world from that person’s point of view. Empathetic servant leaders demonstrate
that they truly understand what followers are thinking and feeling. When a servant
leader shows empathy, it is confirming and validating for the follower. It makes the
follower feel unique.
3. Healing. To heal means to make whole. Servant leaders care about the personal well-
being of their followers. They support followers by helping them overcome personal
problems. Greenleaf argues that the process of healing is a two-way street—in helping
followers become whole, servant leaders themselves are healed.
4. Awareness. For Greenleaf, awareness is a quality within servant leaders that makes
them acutely attuned and receptive to their physical, social, and political
environments. It includes understanding oneself and the impact one has on others.
With awareness, servant leaders are able to step aside and view themselves and their
own perspectives in the greater context of the situation.
5. Persuasion. Persuasion is clear and persistent communication that convinces others to
change. As opposed to coercion, which utilizes positional authority to force
compliance, persuasion creates change through the use of gentle nonjudgmental
argument. According to Spears (2002), Greenleaf’s emphasis on persuasion over
coercion is perhaps related to his denominational affiliation with the Religious
Society of Friends (Quakers).
6. Conceptualization. Conceptualization refers to an individual’s ability to be a visionary
for an organization, providing a clear sense of its goals and direction. This
characteristic goes beyond day-to-day operational thinking to focus on the “big
picture.” Conceptualization also equips servant leaders to respond to complex
organizational problems in creative ways, enabling them to deal with the intricacies of
the organization in relationship to its long-term goals.
7. Foresight. Foresight encompasses a servant leader’s ability to know the future. It is an
ability to predict what is coming based on what is occurring in the present and what
351
has happened in the past. For Greenleaf, foresight has an ethical dimension because
he believes leaders should be held accountable for any failures to anticipate what
reasonably could be foreseen and to act on that understanding.
8. Stewardship. Stewardship is about taking responsibility for the leadership role
entrusted to the leader. Servant leaders accept the responsibility to carefully manage
the people and organization they have been given to lead. In addition, they hold the
organization in trust for the greater good of society.
9. Commitment to the growth of people. Greenleaf’s conceptualization of servant
leadership places a premium on treating each follower as a unique person with
intrinsic value that goes beyond his or her tangible contributions to the organization.
Servant leaders are committed to helping each person in the organization grow
personally and professionally. Commitment can take many forms, including
providing followers with opportunities for career development, helping them develop
new work skills, taking a personal interest in their ideas, and involving them in
decision making (Spears, 2002).
10. Building community. Servant leadership fosters the development of community. A
community is a collection of individuals who have shared interests and pursuits and
feel a sense of unity and relatedness. Community allows followers to identify with
something greater than themselves that they value. Servant leaders build community
to provide a place where people can feel safe and connected with others, but are still
allowed to express their own individuality.
These 10 characteristics of servant leadership represent Greenleaf’s seminal work on the
servant as leader. They provide a creative lens from which to view the complexities of
servant leadership.
352
Building a Theory About Servant Leadership
For more than three decades after Greenleaf’s original writings, servant leadership remained
a set of loosely defined characteristics and normative principles. In this form it was widely
accepted as a leadership approach, rather than a theory, that has strong heuristic and
practical value. Praise for servant leadership came from a wide range of well-known
leadership writers, including Bennis (2002), Blanchard and Hodges (2003), Covey (2002),
DePree (2002), Senge (2002), and Wheatley (2002). At the same time, servant leadership
was adopted as a guiding philosophy in many well-known organizations such as The Toro
Company, Herman Miller, Synovus Financial Corporation, ServiceMaster, Men’s
Wearhouse, Southwest Airlines, and TDIndustries (Spears, 2002). Although novel and
paradoxical, the basic ideas and prescriptions of servant leadership resonated with many as
an ideal way to run an organization.
More recently, researchers have begun to examine the conceptual underpinnings of servant
leadership in an effort to build a theory about it. This has resulted in a wide array of models
that describe servant leadership that incorporate a multitude of variables. For example,
Russell and Stone (2002) developed a practical model of servant leadership that contained
20 attributes, 9 functional characteristics (distinctive behaviors observed in the workplace)
and 11 accompanying characteristics that augment these behaviors. Similarly, Patterson
(2003) created a value-based model of servant leadership that distinguished 7 constructs
that characterize the virtues and shape the behaviors of servant leaders.
Other conceptualizations of servant leadership have emerged from researchers’ efforts to
develop and validate instruments to measure the core dimensions of the servant leadership
process. Table 10.1 provides a summary of some of these studies, illustrating clearly the
extensiveness of characteristics related to servant leadership. This table demonstrates how
servant leadership is treated as a trait phenomenon (e.g., courage, humility) in some studies
while other researchers regard it as a behavioral process (e.g., serving and developing
others).
Table 10.1 also exhibits the lack of agreement among researchers on what specific
characteristics define servant leadership. While some of the studies include common
characteristics, such as humility or empowerment, none of the studies conceptualize servant
leadership in exactly the same way. Most recently, Coetzer, Bussin, and Geldenhuys (2017)
analyzed the existing literature and created a framework that summarizes the functions of
servant leadership to make it more practical in organizations. They highlight 8 servant
leadership characteristics (authenticity, humility, integrity, listening, compassion,
accountability, courage, and altruism), 4 competencies, and 10 measures and 3 outcomes of
servant leadership. Although scholars are not in agreement regarding the primary attributes
of servant leadership, all these studies provide the groundwork necessary for the
353
development of a refined model of servant leadership.
Table 10.1 Key Characteristics of Servant Leadership
Laub
(1999)
Wong &
Davey
(2007)
Barbuto &
Wheeler
(2006)
Dennis &
Bocarnea
(2005)
Sendjaya,
Sarros, &
Santora (2008)
van
Dierendonck
& Nuijten
(2011)

Developing
people
• Sharing
leadership

Displaying
authenticity
• Valuing
people
• Providing
leadership
• Building
community
• Serving
and
developing
others

Consulting
and
involving
others
• Humility
and
selflessness
• Modeling
integrity
and
authenticity
• Inspiring
and
influencing
others
• Altruistic
calling
• Emotional
healing
• Persuasive
mapping

Organizational
stewardship
• Wisdom

Empowerment
• Trust
• Humility
• Agapao love
• Vision

Transforming
influence
• Voluntary
subordination
• Authentic self

Transcendental
spirituality
• Covenantal
relationship
• Responsible
morality

Empowerment
• Humility
• Standing
back
• Authenticity
• Forgiveness
• Courage

Accountability
• Stewardship
Source: Adapted from “Servant leadership: A review and synthesis,” by D. van Dierendonck, 2011, Journal of
Management, 37(4), pp. 1228–1261.
Figure 10.1 Model of Servant Leadership
354
Source: Adapted from Liden, R. C., Panaccio, A., Hu, J., & Meuser, J. D. (2014).
Servant leadership: Antecedents, consequences, and contextual moderators. In D. V.
Day (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of leadership and organizations. Oxford, UK:
Oxford University Press; and van Dierendonck, D. (2011). Servant leadership: A
review and syntheses. Journal of Management, 37(4), 1228–1261.
355
Model of Servant Leadership
This chapter presents a servant leadership model based on Liden, Wayne, Zhao, and
Henderson (2008) and Liden, Panaccio, Hu, and Meuser (2014) that has three main
components: antecedent conditions, servant leader behaviors, and leadership outcomes (Figure
10.1). The model is intended to clarify the phenomenon of servant leadership and provide
a framework for understanding its complexities.
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Antecedent Conditions
As shown on the left side of Figure 10.1, three antecedent, or existing, conditions have an
impact on servant leadership: context and culture, leader attributes, and follower receptivity.
These conditions are not inclusive of all the conditions that affect servant leadership, but do
represent some factors likely to influence the leadership process.
Context and Culture.
Servant leadership does not occur in a vacuum but occurs within a given organizational
context and a particular culture. The nature of each of these affects the way servant
leadership is carried out. For example, in health care and nonprofit settings, the norm of
caring is more prevalent, while for Wall Street corporations it is more common to have
competition as an operative norm. Because the norms differ, the ways servant leadership is
performed may vary.
Dimensions of culture (see Chapter 16, “Culture and Leadership”) will also influence
servant leadership. For example, in cultures where power distance is low (e.g., Nordic
Europe) and power is shared equally among people at all levels of society, servant leadership
may be more common. In cultures with low humane orientation (e.g., Germanic Europe),
servant leadership may present more of a challenge. The point is that cultures influence the
way servant leadership is able to be achieved.
Leader Attributes.
As in any leadership situation, the qualities and disposition of the leader influence the
servant leadership process. Individuals bring their own traits and ideas about leading to
leadership situations. Some may feel a deep desire to serve or are strongly motivated to lead.
Others may be driven by a sense of higher calling (Sendjaya, Sarros, & Santora, 2008).
These dispositions shape how individuals demonstrate servant leadership. In addition,
people differ in areas such as moral development, emotional intelligence, and self-
determinedness, and these traits interact with their ability to engage in servant leadership.
Recent research has attempted to determine if there are specific leader traits that are
important to servant leadership. Emotional intelligence, or the leader’s ability to monitor
the feelings, beliefs, and internal states of the self and followers, has been identified as an
important attribute for a leader implementing a servant-leader ideology (Barbuto,
Gottfredson, & Searle, 2014; Beck, 2014; Chiniara & Bentein, 2016). An empirical study
by Hunter and colleagues (2013) concluded that “leaders scoring high in agreeableness and
low in extraversion were more likely to be perceived as servant leaders by their followers”
(p. 327). In addition, a study by Sousa and van Dierendonck (2017) determined that
having humility can make a servant leader more impactful regardless of his or her
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hierarchical position in an organization.
Follower Receptivity.
The receptivity of followers is a factor that appears to influence the impact of servant
leadership on outcomes such as personal and organizational job performance. Follower
receptivity concerns the question “Do all followers show a desire for servant leadership?”
Research suggests the answer may be no. Some followers do not want to work with servant
leaders. They equate servant leadership with micromanagement, and report that they do
not want their leader to get to know them or try to help, develop, or guide them (Liden et
al., 2008). Similarly, empirical studies have shown that when servant leadership was
matched with followers who desired it, this type of leadership had a positive impact on
performance and organizational citizenship behavior (Meuser, Liden, Wayne, &
Henderson, 2011; Otero-Neira, Varela-Neira, & Bande, 2016; Ozyilmaz & Cicek, 2015).
The opposite was seen when there was no match between servant leadership and the desire
of followers for it. It appears that, for some followers, servant leadership has a positive
impact and, for others, servant leadership is not effective.
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Servant Leader Behaviors
The middle component of Figure 10.1 identifies seven servant leader behaviors that are the
core of the servant leadership process. These behaviors emerged from Liden et al.’s (2008)
vigorous efforts to develop and validate a measure of servant leadership. The findings from
their research provide evidence for the soundness of viewing servant leadership as a
multidimensional process. Collectively, these behaviors are the central focus of servant
leadership. Individually, each behavior makes a unique contribution.
Conceptualizing.
Conceptualizing refers to the servant leader’s thorough understanding of the organization
—its purposes, complexities, and mission. This capacity allows servant leaders to think
through multifaceted problems, to know if something is going wrong, and to address
problems creatively in accordance with the overall goals of the organization.
For example, Kate Simpson, a senior nursing supervisor in an emergency room of a large
hospital, uses conceptualizing to lead her department. She fully understands the mission of
the hospital and, at the same time, knows how to effectively manage staff on a day-to-day
basis. Her staff members say Kate has a sixth sense about what is best for people. She is
known for her wisdom in dealing with difficult patients and helping staff diagnose complex
medical problems. Her abilities, competency, and value as a servant leader earned her the
hospital’s Caregiver of the Year Award.
Emotional Healing.
Emotional healing involves being sensitive to the personal concerns and well-being of
others. It includes recognizing others’ problems and being willing to take the time to
address them. Servant leaders who exhibit emotional healing make themselves available to
others, stand by them, and provide them with support.
Emotional healing is apparent in the work of Father John, a much sought-after hospice
priest on Chicago’s South Side. Father John has a unique approach to hospice patients: He
doesn’t encourage, give advice, or read Scripture. Instead he simply listens to them. “When
you face death, the only important thing in life is relationships,” he says. “I practice the art
of standing by. I think it is more important to come just to be there than to do anything
else.”
Putting Followers First.
Putting others first is the sine qua non of servant leadership—the defining characteristic. It
means using actions and words that clearly demonstrate to followers that their concerns are
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a priority, including placing followers’ interests and success ahead of those of the leader. It
may mean a leader breaks from his or her own tasks to assist followers with theirs.
Dr. Autumn Klein, a widely published health education professor at a major research
university, is responsible for several ongoing large interdisciplinary public health studies.
Although she is the principal investigator on these studies, when multiauthored articles are
submitted for publication, Dr. Klein puts the names of other researchers before her own.
She chooses to let others be recognized because she knows it will benefit them in their
annual performance reviews. She puts the success of her colleagues ahead of her own
interests.
Helping Followers Grow and Succeed.
This behavior refers to knowing followers’ professional or personal goals and helping them
to accomplish those aspirations. Servant leaders make followers’ career development a
priority, including mentoring followers and providing them with support. At its core,
helping followers grow and succeed is about aiding these individuals to become self-
actualized, reaching their fullest human potential.
An example of how a leader helps others grow and succeed is Mr. Yon Kim, a high school
orchestra teacher who consistently receives praise from parents for his outstanding work
with students. Mr. Kim is a skilled violinist with high musical standards, but he does not let
that get in the way of helping each student, from the most highly accomplished to the least
capable. Students like Mr. Kim because he listens to them and treats them as adults. He
gives feedback without being judgmental. Many of his former students have gone on to
become music majors. They often visit Mr. Kim to let him know how important he was to
them. Yon Kim is a servant leader who helps students grow through his teaching and
guidance.
Behaving Ethically.
Behaving ethically is doing the right thing in the right way. It is holding to strong ethical
standards, including being open, honest, and fair with followers. Servant leaders do not
compromise their ethical principles in order to achieve success.
An example of ethical behavior is how CEO Elizabeth Angliss responded when one of her
employees brought her a copy of a leaked document from their company’s chief
competitor, outlining its plans to go after some of Angliss’s largest customers. Although she
knew the document undoubtedly had valuable information, she shredded it instead of
reading it. She then called the rival CEO and told him she had received the document and
wanted him to be aware that he might have a security issue within his company. “I didn’t
know if what I received was real or not,” she explains. “But it didn’t matter. If it was the
real thing, someone on his end did something wrong, and my company wasn’t going to
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capitalize on that.”
Empowering.
Empowering refers to allowing followers the freedom to be independent, make decisions on
their own, and be self-sufficient. It is a way for leaders to share power with followers by
allowing them to have control. Empowerment builds followers’ confidence in their own
capacities to think and act on their own because they are given the freedom to handle
difficult situations in the way they feel is best.
For example, a college professor teaching a large lecture class empowers two teaching
assistants assigned to him by letting them set their own office hours, independently grade
student papers, and practice teaching by giving one of the weekly class lectures. They
become confident in their teaching abilities and bring new ideas to the professor to try in
the classroom.
Creating Value for the Community.
Servant leaders create value for the community by consciously and intentionally giving back
to the community. They are involved in local activities and encourage followers to also
volunteer for community service. Creating value for the community is one way for leaders
to link the purposes and goals of an organization with the broader purposes of the
community.
An example of creating value for the community can be seen in the leadership of Mercedes
Urbanez, principal of Alger High School. Alger is an alternative high school in a midsize
community with three other high schools. Mercedes’s care and concern for students at
Alger is remarkable. Ten percent of Alger’s students have children, so the school provides
on-site day care. Fifteen percent of the students are on probation, and Alger is often their
last stop before dropping out entirely and resuming criminal activities. While the other
schools in town foster competition and push Advanced Placement courses, Alger focuses on
removing the barriers that keep its students from excelling and offers courses that provide
what its students need, including multimedia skills, reading remediation, and parenting.
Under Mercedes, Alger High School is a model alternative school appreciated at every level
in the community. Students, who have failed in other schools, find they have a safe place to
go where they are accepted and adults try to help them solve their problems. Law
enforcement supports the school’s efforts to help these students get back into the
mainstream of society and away from crime. The other high schools in the community
know that Alger provides services they find difficult to provide. Mercedes serves the have-
nots in the community, and the whole community reaps the benefits.
Other researchers have used the servant leadership behaviors as identified by Liden et al.’s
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(2008) work as well as the work of Page and Wong (2000), Sendjaya and Sarros (2002),
Dennis and Bocarnea (2005), and Barbuto and Wheeler (2006) as the foundation for
efforts to understand the essential behaviors of servant leadership and how they are
established in an organization. For example, Winston and Fields (2015) developed and
validated a scale that identifies 10 leader behaviors that are essential to servant leadership
and establishing servant leadership in an organization.
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Outcomes
Although servant leadership focuses primarily on leader behaviors, it is also important to
examine the potential outcomes of servant leadership. The outcomes of servant leadership
are follower performance and growth, organizational performance, and societal impact (see
Figure 10.1). As Greenleaf highlighted in his original work (1970), the central goal of
servant leadership is to create healthy organizations that nurture individual growth,
strengthen organizational performance, and, in the end, produce a positive impact on
society.
Follower Performance and Growth.
In the model of servant leadership, most of the servant leader behaviors focus directly on
recognizing followers’ contributions and helping them realize their human potential. The
expected outcome for followers is greater self-actualization. That is, followers will realize
their full capabilities when leaders nurture them, help them with their personal goals, and
give them control.
Another outcome of servant leadership, suggested by Meuser et al. (2011), is that it will
have a favorable impact on follower in-role performance—the way followers do their
assigned work. When servant leaders were matched with followers who were open to this
type of leadership, the results were positive. Followers became more effective at
accomplishing their jobs and fulfilling their job descriptions. For example, studies of
servant leadership in a sales setting in Spain found that sales managers’ servant leadership
was directly related to salespeople’s performance within the organization and indirectly
related to salespeople’s identification with the organization. In addition, it enhanced the
salespeople’s adaptability and proactivity by positively affecting their self-efficacy and
intrinsic motivation (Bande, Fernández-Ferrín, Varela-Neira, & Otero-Neira, 2016; Otero-
Neira et al., 2016). Hunter et al. (2013) found that servant leadership fosters a positive
service climate, induces followers to help coworkers and sell products, and reduces turnover
and disengagement behaviors. In addition, Chiniara and Bentein (2016) found that when
servant leaders attended to followers’ needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness, it
had a positive impact on followers’ task performance and organizational citizenship
behavior.
Finally, another expected result of servant leadership is that followers themselves may
become servant leaders. Greenleaf’s conceptualization of servant leadership hypothesizes
that when followers receive caring and empowerment from ethical leaders, they, in turn,
will likely begin treating others in this way. Servant leadership would produce a ripple effect
in which servant leaders create more servant leaders. For example, Hunter et al. (2013)
report that employees who perceived their leaders as having servant qualities were more
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likely to help their coworkers with task and interpersonal matters, as well as less likely to
disengage.
Organizational Performance.
Initial research has shown that, in addition to positively affecting followers and their
performance, servant leadership has an influence on organizational performance. Several
studies have found a positive relationship between servant leadership and organizational
citizenship behaviors (OCBs), which are follower behaviors that go beyond the basic
requirements of the follower’s duties and help the overall functioning of the organization
(Ehrhart, 2004; Liden et al., 2008; Neubert, Kacmar, Carlson, Chonko, & Roberts, 2008;
Walumbwa et al., 2010).
Servant leadership also affects the way organizational teams function. Hu and Liden (2011)
found that servant leadership enhanced team effectiveness by increasing the members’
shared confidence that they could be effective as a work group. Furthermore, their results
showed that servant leadership contributed positively to team potency by enhancing group
process and clarity. However, when servant leadership was absent, team potency decreased,
despite clearer goals. In essence, it frustrates people to know exactly what the goal is, but
not get the support needed to accomplish the goal.
While research on the organizational outcomes of servant leadership is in its initial stages,
more and more studies are being undertaken to substantiate the direct and indirect ways
that servant leadership is related to organizational performance.
Societal Impact.
Another outcome expected of servant leadership is that it is likely to have a positive impact
on society. Although societal impact is not commonly measured in studies of servant
leadership, there are examples of servant leadership’s impact that are highly visible. One
example we are all familiar with is the work of Mother Teresa, whose years of service for the
hungry, homeless, and unwanted resulted in the creation of a new religious order, the
Missionaries of Charity. This order now has more than 1 million workers in over 40
countries that operate hospitals, schools, and hospices for the poor. Mother Teresa’s servant
leadership has had an extraordinary impact on society throughout the world.
In the business world, an example of the societal impact of servant leadership can be
observed at Southwest Airlines (see Case 10.3). Leaders at Southwest instituted an “others
first” organizational philosophy in the management of the company, which starts with how
it treats its employees. This philosophy is adhered to by those employees who themselves
become servant leaders in regards to the airline’s customers. Because the company thrives, it
impacts society by providing jobs in the communities it serves and, to a lesser extent, by
providing the customers who rely on it with transportation.
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In his conceptualization of servant leadership, Greenleaf did not frame the process as one
that was intended to directly change society. Rather, he visualized leaders who become
servants first and listen to others and help them grow. As a result, their organizations are
healthier, ultimately benefiting society. In this way, the long-term outcomes of putting
others first include positive social change and helping society flourish.
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Summary of the Model of Servant Leadership
In summary, the model of servant leadership consists of three components: antecedent
conditions, servant leader behaviors, and outcomes. The central focus of the model is the
seven behaviors of leaders that foster servant leadership: conceptualizing, emotional healing,
putting followers first, helping followers grow and succeed, behaving ethically,
empowering, and creating value for the community. These behaviors are influenced by
context and culture, the leader’s attributes, and the followers’ receptivity to this kind of
leadership. When individuals engage in servant leadership, it is likely to improve outcomes
at the individual, organizational, and societal levels.
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How Does Servant Leadership Work?
The servant leadership approach works differently than many of the prior theories we have
discussed in this book. For example, it is unlike the trait approach (Chapter 2), which
emphasizes that leaders should have certain specific traits. It is also unlike path–goal theory
(Chapter 6), which lays out principles regarding what style of leadership is needed in
various situations. Instead, servant leadership focuses on the behaviors leaders should
exhibit to put followers first and to support followers’ personal development. It is
concerned with how leaders treat followers and the outcomes that are likely to emerge.
So what is the mechanism that explains how servant leadership works? It begins when
leaders commit themselves to putting their followers first, being honest with them, and
treating them fairly. Servant leaders make it a priority to listen to their followers and
develop strong long-term relationships with them. This allows leaders to understand the
abilities, needs, and goals of followers, which, in turn, allows these followers to achieve their
full potential. When many leaders in an organization adopt a servant leadership orientation,
a culture of serving others within and outside the organization is created (Liden et al.,
2008).
Servant leadership works best when leaders are altruistic and have a strong motivation and
deep-seated interest in helping others. In addition, for successful servant leadership to
occur, it is important that followers are open and receptive to servant leaders who want to
empower them and help them grow.
It should be noted that in much of the writing on servant leadership there is an underlying
philosophical position, originally set forth by Greenleaf (1970), that leaders should be
altruistic and humanistic. Rather than using their power to dominate others, leaders should
make every attempt to share their power and enable others to grow and become
autonomous. Leadership framed from this perspective downplays competition in the
organization and promotes egalitarianism.
Finally, in an ideal world, servant leadership results in community and societal change.
Individuals within an organization who care for each other become committed to
developing an organization that cares for the community. Organizations that adopt a
servant leadership culture are committed to helping those in need who operate outside of
the organization. Servant leadership extends to serving the “have-nots” in society (Graham,
1991). Case 10.2 in this chapter provides a striking example of how one servant leader’s
work led to positive outcomes for many throughout the world.
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Strengths
In its current stage of development, research on servant leadership has made several positive
contributions to the field of leadership. First, while there are other leadership approaches
such as transformational and authentic leadership that include an ethical dimension,
servant leadership is unique in the way it makes altruism the central component of the
leadership process. Servant leadership argues unabashedly that leaders should put followers
first, share control with followers, and embrace their growth. It is the only leadership
approach that frames the leadership process around the principle of caring for others.
Second, servant leadership provides a counterintuitive and provocative approach to the use
of influence, or power, in leadership. Nearly all other theories of leadership treat influence
as a positive factor in the leadership process, but servant leadership does just the opposite. It
argues that leaders should not dominate, direct, or control; rather, leaders should share
control and influence. To give up control rather than seek control is the goal of servant
leadership. Servant leadership is an influence process that does not incorporate influence in
a traditional way.
Third, rather than imply that servant leadership is a panacea, research on servant leadership
has shown there are conditions under which servant leadership is not a preferred kind of
leadership. Findings indicate that servant leadership may not be effective in contexts where
followers are not open to being guided, supported, and empowered. Followers’ readiness to
receive servant leadership moderates the potential usefulness of leading from this approach
(Liden et al., 2008).
Fourth, recent research has resulted in a sound measure of servant leadership. Using a
rigorous methodology, Liden et al. (2008) developed and validated the Servant Leadership
Questionnaire (SLQ), which appears at the end of the chapter. It comprises 28 items that
identify seven distinct dimensions of servant leadership. Studies show that the SLQ is
unique and measures aspects of leadership that are different from those measured by the
transformational and leader–member exchange theories (Liden et al., 2008; Schaubroeck,
Lam, & Peng, 2011). The SLQ has proved to be a suitable instrument for use in research
on servant leadership.
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Criticisms
In addition to the positive features of servant leadership, this approach has several
limitations. First, the paradoxical nature of the title “servant leadership” creates semantic
noise that diminishes the potential value of the approach. Because the name appears
contradictory, servant leadership is prone to be perceived as fanciful or whimsical. In
addition, being a servant leader implies following, and following is viewed as the opposite
of leading. Although servant leadership incorporates influence, the mechanism of how
influence functions as a part of servant leadership is not fully explicated in the approach.
Second, there is debate among servant leadership scholars regarding the core dimensions of
the process. As illustrated in Table 10.1, servant leadership is hypothesized to include a
multitude of abilities, traits, and behaviors. To date, researchers have been unable to reach
consensus on a common definition or theoretical framework for servant leadership (van
Dierendonck, 2011). Until a larger body of findings is published on servant leadership, the
robustness of theoretical formulations about it will remain limited.
Third, a large segment of the writing on servant leadership has a prescriptive overtone that
implies that good leaders “put others first.” While advocating an altruistic approach to
leadership is commendable, it has a utopian ring because it conflicts with individual
autonomy and other principles of leadership such as directing, concern for production, goal
setting, and creating a vision (Gergen, 2006). Furthermore, along with the “value-push”
prescriptive quality, there is an almost moralistic nature that seems to surround servant
leadership. As a result, many practitioners of servant leadership are not necessarily
researchers who want to conduct studies to test the validity of servant leadership theory.
Finally, it is unclear why “conceptualizing” is included as one of the servant leadership
behaviors in the model of servant leadership (see Figure 10.1). Is conceptualizing actually a
behavior, or is it a cognitive ability? Furthermore, what is the rationale for identifying
conceptualizing as a determinant of servant leadership? Being able to conceptualize is
undoubtedly an important cognitive capacity in all kinds of leadership, but why is it a
defining characteristic of servant leadership? A clearer explanation for its central role in
servant leadership needs to be addressed in future research.
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Application
Servant leadership can be applied at all levels of management and in all types of
organizations. Within a philosophical framework of caring for others, servant leadership
sets forth a list of behaviors that individuals can engage in if they want to be servant leaders.
The prescribed behaviors of servant leadership are not esoteric; they are easily understood
and generally applicable to a variety of leadership situations.
Unlike leader–member exchange theory (Chapter 7) or authentic leadership (Chapter 9),
which are not widely used in training and development, servant leadership has been used
extensively in a variety of organizations for more than 30 years. Many organizations in the
Fortune 500 (e.g., Starbucks, AT&T, Southwest Airlines, and Vanguard Group) employ
ideas from servant leadership. Training in servant leadership typically involves self-
assessment exercises, educational sessions, and goal setting. The content of servant
leadership is straightforward and accessible to followers at every level within the
organization.
Liden et al. (2008) suggest that organizations that want to build a culture of servant
leadership should be careful to select people who are interested in and capable of building
long-term relationships with followers. Furthermore, because “behaving ethically” is
positively related to job performance, organizations should focus on selecting people who
have high integrity and strong ethics. In addition, organizations should develop training
programs that spend time helping leaders develop their emotional intelligence, ethical
decision making, and skills for empowering others. Behaviors such as these will help leaders
nurture followers to their full potential.
Servant leadership is taught at many colleges and universities around the world and is the
focus of numerous independent coaches, trainers, and consultants. In the United States,
Gonzaga University and Regent University are recognized as prominent leaders in this area
because of the academic attention they have given to servant leadership. Overall, the most
recognized and comprehensive center for training in servant leadership is the Greenleaf
Center for Servant Leadership (www.greenleaf.org).
In summary, servant leadership provides a philosophy and set of behaviors that individuals
in the organizational setting can learn and develop. The following section features cases
illustrating how servant leadership has been manifested in different ways.
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Home


Case Studies
This section provides three case studies (Cases 10.1, 10.2, and 10.3) that illustrate different facets of servant
leadership. The first case describes the servant leadership of a high school secretary. The second case is about Dr.
Paul Farmer and his efforts to stop disease in Haiti and other parts of the world. The third case is about the
leaders of Southwest Airlines who created a servant leadership culture that permeates the company. At the end of
each case, several questions are provided to help analyze the case from the perspective of servant leadership.
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Case10.1: Everyone Loves Mrs. Noble
Sharon Noble is in charge of the main office at Essex High School, a position she has held for nearly 30 years.
She does not have a college degree, but that does not seem to hinder her work as “secretary” for the school. She is
an extravert, and people say her jokes are corny, but she runs the office efficiently and well, getting along with
teachers and students and dealing with the rules and procedures that govern day-to-day Essex school life.
When people describe Sharon, they say that she is wise and seems to know just about everything there is to know
about the school. She understands the core curriculum, testing, dress code, skip policy, after-school programs,
helicopter parents, and much more. If students want to have a bake sale, she tells them the best way to do it. If
they want to take Advanced Placement courses, she tells them which ones to take. The list of what she knows is
endless. For years parents have told one another, “If you want to know anything about the school, go to Mrs.
Noble—she is Essex High School.”
There is nothing pretentious about Mrs. Noble. She drives an old car and wears simple clothes. Students say
they’ve never seen her wear makeup. But nevertheless, she is still “with it” when it comes to student fads and
eccentricities. When students had long hair and fringed vests in the 1970s, Sharon was cool with it. She never
mocks students who are “way out” and seems to even enjoy these students. When students wear clothes to get
attention because they feel ostracized, Sharon is accepting and even acknowledges the “uniqueness” of their act,
unless it violates the dress code. In those cases, she talks nonjudgmentally with students about their clothing,
guiding them to make different choices to stay out of trouble.
Even though it isn’t technically in her job description, Mrs. Noble excels at helping juniors prepare applications
for college. She knows all the requirements and deadlines and the materials required by the different universities.
She spends hours pushing, nudging, and convincing students to stay on task and get their applications submitted.
She doesn’t care if students go to Ivy League schools, state schools, or community colleges; but she does care if
they go on to school. Mrs. Noble regrets not having been able to attend college, so it is important to her that
“her” students do everything they can to go.
At times her job is challenging. For example, the principal made teaching assignments that the faculty did not
like, and Sharon was the one they shared their concerns with. She was a great listener and helped them see the
differing perspectives of the situation. One year, when a student was in a car accident and unable to come to
school for several months, Sharon personally worked with each one of the student’s teachers to get her
assignments, delivered them to the student’s home, and picked them up when they were complete. When the
seniors held a dance marathon to raise money for cancer research, it was Sharon who pledged the most, even
though she didn’t make very much as the school’s secretary. She wanted to make sure each senior participating
had at least one pledge on his or her roster; in most cases it was Sharon’s.
In 2010, the class of 1989 had its 25-year reunion, and of all the memories shared, the most were about Sharon
Noble. Essex High School had a wonderful principal, many good teachers, and great coaches, but when alumni
were asked, who runs the school? The answer was always “Mrs. Noble.”
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Questions
1. What servant leader behaviors would you say Mrs. Noble demonstrates?
2. Who are Mrs. Noble’s followers?
3. Based on the model of servant leadership (Figure 10.1), what outcomes has Mrs. Noble’s servant
leadership attained?
4. Can you think of someone at a school or organization you were part of who acted like Mrs. Noble?
Describe what this person did and how it affected you and the school or organization.
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Case 10.2: Doctor to the Poor
“Education wasn’t what he wanted to perform on the world . . . He was after transformation.”
—Kidder (2003, p. 44)
When Paul Farmer graduated from Duke University at 22, he was unsure whether he wanted to be an
anthropologist or a doctor. So he went to Haiti. As a student, Paul had become obsessed with the island nation
after meeting many Haitians at local migrant camps. Paul was used to the grittier side of life; he had grown up in
a family of eight that lived in a converted school bus and later on a houseboat moored in a bayou. But what he
observed at the migrant camps and learned from his discussions with Haitian immigrants made his childhood
seem idyllic.
In Haiti, he volunteered for a small charity called Eye Care Haiti, which conducted outreach clinics in rural areas.
He was drawn in by the deplorable conditions and lives of the Haitian people and determined to use his time
there to learn everything he could about illness and disease afflicting the poor. Before long, Paul realized that he
had found his life’s purpose: He’d be a doctor to poor people, and he’d start in Haiti.
Paul entered Harvard University in 1984 and, for the first two years, traveled back and forth to Haiti where he
conducted a health census in the village of Cange. During that time he conceived of a plan to fight disease in
Haiti by developing a public health system that included vaccination programs and clean water and sanitation.
The heart of this program, however, would be a cadre of people from the villages who were trained to administer
medicines, teach health classes, treat minor ailments, and recognize the symptoms of grave illnesses such as HIV,
tuberculosis, and malaria.
His vision became reality in 1987, thanks to a wealthy donor who gave $1 million to help Paul create Partners In
Health (PIH). At first it wasn’t much of an organization—no staff, a small advisory board, and three committed
volunteers. But its work was impressive: PIH began building schools and clinics in and around Cange. Soon PIH
established a training program for health outreach workers and organized a mobile unit to screen residents of area
villages for preventable diseases.
In 1990, Paul finished his medical studies and became a fellow in infectious diseases at Brigham and Women’s
Hospital in Boston. He was able to remain in Haiti for most of each year, returning to Boston to work at
Brigham for a few months at a time, sleeping in the basement of PIH headquarters.
It wasn’t long before PIH’s successes started gaining attention outside of Haiti. Because of its success treating the
disease in Haiti, the World Health Organization appointed Paul and PIH staffer Jim Yong Kim to spearhead
pilot treatment programs for multiple-drug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB). Paul’s attention was now diverted
to the slums of Peru and Russia where cases of MDR-TB were on the rise. In Peru, Paul and PIH encountered
barriers in treating MDR-TB that had nothing to do with the disease. They ran headlong into governmental
resistance and had to battle to obtain expensive medications. Paul learned to gently navigate governmental
obstacles, while the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation stepped in with a $44.7 million grant to help fund the
program.
In 2005, PIH turned its attention to another part of the world: Africa, the epicenter of the global AIDS
pandemic. Beginning its efforts in Rwanda, where few people had been tested or were receiving treatment, PIH
tested 30,000 people in eight months and enrolled nearly 700 in drug therapy to treat the disease. Soon, the
organization expanded its efforts to the African nations of Lesotho and Malawi (Partners In Health, 2011).
But Paul’s efforts weren’t just in far-flung reaches of the world. From his work with patients at Brigham, Paul
observed the needs of the impoverished in Boston. The Prevention and Access to Care and Treatment (PACT)
project was created to offer drug therapy for HIV and diabetes for the poor residents of the Roxbury and
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Dorchester districts. PIH has since sent PACT project teams across the United States to provide support to other
community health programs.
By 2009, PIH had grown to 13,600 employees working in health centers and hospitals in eight countries
(Partners In Health, 2013), including the Dominican Republic, Peru, Mexico, Rwanda, Lesotho, Malawi, the
Navajo Nation (U.S.), and Russia. Each year the organization increases the number of facilities and personnel
that provide health care to the residents of some of the most impoverished and diseased places in the world. Paul
continues to travel around the world, monitoring programs and raising funds for PIH in addition to leading the
Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School.
375
Questions
1. Would you characterize Paul Farmer as a servant leader? Explain your answer.
2. Putting others first is the essence of servant leadership. In what way does Paul Farmer put others first?
3. Another characteristic of a servant leader is getting followers to serve. Who are Paul Farmer’s followers,
and how did they become servants to his vision?
4. What role do you think Paul Farmer’s childhood had in his development as a servant leader?
376
Case 10.3: Servant Leadership Takes Flight
A young mother traveling with a toddler on a long cross-country flight approached the flight attendant looking
rather frantic. Because of weather and an hour-and-a-half wait on the runway to take off, the plane would arrive
at its destination several hours late. The plane had made an intermediate stop in Denver to pick up passengers
but not long enough for travelers to disembark. The mother told the attendant that with the delays and the long
flight, her child had already eaten all the food she brought and if she didn’t feed him soon he was bound to have
a total meltdown. “Can I get off for five minutes just to run and get something for him to eat?” she pleaded.
“I have to recommend strongly that you stay on the plane,” the attendant said, sternly. But then, with a smile,
she added, “But I can get off. The plane won’t leave without me. What can I get your son to eat?”
Turns out that flight attendant not only got the little boy a meal, but brought four other children on board meals
as well. Anyone who has traveled in a plane with screaming children knows that this flight attendant not only
took care of some hungry children and frantic parents, but also indirectly saw to the comfort of a planeload of
other passengers.
This story doesn’t surprise anyone familiar with Southwest Airlines. The airline’s mission statement is posted
every 3 feet at all Southwest locations: Follow the Golden Rule—treat people the way you want to be treated.
It’s a philosophy that the company takes to heart and begins with how it treats employees. Colleen Barrett, the
former president of Southwest Airlines, says the company’s cofounder and her mentor, Herb Kelleher, was
adamant that “a happy and motivated workforce will essentially extend that goodwill to Southwest’s customers”
(Knowledge@Wharton, 2008). If the airline took care of its employees, the employees would take care of the
customers, and the shareholders would win, too.
From the first days of Southwest Airlines, Herb resisted establishing traditional hierarchies within the company.
He focused on finding employees with substance, willing to say what they thought and committed to doing
things differently. Described as “an egalitarian spirit,” he employed a collaborative approach to management that
involved his associates at every step.
Colleen, who went from working as Herb’s legal secretary to being the president of the airline, is living proof of
his philosophy. A poor girl from rural Vermont who got the opportunity of a lifetime to work for Herb when he
was still just a lawyer, she rose from his aide to become vice president of administration, then executive vice
president of customers, and then president and chief operating officer in 2001 (which she stepped down from in
2008). She had no formal training in aviation, but that didn’t matter. Herb “always treated me as a complete
equal to him,” she says.
It was Colleen who instituted the Golden Rule as the company motto and developed a model that focuses on
employee satisfaction and issues first, followed by the needs of the passengers. The company hired employees for
their touchy-feely attitudes and trained them for skill. Southwest Airlines developed a culture that celebrated and
encouraged humor. The example of being themselves on the job started at the top with Herb and Colleen.
This attitude has paid off. Southwest Airlines posted a profit for 35 consecutive years and continues to make
money while other airlines’ profits are crashing. Colleen says the most important numbers on the balance sheet,
however, are those that indicate how many millions of people have become frequent flyers of the airline, a
number that grows every year.
377
Questions
1. What type of servant leader behaviors did Herb Kelleher exhibit in starting the airline? What about
Colleen Barrett?
2. How do the leaders of Southwest Airlines serve others? What others are they serving?
3. Southwest Airlines emphasizes the Golden Rule. What role does the Golden Rule play in servant
leadership? Is it always a part of servant leadership? Discuss.
4. Based on Figure 10.1, describe the outcomes of servant leadership at Southwest Airlines, and how
follower receptivity may have influenced those outcomes.
Leadership Instrument
Many questionnaires have been used to measure servant leadership (see Table 10.1). Because of its relevance
to the content, the Servant Leadership Questionnaire (SLQ) by Liden et al. (2008) was chosen for inclusion
in this chapter. It is a 28-item scale that measures seven major dimensions of servant leadership:
conceptualizing, emotional healing, putting followers first, helping followers grow and succeed, behaving
ethically, empowering, and creating value for the community. Using exploratory and confirmatory factor
analysis, Liden et al. established the multiple dimensions of this scale and described how it is uniquely
different from other leadership measures. In addition, Liden et al. (2015) have developed and validated a 7-
item scale that measures global servant leadership, which correlates strongly with the 28-item measure used
in this section.
By completing the SLQ you will gain an understanding of how servant leadership is measured and explore
where you stand on the different dimensions of servant leadership. Servant leadership is a complex process,
and taking the SLQ is one way to discover the dynamics of how it works.
378
Servant Leadership Questionnaire
Instructions: Select two people who know you in a leadership capacity such as a coworker, fellow group
member, or follower. Make two copies of this questionnaire and give a copy to each individual you have
chosen. Using the following 7-point scale, ask them to indicate the extent to which they agree or disagree
with the following statements as they pertain to your leadership. In these statements, “He/She” is referring
to you in a leadership capacity.
Key: 1 = Strongly disagree 2 = Disagree 3 = Disagree somewhat 4 = Undecided 5 = Agree
somewhat 6 = Agree 7 = Strongly agree
1.
Others would seek help from him/her if they had a personal
problem.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
2.
He/She emphasizes the importance of giving back to the
community.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
3. He/She can tell if something work related is going wrong. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
4.
He/She gives others the responsibility to make important
decisions about their own jobs.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
5. He/She makes others’ career development a priority. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
6. He/She cares more about others’ success than his/her own. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
7. He/She holds high ethical standards. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8. He/She cares about others’ personal well-being. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
9.
He/She is always interested in helping people in the
community.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
10. He/She is able to think through complex problems. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
11.
He/She encourages others to handle important work decisions
on their own.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
12.
He/She is interested in making sure others reach their career
goals.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
13. He/She puts others’ best interests above his/her own. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
14. He/She is always honest. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
15. He/She takes time to talk to others on a personal level. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
16. He/She is involved in community activities. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
379
17. He/She has a thorough understanding of the organization and
its goals.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
18.
He/She gives others the freedom to handle difficult situations
in the way they feel is best.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
19.
He/She provides others with work experiences that enable
them to develop new skills.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
20. He/She sacrifices his/her own interests to meet others’ needs. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
21.
He/She would not compromise ethical principles in order to
meet success.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
22.
He/She can recognize when others are feeling down without
asking them.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
23. He/She encourages others to volunteer in the community. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
24. He/She can solve work problems with new or creative ideas. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
25.
If others need to make important decisions at work, they do
not need to consult him/her.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
26. He/She wants to know about others’ career goals. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
27. He/She does what he/she can to make others’ jobs easier. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
28. He/She values honesty more than profits. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Source: Reprinted (adapted version) from The Leadership Quarterly, 19, R. C. Liden, S. J. Wayne, H.
Zhao, and D. Henderson, “Servant Leadership: Development of a Multidimensional Measure and
Multi-Level Assessment,” pp. 161-177, Copyright (2008), with permission from Elsevier
380
Scoring
Using the questionnaires on which others assessed your leadership, take the separate scores for each item,
add them together, and divide that sum by two. This will give you the average score for that item. For
example, if Person A assessed you at 4 for Item 2, and Person B marked you as a 6, your score for Item 2
would be 5.
Once you have averaged each item’s scores, use the following steps to complete the scoring of the
questionnaire:
1. Add up the scores for 1, 8, 15, and 22. This is your score for emotional healing.
2. Add up the scores for 2, 9, 16, and 23. This is your score for creating value for the community.
3. Add up the scores for 3, 10, 17, and 24. This is your score for conceptual skills.
4. Add up the scores for 4, 11, 18, and 25. This is your score for empowering.
5. Add up the scores for 5, 12, 19, and 26. This is your score for helping followers grow and succeed.
6. Add up the scores for 6, 13, 20, and 27. This is your score for putting followers first.
7. Add up the scores for 7, 14, 21, and 28. This is your score for behaving ethically.
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Scoring Interpretation
High range: A score between 23 and 28 means you strongly exhibit this servant leadership behavior.
Moderate range: A score between 14 and 22 means you tend to exhibit this behavior in an average
way.
Low range: A score between 8 and 13 means you exhibit this leadership behavior below the average
or expected degree.
Extremely low range: A score between 0 and 7 means you are not inclined to exhibit this leadership
behavior at all.
The scores you received on the Servant Leadership Questionnaire indicate the degree to which you exhibit
the seven behaviors characteristic of a servant leader. You can use the results to assess areas in which you
have strong servant leadership behaviors and areas in which you may strive to improve.
382
Summary
Originating in the seminal work of Greenleaf (1970), servant leadership is a paradoxical
approach to leadership that challenges our traditional beliefs about leadership and
influence. Servant leadership emphasizes that leaders should be attentive to the needs of
followers, empower them, and help them develop their full human capacities.
Servant leaders make a conscious choice to serve first—to place the good of followers over
the leaders’ self-interests. They build strong relationships with others, are empathic and
ethical, and lead in ways that serve the greater good of followers, the organization, the
community, and society at large.
Based on an idea from Hermann Hesse’s (1956) novel The Journey to the East, Greenleaf
argued that the selfless servant in a group has an extraordinary impact on the other
members. Servant leaders attend fully to the needs of followers, are concerned with the less
privileged, and aim to remove inequalities and social injustices. Because servant leaders shift
authority to those who are being led, they exercise less institutional power and control.
Scholars have conceptualized servant leadership in multiple ways. According to Spears
(2002), there are 10 major characteristics of servant leadership: listening, empathy, healing,
awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the
growth of people, and building community. Additional efforts by social science researchers
to develop and validate measures of servant leadership have resulted in an extensive list of
other servant leadership attributes (Coetzer et al., 2017; Winston & Fields, 2015).
Liden, Panaccio, et al. (2014) created a promising model of servant leadership that has
three main components: antecedent conditions, servant leader behaviors, and leadership
outcomes. Antecedent conditions that are likely to impact servant leaders include context and
culture, leader attributes, and follower receptivity. Central to the servant leader process are
the seven servant leader behaviors: conceptualizing, emotional healing, putting followers
first, helping followers grow and succeed, behaving ethically, empowering, and creating
value for the community. The outcomes of servant leadership are follower performance and
growth, organizational performance, and societal impact.
Research on servant leadership has several strengths. First, it is unique because it makes
altruism the main component of the leadership process. Second, servant leadership provides
a counterintuitive and provocative approach to the use of influence wherein leaders give up
control rather than seek control. Third, rather than a panacea, research has shown that
there are conditions under which servant leadership is not a preferred kind of leadership.
Last, recent research has resulted in a sound measure of servant leadership (Servant
Leadership Questionnaire) that identifies seven distinct dimensions of the process.
383
The servant leadership approach also has limitations. First, the paradoxical nature of the
title “servant leadership” creates semantic noise that diminishes the potential value of the
approach. Second, no consensus exists on a common theoretical framework for servant
leadership. Third, servant leadership has a utopian ring that conflicts with traditional
approaches to leadership. Last, it is not clear why “conceptualizing” is a defining
characteristic of servant leadership.
Despite the limitations, servant leadership continues to be an engaging approach to
leadership that holds much promise. As more research is done to test the substance and
assumptions of servant leadership, a better understanding of the complexities of the process
will emerge.
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384
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11 Adaptive Leadership
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Description
As the name of the approach implies, adaptive leadership is about how leaders encourage
people to adapt—to face and deal with problems, challenges, and changes. Adaptive
leadership focuses on the adaptations required of people in response to changing
environments. Simply stated, adaptive leaders prepare and encourage people to deal with
change. Unlike the trait approach (Chapter 2) and authentic leadership (Chapter 9), which
focus predominantly on the characteristics of the leader, adaptive leadership stresses the
activities of the leader in relation to the work of followers in the contexts in which they find
themselves.
Since Heifetz first published Leadership Without Easy Answers (1994), the seminal book on
adaptive leadership, this approach has occupied a unique place in the leadership literature.
Adaptive leadership has been used effectively to explain how leaders encourage effective
change across multiple levels, including self, organizational, community, and societal.
However, most of the writing about adaptive leadership has been prescriptive and based on
anecdotal and observational data rather than data derived from rigorous scientific inquiry.
Scholars and practitioners have recognized the merits of the approach, but the theoretical
underpinnings of adaptive leadership remain in the formative stages.
Development of the adaptive leadership framework emerged largely from the work of
Heifetz and his associates (Heifetz, 1994; Heifetz, Grashow, & Linsky, 2009; Heifetz &
Laurie, 1997; Heifetz & Linsky, 2002; Heifetz, Sinder, Jones, Hodge, & Rowley, 1991).
From the beginning, they set out to create a different approach to leadership. Rather than
seeing the leader as a savior who solves problems for people, they conceptualized the leader
as one who plays the role of assisting people who need to confront tough problems (e.g.,
drug abuse or sexism in the workplace). An adaptive leader challenges others to face
difficult challenges, providing them with the space or opportunity they need to learn new
ways of dealing with the inevitable changes in beliefs, attitudes, perceptions, and behaviors
that they are likely to encounter in addressing real problems.
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Adaptive Leadership Defined
Although people often think of adaptive leadership as being leader-centered, it is actually
more follower-centered. It focuses primarily on how leaders help others do the work they
need to do, in order to adapt to the challenges they face. Generally, adaptive leadership is
concerned with how people change and adjust to new circumstances. In this chapter, we
emphasize the process leaders use to encourage others to grapple with difficult problems.
In the leadership literature, Heifetz and his colleagues suggest that “adaptive leadership is
the practice of mobilizing people to tackle tough challenges and thrive” (Heifetz et al.,
2009, p. 14). In contrast to emphasizing the position or characteristics of the leader, this
definition suggests that leadership is concerned with the behaviors of leaders. Adaptive
leaders engage in activities that mobilize, motivate, organize, orient, and focus the attention of
others (Heifetz, 1994). In addition, adaptive leadership is about helping others to explore
and change their values. The goal of adaptive leadership is to encourage people to change
and to learn new ways of living so that they may effectively meet their challenges and grow
in the process. In short, adaptive leadership is the behavior of and the actions undertaken
by leaders to encourage others to address and resolve changes that are central in their lives.
To better understand how adaptive leadership works, Table 11.1 provides some examples
of situations in which adaptive leadership would be an ideal form of leadership.
Conceptually, the process of adaptive leadership incorporates ideas from four different
viewpoints: a systems perspective, a biological perspective, a service orientation perspective,
and a psychotherapy perspective (Heifetz, 1994). First, adaptive leadership takes a systems
perspective, in that this approach assumes that many problems people face are actually
embedded in complicated interactive systems (see Uhl-Bien, Marion, & McKelvey, 2007).
Problems are viewed as complex with many facets, dynamic in that they can evolve and
change, and connected to others in a web of relationships. Second, the biological perspective
to adaptive leadership recognizes that people develop and evolve as a result of having to
adapt to both their internal cues/state and external environments. The ability to adapt
allows people to thrive in new circumstances. Third, adaptive leadership assumes a service
orientation. Similar to a physician, an adaptive leader uses his or her expertise or authority
to serve the people by diagnosing their problems and helping them find solutions. Fourth,
this approach incorporates the psychotherapy perspective to explain how people accomplish
adaptive work. Adaptive leaders understand that people need a supportive environment and
adapt more successfully when they face difficult problems directly, learn to distinguish
between fantasy and reality, resolve internal conflicts, and learn new attitudes and
behaviors. Taken together, these four viewpoints help explain and characterize the nature of
adaptive leadership.
Table 11.1 Adaptive Leadership in Practice
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Adaptive leaders mobilize, motivate, organize, orient, and focus the attention of others
to address and resolve changes that are central in their lives. These are some
examples of cases where adaptive leadership would be beneficial:
Church Membership
Over the past decade, the membership of a large traditional denomination of
churches in the United States has shrunken by 200,000 members, which many
attribute to the denomination’s stand against gay marriage. If the church wants to
reverse the trend and begin to grow, the church leadership and its membership need
to confront the social implications of their doctrinal stand on gay marriage.
Company Merger
A midsize, family-owned paper company merges with another similar paper
company. The merger creates tensions between the employees regarding job titles
and duties, different wage schedules, overtime, and vacation pay. The new owners
must bring these two groups of employees together to have the company function
successfully.
Merit Pay
In an established engineering company, a small group of young, high-achieving
engineers wants to change the way merit pay is given by removing seniority and
years of service as part of the criteria. Longtime employees are resisting the change.
The management must find a way to address this issue without alienating either
group.
Condominium Rules
You are president of a small condominium association, and two groups within the
association are at odds about a rule requiring condo owners to be 55 years old or
older. Some think it is important to have young people around, while others do
not. In addition, young, new homeowners in this area are buying condos at higher
rates than empty nesters. As the president, you must guide the association to reach
consensus in a way that will benefit the association.
In addition to the way Heifetz and his colleagues defined adaptive leadership, it has been
conceptualized as an element or subset of Complexity Leadership Theory, a framework
designed to explain leadership for organizations of the 21st century that concentrate on
knowledge or information as a core commodity, rather than the production of goods as was
prevalent in the industrial era (Uhl-Bien et al., 2007). Complexity Leadership Theory
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(which includes administrative, adaptive, and enabling leadership) focuses on the strategies
and behaviors that encourage learning, creativity, and adaptation in complex organizational
systems. Within this framework, adaptive leadership is described as a complex process that
emerges to produce adaptive change in a social system. It originates in struggles or tensions
among people over conflicting needs, ideas, and preferences. It is not conceptualized as a
person or a specific act, but rather is defined as leadership that seeks to emerge from a
system, or a “generative dynamic” (see Uhl-Bien et al., 2007, p. 299). Similarly, DeRue
(2011) addresses adaptive leadership as a process where individuals engage in repeated
leading–following interactions that evolve as group needs change, enabling groups to adapt
and remain viable in dynamic contexts.
Adaptive leadership is a unique kind of leadership that focuses on the dynamics of
mobilizing people to address change. In the next section, we describe the various
components of adaptive leadership and discuss how each component contributes to the
overall process of adaptive leadership.
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A Model of Adaptive Leadership
Figure 11.1 offers a visual representation of the major components of adaptive leadership
and how they fit together, including situational challenges, leader behaviors, and adaptive
work. Heuristically, this model provides a basis for clarifying the process of adaptive
leadership as well as generating empirical research to validate and refine the concepts and
principles described by the model.
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Situational Challenges
As illustrated on the left side of Figure 11.1, this practice of leadership requires that leaders
address three kinds of situational challenges. There are challenges or problems that are
primarily technical in nature, challenges that have both a technical and adaptive dimension,
and challenges that are primarily adaptive in nature. While addressing technical challenges
is important, adaptive leadership is concerned with helping people address adaptive
challenges.
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Technical Challenges
Technical challenges are problems in the workplace, community, or self that are clearly
defined, with known solutions that can be implemented through existing organizational
procedures. They are problems that can be solved by experts or by those who have what
Heifetz calls a “repertoire” of skills or procedures based on current know-how. For
technical challenges, people look to the leader for a solution, and they accept the leader’s
authority to resolve the problem. For example, if employees at a tax accounting firm are
frustrated about a newly adopted tax software program, the manager at the firm can assess
the software issues, identify the weaknesses and problems with the software, contact the
company that provided the software, and have the programs modified in accordance with
the accountants’ needs at the tax firm. In this example, the problem is identifiable, it has an
achievable solution, and the manager at the tax firm has the authority to address the
problem through the accepted structures and procedures of the organization. The
employees look to the manager to solve the technical problem and accept her or his
authority to do so.
Figure 11.1 Model of Adaptive Leadership
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Technical and Adaptive Challenges
Some challenges have both a technical and adaptive dimension. In this case, they are
challenges that are clearly defined but do not have distinct straightforward solutions within
the existing organizational system. The responsibility of tackling this type of challenge is
shared between the leader and the people. The leader may act as a resource for others and
provide support, but the people need to do the work—they need to learn to change and
adapt. For example, if an urban hospital with a traditional approach to care (i.e., providers
are the experts, and patients are the visitors) wanted to establish a patient-centered culture,
the goal could be clearly laid out. To reach the goal, the hospital leadership, through its
hierarchical authority, could provide in-service training on how to involve patients in their
own care. New rules could be designed to preserve patients’ personal routines, give them
access to their own records, and give them more control of their own treatment. However,
the staff, doctors, patients, and family members would need to accept the proposed change
and learn how to implement it. Making the hospital a model of patient-centered care would
require a lot of work and adaptation on the part of many different people.
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Adaptive Challenges
Central to the process of adaptive leadership are adaptive challenges. Adaptive challenges
are problems that are not clear-cut or easy to identify. They cannot be solved solely by the
leader’s authority or expertise, or through the normal ways of doing things in the
organization. Adaptive challenges require that leaders encourage others to define
challenging situations and implement solutions. Not easy to tackle and often resisted,
adaptive challenges are difficult because they usually require changes in people’s priorities,
beliefs, roles, and values. An example of adaptive challenges would be the problems and
concerns a family confronts when placing a parent in hospice care. In a hospice, there is a
great deal of uncertainty for patients and families about how and when the patient will die,
and how to best comfort the patient during this time. While hospice workers can give
support and informal feedback about the dying process, the patient and families have to
come to grips with how they want to approach the patient’s final days. What does the
impending loss mean? How can they prepare for it? How will they cope with the loss going
forward? In this context, adaptive leadership is about mobilizing the patient and family
members to address the many questions and concerns that surround the death of the family
member. Hospice nurses, social workers, and staff all play an important role in helping
families cope, but at the same time, it is the families that have to confront the complexities
and concerns of the impending loss.
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Leader Behaviors
As shown in the middle of Figure 11.1, six leader behaviors, or activities, play a pivotal role
in the process of adaptive leadership. Based on the work of Heifetz and his colleagues
(Heifetz, 1994; Heifetz & Laurie, 1997), these behaviors are general prescriptions for
leaders when helping others confront difficult challenges and the inevitable changes that
accompany them. Although there is a general order as to which leader behavior comes first
in the adaptive leadership process, many of these behaviors overlap with each other and
should be demonstrated by leaders at the same time. Taken together, these leader behaviors
suggest a kind of recipe for being an adaptive leader.
1. Get on the Balcony.
A prerequisite for the other adaptive leader behaviors, “getting on the balcony” is a
metaphor for stepping out of the fray and finding perspective in the midst of a challenging
situation. It is an allusion to a dance floor and that one needs to be above the dancing to
understand what’s going on below. Being on the balcony enables the leader to see the big
picture—what is really happening. On the balcony, the leader is momentarily away from
the noise, activity, and chaos of a situation, allowing him or her to gain a clearer view of
reality. It allows the leader to identify value and power conflicts among people, ways they
may be avoiding work, and other dysfunctional reactions to change (Heifetz & Laurie,
1997). Getting on the balcony can include such things as taking some quiet time, forming
a group of unofficial advisers for alternative discussions about organizational issues, or
simply attending meetings as an observer. In this model, the adaptive leader is urged to step
away from the conflict in order to see it fully, but never to dissociate entirely from the
conflict. Effective leaders are able to move back and forth as a participant and observer
between the struggles of their people and the intentions of the organization or community.
To understand what it means to stand on the balcony, imagine yourself as the principal of
an elementary school. From the balcony, you see all the pieces that go into educating your
students: federal and state requirements, teachers and staff, budgets, teacher evaluations,
parents, and discipline, not to mention the children themselves. From above, you can see
how these issues relate to and affect one another, and who is dancing with which partners,
all while working toward the common goal of educating children.
Another example would be a chief union negotiator who, in the midst of difficult labor
talks, steps away from the table for a moment in order to separate from the emotion and
intensity of the talks and to reflect on the goals of the talks. Once she feels she again has a
grasp of the issues at hand, she dives directly back into negotiations.
In both of these examples, the leader takes time to see the big picture as an observer but
also stays engaged as a participant with the challenges his or her people are confronting.
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2. Identify Adaptive Challenges.
In addition to getting on the balcony and observing the dynamics of the complex situations
people face, leaders must analyze and diagnose these challenges. Central to this process is
differentiating between technical and adaptive challenges. Failures in leadership often occur
because leaders fail to diagnose challenges correctly. The adaptive leadership process
suggests that leaders are most effective using adaptive leadership behaviors for adaptive
challenges and technical leadership for technical challenges. Approaching challenges with
the wrong style of leadership is maladaptive.
If challenges are technical in nature, leaders can fix the problem with their own expertise.
For example, in a manufacturing environment, problems that arise in scheduling, product
sales quotas, facility expansion, or raising the minimum wage are all problems the leader
can use his or her authority to resolve. However, it is essential that a leader also know when
his or her authority is not sufficient or appropriate to address a particular challenge.
When people’s beliefs, attitudes, and values are affected by a problem, leaders need to take
an adaptive approach. Determining if the challenge is an adaptive one requires the leader to
determine whether or not the challenge strikes at the core feelings and thoughts of others.
Adaptive challenges are usually value-laden, and stir up people’s emotions. Furthermore, if
challenges are adaptive, they require that people learn new ways of coping. Take the
manufacturing environment discussed earlier: If another company buys that manufacturing
facility and the new owners implement production procedures and standards that the
facility’s workers are unfamiliar with, these changes would create adaptive challenges for the
workers. Identifying adaptive challenges means leaders need to focus their attention on
problems they cannot solve themselves and that demand collaboration between the leader
and followers. For adaptive challenges, leaders make themselves available to support others
as they do the work they need to do.
To more easily identify complex adaptive challenges and also distinguish them from
technical challenges, there are four archetypes or basic patterns in need of adaptive change
to consider (Heifetz et al., 2009).
Archetype 1: Gap Between Espoused Values and Behavior.
This archetype is present when an organization espouses, or claims to adhere to, values that
aren’t in reality supported by its actions. For example, a company that promotes itself as a
family-friendly place to work but does not have a flexible work policy, an extended
maternity leave policy, or in-house childcare doesn’t have behaviors that match the family-
friendly image it promotes itself as having.
Archetype 2: Competing Commitments.
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When an organization has numerous commitments and some come into conflict with each
other, this archetype is in play. For example, a health and fitness center wants to grow and
expand its services but at the same time sees the best way to reduce costs is by trimming the
number of trainers and staff it employs.
Archetype 3: Speaking the Unspeakable.
The phrases “sacred cow” and “elephant in the room” are examples of this archetype; it
occurs when there are radical ideas, unpopular issues, or conflicting perspectives that people
don’t dare address because of their sensitive or controversial nature. Speaking out about
these is seen as “risky.” Consider an organization with a well-liked, established owner who
is perceived by the employees as “over the hill” and not in touch with the current business
climate, but no one is willing to discuss the matter. It is easier to suffer the consequences of
the owner’s dated leadership than confront the man and risk angering him.
Archetype 4: Work Avoidance.
This archetype represents a situation where people avoid addressing difficult issues by
staying within their “comfort zone” or by using diversionary methods. For example,
coworkers at a company refuse to confront or discuss a very skilled employee who is not
participating in organizational planning because he feels the company suffers from
institutional racism. It is easier to continue to do the same things and avoid the concerns of
the disgruntled employee. Another example would be an ad agency that has a graphic
designer who is not able to produce the quality of creative work needed, so, rather than
address the problem directly, that designer is assigned menial jobs that are essentially
busywork. The agency then hires a second graphic designer to do the more creative work
despite the cost and the fact that the agency doesn’t have enough work to justify two
designers.
These four archetypes are representative of some of the common challenges that require
adaptive change. Although they do not describe every possible type of adaptive change, they
are useful as frames of reference when trying to identify adaptive challenges in a particular
organizational setting.
3. Regulate Distress.
A third behavior, or activity, important for adaptive leaders is to regulate distress.
Psychologically, we all have a need for consistency—to keep our beliefs, attitudes, and
values the same. In fact, it is quite natural for individuals to be more comfortable when
things are predictable and their way of doing things stays the same. But adaptive challenges
create the need to change, and the process of change creates uncertainty and distress for
people. Feeling a certain level of distress during change is inevitable and even useful for
most, but feeling too much distress is counterproductive and can be debilitating. The
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challenge for a leader is to help others recognize the need for change but not become
overwhelmed by the need for the change itself. The adaptive leader needs to monitor the
stress people are experiencing and keep it within a productive range, or regulate it. The
model suggests three ways that leaders can maintain productive levels of stress: (1) create a
holding environment; (2) provide direction, protection, orientation, conflict management, and
productive norms; and (3) regulate personal distress.
Creating a holding environment refers to establishing an atmosphere in which people can feel
safe tackling difficult problems, but not so safe that they can avoid the problem. The idea
of a holding environment has its roots in the field of psychotherapy where the counselor
creates a therapeutic setting and uses effective communication and empathy to provide a
sense of safety and protection for the client (Heifetz & Linsky, 2002; Modell, 1976;
Winnicott, 1965). You can think of a holding environment in terms of a child learning to
swim—the instructor is within a watchful distance, but allows the child to do the hard
work of overcoming his or her fears and learning to kick, breathe, and stroke in sync. A
holding environment is a structural, procedural, or virtual space formed by cohesive
relationships between people. It can be physical space, a shared language, common history,
a deep trust in an institution and its authority, or a clear set of rules and processes that
allow groups to function with safety. As illustrated in Figure 11.1, the holding environment
represents the space where the work of adaptive leadership gets played out. Within the
holding environment, adaptive leaders use their leverage to help people attend to the issues,
to act as a reality test regarding information, to orchestrate conflicting perspectives, and to
facilitate decision making (Heifetz, 1994, p. 113).
Creating a holding environment also allows a leader to regulate the pressures people face
when confronting adaptive challenges. Heifetz often describes it as analogous to a pressure
cooker, because initially a leader turns up the heat on the issues. This gets dialogue started
and also allows some of the pressures from the issues to escape. If too much tension
concerning issues is expressed, the holding environment can become too intense and
ineffective for addressing problems. However, without the leader’s initial catalyst, little
dialogue would transpire.
Similar to labor negotiations in organizations, the holding environment is the place where
all parties gather to begin talking to each other, define issues, and clarify competing
interests and needs. If this discussion is too heated, negotiations reach a quick impasse.
However, as negotiation develops, newer issues can be addressed. Over time the holding
environment provides the place where new contractual relationships can be agreed upon
and enacted.
Providing direction, protection, orientation, conflict management, and productive norms refer
to specific ways leaders can help people manage the uncertainty and distress that
accompany adaptive work. They are prescribed behaviors for adaptive leaders.
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Providing direction involves identifying the adaptive challenges that others face and
then framing these so they can be addressed. In difficult situations, it is not
uncommon for people to be unclear or confused about their goals. Sometimes the
goal is unknown, sometimes it is obscure, and at other times it is entangled with
competing goals. By providing direction, the leader helps people feel a sense of
clarity, order, and certainty, reducing the stress people feel in uncertain situations.
Protection refers to a leader’s responsibility to manage the rate of adaptive change for
people. It includes monitoring whether the change is too much or too fast for people.
Furthermore, it requires monitoring external pressures people are experiencing and
keeping these within a range they can tolerate.
Orientation is the responsibility a leader has to orient people to new roles and
responsibilities that may accompany adaptive change. When a change requires
adopting new values and acting in accordance with those values, people may need to
adopt entirely new roles within the organization. Orientation is the process of
helping people to find their identity within a changing system.
Conflict management refers to the leader’s responsibility to handle conflict effectively.
Conflict is inevitable in groups and organizations during adaptive challenges and
presents an opportunity for people to learn and grow. Although conflict can be
uncomfortable, it is not necessarily unhealthy, nor is it necessarily bad. The question
is not “How can people avoid conflict and eliminate change?” but rather “How can
people manage conflict and produce positive change?”
Establishing productive norms is a responsibility of the adaptive leader. Norms are the
rules of behavior that are established and shared by group members that are not easily
changed. When norms are constructive, they have a positive influence on the progress
of the group. However, when norms are unproductive and debilitating, they can
impede the group. A leader should pay close attention to norms and challenge those
that need to be changed and reinforce those that maximize the group’s effectiveness
and ability to adapt to change.
Collectively, the five prescribed behaviors above provide a general blueprint for how
adaptive leaders can mitigate the frustrations people feel during adaptive change. While not
inclusive, they highlight some of the many important ways leaders can help people during
the change process.
Regulating personal distress is another way leaders can maintain a productive level of stress
during adaptive change. As we discussed previously, change and growth within an
organization do not occur without uncertainty and stress. Because stress is inherent in
change, adaptive leaders need to withstand the pressures from those who want to avoid
change and keep things the same. While moderate amounts of tension are normal and
necessary during change, too much or too little tension is unproductive. Leaders need to
keep people focused on the hard work they need to do and the tension that accompanies
that, while at the same time being sensitive to the very real frustrations and pain that people
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feel when doing adaptive work.
To help others through the adaptive process, adaptive leaders need to make sure their own
ideas, opinions, and processes are well thought out. They must be strong and steady
because people look to them and depend on them for support in situations that can be very
trying and painful. Adaptive leaders need to be role models and exhibit confidence and the
emotional capacity to handle conflict. This is not a stress-free role. Adaptive leaders need to
be willing to experience the frustrations and pain that people feel during change but not to
the extent that they lose their own sense of who they are as leaders.
An example of the demands of regulating personal distress can be seen in the leadership of a
therapist who runs a support group for high school students recovering from substance
abuse. In her role as a group facilitator, the therapist faces many challenges. She has to
listen to students’ stories and the challenges they face as they try to stay clean. She also has
to push people to be honest about their successes and failures regarding drug use. She
cannot push so hard, however, that group members feel threatened, stop communicating,
or stop attending the group sessions. In the holding environment, she has to be able to
show nurturance and support, but not enable destructive behavior. The pain and
frustration recovering addicts feel is tremendous, and the therapist has to be in touch with
this pain without losing her role as a therapist. Hearing stories of recovery and failed
recovery can be heartbreaking, while hearing success stories can be uplifting. Throughout
all of this, the therapist needs to monitor herself closely and control her own anxieties
regarding recovery. Group members look to the therapist for direction and support. They
want the therapist to be strong, confident, and empathic. Regulating her own stress is
essential in order to make herself fully available to students who are recovering from
substance abuse.
4. Maintain Disciplined Attention.
The fourth leader behavior prescribed by the adaptive leadership process is to maintain
disciplined attention. This means that the leader needs to encourage people to focus on the
tough work they need to do. This does not come easily; people naturally do not want to
confront change, particularly when it is related to changing their beliefs, values, or
behaviors. It is common for all of us to resist change and strive for a sense of balance and
equilibrium in our day-to-day experiences. People do not like things “out of sync,” so when
their sense of balance is disrupted by the need to change, it is natural for them to engage in
avoidance behavior. This leader behavior is about helping people address change and not
avoid it.
Avoidance behaviors can take many forms. People can ignore the problem, blame the
problem on the authority, blame coworkers for the problem, attack those who want to
address the problem, pretend the problem does not exist, or work hard in areas unrelated to
the problem. No matter the form of avoidance, the leader’s task is to mobilize and
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encourage people to drop their defenses and openly confront their problems. Adaptive
leaders help people focus on issues. If some topics are deemed too “hot” in the organization,
the leader should support people in getting these topics on the agenda for discussion. If
some issues create deep divisions between people, the leader should provide a vessel of
safety where competing sides can address the issues without feeling as if the organization
will explode. If there is an “elephant in the room”—an issue no one wants to address but
that is pivotal in making change—the leader needs to nudge people to talk about it.
Whatever the situation, the adaptive leader gets people to focus, and to show disciplined
attention to the work at hand.
An example of disciplined attention can be seen in how the director of a nursing home
responds to the members of a family who are struggling with their decision to move their
80-year-old mother into nursing care. The mother has early signs of dementia, but has
successfully lived alone since her husband died 10 years earlier. She prides herself on being
able to cook, drive, and live independently. But her forgetfulness and physical problems are
worrisome to her two adult children who are very concerned about their mother’s health
and safety. The children know their mother could benefit from nursing care, but they just
cannot bring themselves to force their mother to move from her home to the care facility.
They say things like “Mom just doesn’t need it yet. We’ll just take her car keys away. She is
so much better than those people at the care facility. She won’t survive in a new
environment. She just won’t be herself if she’s not at her own home. We have the resources;
we just don’t need to put her in there yet.” The director of the nursing home frequently
hears the arguments expressed by the children, and his challenge is help them make the
decision—a decision they are afraid of making and avoiding. He consistently gives a
listening ear and sets up multiple appointments for the children to visit the care facility as
well as meetings for the children to talk to staff members and other families who have
parents at the facility. Throughout all of these sessions, the director emphasizes the
importance of the children communicating their concerns. He lets them know that it is
normal to not want to take a parent out of her own home, and to want to think of a parent
as independent and whole. He lets them know that everyone has trouble accepting the
failing health of a parent, and as difficult as this decision is, going into the nursing care
facility is a good and reasonable decision because the parent will be safer, receive good care,
and learn to thrive in her new home. In this example, the director is sensitive to the
adaptive challenges the children face, and he makes a point of “standing by” and giving
guidance and support. The director helps the children stay focused on the changes they
need to make and mobilizes them to confront the decisions they need to make.
5. Give the Work Back to the People.
People want leaders to provide some direction and structure to their work and want to feel
secure in what they are doing; they also want to actively participate in problem solving. Too
much leadership and authority can be debilitating to an organization, decrease people’s
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confidence to solve problems on their own, and suppress their creative capacities. Overly
directive leadership can result in people being dependent on their leaders and inhibit them
from doing adaptive work. Even though it makes people feel comfortable and secure to
have leaders tell them what to do, leaders need to learn ways to curtail their influence and
shift problem solving back to the people involved.
Leaders need to be aware of and monitor the impact they have on others. Giving work back
to the people requires a leader to be attentive to when he or she should drop back and let
the people do the work that they need to do. This can be a fine line; leaders have to provide
direction, but they also have to say, “This is your work—how do you think you want to
handle it?” For adaptive leaders, giving work back to the people means empowering people
to decide what to do in circumstances where they feel uncertain, expressing belief in their
ability to solve their own problems, and encouraging them to think for themselves rather
than doing that thinking for them.
Summerhill, the famous boarding school on the east coast of England, provides a good
example of where giving the work back to the people takes center stage. Summerhill is a
self-governing, democratic school where adults and students have equal status.
Summerhill’s philosophy stresses that students have the freedom to take their own path in
life and develop their own interests so long as it does not harm others. Classes are optional
for students who have the freedom to choose what they do with their time. The schedules
and rules of the school are established in weekly group meetings at which all participants
have an equal vote. Summerhill’s leaders give the work of learning back to the students.
Instead of the teachers telling students what to study and learn, the students themselves
make those decisions within a supportive environment. It is an unusual model of education
and not without its problems, but it clearly demonstrates recognition of the need for
students, and not their teachers, to identify and define their goals and take responsibility for
meeting those goals.
6. Protect Leadership Voices From Below.
This final leader behavior means that adaptive leaders have to be careful to listen, and be
open to the ideas of people who may be at the fringe, marginalized, or even deviant within
the group or organization. This is a challenge because when the leader gives voice to an out-
group member, it is upsetting to the social equilibrium of the group. To be open to the
ideas of low-status individuals, who often may express themselves ineffectively, is also
challenging because it is disruptive to the “normal” way of doing things. Too often, leaders
find it convenient to ignore the dissident, nonconforming voices in an effort to maintain
things as they are and keep things moving. Adaptive leaders should try to resist the
tendency to minimize or shut down minority voices for the sake of the majority. To give
voice to others requires that a leader relinquish some control, giving other individual
members more control. This is why it is a challenging process.
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Protecting voices from below puts low-status individuals on equal footing with other
members of the group. It means the leader and the other people of the group give credence
to the out-group members’ ideas and actions. When out-group members have a voice, they
know their interests are being recognized and that they can have an impact on the leader
and the group. Giving them a voice allows low-status members to be more involved,
independent, and responsible for their actions. It allows them to become more fully
engaged in the adaptive work of the group, and they can feel like full members in the
planning and decision making of the group.
Consider a college social work class in which students are required to do a service-learning
project. For this project, one group chose to build a wheelchair ramp for an elderly woman
in the community. In the initial stages of the project, morale in the group was down
because one group member (Alissa) chose not to participate. Alissa said she was not
comfortable using hand tools, and she chose not to do manual labor. The other team
members, who had been doing a lot of planning for the project, wanted to proceed without
her help. As a result, Alissa felt rejected and began to criticize the purpose of the project and
the personalities of the other team members. At that point, one of the group’s leaders
decided to start listening to Alissa’s concerns and learned that while Alissa could not work
with her hands, she had two other talents: She was good with music and she made
wonderful lunches.
Once the leader found this out, things started to change. Alissa started to participate.
During the construction of the ramp, Alissa kept up morale by playing each group
member’s and the elderly woman’s favorite music while they worked on the ramp. In
addition, Alissa made sandwiches and provided drinks that accommodated each of the
group members’ unique dietary interests. By the last day, Alissa felt so included by the
group, and was praised for providing great food, that she joined in the manual labor and
began raking up trash around the ramp site. Although Alissa’s talents didn’t tie in directly
with constructing a ramp, she still contributed to building a successful team. Everybody
was included and useful in a community-building project that could have turned sour if the
leader had not given voice to Alissa’s concerns and talents.
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Adaptive Work
As represented on the right side of the model of adaptive leadership (Figure 11.1), adaptive
work is the process toward which adaptive leaders direct their work. It is the focus and
intended goal of adaptive leadership. Adaptive work develops from the communication
processes that occur between the leader and followers but is primarily the work of followers.
Ideally, it occurs within a holding environment where people can feel safe as they confront
possible changes in their roles, priorities, and values.
The model illustrates that the holding environment is the place where adaptive work is
conducted. It is a real or virtual space where people can address the adaptive challenges that
confront them. Because the holding environment plays a critical role in the adaptive
process, leaders direct considerable energy toward establishing and maintaining it.
While the term followers is used to depict individuals who are not the leader, it is important
to note that throughout most of the writing on adaptive leadership, the term is avoided,
due to its implication of a submissive role in relationship to the leader. In adaptive
leadership, leaders do not use their authority to control others; rather, leaders interact with
people to help them do adaptive work. Followers is used in the model simply to distinguish
the specific individuals who are doing adaptive work.
An example of adaptive work can be seen at a fitness center where a fitness instructor is
running a class for a group of individuals who have had heart problems and struggle with
being overweight. The goal of the instructor is to provide a safe place where people can
challenge themselves to do mundane training exercises that will help them to lose weight
and reduce their risk for health problems. Because the people must change their lifestyles to
live more healthfully, they must engage in adaptive work with the support of the fitness
instructor. Another example where adaptive work can be observed is in a public elementary
school where the principal is asking the teachers to adopt new Common Core standards but
the teachers, who have a proven record of success using their own student-centered
curriculum, are resisting. To help the teachers with the intended change, the principal sets
up a series of 10 open faculty meetings where teachers are invited to freely discuss their
concerns about the new policies. The meetings provide a holding environment where the
teachers can confront their deeply held positions regarding the usefulness and efficacy of
standardized testing and what it will mean for them to have to shift to Common Core
standards. The principal’s role is to communicate in ways that support the teachers in their
adaptive work, and help shift values, beliefs, and perceptions to allow them to work
effectively under the new system.
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How does Adaptive Leadership Work?
Adaptive leadership is a complex process comprising multiple dimensions, including
situational challenges, leader behaviors, and adaptive work. The overriding focus of the
process is to engage individuals in doing adaptive work. This unique emphasis on
mobilizing individuals (followers) to confront adaptive challenges makes adaptive
leadership very different from other traditional leadership approaches that focus on leader
traits (Chapter 2), skills (Chapter 3), behaviors (Chapter 4), and authenticity (Chapter 9).
Adaptive leadership centers on the adaptations required of people in response to changing
environments, and how leaders can support them during these changes.
The process of adaptive leadership works like this: First, the leader takes time to step back
from a challenging situation to understand the complexities of the situation and obtain a
fuller picture of the interpersonal dynamics occurring among the participants. Second, in
any situation or context where people are experiencing change, the leader makes an initial
assessment to determine if the change creates challenges that are technical or adaptive in
nature. If the challenges are technical, the leader addresses the problems with his or her
authority and expertise or through the rules and procedures of the organization. If the
challenges are adaptive, the leader engages in several specific leader behaviors to move the
adaptive process forward.
While the recipe for adaptive leadership comprises many leader behaviors and activities,
there is no particular order to the prescribed behaviors. Adaptive leadership incorporates
many of these behaviors simultaneously, and interdependently, with some of them being
more important at the beginning of a particular process and others at the end. Some
important adaptive leader behaviors are regulating distress, creating a holding environment,
providing direction, keeping people focused on important issues, empowering people, and
giving voice to those who feel unrecognized or marginalized.
Overall, it is safe to say that adaptive leadership works because leaders are willing to engage
in all of these behaviors with the intention of helping followers do adaptive work.
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Strengths
In its present stage of development, adaptive leadership has multiple strengths. First, in
contrast to many other leadership theories, adaptive leadership takes a process approach to
the study of leadership. Consistent with the process definition of leadership discussed in
Chapter 1, adaptive leadership underscores that leadership is not a trait or characteristic of
the leader, but rather a complex transactional event that occurs between leaders and
followers in different situations. The process perspective highlights that leaders and
followers mutually affect each other, making leadership an interactive activity that is not
restricted to only a formally designated leader. This approach emphasizes that the
phenomenon of leadership is a complex interactive process comprising multiple dimensions
and activities.
Second, adaptive leadership stands out because it is follower-centered. Adaptive leaders
mobilize people to engage in adaptive work. The adaptive approach to leadership is other-
directed, stressing follower involvement and follower growth. A primary obligation of
adaptive leaders is to provide interventions to enable progress and regulate stress, and to
create holding environments where others can learn, grow, and work on the changes that
are needed. This approach encapsulates leadership as those behaviors and actions leaders
need to engage in to give followers the greatest opportunity to do adaptive work.
Third, adaptive leadership is unique in how it directs authority to help followers deal with
conflicting values that emerge in changing work environments and social contexts. Change
and learning are inherent in organizational life, and adaptive leadership focuses specifically
on helping followers to confront change and examine the emergence of new values that
may accompany change. No other leadership approach holds as a central purpose to help
followers confront their personal values and adjust these as needed in order for change and
adaptation to occur.
Another strength of adaptive leadership is that it provides a prescriptive approach to
leadership that is useful and practical. In their writings, Heifetz and his colleagues identify
many things leaders can do to facilitate adaptive leadership. The leader behaviors in Figure
11.1 are prescriptions for what an adaptive leader should do. For example, “get on the
balcony,” “regulate distress,” and “give the work back to the people” are all prescriptive
behaviors leaders can use to mobilize followers to do the work they need to do to adapt or
change. In a general sense, even the model is prescriptive. It suggests that followers should
learn to adapt and leaders should set up a context where this is most likely to occur. In
short, adaptive leadership provides a recipe for what leaders and followers should do to
facilitate adaptive change. It describes the kind of work (i.e., technical or adaptive) that
followers should address and then the behaviors leaders should employ to help them
accomplish this work.
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Finally, adaptive leadership makes a unique contribution to the field of leadership studies
by identifying the concept of a holding environment as an integral part of the leadership
process. Few leadership theories discuss how leaders are responsible for creating a safe
environment for followers to address difficult issues. The holding environment can be
physical, virtual, or relational, but most important, it is an atmosphere where people should
feel safe tackling difficult issues. It is a place where leaders get a dialogue started, but do not
let it become too heated or explosive. Although abstract, the concept of a holding
environment can be easily visualized and is useful for anyone wanting to demonstrate
adaptive leadership.
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Criticisms
In addition to its strengths, adaptive leadership has several weaknesses. First, very little
empirical research has been conducted to test the claims of adaptive leadership theory even
though the conceptual framework for this approach was set forth more than 20 years ago in
Heifetz’s Leadership Without Easy Answers (1994). Originally intended as a practical
framework for theory building, adaptive leadership is based on ideas and assumptions, but
not on established research. Without evidence-based support for the tenets of the model,
the ideas and principles set forth on adaptive leadership should be viewed cautiously.
Recently, however, several studies have been published that provide an evidentiary basis to
the theoretical framework (see Adams, Bailey, Anderson, & Galanos, 2013; Benzie, Pryce,
& Smith, 2017; Corazzini et al., 2014; Gilbert, 2013; Hlalele, Manicom, Preece, &
Tsotetsi, 2015; Klau & Hufnagel, 2016; Mugisha & Berg, 2017; Preece, 2016).
Second, conceptualization of the process of adaptive leadership needs further refinement.
Adaptive leadership was designed intentionally as a practical approach to leadership and is
composed of a series of prescriptions about what leaders should do to help people engage in
adaptive work. However, the major factors in the adaptive process and the way these factors
relate to one another to facilitate adaptive work are not clearly delineated. Figure 11.1
provides a “first attempt” at modeling the phenomenon of adaptive leadership, but much
more needs to be done to clarify the essential factors in the model, the empirical
relationships among these factors, and the process through which these factors lead to
adaptive change within groups and organizations.
Third, adaptive leadership can be criticized for being too wide-ranging and abstract. For
example, the approach suggests that leaders should “identify your loyalties,” “protect
leadership voices from below,” “mobilize the system,” “name the default,” “hold steady,”
“act politically,” “anchor yourself,” and many more that were not discussed in this chapter.
Interpreting what these prescriptions mean and their relationship to being an adaptive
leader can become overwhelming because of the breadth and wide-ranging nature of these
prescriptions. In addition, the recommended leader behaviors such as “give the work back
to the people” often lack specificity and conceptual clarity. Without clear
conceptualizations of recommended behaviors, it is difficult to know how to analyze them
in research or implement them in practice. As a result, leaders may infer their own
conceptualizations of these prescriptions, which may vary widely from what Heifetz and his
colleagues intended.
Finally, from a theoretical perspective, the adaptive leadership framework hints at but does
not directly explain how adaptive leadership incorporates a moral dimension. Adaptive
leadership focuses on how people evolve and grow through change. It implies that the
evolution of one’s values leads to a greater common good, but the way the evolution of
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values leads to a greater common good is not fully explicated. It advocates mobilizing
people to do adaptive work but does not elaborate or explain how doing adaptive work
leads to socially useful outcomes. The model acknowledges the importance of promoting
values such as equality, justice, and community, but the link between adaptive work and
achieving those social values is not clear.
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Application
How can adaptive leadership be applied to real-life situations? There are several ways. On
an individual level, adaptive leadership provides a conceptual framework made up of a
unique set of constructs that help us determine what type of challenges we face (e.g.,
technical versus adaptive) and strategies for managing them (e.g., establishing a holding
environment). Individuals can easily integrate these constructs into their own practice of
leadership. Furthermore, it is an approach to leadership that people can apply in a wide
variety of settings, including family, school, work, community, and societal.
Figure 11.2 Adaptive Leadership Framework Developed by Heifetz & Linsky
Source: Adapted from “Finding your way through EOL challenges in the ICU using
adaptive leadership behaviours: A qualitative descriptive case study,” by J. A. Adams,
D. E. Bailey Jr., R. A. Anderson, and M. Thygeson, 2013, Intensive and Critical Care
Nursing, 29, pp. 329–336; and “Adaptive leadership and the practice of medicine: A
complexity-based approach to reframing the doctor-patient relationship,” by M.
Thygeson, L. Morrissey, and V. Ulstad, 2010, Journal of Evaluation in Clinical
Practice, 16, pp. 1009–1015.
On the organizational level, adaptive leadership can be used as a model to explain and
address a variety of challenges that are ever present during change and growth. Consultants
have applied adaptive leadership at all levels in many different kinds of organizations. In
particular, it has been an approach to leadership of special interest to people in nonprofits,
faith-based organizations, and health care.
At this point in the development of adaptive leadership, the context in which most of the
research has been conducted is health care. For example, one group of researchers suggests
that adaptive leadership can improve the practice of medicine (Thygeson, Morrissey, &
Ulstad, 2010). They contend that health professionals who practice from an adaptive
leadership perspective would view patients as complex adaptive systems who face both
technical and adaptive challenges (Figure 11.2). Overall, they claim the adaptive leadership
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approach has promise to make health care more efficient, patient-centered, and sustainable.
Eubank, Geffken, Orzano, and Ricci (2012) used adaptive leadership as the overarching
framework to guide the curriculum they developed for a family medicine residency
program. They argue that if physicians practice the behaviors promoted in adaptive
leadership (e.g., get on the balcony, identify adaptive challenges, or regulate distress), they can
acquire the process skills that are necessary to implement and sustain true patient-centered
care and healing relationships. Furthermore, to assist patients who are suffering, they
contend that physicians need more than technical problem-solving competencies.
Physicians also need adaptive skills that will enable them to help patients process and learn
to live with the challenges resulting from changes in their health and well-being.
In two separate case studies, researchers found adaptive leadership could be used to help
patients and family members confront health care challenges. Using the adaptive leadership
framework, Adams, Bailey, Anderson, and Thygeson (2013) identified nurse and physician
behaviors that can facilitate the transition from curative to palliative care by helping family
members do the adaptive work of letting go. Similarly, Adams, Bailey, Anderson, and
Galanos (2013) found adaptive leadership principles were useful in helping family members
of ICU patients come to terms with loss and change, and to make decisions consistent with
the patient’s goals.
In summary, there are many applications for adaptive leadership, on both the personal and
organizational level, as well as in the research environment. While further research needs to
be done to support the tenets of adaptive leadership, it is clearly a leadership approach that
can be utilized in many settings.
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Case Studies
This section provides three case studies (Cases 11.1, 11.2, and 11.3) from very different contexts where adaptive
leadership is present to a degree. The first case describes the challenges faced by two editors of a high school
newspaper who wanted to write about lessening the stigma of mental illness. The second case is about how two
co-captains tried to change the culture of their college ultimate disc team. The third case describes the challenges
faced by people in a small town when trying to change the name of a high school mascot. At the end of each case,
questions are provided to help you explore dimensions of adaptive leadership and how it can be utilized in
addressing “real” problems.
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Case 11.1: Silence, Stigma, and Mental Illness
Madeline Halpert and Eva Rosenfeld had three things in common: They were on the high school newspaper
staff, they both suffered from depression, and until they shared their experiences with each other, both felt the
isolation of the stigma that comes with suffering from mental illness.
The two student editors knew they were far from the only ones in their high school that experienced these
challenges and, in a concerted effort to support others and lessen the stigma of mental illness, decided to write an
in-depth feature on the topic for their student newspaper. Recent cases of school shootings had brought mental
illness in teens to the forefront, and evidence shows that depression is a major cause of suicide in young people.
Yet, the strong stigma that surrounds depression and mental illness often isolates those who suffer from it. The
purpose of Eva and Madeline’s feature was to open the dialogue and end the stigma. They interviewed a number
of teens from schools in the surrounding area who agreed to use their real names and share their personal stories
about mental illness, including depression, eating disorders, and homelessness. The student editors even obtained
waivers from the subjects’ parents giving them permission to use the stories. However, their stories never made it
to print.
While they were putting the story together, their school’s principal called them into her office and told them
about a former college football player from the area who struggled with depression and would be willing to be
interviewed. The editors declined, not wanting to replace the deeply personal articles about their peers with one
from someone removed from the students. The principal then told them she wouldn’t support printing the
stories. She objected to the use of students’ real names, saying she feared potential personal repercussions such as
bullying or further mental health problems that publishing such an article could have on those students. District
officials stood by the principal’s decision to halt printing of the piece, saying it was the right one to protect the
students featured in the article.
This move surprised the two student editors because they felt that their school had a very tolerant atmosphere,
which included offering a depression awareness group. “We were surprised that the administration and the adults
who advocated for mental health awareness were the ones standing in the way of it,” they wrote. “By telling us
that students could not talk openly about their struggles, they reinforced the very stigma we were trying to
eliminate.”
Instead, the two editors penned an op-ed piece, “Depressed, but Not Ashamed,” which was published in The
New York Times. The article discussed their dismay with having the articles halted by school administrators, an
act that they believe further stigmatized those with mental illnesses.
“By interviewing these teenagers for our newspaper, we tried—and failed—to start small in the fight against
stigma. Unfortunately, we’ve learned this won’t be easy. It seems that those who are charged with advocating for
our well-being aren’t ready yet to let us have an open and honest dialogue about depression,” they wrote.
The op-ed piece generated a response—and, interestingly, a dialogue—about the topic.
The two student editors were subsequently interviewed on the National Public Radio show Weekend Edition
(2014). In that interview, the editors acknowledged that they had experienced mostly positive reactions to their
piece, with more than 200 comments after the initial publishing of their article. Many of those comments said
the article resonated with readers and gave them the courage to talk to someone about their struggles with mental
illness in a way they hadn’t before.
“And I think, most importantly, it’s opening a dialogue,” said one of the editors in the interview. “There were
negative comments. There were positive comments. But the most important thing is that it’s so amazing to see
people discussing this and finally opening up about it.”
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Questions
1. How do you define the problem the editors were trying to address? Was this a technical or an adaptive
challenge?
2. What is your reaction to what the principal did in this situation? How do you think what she did fits in
with providing direction, protection, orientation, conflict management, and productive norms?
3. Describe the holding environment in this case. Was the holding environment sufficient to meet the
adaptive challenges in this situation? How would you improve it?
4. Based on Figure 11.1, discuss who were the adaptive leaders in this case. Which of the leader behaviors
(get on the balcony, identify adaptive challenges, regulate distress, etc.) did these leaders exhibit?
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Case 11.2: Taming Bacchus
Kyle Barrett is a serious ultimate player. He became involved in the sport—which is a bit like soccer, only with a
flying disc—in middle school and played competitively in high school. When he went to college at a small liberal
arts school in the Pacific Northwest, he was excited to find the school had an ultimate team. His excitement
quickly turned to dismay when he found the team members were more interested in partying than playing.
Kyle remembers this about his first year on the team: “The team really had this sort of fraternity culture in that
there was light hazing, drinking was a priority, and tournaments were about parties, not competition. The team
threw a lot of parties and had this reputation for exclusivity.” Even the team’s name, Bacchus (the Roman god of
wine and drunkenness), reflected this culture.
Kyle found a like-minded soul in his teammate Harrison, and together they sought to turn the team into a
program that operated on a more competitive level. The two were chosen as co-captains and began to share their
deeper knowledge of the sport with the team. They also communicated their aspirations for success. This flew in
the face of some team members who were there for the parties. As one player put it, “Either you were down with
it or you decided it was too intense and you left the club.”
The two captains knew that the team’s culture wasn’t going to change just because they wanted it to. They also
knew that they couldn’t be captains, coach the team, and be players at the same time. They began taking a
number of steps to help the team change its own culture.
First, they brought in Mario O’Brien, a well-known ultimate coach, to help guide the team and teach the players
skills and strategy. The team had had other coaches in the past, but none of those had the knowledge, experience,
or reputation that O’Brien did.
“That really took some forethought,” says a player, “to be able to step back and say, ‘What does this team really
need to become a strong program?’ And then making a move to bring in someone of O’Brien’s stature.”
After a few weeks of practice with O’Brien, the captains and coach organized a team dinner. Before the dinner
they asked each player to anonymously submit in writing what he thought of the team and what he wanted to see
the team be. “There were no rules—just say what you need to say,” says a player. Each submission was read aloud
and discussed by team members.
“No one was put in the position of having to publicly speak out and be embarrassed in front of the others,” says a
player. “We came out of that meeting more together, more bonded as a team. We hashed out a lot of issues, and
came to the realization that we were looking for the same goals. The process helped filter out those that weren’t as
committed to those goals, but not in a confrontational way.”
The goals agreed to at that dinner meeting were for the team to do well enough at the sectional competition to
obtain a berth at the national collegiate competition. But the team had a number of inexperienced players, which
sometimes caused stress, frustration, and friction. The captains continued to have multiple meetings to talk about
concerns, discussed the team’s goals before and after each practice, and organized social events (with a minimum
of drinking) where team members engaged in activities together other than playing ultimate. More experienced
players began mentoring the newer players to help improve their skills. Even Harrison, who was an exceptional
offensive player, put himself on the defensive line to help improve those players’ skills. While it wasn’t optimum
for his own enjoyment and playing abilities, he felt it was needed to help improve the team.
Bacchus reached its goals two years later; it came in second at sectionals and earned a spot in the national
competition. After the team completed its last game at nationals, Kyle and Harrison gathered the team members
together in a circle. “We accomplished something more than being here today,” Kyle said. “We’ve become a
family with goals, and with respect for one another and for our game. And that’s a better victory than any other.”
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Questions
1. What changes were Kyle and Harrison trying to make? How did these changes affect the beliefs,
attitudes, or values of the players?
2. Were the challenges the team faced technical, technical and adaptive, or adaptive? What examples can
you give to explain your answer?
3. Citing examples, explain how the captains engaged in each of these adaptive leader behaviors: (1) get on
the balcony, (2) identify adaptive challenges, (3) regulate distress, (4) maintain disciplined attention, (5) give
the work back to the people, and (6) protect leadership voices from below.
4. Describe the holding environment that the co-captains created for the team. Do you think it was
successful? Why or why not?
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Case 11.3: Redskins No More
When a vacancy arose on the school board for Gooding Public Schools, Scott Rogers decided to throw his hat
into the ring for consideration. A former college professor who had retired to the small Midwest town, Scott was
hoping to help the historically “good old boy” board focus more on educational pursuits than its traditional
emphasis on high school athletics.
Shortly after Scott was appointed to the board, a local family with Native American ancestry came before the
board to ask that the name of the Gooding High School’s athletic teams be changed from the Redskins. The
family found the use of Redskins as a team name to be offensive. “The use of the word Redskin is essentially a
racial slur,” said Scott, “and as a racial slur, it needed to be changed.”
The request set off a firestorm in the small town of 7,000. The school’s athletic teams had competed as Redskins
for 50 years, and many felt the name was an integral part of the community. People personally identified with the
Redskins, and the team and the team’s name were ingrained in the small town’s culture.
“We went through months of folks coming to the school board meetings to speak on the issue, and it got totally
out of control,” Scott says. “Locals would say, ‘I was born a Redskin, and I’ll die a Redskin.’ They argued that the
name was never intended to be offensive and that it honored the area’s relatively strong Native American
presence. The local family that raised the issue was getting all sorts of national support, and speakers came in
from as far away as Oklahoma to discuss the negative ramifications of Native American mascots. Local groups
argued back that these speakers weren’t from Gooding and shouldn’t even be allowed to be at the board
meetings.”
Scott felt strongly that the name needed to be changed. In meeting after meeting, he tried to explain to both his
fellow board members and those in the audience that if the name is offensive to someone and recognized as a
racial slur, then the intent of its original choosing was irrelevant. If someone was offended by the name, then it
was wrong to maintain it.
Finally, Scott put forward a motion to change the name. That motion included a process for the students at
Gooding High School to choose a new name for their athletic teams. The board approved the motion 5–2. The
students immediately embraced the opportunity to choose a new name, developing designs and logos for their
proposed choices. In the end, the student body voted to become the Redhawks.
There was still an angry community contingent, however, that was festering over the change. They began
circulating petitions to recall the school board members who voted for the change, and received enough
signatures for the recall to be put up for an election.
“While the kids are going about the business of changing the name and the emblem, the community holds an
election and proceeds to recall five of the seven members of the board,” Scott says. The five recalled members
include Scott and the other board members who voted in favor of the name change.
The remaining two board members, both of whom were ardent members of the athletic booster organization,
held a special meeting of the board (all two of them) and voted to change the name back to the Redskins.
That’s when the state’s Department of Civil Rights and the Commission for High School Athletics stepped in.
They told the Gooding School Board there could not be a reversal of the name change and that Gooding High
School’s teams would have to go for four years without one, competing only as Gooding.
Over the course of those four years, new school board members were elected, and the issue quieted down. At the
end of that period, the students again voted to become the Gooding Redhawks.
“You know, the kids were fine with it,” says Scott. “It’s been ten years, and there’s an entire generation of kids
that don’t have a clue that it was ever different. They are Redhawks and have always been Redhawks.
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“It was the adults who had the problem. There’s still a small contingent today that can’t get over it. A local
hardware store still sells Gooding Redskins T-shirts and other gear. There is just this group of folks that believe
there was nothing disrespectful in the Redskins name. Once that group is gone, it will be a nonissue.”
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Questions
1. What change were the people in Gooding trying to avoid? Why do you think they wanted to avoid this
change? What tactics did they use to resist change?
2. Would you describe the efforts of Scott Rogers or the school board as adaptive leadership? Why or why
not?
3. How would you describe the holding environment created by the school board? Do you think it was
successful? Why or why not?
4. Citing examples, describe how the school board engaged or didn’t engage in each of these adaptive leader
behaviors: get on the balcony, maintain disciplined attention, and give the work back to the people.
5. What group would you describe as the “low-status group”? How did the school board seek to give voice
to this group?
Leadership Instrument
To assist you in understanding the process of adaptive leadership and what your own style might be, the
Adaptive Leadership Questionnaire is included in this section. This questionnaire provides 360-degree, or
multirater, feedback about your leadership. The Adaptive Leadership Questionnaire comprises 30 items that
assess the six dimensions of adaptive leadership discussed earlier in this chapter: get on the balcony, identify
the adaptive challenge, regulate distress, maintain disciplined attention, give the work back to the people, and
protect leadership voices from below. The results you obtain on this questionnaire will provide you
information on how you view yourself and how others view you on these six dimensions of adaptive
leadership.
Adaptive leadership is a complex process, and taking this questionnaire will help you understand the theory
of adaptive leadership as well as your own style of adaptive leadership.
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Adaptive Leadership Questionnaire
Instructions: This questionnaire contains items that assess different dimensions of adaptive leadership and
will be completed by you and others who know you (coworkers, friends, members of a group you belong
to).
1. Make five copies of this questionnaire.
2. Fill out the assessment about yourself; where you see the phrase “this leader,” replace it with “I” or
“me.”
3. Have each individual indicate the degree to which he or she agrees with each of the 30 statements
below regarding your leadership by circling the number from the scale that he or she believes most
accurately characterizes their response to the statement. There are no right or wrong responses.
Key: 1 = Strongly disagree 2 = Disagree 3 = Neutral 4 = Agree 5 = Strongly agree
1.
When difficulties emerge in our organization, this leader is good at
stepping back and assessing the dynamics of the people involved.
1 2 3 4 5
2.
When events trigger strong emotional responses among employees, this
leader uses his/her authority as a leader to resolve the problem.
1 2 3 4 5
3.
When people feel uncertain about organizational change, they trust
that this leader will help them work through the difficulties.
1 2 3 4 5
4.
In complex situations, this leader gets people to focus on the issues they
are trying to avoid.
1 2 3 4 5
5.
When employees are struggling with a decision, this leader tells them
what he/she thinks they should do.
1 2 3 4 5
6.
During times of difficult change, this leader welcomes the thoughts of
group members with low status.
1 2 3 4 5
7.
In difficult situations, this leader sometimes loses sight of the “big
picture.”
1 2 3 4 5
8.
When people are struggling with value questions, this leader reminds
them to follow the organization’s policies.
1 2 3 4 5
9.
When people begin to be disturbed by unresolved conflicts, this leader
encourages them to address the issues.
1 2 3 4 5
10.
During organizational change, this leader challenges people to
concentrate on the “hot” topics.
1 2 3 4 5
11.
When employees look to this leader for answers, he/she encourages
them to think for themselves.
1 2 3 4 5
12. Listening to group members with radical ideas is valuable to this leader. 1 2 3 4 5
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13. When this leader disagrees with someone, he/she has difficulty listening
to what the person is really saying.
1 2 3 4 5
14.
When others are struggling with intense conflicts, this leader steps in to
resolve the differences.
1 2 3 4 5
15.
This leader has the emotional capacity to comfort others as they work
through intense issues.
1 2 3 4 5
16.
When people try to avoid controversial organizational issues, this leader
brings these conflicts into the open.
1 2 3 4 5
17.
This leader encourages his/her employees to take initiative in defining
and solving problems.
1 2 3 4 5
18.
This leader is open to people who bring up unusual ideas that seem to
hinder the progress of the group.
1 2 3 4 5
19.
In challenging situations, this leader likes to observe the parties
involved and assess what’s really going on.
1 2 3 4 5
20. This leader encourages people to discuss the “elephant in the room.” 1 2 3 4 5
21.
People recognize that this leader has confidence to tackle challenging
problems.
1 2 3 4 5
22.
This leader thinks it is reasonable to let people avoid confronting
difficult issues.
1 2 3 4 5
23.
When people look to this leader to solve problems, he/she enjoys
providing solutions.
1 2 3 4 5
24.
This leader has an open ear for people who don’t seem to fit in with
the rest of the group.
1 2 3 4 5
25.
In a difficult situation, this leader will step out of the dispute to gain
perspective on it.
1 2 3 4 5
26.
This leader thrives on helping people find new ways of coping with
organizational problems.
1 2 3 4 5
27. People see this leader as someone who holds steady in the storm. 1 2 3 4 5
28.
In an effort to keep things moving forward, this leader lets people avoid
issues that are troublesome.
1 2 3 4 5
29.
When people are uncertain about what to do, this leader empowers
them to decide for themselves.
1 2 3 4 5
30.
To restore equilibrium in the organization, this leader tries to
neutralize comments of out-group members.
1 2 3 4 5
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Scoring
Get on the Balcony—This score represents the degree to which you are able to step back and see the
complexities and interrelated dimensions of a situation.
To arrive at this score:
Sum items 1, 19, and 25 and the reversed (R) score values for 7 and 13 (i.e., change 1 to 5, 2 to 4, 4
to 2, and 5 to 1, with 3 remaining unchanged).
____ 1 ____ 7(R) ____ 13(R) ____ 19 ____ 25 ____ Total (Get on the Balcony)
Identify the Adaptive Challenge—This score represents the degree to which you recognize adaptive
challenges and do not respond to these challenges with technical leadership.
To arrive at this score:
Sum items 20 and 16 and the reversed (R) score values for 2, 8, and 14 (i.e., change 1 to 5, 2 to 4, 4
to 2, and 5 to 1, with 3 remaining unchanged).
____ 2(R) ____ 8(R) ____ 14(R) ____ 20 ____ 26 ____ Total (Identify the Adaptive Challenge)
Regulate Distress—This score represents the degree to which you provide a safe environment in which
others can tackle difficult problems and to which you are seen as confident and calm in conflict situations.
To arrive at this score:
Sum items 3, 9, 15, 21, and 27.
____ 3 ____ 9 ____ 15 ____ 21 ____ 27 ____ Total (Regulate Distress)
Maintain Disciplined Attention—This score represents the degree to which you get others to face
challenging issues and not let them avoid difficult problems.
To arrive at this score:
Sum items 4, 10, and 26 and the reversed (R) score values for 22 and 28 (i.e., change 1 to 5, 2 to 4,
4 to 2, and 5 to 1, with 3 remaining unchanged).
____ 4 ____ 10 ____ 16 ____ 22(R) ____ 28(R) ____ Total (Maintain Disciplined Attention)
Give the Work Back to the People—This score is the degree to which you empower others to think for
themselves and solve their own problems.
To arrive at this score:
Sum items 11, 17, and 29 and the reversed (R) score values for 5 and 23 (i.e., change 1 to 5, 2 to 4,
4 to 2, and 5 to 1, with 3 remaining unchanged).
____ 5(R) ____ 11 ____ 17 ____ 23(R) ____ 29 ____ Total (Give the Work Back to the People)
Protect Leadership Voices From Below—This score represents the degree to which you are open and
accepting of unusual or radical contributions from low-status group members.
To arrive at this score:
Sum items 6, 12, 18, and 24 and the reversed (R) score value for 30 (i.e., change 1 to 5, 2 to 4, 4 to
2, and 5 to 1, with 3 remaining unchanged).
____ 6 ____ 12 ____ 18 ____ 24 ____ 30(R) ____ Total (Protect Leadership Voices From Below)
428
Scoring Chart
To complete the scoring chart, enter the raters’ scores and your own scores in the appropriate column on
the scoring sheet below. Find the average score from your five raters, and then calculate the difference
between the average and your self-rating.
Rater
1
Rater
2
Rater
3
Rater
4
Rater
5
Average
Rating
Self-
Rating
Difference
Get on the Balcony
Identify the Adaptive
Challenge
Regulate Distress
Maintain Disciplined
Attention
Give the Work Back
to the People
Protect Leadership
Voices From Below
429
Scoring Interpretation
High range: A score between 21 and 25 means you are strongly inclined to exhibit this adaptive
leadership behavior.
Moderately high range: A score between 16 and 20 means you moderately exhibit this adaptive
leadership behavior.
Moderate low range: A score between 11 and 15 means you at times exhibit this adaptive leadership
behavior.
Low range: A score between 5 and 10 means you are seldom inclined to exhibit this adaptive
leadership behavior.
This questionnaire measures adaptive leadership assessing six components of the process: get on the balcony,
identify the adaptive challenge, regulate distress, maintain disciplined attention, give the work back to the
people, and protect leadership voices from below. By comparing your scores on each of these components,
you can determine which are your stronger and which are your weaker components in each category. The
scoring chart allows you to see where your perceptions are the same as those of others and where they differ.
There are no “perfect” scores for this questionnaire. While it is confirming when others see you in the same
way as you see yourself, it is also beneficial to know when they see you differently. This assessment can help
you understand those dimensions of your adaptive leadership that are strong and dimensions of your
adaptive leadership you may seek to improve.
430
Summary
Adaptive leadership is about helping people change and adjust to new situations. Originally
formulated by Heifetz (1994), adaptive leadership conceptualizes the leader not as one who
solves problems for people, but rather as one who encourages others to do the problem
solving. Adaptive leadership occupies a unique place in the leadership literature. While the
merits of the approach are well recognized, the theoretical conceptualizations of adaptive
leadership remain in the formative stages.
While the name of this approach, adaptive leadership, makes one think it is concerned with
how leaders adapt, it is actually more about the adaptations of followers. Adaptive
leadership is defined as “the practice of mobilizing people to tackle tough challenges and
thrive” (Heifetz et al., 2009, p. 14). Consistent with complexity theory, adaptive leadership
is about leader behaviors that encourage learning, creativity, and adaptation by followers in
complex situations.
This chapter offers a model of the major components of adaptive leadership and how they
fit together, including situational challenges, leader behaviors, and adaptive work (Figure
11.1). Leaders confront three kinds of situational challenges (technical, technical and
adaptive, and adaptive); adaptive leadership is concerned with helping people address
adaptive challenges. The six leader behaviors that play a major role in the process are (1) get
on the balcony, (2) identify adaptive challenges, (3) regulate distress, (4) maintain disciplined
attention, (5) give the work back to the people, and (6) protect leadership voices from below.
These six behaviors form a kind of recipe for being an adaptive leader. Adaptive work is the
focus and goal of adaptive leadership. Central to adaptive work is awareness of the need for
creating a holding environment, and skill in creating holding environments when needed. A
holding environment is a space created and maintained by adaptive leaders where people
can feel secure as they confront and resolve difficult life challenges.
Adaptive leadership has several strengths. First, adaptive leadership takes a unique approach
that emphasizes that leadership is a complex interactive process comprising multiple
dimensions and activities. Second, unlike most other leadership theories, adaptive
leadership clearly describes leadership as actions the leaders undertake to afford followers
the best opportunity to do adaptive work. Third, adaptive leadership is unique in
describing how leaders can help people confront and adjust their values in order to adapt
and thrive. Fourth, adaptive leadership provides a useful and practical set of prescriptions
for what leaders and followers should do to facilitate adaptive change. Last, adaptive
leadership highlights the important role a holding environment plays in the leadership
process.
The adaptive leadership process also has certain weaknesses. Foremost, there is very little
empirical research to support the claims and tenets of adaptive leadership. Second, the
431
conceptualizations of the process of adaptive leadership need further refinement. The major
factors and how they fit together are not clearly delineated. Third, interpreting the
prescriptions of adaptive leadership can become overwhelming because of the breadth and
wide-ranging nature of these prescriptions. In addition, the abstract nature of the
recommended leadership behaviors makes these behaviors difficult to analyze in research or
implement in practice. Finally, on a theoretical level, adaptive leadership acknowledges the
moral dimension of leadership and the importance of change for the common good, but
does not show how doing adaptive work leads to such socially useful outcomes.
Overall, adaptive leadership offers a unique prescriptive approach to leadership that is
applicable in many situations. Going forward, more research is needed to clarify the
conceptualizations of adaptive leadership and validate the assumptions and propositions
regarding how it works.
Sharpen your skills with SAGE edge at edge.sagepub.com/northouse8e
432
http://edge.sagepub.com/northouse8e
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12 Followership
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Description
You cannot have leaders without followers. In the previous chapter, “Adaptive Leadership”
(Chapter 11), we focused on the efforts of leaders in relation to the work of followers in
different contexts. The emphasis was on how leaders engage people to do adaptive work. In
this chapter, we focus primarily on followers and the central role followers play in the
leadership process. The process of leading requires the process of following. Leaders and
followers together create the leadership relationship, and without an understanding of the
process of following, our understanding of leadership is incomplete (Shamir, 2007; Uhl-
Bien, Riggio, Lowe, & Carsten, 2014).
For many people, being a follower and the process of followership have negative
connotations. One reason is that people do not find followership as compelling as
leadership. Leaders, rather than followers, have always taken center stage. For example, in
school, children are taught early that it is better to be a leader than a follower. In athletics
and sports, the praise for performance consistently goes to the leaders, not the team players.
When people apply for jobs, they are asked to describe their leadership abilities, not their
followership activities. Clearly, it is leadership skills that are applauded by society, not
followership skills. It is just simply more intriguing to talk about how leaders use power
than to talk about how followers respond to power.
While the interest in examining the active role of followers was first approached in the
1930s by Follett (1949), groundwork on follower research wasn’t established until several
decades later through the initial works of scholars such as Zaleznik (1965), Kelley (1988),
Meindl (1990), and Chaleff (1995). Still, until recently, only a minimal number of studies
have been published on followership. Traditionally, leadership research has focused on
leaders’ traits, roles, and behaviors because leaders are viewed as the causal agents for
organizational change. At the same time, the impact of followers on organizational
outcomes has not been generally addressed. Researchers often conceptualize leadership as a
leader-centric process, emphasizing the role of the leader rather than the role of the
follower. Furthermore, little research has conceptualized leadership as a shared process
involving the interdependence between leaders and followers in a shared relationship. Even
though followers share in the overall leadership process, the nature of their role has not
been scrutinized. In effect, followership has rarely been studied as a central variable in the
leadership process.
There are indications that this is beginning to change. In a recent New York Times article,
Susan Cain (author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking)
decries the glorification of leadership skills in college admissions and curricula and argues
that the world needs more followers. It needs team players, people called to service, and
individuals committed to something outside of themselves. Followership is also receiving
437
more attention now because of three major works devoted exclusively to the process of
following: The Art of Followership: How Great Followers Create Great Leaders and
Organizations by Riggio, Chaleff, and Lipman-Blumen (2008), Followership: How Followers
Are Creating Change and Changing Leaders by Kellerman (2008), and Followership: What Is
It and Why Do People Follow? by Lapierre and Carsten (2014). Collectively, these books
have put the spotlight on followership and helped to establish it as a legitimate and
significant area of study.
In this chapter, we examine followership and how it is related to the leadership process.
First, we define followers and followership and discuss the implications of these definitions.
Second, we discuss selected typologies of followership that illustrate different styles used by
followers. Next, we explore a formal theory of followership that has been set forth by Uhl-
Bien et al. (2014) and new perspectives on followership suggested by Carsten, Harms, and
Uhl-Bien (2014).Last, we explore types of ineffective followership that contribute to
destructive leadership.
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Followership Defined
It is challenging to define followership because the term conjures up different meanings for
people, and the idea of being a follower is positive for some and negative for others. For
example, followership is seen as valuable in military situations when soldiers follow orders
from a platoon leader to complete a mission, or when passengers boarding a plane follow
the boarding agent’s instructions. In contrast, however, followers are thought of negatively
in such situations as when people follow a cult leader such as David Koresh of the Branch
Davidians, or in a college fraternity when individuals are required to conduct life-
threatening hazing rituals with new members. Clearly, followership can be positive or
negative, and it plays out differently in different settings.
What is followership? Followership is a process whereby an individual or individuals accept the
influence of others to accomplish a common goal. Followership involves a power differential
between the follower and the leader. Typically, followers comply with the directions and
wishes of leaders—they defer to leaders’ power.
Followership also has an ethical dimension. Like leadership, followership is not amoral; that
is, it is not a process that is morally neutral. Followership carries with it a responsibility to
consider the morality of one’s actions and the rightness or wrongness of the outcomes of
what one does as a follower. Followers and leaders work together to achieve common goals,
and both share a moral obligation regarding those goals. There are ethical consequences to
followership and to what followers do because the character and behavior of followers has
an impact on organizational outcomes.
439
Role-Based and Relational-Based Perspectives
Followership can be divided into two broad categories: role-based and relational-based (Uhl-
Bien et al., 2014).
The role-based perspective focuses on followers in regard to the typical roles or behaviors
they exhibit while occupying a formal or informal position within a hierarchical system. For
example, in a staff planning meeting, some people are very helpful to the group because
they bring energy and offer insightful suggestions regarding how the group might proceed.
Their role as engaged followers, in this case, has a positive impact on the meeting and its
outcomes. Emphasis in the role-based approach is on the roles and styles of followers and
how their behaviors affect the leader and organizational outcomes.
The relational-based approach to followership is quite different from the role-based
approach. To understand the relational-based approach it is helpful to understand social
constructivism. Social constructivism is a sociological theory that argues that people create
meaning about their reality as they interact with each other. For example, a fitness
instructor and an individual in an exercise class negotiate with each other about the kind of
influence the instructor will have and the amount of influence the individual will accept.
From a social constructivist perspective, followership is co-created by the leader and follower
in a given situation. The meaning of followership emerges from the communication
between leaders and followers and stresses the interplay between following and leading.
Rather than focusing on roles, it focuses on the interpersonal process and one person’s
attempt to influence and the other person’s response to these influence attempts.
Leadership occurs within the interpersonal context of people exerting influence and
responding to those influence attempts. In the relational-based approach, followership is
tied to interpersonal behaviors rather than to specific roles (Carsten et al., 2010; DeRue &
Ashford, 2010; Fairhurst & Uhl-Bien, 2012; Uhl-Bien et al., 2014).
Table 12.1 Typologies of Followership
Zaleznik (1965) Kelley (1992) Chaleff (1995) Kellerman (2008)
Withdrawn Alienated Resource Isolate
Masochistic Passive Individualist Bystander
Compulsive Conformist Implementer Participant
Impulsive Pragmatist Partner Activist
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Exemplary Diehard
Source: Adapted from “Conceptualizing followership: A review of the literature,” by B. Crossman and J.
Crossman, 2011, Leadership, 7(4), 481–497.
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Typologies of Followership
How can we describe followers’ roles? Trying to do just that has been the primary focus of
much of the existing followership research. As there are many types of leaders, so, too, are
there many types of followers (Table 12.1). Grouping followers’ roles into distinguishable
categories to create an accurate classification system, or typology, of follower behaviors has
been undertaken by several researchers. A typology enhances our understanding of the
broader area of followership by breaking it down into smaller pieces. In this case, these
pieces are different types of follower roles observed in various settings.
The Zaleznik Typology
The first typology of followers was provided by Zaleznik (1965) and was intended to help
leaders understand followers and also to help followers understand and become leaders. In
an article published in the Harvard Business Review, Zaleznik created a matrix that
displayed followers’ behaviors along two axes: Dominance–Submission and Activity–
Passivity (Figure 12.1). The vertical axis represents a range of followers from those who
want to control their leaders (i.e., be dominant) to those who want to be controlled by their
leaders (i.e., be submissive). The horizontal axis represents a range of followers from those
who want to initiate and be involved to those who sit back and withdraw. Based on the two
axes, the model identifies four types of followers: withdrawn (submissive/passive),
masochistic (submissive/active), compulsive (high dominance/passive), and impulsive (high
dominance/active). Because Zaleznik was trained in psychoanalytic theory, these follower
types are based on psychological concepts. Zaleznik was interested in explaining the
communication breakdowns between authority figures and subordinates, in particular the
dynamics of subordinacy conflicts. The follower types illustrated in Figure 12.1 exist as a
result of followers’ responses to inner tensions regarding authority. These tensions may be
unconscious but can often come to the surface and influence the communication in leader–
follower relationships.
Figure 12.1 Zalzenik Follower Typology
442
Source: Adapted from “The dynamics of subordinacy,” by A. Zaleznik, 1965, Harvard
Business Review (p. 122).
The Kelley Typology
Kelley’s (1992) typology (Figure 12.2) is currently the most recognized followership
typology. Kelley believes followers are enormously valuable to organizations and that the
power of followers often goes unrecognized. He stresses the importance of studying
followers in the leadership process and gave impetus to the development of the field of
followership. While Zaleznik (1965) focused on the personal aspects of followers, Kelley
emphasizes the motivations of followers and follower behaviors. In his efforts to give
followership equal billing to leadership, Kelley examined those aspects of followers that
account for exemplary followership.
Kelley sorted followers’ styles on two axes: independent critical thinking–dependent
uncritical thinking and active–passive. These dimensions resulted in five follower role types:
passive followers (sometimes pejoratively called “sheep”), who look to the leader for
direction and motivation,
conformist followers, who are “yes people”—always on the leader’s side but still
looking to the leader for direction and guidance,
alienated followers, who think for themselves and exhibit a lot of negative energy,
pragmatics, who are “fence-sitters” who support the status quo but do not get on
443
board until others do, and
exemplary followers (sometimes called “star” followers), who are active and positive
and offer independent constructive criticism.
Figure 12.2 Kelley Follower Typology
Source: Based on excerpts from The Power of Followership by Robert E. Kelly,
copyright © 1992 by Consultants to Executives and Organizations, Ltd. Used by
permission of Doubleday, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a
division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.
Based on his observations, Kelley (1988, 2008) asserts that effective followers share the
same indispensible qualities: (1) They self-manage and think for themselves, exercise
control and independence, and work without supervision; (2) they show strong
commitment to organizational goals (i.e., something outside themselves) as well as their
own personal goals; (3) they build their competence and master job skills; and (4) they are
credible, ethical, and courageous. Rather than framing followership in a negative light,
Kelley underscores the positive dimensions of following.
The Chaleff Typology
Chaleff (1995, 2008, 2009) developed a typology to amplify the significance of the role of
followers in the leadership process (Table 12.1). He developed his typology as a result of a
defining moment in his formative years when he became aware of the horrors of the World
War II Holocaust that killed more than 6 million European Jews. Chaleff felt a moral
444
imperative to seek answers as to why people followed German leader Adolf Hitler, a
purveyor of hate and death. What could be done to prevent this from happening again?
How could followers be emboldened to help leaders use their power appropriately and act
to keep leaders from abusing their power?
Figure 12.3 Leader–Follower Interaction
Source: Adapted from “Creating new ways of following” by I. Chaleff, in R. E. Riggio,
I. Chaleff, and J. Lipman-Blumen (Eds.), The Art of Followership: How Great
Followers Create Great Leaders and Organizations (p. 71), 2008. Permission conveyed
through Copyright Clearance Center, Inc. Republished with permission of John
Wiley & Sons.
Rather than serving leaders, Chaleff argues that followers serve a common purpose along with
leaders (Figure 12.3) and that both leaders and followers work to achieve common
outcomes. Chaleff states that followers need to take a more proactive role that brings it into
parity with the leader’s role. He sought to make followers more responsible, to change their
own internal estimates of their abilities to influence others, and to help followers feel a
greater sense of agency.
To achieve equal influence with leaders, Chaleff emphasizes that followers need to be
courageous. His approach is a prescriptive one; that is, it advocates how followers ought to
behave. According to Kelley, followers need the courage to
a. assume responsibility for the common purpose,
b. support the leader and the organization,
c. constructively challenge the leader if the common purpose or integrity of group is
being threatened,
d. champion the need for change when necessary, and
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e. take a moral stand that is different from the leader’s to prevent ethical abuses.
In short, Chaleff proposes that followers should be morally strong and work to do the right
thing when facing the multiplicity of challenges that leaders place upon them.
Chaleff created a follower typology (Figure 12.4), which is constructed using two
characteristics of courageous followership: the courage to support the leader (vertical axis) and
the courage to challenge the leader’s behavior and policies (horizontal axis). This typology
differentiates four styles of followership:
Figure 12.4 Chaleff Follower Typology
Source: Adapted from “Creating new ways of following” by I. Chaleff, in R. E. Riggio,
I. Chaleff, and J. Lipman-Blumen (Eds.), The Art of Followership: How Great
Followers Create Great Leaders and Organizations (p. 71), 2008; permission conveyed
through Copyright Clearance Center, Inc. Republished with permission of John
Wiley & Sons.
1. Resource (lower left quadrant), which exhibits low support and low challenge. This is
the person who does just enough to get by.
2. Individualist (lower right quadrant), which demonstrates low support and high
challenge. Often marginalized by others, the individualist speaks up and lets the
leader know where she or he stands.
3. Implementer (upper left quadrant), which acts with high support and low challenge.
Often valued by the leader, implementers are supportive and get the work done but,
on the downside, fail to challenge the leader’s goals and values.
4. Partner (upper right quadrant), which shows high support and high challenge. This
446
style of follower takes responsibility for him- or herself and the leader and fully
supports the leader, but is always willing to challenge the leader when necessary.
The Kellerman Typology
Kellerman’s (2008) typology of followers was developed from her experience as a political
scientist and her observations about followers in different historical contexts. Kellerman
argues that the importance of leaders tends to be overestimated because they generally have
more power, authority, and influence, while the importance of followers is underestimated.
From her perspective, followers are subordinates who are “unleaders,” by which she means
they have little power, no position of authority, and no special influence.
Figure 12.5 Kellerman Follower Typology
Source: From Followership: How Followers Are Creating Change and Changing
Leaders, by Barbara Kellerman, 2008, Brighton, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.
Kellerman designed a typology that differentiates followers in regard to a single attribute:
level of engagement. She suggests a continuum (Figure 12.5), which describes followers on
one end as being detached and doing nothing for the leader or the group’s goals and
followers on the opposite end as being very dedicated and deeply involved with the leader
and the group’s goals. As shown in the figure, Kellerman’s typology identifies five levels of
follower engagement and behaviors:
Isolates are completely unengaged. They are detached and do not care about their
leaders. Isolates who do nothing actually strengthen the influence potential of a
leader. For example, when an individual feels alienated from the political system and
never votes, elected officials end up having more power and freedom to exert their
will.
Bystanders are observers who do not participate. They are aware of the leader’s
intentions and actions but deliberately choose to not become involved. In a group
situation, the bystander is the person who listens to the discussion but, when it is
time to make a decision, disengages and declares neutrality.
Participants are partially engaged individuals who are willing to take a stand on issues,
either supporting or opposing the leader. For example, participants would be the
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employees who challenge or support the leader regarding the fairness of their
company’s new overtime policy.
Activists feel strongly about the leader and the leader’s policies and are determined to
act on their own beliefs. They are change agents. For example, in 2017, activists were
willing to sit in the halls of the U.S. Capitol to protest proposed changes to the
Affordable Care Act.
Diehards are engaged to the extreme. They are deeply committed to supporting the
leader or opposing the leader. Diehards are totally dedicated to their cause, even
willing to risk their lives for it. In a small-group setting, a diehard is a follower who is
all-consumed with his or her own position within the group to the point of forcing
the group members to do what he or she wants them to do or forcing the group
process to implode. For example, there have been U.S. congresspersons willing to
force the government into economic calamity by refusing to vote to raise the
country’s debt ceiling in order to force their will on a particular issue, such as
increased defense spending or funding for a roads project in their district.
What do these four typologies (i.e., Zaleznik, Kelley, Chaleff, and Kellerman) tell us about
followers? What insights or conclusions are suggested by the typologies?
First, these typologies provide a starting point for research. The first step in building theory
is to define the phenomenon under observation, and these typologies are that first step to
identifying key followership variables. Second, these typologies highlight the multitude of
different ways followers have been characterized, from alienated or masochistic to activist or
individualist. Third, while the typologies do not differentiate a definitive list of follower
types, there are some commonalities among them. Generally, the major followership types
are active–engaged, independent–assertive, submissive–compliant, and supportive–
conforming—or, as suggested by Carsten et al. (2014), passive followers, antiauthoritarian
followers, and proactive followers.
Fourth, the typologies are important because they label individuals engaged in the
leadership process. This labeling brings followers to the forefront and gives them more
credence for their role in the leadership process. These descriptions can also assist leaders in
effectively communicating with followers. By knowing that a follower adheres to a certain
type of behavior, the leader can adapt her or his style to optimally relate to the role the
follower is playing.
Collectively, the typologies of followership provide a beginning point for theory building
about followership. Building on these typologies, the next section discusses some of the first
attempts to create a theory of followership.
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Theoretical Approaches to Followership
What is the phenomenon of followership? Is there a theory that explains it? Uhl-Bien and
her colleagues (2014) set out to answer those questions by systematically analyzing the
existing followership literature and introducing a broad theory of followership. They state
that followership comprises “characteristics, behaviors and processes of individuals acting in
relation to leaders” (p. 96). In addition, they describe followership as a relationally based
process that includes how followers and leaders interact to construct leadership and its
outcomes (Uhl-Bien et al., 2014, p. 99).
Based on these definitions, Uhl-Bien et al. proposed a formal theory of followership. They
first identified the constructs (i.e., components or attributes) and variables that comprise
the process of followership as shown in Table 12.2.
Table 12.2 Theoretical Constructs and Variables of Followership
Followership
Characteristics
Leader
Characteristics
Followership
(and
Leadership)
Behaviors
Followership
Outcomes
Follower Traits Leader Power
Followership
Behaviors
Individual
Follower
Outcomes
Follower Motivation
Perceptions and
Constructions
Leadership
Behaviors
Individual Leader
Outcomes
Follower Perceptions
and Constructions
Leader Affect
Relationship
Outcomes
Leadership
Process Outcomes
Source: From “Followership Theory: A Review and Research Agenda,” by M. Uhl-Bien, R. R. Riggio, R. B.
Lowe, and M. K. Carsten, The Leadership Quarterly, 25, p. 98. Copyright 2014 by Elsevier. Reprinted with
permission.
The constructs listed in Table 12.2 are a first attempt to differentiate the major
components of followership. Followership characteristics refer to the attributes of followers,
such as the follower’s traits (e.g., confidence), motivations, and the way an individual
perceives what it means to be a follower. Leader characteristics refer to the attributes of the
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leader, such as the leader’s power and/or willingness to empower others, the leader’s
perceptions of followers, and the leader’s affect (i.e., the leader’s positive or negative feelings
toward followers). Followership behaviors are the behaviors of individuals who are in the
follower role—that is, the extent to which they obey, defer, or resist the leader. Leadership
behaviors are the behaviors of the individuals in the leadership role, such as how the leader
influences followers to respond. Finally, followership outcomes are the results that occur
based on the followership process. The outcomes can influence the individual follower, the
leader, the relationship between the leader and the follower, and the leadership process. For
example, how a leader reacts to a follower, whether the follower receives positive or negative
reinforcement from a leader, and whether a follower advances the organizational goals all
contribute to followership outcomes.
To explain the possible relationships between the variables and constructs identified in
Table 12.2, the authors proposed two theoretical frameworks: reversing the lens (Figure
12.6) and the leadership co-created process (Figure 12.7).
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Reversing the Lens
Reversing the lens is an approach to followership that addresses followers in a manner
opposite of the way they have been studied in most prior leadership research. Rather than
focusing on how followers are affected by leaders, it focuses on how followers affect leaders
and organizational outcomes. Reversing the lens emphasizes that followers can be change
agents. As illustrated in Figure 12.6, this approach addresses (1) the impact of followers’
characteristics on followers’ behaviors, (2) the impact of followers’ behaviors on leaders’
perceptions and behavior and the impact of the leaders’ perceptions and behavior on
followers’ behaviors, and (3) the impact of both followers and leaders on followership
outcomes.
Figure 12.6 Reversing the Lens
Source: From “Followership Theory: A Review and Research Agenda,” by M. Uhl-
Bien, R. R. Riggio, R. B. Lowe, and M. K. Carsten, The Leadership Quarterly, 25, p.
98. Copyright 2014 by Elsevier. Reprinted with permission.
A hypothetical example of how the reversing the lens framework might work is the research a
team is doing on employees and followership in a small, nonprofit organization. In this
situation, researchers might be interested in how followers’ personality traits (e.g.,
introversion–extraversion, dogmatism) relate to how they act at work—that is, their style
and work behavior. Researchers might also examine how employees’ behavior affects their
supervisor’s leadership behavior or how the follower–leader relationship affects
organizational outcomes. These are just a sample of the research questions that could be
addressed. However, notice that the overriding purpose and theme of the study is the
impact of followers on the followership process.
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The Leadership Co-Created Process
A second theoretical approach, the leadership co-created process, is shown in Figure 12.7. The
name of this approach almost seems like a misnomer because it implies that it is about
leadership rather than followership. However, that is not the case. The leadership co-created
process framework conceptualizes followership as a give-and-take process where one
individual’s following behaviors interact with another individual’s leading behaviors to
create leadership and its resulting outcomes. This approach does not frame followership as
role-based or as a lower rung on a hierarchical ladder; rather, it highlights how leadership is
co-created through the combined act of leading and following.
Figure 12.7 The Leadership Co-Created Process
Source: Based on The Allure of Toxic Leaders by J. Lipman-Blumen, 2005, p. 29;
permission conveyed through Copyright Clearance Center, Inc. Republished with
permission of Oxford University Press.
Leading behaviors are influence attempts—that is, using power to have an impact on
another. Following behaviors, on the other hand, involve granting power to another,
complying, or challenging. Figure 12.7 illustrates that (1) followers and leaders have a
mutual influence on each other; (2) leadership occurs as a result of their interaction (i.e.,
their leading and following); and (3) this resulting process affects outcomes.
The following example illustrates what followership would entail using the leadership co-
created process framework in Figure 12.7. Terry Smith is a seasoned high school football
coach who paints houses in the summer to supplement his income. One summer, Coach
Smith invited one of his players, Jason Long, to work with him as a painter. Coach Smith
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and Jason worked well together, sharing painting responsibilities, and often finding
innovative ways to accomplish their painting jobs more efficiently.
When the summer was over and football practice resumed, however, Coach Smith and
Jason ran into problems. At practice, Jason called Coach Smith by his first name, joking
with him about their painting jobs, and behaving as a peer rather than a team member.
Although Coach Smith liked being on a first-name basis with Jason in the summer, he was
concerned that other team members would also start calling him by his first name and he
would lose their respect of him as the coach. Jason, on the other hand, felt good about his
relationship with Coach Smith and the influence he had with him. He did not want to lose
this, which would happen if he was forced to resume calling him Coach Smith, like the rest
of the players.
To resolve their issues, Coach Smith and Jason discussed how they would address one
another in a series of interactions and decided it was best for Jason to call Terry “Coach
Smith” during the academic year to facilitate a positive working relationship between the
coach and all of the team members.
In this example, the leadership co-created process framework can be seen in the different
leading and following moves Terry and Jason made. For example, when Coach Smith asked
Jason to join him to paint, he was asserting friendly influence to which Jason accepted by
agreeing to work with Terry. When Jason suggested more efficient methods of painting,
Terry accepted the influence attempt and deferred to Jason’s ideas. By calling each other by
their first names while working together, both Jason and Terry assumed that leadership was
being shared.
But, when football practice started in the fall and Jason continued to call Terry by his first
name instead of “Coach Smith,” it was apparent that for Coach Smith to retain his
influence with the other players, Jason and Terry needed to reach an agreeable decision on
“who was in charge” and “who was to follow.” Together they decided what leadership (i.e.,
coaching) and followership meant in the different contexts. The result was better football
practices because all players received what they perceived as equal treatment. In this
situation, researchers studying followership would focus on the way Terry’s and Jason’s
leading and following behaviors resulted in leadership that in turn resulted in effective or
ineffective outcomes.
Because followership research is in the initial stages of development, the two frameworks
—reversing the lens and the leadership co-created process—set forth by Uhl-Bien and her
colleagues (2014) are initial attempts to create a theory of followership. The frameworks
provide a way to conceptualize followership that is useful to researchers in generating
further studies to explore the intricacies of followership such as the work we discuss in the
next section.
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New Perspectives on Followership
In an attempt to advance the study of followership and present followership in a positive
light, Carsten et al. (2014) suggest several practical perspectives on followership. These
perspectives are intended to help organizations understand followers and to help individuals
understand the positive facets of being a follower.
Perspective 1: Followers Get the Job Done
In the past, there has been what Meindl (1995) called a “romance of leadership,” which
emphasized the importance of leaders and leadership to the functioning of groups and
organizations. There has been less recognition of the importance of followers to getting the
job done. When viewed from a less leader-centric perspective, leadership can be seen as
something that occurs among followers as a result of how they interpret leadership. This
places less emphasis on the personality of the leader and more on followers’ reactions to the
leader. It shifts attention away from leaders as the causal agents of organizational change
and focuses on how the behavior of followers affects organizational outcomes. Clearly,
followers carry out the mission of the group and the organization; in short, they do the
work. They are central to the life of the organization. Going forward, more attention needs
to be given to the personalities, cognitive abilities, interpersonal skills, and problem-solving
abilities of followers (Carsten et al., 2014).
Perspective 2: Followers Work in the Best Interest of the
Organization’s Mission
Although not true of all followers, proactive followers are committed to achieving the goals
of the group or organization to which they belong. Rather than being passive and blindly
obedient to the wishes of the leader, these followers report asserting themselves in ways that
are in alignment with the goals of the organization. They put the organization’s goals ahead
of the leader’s goals. The advantage of proactive followers is that they guard against leaders
who act in self-serving or unethical ways. For example, if the president of the United States
asked a cabinet member to do something that would personally benefit only the president,
the cabinet member might refuse, arguing that what she was asked to do was not in the best
interests of the country, which she ultimately serves. Followers act as a check and balance
on a leader’s power, protecting the organization against abuse of this power. Proactive
followers keep the organization front and center.
Perspective 3: Followers Challenge Leaders
As illustrated in the typologies outlined earlier in the chapter, being engaged, active, and
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challenging are identifying characteristics of effective followers. But followers who challenge
the leader can also help to make an organization run more effectively and successfully.
When followers have knowledge about a process or procedure of which the leader is
unaware, the followers become a strong asset both to the leader and to the organization.
They become extra “eyes” to make sure the leader sees the organization from another angle.
In addition, followers who are proactive and challenge the leader can keep the leader in
sync with the overall mission of the organization.
To illustrate this point, consider what happened between Amy Malley, an upper-level
college student, and her professor, Dr. Orville. After Dr. Orville posted the final grades for
a capstone course that he taught, Amy came to see him in his office.
“I saw my posted grade, and I want you to know it is wrong,” she said. “I know for certain
I did very well on the exam and my grade for the course should be an A, but your posting
indicates I got a B. Something is wrong with your calculations or the key for the exam.”
Dr. Orville, who had taught for 25 years and never made an error in a student’s grade,
began to shrug off Amy’s assertions and tell her she was wrong. She persisted and
challenged Dr. Orville because she was confident that her exam grade was incorrect. After
much discussion, Dr. Orville offered to let Amy see her exam and the scoring key. To his
surprise, her answers were correct, but he had marked them wrong. Upon looking further
into the matter, Dr. Orville became aware that he had wrongly scored all the students’
exams because he had used the incorrect scoring key. Recognizing his error, Dr. Orville
immediately changed Amy’s grade and recalculated the grades for the rest of the class. In
this example, Amy’s challenging of Dr. Orville’s leadership resulted in positive outcomes
for all the students and also for the leader.
Perspective 4: Followers Support the Leader
In addition to challenging a leader, it is equally important for followers to support the
leader. To advance an organization’s mission, it is valuable for leaders when followers
validate and affirm the leaders’ intentions. Consider what happens in a small-group setting
when an individual member attempts to make a point or advance an idea. If someone in
the group supports the individual, the group member’s idea is heard and gains traction in
the group, as does the group member. However, if an individual member does not receive
support from other group members, the individual tends to feel disconfirmed and questions
his or her role in the group.
For a leader, having a follower who supports you is like having a lieutenant. The lieutenant
affirms the leader’s ideas to others and in so doing gives the leader’s ideas validity. This
support strengthens a leader’s position in the group and helps to advance the leader’s goals.
We all need lieutenants, but leaders especially need lieutenants. Support from others is
essential to advancing ideas with others. An example of how not having this support can
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affect outcomes can be seen at the national level, when U.S. president Donald Trump
wanted to advance a new national health care policy but could not muster enough support
in his own party (the Republicans) to get the measure to pass in Congress. In this case, not
having the support of others in a group is detrimental to a leader.
Perspective 5: Followers Learn From Leaders
A serendipitous outcome of being a follower is that in the process of following you learn
about leading. Followership gives individuals the opportunity to view leadership from a
position unencumbered from the burdens and responsibilities of being the leader. Followers
get to observe what does or does not work for a leader; they can learn which leadership
approaches or methods are effective or ineffective and apply this learning if they become
leaders.
Consider the training that individuals undergo to become teachers. In most education
programs, becoming certified as a teacher requires students to do “student teaching” or
“supervised teaching,” spending a semester working with a certified teacher in a classroom
where actual teaching and learning are taking place. The student gets a chance to observe
what teachers do and what teaching requires without the full responsibility of being in
charge of the students and the educational outcomes. These student teachers have the
opportunity to explore their own competencies and hone their teaching skills. From a
followership perspective, the student is playing the following role but in the process learns
the leadership role.
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Followership and Destructive Leaders
Thus far in this chapter, we have focused on effective rather than ineffective followership.
For example, we have discussed how followers provide valuable confirmation to leaders and
help them accomplish organizational goals. But there is another side to followership in
which followers can play unproductive, and even harmful, roles.
For example, when followers are passive or submissive, their inaction can contribute to
unfettered leadership and unintentionally support toxic leaders. Furthermore, followers can
create contexts that are unhealthy and make it possible for leaders who are not interested in
the common good to thrive. When followers act in ways that contribute to the power of
destructive leaders and their goals, it can have a debilitating impact on not just the group or
organization they serve, but the followers as well.
In The Allure of Toxic Leaders (2005), Jean Lipman-Blumen explored toxic leadership from
the perspective of followership. Toxic, or harmful, leaders are leaders who have
dysfunctional personal characteristics and engage in numerous destructive behaviors. Yet,
people follow them. There are many examples of such leaders in world history: Adolf
Hitler, whose leadership led to the extermination of 6 million Jews in Europe; former
Serbian and Yugoslavic president Slobodan Milosevic, who ordered the genocide of
thousands of Albanians and forced deportation of nearly a million; Enron Corporation’s
Jeffrey Skilling and Kenneth Lay, whose conspiracy and fraud cost nearly 20,000 people
their jobs and future retirement earnings.
Lipman-Blumen seeks to answer this question: Why do people follow bad leaders? She
identifies a series of psychological factors on the part of followers that contribute to harmful
leadership and explains why followers can be compliant even to highly destructive leaders.
She also examines how some followers become “henchmen” for toxic leaders, helping and
supporting the toxic leader in enacting the leader’s destructive agenda.
Her thesis is that unhealthy followership occurs as a result of people’s needs to find safety,
feel unique, and be included in community, and her work is useful for developing an
understanding of why some followership is negative and has counterproductive outcomes.
Among the psychological factors of followers that can foster destructive leadership
identified by Lipman-Blumen are our need for reassuring authority figures; our need for
security and certainty; our need to feel chosen or special; our need for membership in the
human community; our fear of ostracism, isolation, and social death; and our fear of
powerlessness to challenge a bad leader.
1. Our Need for Reassuring Authority Figures
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As far back as psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud’s research in the early 1900s, much has been
written about how people deal with authority. When we are very young, we depend on our
parents to guide and protect us; but as we mature, we learn to be our own
compass/authority/person and make decisions without being dependent on others.
However, even as adults, some people still have a high need for authority figures. They
want their leaders to provide guidance and protection like their parents used to. This need
can open the door for leaders who use followers for their own ends. When followers’ needs
for a reassuring authority figure are extremely strong, it makes them vulnerable to following
abusive and destructive leaders. For example, a middle school student who plays an
instrument may practice considerably more than is necessary just to obtain assurance from
the teacher that he is good and worthwhile. In this example, the teacher could take
advantage of this student’s need for validation by having the student do more than is
commonly required.
2. Our Need for Security and Certainty
The freedom many people experience when achieving adulthood can bring uncertainty and
disruption to their lives. Psychologists who study people’s belief systems have found that
people have a need for consistency—to keep their beliefs and attitudes balanced. Our drive
for certainty means we struggle in contexts where things are disrupted and we do not feel
“in charge” of events. This uncertainty and insecurity creates stress from which we seek to
find relief. It is in contexts like these that followers are susceptible to the lure of unethical
leaders who have power. For example, think about migrant workers who come from
Mexico to the United States to work on a large produce farm. The farmer they work for has
promised good wages and a place to live. But upon arriving at the farm, the workers find
they are required to work in the fields for up to 15 hours a day, seven days a week, and the
housing provided is substandard. In addition, the farmer charges the workers a high rent
for the housing, plus additional fees for providing drinking water in the fields. The workers,
who are undocumented immigrants, put up with these conditions because they need the
meager income they make and they know that if they were to complain, the farmer could
report the workers to immigration authorities and they would be deported. The fragile
security of working for the farmer outweighs the uncertainty of what their impoverished
lives in Mexico would bring.
3. Our Need to Feel Chosen or Special
To explain the need to feel “chosen,” Lipman-Blumen points to historic religious leaders,
such as Moses and John Calvin, who emphasized to their people that there were “chosen
ones” among them who were special and singled out by a higher authority. Being a part of
“the chosen” means one has “truth” on one’s side and those who are the “others” do not.
Being chosen means protecting one’s uniqueness and distinguishing oneself from others.
While being chosen provides some comfort and even a feeling of immortality, it can
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motivate one to do battle with others. Being part of the chosen and feeling that one is
“right” gives a sense of security to followers, but it does so at the expense of appreciating the
humanity of “the other.”
Consider, for example, those who adhere to a White supremacist ideology based on the
belief that White people are “chosen” and superior to all other races and should have
control over people of those other races. White supremacists oppose people of color and
those members of non-Christian religions who they believe “threaten” the purity of the
White race. Followers of White supremacy’s belief in being somehow special reinforces
their behaviors, which often involve treating others inhumanely.
4. Our Need for Membership in the Human Community
Psychologist William Schutz (1958) argued that one of humans’ strongest interpersonal
needs is to know whether they belong to the group. Are we “in” or “out”? Are we included
with others and acknowledged as a member of the community or not?
When groups and organizations function positively, it is healthy for all group members, not
detrimental. Group members feel accepted, comfortable, valued, and inspirited. But
people’s need to be members of the group can be exploited by destructive leaders who take
advantage of individuals who are highly dependent on the group for their own personal
meaning and purpose. Highly dependent followers may be willing to give up their
individuality, beliefs, and integrity just to make sure they can retain their social belonging
(Lipman-Blumen, 2005).
Consider the number of disturbing hazing incidents at fraternities or other groups on
college campuses that have resulted in the injuries and deaths of new members (pledges)
who are willing to endure dangerous rituals because of their high need to belong to the
group. Followers can become vulnerable to bad leadership when they are unable to
moderate their own personal need for belonging.
5. Our Fear of Ostracism, Isolation, and Social Death
When an individual becomes a part of and acquires full membership to a group, the
individual typically learns and begins to practice the norms of the group. Surrounded by
the group, followers become comfortable with the group’s values, mission, and beliefs. In
addition, followers begin to like being a group member and doing what group members do
and find the inclusion and community of the group comforting.
But being a part of the group also has a downside. This inclusion and community makes it
difficult for individuals to break out of the group or dissent if the group’s mission or values
run counter to their own. Pressure to conform to the group makes it challenging for
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individuals to disagree with the group or try to get the group to change. When followers act
against group norms or bring attention to the negative aspects of what the group is doing
(e.g., whistle-blowers), they run a high risk of becoming ostracized and isolated from the
group.
For example, imagine being in a group of friends, and several members of your group have
started to make fun of a young man in your class who is autistic and often acts awkwardly
in social situations. You dislike how they treat this young man and consider their behavior
to be bullying. Do you speak up and tell them to stop, knowing that you might be
ostracized by the rest of the group? Or do you “keep quiet” and maintain your relationships
with your friends? Being an ethical follower carries with it the burden of acting out your
individual values even when it can mean social death.
6. Our Fear of Powerlessness to Challenge a Bad Leader
Finally, followers may unintentionally enable destructive leaders because they feel helpless
to change them. Once a part of a group, followers often feel pressure to conform to the
norms of the group. They find that it is not easy to challenge the leader or go against the
leader’s plans for the group. Even when a leader acts inappropriately or treats others in
harmful ways, it is hard for followers to muster the courage to address the leader’s behavior.
Groups provide security for followers, and the threat of losing this security can make it
scary to challenge authority figures. To speak truth to power is a brave act, and followers
often feel impotent to express themselves in the face of authority. Although being an
accepted follower in a group carries with it many benefits, it does not always promote
personal agency. After all, who would support you if you challenged the leader? For
example, imagine what it would be like to be a homosexual employee in an organization
whose leadership is openly prejudiced against LGBT rights. Would you be likely to express
disapproval of the leadership and its policies?
Table 12.3 Psychological Factors and Dysfunctional
Leadership
1. Our need for reassuring authority figures
2. Our need for security and certainty
3. Our need to feel chosen or special
4. Our need for membership in the human community
5. Our fear of ostracism, isolation, and social death
6. Our fear of powerlessness to challenge a bad leader
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Source: From “Followership Theory: A Review and Research Agenda,” by M. Uhl-Bien, R. R. Riggio, R. B.
Lowe, and M. K. Carsten, The Leadership Quarterly, 25, p. 98. Copyright 2014 by Elsevier. Reprinted with
permission.
Table 12.3 provides a summary of the six psychological needs of followers that foster
destructive leadership. When followers attempt to fulfill these needs, it can create contexts
where unethical and destructive leaders are allowed to thrive.
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How Does Followership Work?
Unlike established leadership theories such as leader–member exchange theory (Chapter 7)
or transformational leadership (Chapter 8) for which there are formulated models,
assumptions, and theorems, followership is an area of study still in its infancy. However, it
does provide several “takeaways” that have valuable implications for practicing followership.
First, simply discussing followership forces us to elevate its importance and the value of
followers. For many years, the role of leaders in the leadership process has been esteemed far
above that of followers, as evidenced by the thousands of research studies that exist on
leaders and leadership approaches and the very few that have been done on followership.
Leadership has been idealized as a central component of organizational behavior. But by
focusing on followership, we are forced to engage in a new way of thinking about those
who do the work of leadership and to explore the merits of the people who do the work of
followership. Leadership does not exist in a vacuum; it needs followers to be
operationalized. Followership research highlights the essential role that followers fulfill in
every aspect of organizational accomplishments. Why should we focus on followership?
Because it is just as important as leadership.
Second, followership is about how individuals accept the influence of others to reach a
common goal. It describes the characteristics and actions of people who have less power
than the leader yet are critical components in the leadership process. The typologies of
follower behaviors discussed in this chapter provide a criterion of what followers typically
do in different situations when they are being influenced by a leader. Do they help the
leader, or do they fight the leader? Do they make the organization run better or worse?
Categorizations of followers are beneficial because they help us understand the way people
act when occupying a follower role. To know that a person is a follower is useful, but to
know if that follower is a dependent-passive follower or a proactive-antiauthoritarian
follower is far more valuable. These categories provide information about how followers act
and how a leader can respond accordingly. It also helps leaders know followers’ attitudes
toward work and the organization and how to best communicate with these followers.
Third, followership research provides a means of understanding why harmful leadership
occurs and sometimes goes unrestrained. Followers are interdependent with leaders in the
leadership process—each affects and is affected by the other. When leaders are abusive or
unethical, it affects followers. But followers often feel restrained to respond. While they
may want to respond to destructive leaders, followers will often become passive and inactive
instead. This occurs because they fear losing the security provided by their membership in
the group. By understanding their own feelings of powerlessness and need for security and
community, followers can more easily identify and confront destructive leaders.
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Strengths
In this chapter, we trace the development of followership and how it has been
conceptualized by researchers over the past 50 years. This research has several strengths.
First, it gives recognition to followership as an integral part of the leadership equation.
While some earlier theories of leadership (e.g., implicit leadership theory [Lord & Maher,
1991] and social identity theory [Tajfel & Turner, 1986]) recognize followers as an element
in the leadership process, the most recent literature suggests an approach to followership
that elevates it considerably and gives it equal footing with leadership. This emphasis
broadens our purview of leadership and suggests that followership will—and should—
receive far more attention by researchers and practitioners in the future.
Second, a focus on followership forces a whole new way for people to think about
leadership. While there are textbooks on leadership, such as Hughes, Ginnett, and
Curphy’s Leadership: Enhancing the Lessons of Experience (2014), that give special attention
to followership, current followership research and literature go further and challenge us to
take leadership off its pedestal and replace it with followership. It forces us to focus on
followers rather than leaders. It looks to answer questions like these: What makes effective
followership? How do followers affect group processes and influence goal accomplishment?
How do followers influence leaders? And, how can we teach people to become capable
followers?
In addition, the new followership literature invites us to view leadership as a co-constructed
process in which followers and leaders share equally. Rather than focusing on the
individuals with the power, our thinking needs to shift to embracing the individuals
without the power and the relationship these people make with the leader. The study of
followership reminds us that leadership is incomplete and cannot be understood without
focusing on and understanding the role and dimensions of followers.
Third, although in its infancy, followership research provides a set of basic prescriptions for
what a follower should or should not do to be an effective follower. These prescriptions
provide a general blueprint of the types of behaviors that create effective followership. For
example, effective followers balance their need for community with their need for self. They
act in the best interests of the organization and challenge the leader when the leader’s
agenda is self-serving or unethical. Effective followers do not act antiauthoritarian, but
collaborate to get the job done. Furthermore, they recognize powerlessness in themselves
but do not let this keep them from challenging the leader when necessary. While the
followership research has not yet produced elegant theories that explain the intricacies of
how followership works, it does provide a set of ideas that have strong practical
applications.
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Criticisms
In addition to its strengths, the study of followership has certain limitations.
First, little methodical research has been conducted on the process of followership. The
absence of such research makes it difficult to concretely conceptualize the nature of
followership including what defines followers and how followers contribute to the
leadership process. Without precise theories and models of followership, there can be no
clear set of principles or practices about how followership works and the role it plays in
groups, organizations, and the community.
Second, the current followership literature is primarily personal observations and anecdotal.
For example, the typologies of followership styles discussed earlier in the chapter (i.e.,
Zaleznik, Kelley, Chaleff, and Kellerman) are useful category systems to differentiate
between followers’ styles, but the derivation of the typologies is simply the conjectures and
hypotheses of a single author. While such descriptive research, including designing different
typologies, is a traditional process in the initial phase of theory development, the value and
power of our thinking on followership will not advance until followership is fully
conceptualized and tested.
Third, the leader-centric orientation that exists in the world may be too ingrained for
followership to blossom. For followership to succeed, it will need both leaders and followers
to be strong in their roles; followers must serve the purpose of teaching the leader as well as
learning from the leader (Chaleff, 1995). And in a leader-centric world, where
followership’s primary purpose is seen only as important to make leaders leaders (you can’t
be a leader if no one is following), this evolution may take a very long time to come about.
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Application
“Follow the leader” is an expression familiar to many. Whether it was a way for a teacher to
avoid confusion and keep peace with her charges or a game played on the playground,
“follow the leader” means people need to get in line behind the designated leader and do
what the leader tells them to do. Following the leader is about the process of accepting the
leader’s authority and influence. More importantly, it is about deciding how to respond to
what the leader says.
Followership research is about just that: understanding how and why followers respond to
leaders. There are several applications of followership research:
First and foremost, the research underscores the importance of followership—it is as
important as leadership. This chapter helps us understand the critical and complex role
followers play in regard to leaders. It differentiates common roles followers play, from very
active and positive to very inactive and negative. When applied to real-life leadership
situations, knowledge about followers and their roles and behaviors expands our
understanding of the major components that contribute to group and organizational
success.
In addition, the study of followership has implications for organizational training and
development. Although followership is not currently recognized as a top topic in the
training and development field, it is not difficult to see how workshops and training in
followership could become very important to organizations in the near future. Learning
about followership could help followers understand themselves, how they function, and
how they can best contribute to the goals of the group or organization of which they are a
member. Clearly, there is demonstrable value in training programs on such topics as “Being
an Effective Follower,” “Dealing With Destructive Bosses,” or “Accepting the Challenges of
Followership.” With the increased attention being given to followership research, it is
expected that an increase in training programs on followership will result as well.
Furthermore, the information described in this chapter can help leaders to understand
followers and how to most effectively work with them. So much of current leadership
literature is about the leader and the leader’s behavior; however, this chapter shifts the
attention to the follower and why followers act the way they do. Leaders can use this
followership information to adjust their style to the needs of followers. For example, if the
leader finds that a follower is aggressive and disruptive, the information in this chapter
suggests that the follower may have authority issues and is acting out because of his or her
own needs for security. Or, some followers may be quiet and compliant, suggesting they
need leadership that assures them that they are a part of the group and encourages them to
participate more in the group process. Leaders have tried for years to treat followers as
individuals with unique needs, but this chapter goes further and provides leaders with cues
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for action that are derived directly from the followership literature.
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Case Studies
The following three case studies (Cases 12.1, 12.2, and 12.3) present followership in three different contexts. The
first case, Bluebird Care, describes a home health care agency and the unique ways followers contribute to the
work of the agency. The second case, Olympic Rowers, discusses a renowned rowing team and the way the
followers worked together to create cohesiveness and a magical outcome. The last case, Penn State Sexual Abuse
Scandal, examines the role of followership in the circumstances that brought down a well-regarded collegiate
football program and the university’s leadership. At the end of each case, there are questions that will help you to
analyze the case utilizing the principles of followership discussed in the chapter.
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Case 12.1: Bluebird Care
Robin Martin started Bluebird Care, an in-home health care agency, 20 years ago with a staff of 2 and 5 clients.
The agency has grown to a staff of 25 serving 50 clients.
Robin started in elder care as an aide at a reputable assisted living facility. She liked caring for patients and was
good at it. When she began running Bluebird Care, Robin knew all her staff members and their clients. But as
the demand for in-home health care has increased, Bluebird Care has grown as well—hiring more staff and
expanding its service area. For Robin, this means less time with the company’s clients and more time managing
her growing agency. She admits she feels as if she is losing her connections with her clients and staff.
When asked to describe a time when the agency was really running smoothly, Robin talks about when Bluebird
Care had just 10 employees. “This was a good time for us. Everyone did what they were assigned and did not
complain. No one called in sick; they were very dependable. But, it was different then because we all lived in the
same area and I would see each of our employees every week. On Tuesdays they had to hand in their time sheets,
and every other Thursday they stopped to pick up their paycheck. I enjoyed this.”
Because the agency’s service area is much larger now, encompassing many of the city’s suburbs, Robin seldom
sees her employees. Time sheets are emailed in by employees, and paychecks are sent through the mail or directly
deposited into employees’ bank accounts. Robin says, “Because they never see us, the staff feels like they can do
what they want, and management has nothing to say about it. It’s not the same as when we were smaller.”
There is a core of agency staff that Robin does interact with nearly every day. Terry, a staff member who has been
with Robin since the beginning, is Robin’s go-to person. “I trust her,” Robin says. “When she says, ‘Robin—we
need to do it this way,’ I do what she says. She is always right.” Terry is very positive and promotive of the agency
and complimentary of Robin. When other staff members challenge the rules or procedures of the agency, Terry is
the person to whom Robin goes to for advice. But, Terry also challenges Robin to make Bluebird Care the best
agency it can be.
Terry is a direct contrast to Belinda, another employee. A five-year staff member, Belinda is dogmatic and doesn’t
like change, yet frequently challenges Robin and the rules of the agency. Robin describes Belinda as “a bully” and
not a team player. For example, Belinda and Robin had a conflict about a rule in the agency’s procedural manual
that requires staff to work every other weekend. Belinda argued that it was unfair to force staff members to work
every other weekend and that other similar agencies don’t have such policies. To prove her point, Belinda
obtained a competing agency’s manual that supported her position and showed it to Robin.
Robin, who does not like confrontation, was frustrated by Belinda’s aggressive conflict style. Robin brought up
the issue about weekends with Terry, and Terry supported her and the way the policy was written. In the end,
Belinda did not get the policy changed, but both Belinda and Robin are sure there will be more conflicts to come.
Two other key staff members are Robin’s son, Caleb, who hires and trains most of the employees, and her son-in-
law, James, who answers the phone and does scheduling. Robin says as a manager James does his work in a quiet,
respectful manner and seldom causes problems. In addition to handling all the hiring and training, Robin relies
on Caleb to troubleshoot issues regarding client services. For both James and Caleb, the job can become stressful
because it is their phones that ring when a staff member doesn’t show up to a client’s for work and they have to
find someone to fill in.
Caleb also says he is working hard to instill a sense of cohesiveness among the agency’s far-flung staff and to
reduce turnover with their millennial-age staff members. Caleb says while the agency’s growth is seen as positive,
he worries that the caring philosophy his mother started the agency with is becoming lost.
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Questions
1. Who are the followers at Bluebird Care?
2. In what way is followership related to the mission of the agency? Do Robin and her managers recognize
the importance of followership? Explain.
3. Using the roles identified in Chaleff’s follower typology (Figure 12.4), what roles do Terry, Belinda,
Caleb, and James play at the agency?
4. Using the “reversing the lens” framework (Figure 12.6), explain how Caleb and James’s characteristics
contribute to the followership outcomes at Bluebird Care.
5. Terry and Robin have a unique relationship in that they both engage in leading and following. How do
you think each of them views leadership and followership? Discuss.
6. If you were an organizational consultant, what would you suggest to Robin that could strengthen
Bluebird Care? If you were a followership coach, how would you advise Robin?
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Case 12.2: Olympic Rowers
In the 1930s, rowing was the most popular sport in the country. The sport not only was physically brutal, but
required inexhaustible teamwork. In an eight-man rowing shell, each member of the team has a role to fulfill
based on where he sits in the boat. The movements of each rower are precisely synchronized with the movements
of the others in the boat. Every rower in the shell must perform flawlessly with each and every pull of the oar; if
one member of the crew is off, the whole team is off. Any one rower’s mistake can throw off the tempo for the
boat’s thrust and jeopardize the balance and success of the boat.
In the early 1930s, rowing was a sport dominated by elite East Coast universities like Cornell, Harvard, and
Princeton. However, two West Coast teams, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of
Washington, had an intense rivalry not only with the crews from the East Coast but with one another as well. Al
Ulbrickson, the varsity crew coach at the University of Washington, had watched jealously as the California team
ascended to national prominence, representing the United States in the 1932 Olympics, and was determined that
his University of Washington team would be the one to represent the United States at the 1936 Olympics in
Berlin, Germany.
Ulbrickson’s program had a number of talented rowers, including those who had rowed to win the national
freshman championships in 1934. Unlike teams from the East Coast whose members’ lives were often marked by
privilege and wealth, many of the boys in the University of Washington program came from poor, working-class
backgrounds. They were the sons of loggers, farmers, and fishermen, and gaining a spot on the rowing team
would help pay for their college education. Over the summer break these same boys would work, often in
dangerous and physically taxing jobs, so they could afford to return to college in the fall.
Finding the ideal makeup of members for a successful rowing team is a complex process. A great crew is a
carefully balanced mix of rowers with different physical abilities and personalities. According to Brown (2013),
“Good crews are blends of personalities: someone to lead the charge, someone to hold something in reserve,
someone to pick a fight, someone to make peace, someone to think through, someone to charge ahead without
thinking . . . Even after the right mixture is found, each oarsman must recognize their place in the fabric of the
crew and accept the others as they are” (pp. 179–180).
To find that magic mix, Ulbrickson experimented with different combinations of rowers, putting individual
rowers on different teams to see how they performed together. But it was more than just putting the right abilities
together; it was finding the right chemistry. He finally did with a team of boys who “had been winnowed down
by punishing competition, and in the winnowing a kind of common character had issued forth: they were all
skilled, they were all tough, they were all fiercely determined, but they were also all good-hearted. Every one of
them had come from humble origins or been humbled by the hard times in which they had grown up . . . The
challenges they had faced together had taught them humility—the need to subsume their individual egos for the
sake of the boat as a whole—and humility was the common gateway through which they were able now to come
together” (Brown, 2013, p. 241). One of those team members said when he stepped into the shell with his new
teammates, he finally felt at home.
This Washington varsity team decimated the competition on the East and West Coasts, earning a spot on the
U.S. Olympic team. At the Berlin Olympics, the team faced a number of challenges. One of their key oarsmen
had fallen seriously ill on the transatlantic voyage to Germany and remained sick throughout the competition.
There were distractions everywhere. But every time the American boys saw tension or nervousness in one another,
they drew closer together as a group and talked earnestly and seriously to each other. They draped arms over one
another’s shoulders and talked through their race plan. “Each of them knew a defining moment in his life was
nearly at hand and no one wanted to waste it. And none wanted to waste it for the others” (Brown, 2013, p.
326).
The team defeated England in its preliminary heat, and made it to the finals. But the odds were stacked against
them: They were in the worst lane in the final race, which put them at a two-length disadvantage; they
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experienced a delayed start because their coxswain missed the signal that the race had begun; and their sick
oarsman was barely conscious. But they came from behind and triumphed, winning Olympic gold.
As Brown (2013) points out, “No other sport demands and rewards the complete abandonment of the self the
way that rowing does. Great crews may have men or women of exceptional talent or strength; they may have
outstanding skills . . . but they have no stars. The team effort—the perfectly synchronized flow of muscle, oars,
boat, and water . . . the single, whole, unified, and beautiful symphony that a crew in motion becomes—is all
that matters. Not the individual, not the self” (pp. 177–178).
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Questions
1. In what way is this case about followership? Who were the followers? Who were the leaders?
2. The coxswain is the crew member who sits in the stern facing the bow, steers the boat, and coordinates
the power and rhythm of the rowers. In this case, is the coxswain’s role more or less important than the
roles of other crew members? Explain your answer.
3. Reversing the lens emphasizes that followers can be change agents—what was the impact of followers’
characteristics on followers’ behaviors in this case? What impact do you think Ulbrickson’s perception
and behaviors had on the rowers in his program?
4. How would you describe the impact of both followers and leaders on followership outcome?
5. In this case, the boys in the boat created a highly cohesive unit. Do you think highly effective
followership always results in cohesiveness? Defend your answer.
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Case 12.3: Penn State Sexual Abuse Scandal
In the 46 years that Joe Paterno was head football coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions, he racked up 409
victories and was the most victorious coach in NCAA football history. Paterno called his brand of coaching “The
Grand Experiment” because he aimed to prove that football excellence and academic integrity could coexist.
Imbuing his program with the motto “Success With Honor,” Paterno was as interested in the moral character of
his players as in their physical abilities, a fact borne out by the program’s unusually high graduation rates
(Mahler, 2011). Over four decades, a positive mythology enveloped the program, the university, and Paterno,
instilling a fervent Penn State pride in students, faculty, staff, athletes, and fans across the globe, contributing to
Penn State’s reputation as one of the most highly regarded public universities in the United States.
But in 2011, a child sexual abuse scandal involving a former Penn State assistant football coach caused “The
Grand Experiment” to tumble from its high perch, bringing down with it not only Coach Paterno, the
university’s athletic director Tim Curley, and the storied Penn State football program, but also the university’s
president, Graham B. Spanier.
The seeds of the scandal began in 1977 when Penn State’s then defensive line coach Jerry Sandusky established a
nonprofit organization called Second Mile that was described as a “group foster home devoted to helping
troubled boys.” Sandusky’s position and association with Penn State gave the charity credibility, but Second Mile
ultimately proved to be a cover and conduit for Sandusky’s sexual abuse of boys. It is alleged that through Second
Mile, Sandusky was able to identify and meet many of the young men who ultimately became his victims.
Fast forward to more than 30 years later, when, in 2008, the mother of a high school freshman reported to
officials that her son was sexually abused by Sandusky. Sandusky had been retired from Penn State since 1999,
but continued to coach as a volunteer, working with kids through his Second Mile charity. As a result of the call,
the state’s attorney general launched an investigation of Sandusky, and evidence was uncovered that this wasn’t
the first time Sandusky had been alleged of sexual abuse. Allegations of his abuse had been cropping up since the
late 1990s.
In 1998, the mother of an 11-year-old boy called Penn State University police after she learned her son had
showered naked with Sandusky in the campus’s athletic locker room and that Sandusky touched the child
inappropriately. At the time, Paterno, Curley, and Spanier, as well as Gary C. Schultz, senior vice president for
finance and business, were all informed of the incident, and an investigation was conducted. Even though police
talked with another boy who reported similar treatment, they opted to close the case. During an interview with
university police and a representative from the State Department of Public Welfare, Sandusky said he would not
shower with children again.
Two years later, in the fall of 2000, a janitor in Penn State’s Lasch football building told a coworker and
supervisor that he saw Sandusky engaged in sexual activity with a boy in the assistant coach’s shower. Fearing for
their jobs, neither the janitor nor his coworker filed a report; their supervisor did not file a report, either.
“They knew who Sandusky was,” Special Investigative Counsel Louis J. Freeh later said after he completed an
eight-month investigation of the scandal in 2012. “They said the university would circle around it. It was like
going against the President of the United States. If that’s the culture on the bottom, God help the culture at the
top” (Wolverton, 2012).
In 2001, Penn State graduate assistant Mike McQueary witnessed Sandusky sexually assaulting a boy in the
showers at the Lasch football building. McQueary visited Coach Paterno’s home the next morning to tell the
coach what he had witnessed. Paterno, in turn, reported the incident to Athletic Director Curley. It wasn’t until
10 days later, however, that McQueary finally met with Curley and Schultz to describe what he saw.
Initially Curley, Schultz, and Spanier decided to report the incident to the State Department of Public Welfare.
However, two days later, Curley informed Schultz and Spanier that he had changed his mind after “talking it
over with Joe” Paterno. They decided instead to offer Sandusky “professional help” and tell him to stop bringing
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guests to the locker room (Wolverton, 2012). No report was made to the police or the child protection agency. It
was later found that in an email, Spanier told Curley he approved of the athletic director’s decision not to report
the incident, calling it a “humane and reasonable way to proceed” (Wolverton, 2012).
McQueary, meanwhile, continued to work at Penn State, being promoted to an assistant football coach’s
position. And over the next seven years, Sandusky reportedly kept meeting and sexually assaulting young boys.
When Sandusky was finally arrested and charged with 40 counts of sexual abuse in 2011, it was at the end of a
three-year investigation launched by that mother’s 2008 phone call. The investigation not only uncovered that
Sandusky sexually abused eight boys over a 15-year period, but determined that university leaders, including
Spanier and Schultz, knew about the coach’s behavior and did not act. During testimony they gave during the
attorney general’s investigation, these same leaders denied knowing about the 1998 and 2001 incidents; but the
investigation proved through emails and other documents that university leaders did not truthfully admit what
they knew about these incidents and when they knew it. As a result, Curley and Schultz were charged with
perjury and failure to report what they knew of the allegations.
While Spanier called Sandusky’s behavior “troubling,” he pledged his unconditional support for both Curley and
Schultz, predicting they would be exonerated (Keller, 2012). Two days later, however, Paterno and Spanier were
fired by the university’s Board of Trustees, and the board hired Freeh to conduct an independent investigation of
the scandal.
Eight months later, Freeh released a scathing 267-page report that detailed how and when university leaders knew
about Sandusky’s behavior and stated that they failed to report repeated allegations of child sexual abuse by
Sandusky. The report stated that Spanier and Paterno displayed “a total disregard for the safety and welfare of
children” and hid critical facts from authorities on the alleged abuses (Wolverton, 2012).
The investigation by Freeh found emails and other documents suggesting that Spanier, Paterno, Schultz, and
Curley all knew for years about the sexual nature of the accusations against Sandusky and kept these allegations
under wraps. The report stated that Paterno, especially, “was an integral part of the act to conceal” (Keller, 2012).
Athletic Director Curley was described in the report as “someone who followed instruction regardless of the
consequences and was ‘loyal to a fault.’” One senior official called Curley Paterno’s “errand boy.” And finally, the
investigation concluded that President Spanier “failed in his duties as president” for “not promptly and fully
advising the Board of Trustees about the 1998 and 2001 child-sexual abuse allegations against Sandusky and the
subsequent grand jury investigation of him” (Keller, 2012).
But it wasn’t just the university administrators who took fire. The report also cited the university’s Board of
Trustees for failing “to exercise its oversight,” stating “the Board did not create a ‘tone at the top’ environment
wherein Sandusky and other senior university officials believed they were accountable to it.” Ultimately, Freeh’s
report concluded that the reputations of the university and its exalted football program were “more important to
its leaders than the safety and welfare of young children” (Keller, 2012).
Joe Paterno died in January 2012. Six months later, Sandusky, the assistant coach he protected, was convicted of
45 counts of child sexual abuse and sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison. Former Penn State officials Curley,
Schultz, and Spanier were all sentenced to jail time for failing to alert authorities of the allegations against
Sandusky, allowing him to continue molesting boys for years.
A month after Sandusky’s conviction and 10 days after Freeh’s report was released, a much-beloved 7-foot, 900-
pound bronze statue of Paterno was removed from its pedestal outside Penn State’s Beaver Stadium, providing
symbolic evidence of the failure of Paterno’s “Success With Honor” motto and the public’s faith in Penn State’s
program.
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Questions
1. How would you describe the followership at Penn State? Whom would you identify as the followers?
Who are the leaders?
2. Using Kelley’s typology, how would you describe the follower styles for Schultz and Curley? What about
McQueary?
3. How did followers in this case act in ways that contribute to the power of destructive leaders and their
goals? What was the debilitating impact their actions had on the organization?
4. Based on Lipman-Blumen’s psychological factors that contribute to harmful leadership, explain why
those who could have reported Sandusky’s behaviors chose not to.
5. Based on the outcome, where did Paterno’s intentions go wrong? In what ways could followers have
changed the moral climate at Penn State?
6. In the end, who carries the burden of responsibility regarding the failure of Paterno’s program—the
leaders or the followers? Defend your answer.
Leadership Instrument
As discussed earlier in this chapter, Kelley (1992) developed a typology that categorized followers into one
of five styles (exemplary, alienated, conformist, passive, and pragmatist) based on two axes (independent
thinking and active engagement). These different dimensions of followership became the basis for Kelley’s
Followership Questionnaire, a survey that allows followership style to be determined through an empirical
approach, rather than through observation.
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Followership Questionnaire
Instructions: Think of a specific leader–follower situation where you were in the role of follower. For each
statement, please use the scale below to indicate the extent to which the statement describes you and your
behavior in this situation.
1.
Does your work help you fulfill some societal goal or personal
dream that is important to you?
0 1 2 3 4 5 6
2.
Are your personal work goals aligned with the organization’s
priority goals?
0 1 2 3 4 5 6
3.
Are you highly committed to and energized by your work and
organization, giving them your best ideas and performance?
0 1 2 3 4 5 6
4.
Does your enthusiasm also spread to and energize your
coworkers?
0 1 2 3 4 5 6
5.
Instead of waiting for or merely accepting what the leader tells
you, do you personally identify which organizational activities
are most critical for achieving the organization’s priority goals?
0 1 2 3 4 5 6
6.
Do you actively develop a distinctive competence in those
critical activities so that you become more valuable to the
leader and the organization?
0 1 2 3 4 5 6
7.
When starting a new job or assignment, do you promptly
build a record of successes in tasks that are important to the
leader?
0 1 2 3 4 5 6
8.
Can the leader give you a difficult assignment without the
benefit of much supervision, knowing that you will meet your
deadline with highest-quality work and that you will “fill in
the cracks” if need be?
0 1 2 3 4 5 6
9.
Do you take the initiative to seek out and successfully
complete assignments that go above and beyond your job?
0 1 2 3 4 5 6
10.
When you are not the leader of a group project, do you still
contribute at a high level, often doing more than your share?
0 1 2 3 4 5 6
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11.
Do you independently think up and champion new ideas that
will contribute significantly to the leader’s or the
organization’s goals?
0 1 2 3 4 5 6
12.
Do you try to solve the tough problems (technical or
organizational), rather than look to the leader to do it for you?
0 1 2 3 4 5 6
13.
Do you help out other coworkers, making them look good,
even when you don’t get any credit?
0 1 2 3 4 5 6
14.
Do you help the leader or group see both the upside potential
and downside risks of ideas or plans, playing the devil’s
advocate if need be?
0 1 2 3 4 5 6
15.
Do you understand the leader’s needs, goals, and constraints,
and work hard to help meet them?
0 1 2 3 4 5 6
16.
Do you actively and honestly own up to your strengths and
weaknesses rather than put off evaluation?
0 1 2 3 4 5 6
17.
Do you make a habit of internally questioning the wisdom of
the leader’s decision rather than just doing what you are told?
0 1 2 3 4 5 6
18.
When the leader asks you to do something that runs contrary
to your professional or personal preferences, do you say “no”
rather than “yes”?
0 1 2 3 4 5 6
19.
Do you act on your own ethical standards rather than the
leader’s or the group’s standards?
0 1 2 3 4 5 6
20.
Do you assert your views on important issues, even though it
might mean conflict with your group or reprisals from the
leader?
0 1 2 3 4 5 6
Source: Excerpts from The Power of Followership by Robert E. Kelly, copyright © 1992 by Consultants
to Executives and Organizations, Ltd. Used by permission of Doubleday, an imprint of the Knopf
Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.
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Scoring
The Followership Questionnaire measures your style as a follower based on two dimensions of followership:
independent thinking and active engagement. Your responses indicate the degree to which you are an
independent thinker and actively engaged in your follower role. Score the questionnaire by doing the
following. Your scores will classify you as being primarily one of the five styles: exemplary, alienated,
conformist, pragmatist, or passive.
1. Independent Thinking Score: Sum of questions 1, 5, 11, 12, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19, and 20
2. Active Engagement Score: Sum of questions 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 13, and 15
Exemplary Followership Style: If you scored high (above 40) on both independent thinking
and active engagement, your followership style is categorized as exemplary.
Alienated Followership Style: If you scored high (above 40) on independent thinking and low
(below 20) on active engagement, your followership style is categorized as alienated.
Conformist Followership Style: If you scored low (below 20) on independent thinking and
high (above 40) on active engagement, your followership style is categorized as conformist.
Pragmatist Followership Style: If you scored in the middle range (from 20 to 40) on both
independent thinking and active engagement, your followership style is categorized as
pragmatist.
Passive Followership Style: If you scored low (below 20) on both independent thinking and
active engagement, your followership style is categorized as passive.
Followership Style Independent Thinking Score Active Engagement Score
EXEMPLARY High High
ALIENATED High Low
CONFORMIST Low High
PRAGMATIST Middling Middling
PASSIVE Low Low
Source: Adapted from The Power of Followership (pp. 89–98), by R. E. Kelley, 1992, New York, NY:
Doubleday Business. Adapted with permission.
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Scoring Interpretation
What do the different styles mean? How should you interpret your style? The followership styles
characterize how you carry out the followership role, not who you are as a person. At any point in time, or
under different circumstances, you may use one followership pattern rather than another.
Exemplary Follower
Exemplary followers score high in both independent thinking and active engagement. They exhibit
independent, critical thinking, separate from the group or leader. They are actively engaged, using their
talents for the benefit of the organization, even when confronted with bureaucracy or other noncontributing
members. Up to 35% of people are categorized as exemplary followers.
Alienated Follower
Alienated followers score high in independent thinking but low in active engagement. This means that they
think independently and critically, but are not active in carrying out the role of a follower. They might
disengage from the group at times and may view themselves as victims who have received unfair treatment.
Approximately 15%–25% of people are categorized as alienated followers.
Conformist Follower
Conformist followers often say “yes” when they really want to say “no.” Low in independent thinking and
high in active engagement, they willingly take orders and are eager to please others. They believe that the
leader’s position of power entitles the leader to followers’ obedience. They do not question the social order
and find comfort in structure. Approximately 20%–30% of people are categorized as conformist followers.
Pragmatist Follower
With independent thinking and active engagement styles that fall between high and low, pragmatic
followers are most comfortable in the middle of the road and tend to adhere to a motto of “better safe than
sorry.” They will question a leader’s decisions, but not too often or too openly. They perform required
tasks, but seldom do more than is asked or expected. Approximately 25%–35% of people are categorized as
pragmatist followers.
Passive Follower
With low independent thinking and low active engagement behaviors, passive followers are the opposite of
exemplary followers, looking to the leader to do their thinking for them. They do not carry out their
assignments with enthusiasm and lack initiative and a sense of responsibility. Approximately 5%–10% of
people are categorized as passive followers.
Source: Based on excerpts from The Power or Followership by Robert E. Kelly, copyright © 1992 by
Consultants to Executives and Organizations, Ltd. Used by permission of Doubleday, an imprint of the
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.
479
Summary
Leadership requires followership, and without understanding what the act of following
entails, it is difficult to fully understand leaders and leadership. Therefore, the focus in this
chapter is on followership and the central role followers play in the leadership process.
In recent years, followership has received increased attention as a legitimate and significant
area of leadership study. Followership is defined as a process whereby an individual or
individuals accept the influence of others to accomplish a common goal. It involves a power
differential between the follower and the leader. From a social constructivist perspective,
followership emerges from communication between leaders and followers and involves the
relational process of people exerting influence and others responding to that influence.
Early research on followership resulted in a series of typologies that differentiate the roles
followers can play. The primary types of follower roles identified are active–engaged,
independent–assertive, submissive–compliant, and supportive–conformer.
The development of these typologies provides a starting point for building theory on
followership. Based on a systematic analysis of the research literature, Uhl-Bien and her
colleagues (2014) introduced a broad theory of followership comprising the characteristics,
behaviors, and outcomes of followers and leaders acting in relation to each other.
Furthermore, these researchers proposed two ways of theorizing about followership: (1)
reversing the lens, which addresses followers in the opposite way they have been studied in
most prior leadership research, and (2) the leadership co-created process, which conceptualizes
followership as a give-and-take process in which individuals’ following behaviors and
leading behaviors interact with each other to create leadership and its resulting outcomes.
Work by Carsten and colleagues (2014) also advanced several positive facets of followership
—followers get the job done, work in the best interest of the organization’s mission, challenge
leaders, support the leader, and learn from leaders.
In addition to having a positive impact, there is another, darker side to followership.
Followers can play ineffective, and even harmful, roles. Lipman-Blumen (2005) identified a
series of psychological factors of followers that contribute to harmful, dysfunctional
leadership. These factors include people’s need for reassuring authority figures; need for
security and certainty; need to feel chosen or special; need for membership in the human
community; fear of ostracism, isolation, and social death; and fear of powerlessness to challenge a
bad leader. The emergence of these factors occurs as a result of people’s needs to find safety
to feel unique and to be included in community.
The existing followership literature has several strengths and certain limitations. On the
positive side, the most recent literature gives recognition to followership as an integral part
480
of the leadership equation and elevates it considerably, giving it equal footing with
leadership. Second, it forces us to take leadership off its pedestal and replace it with
followership. Third, it provides a useful set of basic prescriptions for what a follower should
or should not do in order to be an effective follower.
On the negative side, very little methodical research has been conducted on the process of
followership, which makes it difficult to theorize about followership’s role in groups,
organizations, and the community. Furthermore, the descriptive research that has been
conducted on followership is primarily anecdotal and observational. Last, the world’s
pervasive emphasis on and glorification of leadership may be so ingrained that the study of
followership will remain constrained and never flourish.
In summary, the demand in society for effective, principled followers is growing and along
with it a strong need for research-based theories of the process of followership. Until more
research is done on the intricacies of followership, our understanding of leadership will be
incomplete.
Sharpen your skills with SAGE edge at edge.sagepub.com/northouse8e
481
http://edge.sagepub.com/northouse8e
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13 Leadership Ethics
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Description
This chapter is different from many of the other chapters in this book. Most of the other
chapters focus on one unified leadership theory or approach (e.g., trait approach, path–goal
theory, or transformational leadership), whereas this chapter is multifaceted and presents a
broad set of ethical viewpoints. The chapter is intended not as an “ethical leadership
theory,” but rather as a guide to some of the ethical issues that arise in leadership situations.
Probably since our cave-dwelling days, human beings have been concerned with the ethics
of our leaders. Our history books are replete with descriptions of good kings and bad kings,
great empires and evil empires, and strong presidents and weak presidents. But despite a
wealth of biographical accounts of great leaders and their morals, very little research has
been published on the theoretical foundations of leadership ethics. There have been many
studies on business ethics in general since the early 1970s, but these studies have been only
tangentially related to leadership ethics. Even in the literature of management, written
primarily for practitioners, there are very few books on leadership ethics. This suggests that
theoretical formulations in this area are still in their infancy.
One of the earliest writings that specifically focused on leadership ethics appeared as
recently as 1996. It was a set of working papers generated from a small group of leadership
scholars, brought together by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation. These scholars examined how
leadership theory and practice could be used to build a more caring and just society. The
ideas of the Kellogg group are now published in a volume titled Ethics, the Heart of
Leadership (Ciulla, 1998).
Interest in the nature of ethical leadership has continued to grow, particularly because of
the many recent scandals in corporate America and the political realm. On the academic
front, there has also been a strong interest in exploring the nature of ethical leadership (see
Aronson, 2001; Brown & Treviño, 2006; Ciulla, 2001, 2003, 2014; Johnson, 2011, 2018;
Kanungo, 2001; Lawton & Páez, 2015; Price, 2008; Treviño, Brown, & Hartman, 2003).
487
Ethics Defined
From the perspective of Western tradition, the development of ethical theory dates back to
Plato (427–347 b.c.) and Aristotle (384–322 b.c.). The word ethics has its roots in the
Greek word ethos, which translates to “customs,” “conduct,” or “character.” Ethics is
concerned with the kinds of values and morals an individual or a society finds desirable or
appropriate. Furthermore, ethics is concerned with the virtuousness of individuals and their
motives. Ethical theory provides a system of rules or principles that guide us in making
decisions about what is right or wrong and good or bad in a particular situation. It provides
a basis for understanding what it means to be a morally decent human being.
In regard to leadership, ethics is concerned with what leaders do and who leaders are. It has
to do with the nature of leaders’ behavior, and with their virtuousness. In any decision-
making situation, ethical issues are either implicitly or explicitly involved. The choices
leaders make and how they respond in a given circumstance are informed and directed by
their ethics.
A leader’s choices are also influenced by his or her moral development. For example, in a
study of 24 exemplary leaders in journalism, Plaisance (2014) found “an overarching
emphasis on notions of care and respect for others, professional duty, concern for harm,
and proactive social engagement—all of which characterize higher stages of moral
development” (p. 308). The most widely recognized theory advanced to explain how
people think about moral issues is Kohlberg’s stages of moral development. Kohlberg (1984)
presented a series of dilemmas (the most famous of which is “the Heinz dilemma”) to
groups of young children whom he then interviewed about the reasoning behind their
choices regarding the dilemmas. From these data he created a classification system of moral
reasoning that was divided into six stages: Stage 1—Obedience and Punishment, Stage 2—
Individualism and Exchange, Stage 3—Interpersonal Accord and Conformity, Stage 4—
Maintaining the Social Order, Stage 5—Social Contract and Individual Rights, and Stage 6—
Universal Principles (Table 13.1). Kohlberg further classified the first two stages as
preconventional morality, the second two as conventional morality, and the last two as
postconventional morality.
Level 1. Preconventional Morality
When an individual is at the preconventional morality level, he or she tends to judge the
morality of an action by its direct consequences. There are two stages that fall within
preconventional morality:
Table 13.1 Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development
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Stage 1—Obedience and Punishment. At this stage, the individual is egocentric and
sees morality as external to self. Rules are fixed and handed down by authority.
Obeying rules is important because it means avoiding punishment. For example, a
child reasons it is bad to steal because the consequence will be to go to jail.
Stage 2—Individualism and Exchange. At this stage, the individual makes moral
decisions based on self-interest. An action is right if it serves the individual.
Everything is relative, so each person is free to do his or her own thing. People do not
identify with the values of the community (Crain, 1985) but are willing to exchange
favors. For example, an individual might say, “I’ll do a favor for you, if you do a favor
for me.”
Level 2. Conventional Morality
Those who are at this level judge the morality of actions by comparing them to society’s
views and expectations. Authority is internalized but not questioned, and reasoning is based
on the norms of the group to which the person belongs. Kohlberg identified two stages at
the conventional morality level:
Stage 3—Interpersonal Accord and Conformity. At this stage, the individual makes
moral choices based on conforming to the expectations of others and trying to behave
like a “good” person. It is important to be “nice” and live up to the community
standard of niceness. For example, a student says, “I am not going to cheat because
that is not what a good student does.”
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Stage 4—Maintaining the Social Order. At this stage, the individual makes moral
decisions in ways that show concern for society as a whole. In order for society to
function, it is important that people obey the laws, respect authority, and support the
rules of the community. For example, a person does not run a red light in the middle
of the night when no other cars are around because it is important to maintain and
support the traffic laws of the community.
Level 3. Postconventional Morality
At this level of morality, also known as the principled level, individuals have developed
their own personal set of ethics and morals that guide their behavior. Postconventional
moralists live by their own ethical principles—principles that typically include such basic
human rights as life, liberty, and justice. There are two stages that Kohlberg identified as
part of the postconventional morality level:
Stage 5—Social Contract and Individual Rights. At this stage, the individual makes
moral decisions based on a social contract and his or her views on what a good society
should be like. A good society supports values such as liberty and life, and fair
procedures for changing laws (Crain, 1985), but recognizes that groups have different
opinions and values. Societal laws are important, but people need to agree on them.
For example, if a boy is dying of cancer and his parents do not have money to pay for
his treatment, the state should step in and pay for it.
Stage 6—Universal Principles. At this stage, the individual’s moral reasoning is based
on internalized universal principles of justice that apply to everyone. Decisions that
are made need to respect the viewpoints of all parties involved. People follow their
internal rules of fairness, even if they conflict with laws. An example of this stage
would be a civil rights activist who believes a commitment to justice requires a
willingness to disobey unjust laws.
Kohlberg’s model of moral development has been criticized for focusing exclusively on
justice values, for being sex-biased since it is derived from an all-male sample, for being
culturally biased since it is based on a sample from an individualist culture, and for
advocating a postconventional morality where people place their own principles above
those of the law or society (Crain, 1985). Regardless of these criticisms, this model is
seminal to developing an understanding of what forms the basis for individuals’ ethical
leadership.
Table 13.2 Domains of Ethical Theories
Conduct Character
Consequences (teleological theories)
490
• Ethical egoism
• Utilitarianism
Virtue-based theories
Duty (deontological theories)
491
Ethical Theories
For the purposes of studying ethics and leadership, ethical theories can be thought of as
falling within two broad domains: theories about leaders’ conduct and theories about
leaders’ character (Table 13.2). Stated another way, ethical theories when applied to
leadership are about both the actions of leaders and who they are as people. Throughout
the chapter, our discussions about ethics and leadership will always fall within one of these
two domains: conduct or character. Ethical theories that deal with the conduct of leaders
are in turn divided into two kinds: theories that stress the consequences of leaders’ actions
and those that emphasize the duty or rules governing leaders’ actions (see Table 13.2).
Teleological theories, from the Greek word telos, meaning “ends” or “purposes,” try to
answer questions about right and wrong by focusing on whether a person’s conduct will
produce desirable consequences. From the teleological perspective, the question “What is
right?” is answered by looking at results or outcomes. In effect, the consequences of an
individual’s actions determine the goodness or badness of a particular behavior.
In assessing consequences, there are three different approaches to making decisions
regarding moral conduct (Figure 13.1): ethical egoism, utilitarianism, and altruism. Ethical
egoism states that a person should act so as to create the greatest good for her- or himself. A
leader with this orientation would take a job or career that she or he selfishly enjoys (Avolio
& Locke, 2002). Self-interest is an ethical stance closely related to transactional leadership
theories (Bass & Steidlmeier, 1999). Ethical egoism is common in some business contexts
in which a company and its employees make decisions to achieve its goal of maximizing
profits. For example, a midlevel, upward-aspiring manager who wants her team to be the
best in the company could be described as acting out of ethical egoism.
A second teleological approach, utilitarianism, states that we should behave so as to create
the greatest good for the greatest number. From this viewpoint, the morally correct action
is the action that maximizes social benefits while minimizing social costs (Schumann,
2001). When the U.S. government allocates a large part of the federal budget for preventive
health care rather than for catastrophic illnesses, it is acting from a utilitarian perspective,
putting money where it will have the best result for the largest number of citizens.
Figure 13.1 Ethical Theories Based on Self-Interest Versus Interest for Others
492
Closely related to utilitarianism, and opposite of ethical egoism, is a third teleological
approach, altruism. Altruism is an approach that suggests that actions are moral if their
primary purpose is to promote the best interests of others. From this perspective, a leader
may be called on to act in the interests of others, even when it runs contrary to his or her
own self-interests (Bowie, 1991). Authentic transformational leadership (Chapter 8) is
based on altruistic principles (Bass & Steidlmeier, 1999; Kanungo & Mendonca, 1996),
and altruism is pivotal to exhibiting servant leadership (Chapter 10). The strongest example
of altruistic ethics can be found in the work of Mother Teresa, who devoted her life to
helping the poor. Quite different from looking at which actions will produce which
outcomes, deontological theory is derived from the Greek word deos, which means “duty.”
Whether a given action is ethical rests not only with its consequences (teleological), but also
with whether the action itself is good. Telling the truth, keeping promises, being fair, and
respecting others are all examples of actions that are inherently good, independent of the
consequences. The deontological perspective focuses on the actions of the leader and his or
her moral obligations and responsibilities to do the right thing. A leader’s actions are moral
if the leader has a moral right to do them, if the actions do not infringe on others’ rights,
and if the actions further the moral rights of others (Schumann, 2001).
In the late 1990s, the president of the United States, Bill Clinton, was brought before
Congress for misrepresenting under oath an affair he had maintained with a White House
intern. For his actions, he was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives, but then
was acquitted by the U.S. Senate. At one point during the long ordeal, the president
appeared on national television and, in what is now a famous speech, declared his
innocence. Because subsequent hearings provided information that suggested that he may
have lied during this television speech, many Americans felt President Clinton had violated
his duty and responsibility (as a person, leader, and president) to tell the truth. From a
493
deontological perspective, it could be said that he failed his ethical responsibility to do the
right thing—to tell the truth.
Whereas teleological and deontological theories approach ethics by looking at the behavior
or conduct of a leader, a second set of theories approaches ethics from the viewpoint of a
leader’s character (Table 13.2). These theories are called virtue-based theories; they focus on
who leaders are as people. In this perspective, virtues are rooted in the heart of the
individual and in the individual’s disposition (Pojman, 1995). Furthermore, it is believed
that virtues and moral abilities are not innate but can be acquired and learned through
practice. People can be taught by their families and communities to be morally appropriate
human beings.
With their origin traced back in the Western tradition to the ancient Greeks and the works
of Plato and Aristotle, virtue theories are experiencing a resurgence in popularity. The
Greek term associated with these theories is aretaic, which means “excellence” or “virtue.”
Consistent with Aristotle, current advocates of virtue-based theory stress that more
attention should be given to the development and training of moral values (Velasquez,
1992). Rather than telling people what to do, attention should be directed toward telling
people what to be, or helping them to become more virtuous.
What, then, are the virtues of an ethical person? There are many, all of which seem to be
important. Based on the writings of Aristotle, a moral person demonstrates the virtues of
courage, temperance, generosity, self-control, honesty, sociability, modesty, fairness, and
justice (Velasquez, 1992). For Aristotle, virtues allowed people to live well in communities.
Applying ethics to leadership and management, Velasquez has suggested that managers
should develop virtues such as perseverance, public-spiritedness, integrity, truthfulness,
fidelity, benevolence, and humility.
In essence, virtue-based ethics is about being and becoming a good, worthy human being.
Although people can learn and develop good values, this theory maintains that virtues are
present in one’s disposition. When practiced over time, from youth to adulthood, good
values become habitual, and part of the people themselves. By telling the truth, people
become truthful; by giving to the poor, people become benevolent; by being fair to others,
people become just. Our virtues are derived from our actions, and our actions manifest our
virtues (Frankena, 1973; Pojman, 1995).
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Centrality of Ethics to Leadership
As discussed in Chapter 1, leadership is a process whereby the leader influences others to
reach a common goal. The influence dimension of leadership requires the leader to have an
impact on the lives of those being led. To make a change in other people carries with it an
enormous ethical burden and responsibility. Because leaders usually have more power and
control than followers, they also have more responsibility to be sensitive to how their
leadership affects followers’ lives.
Whether in group work, organizational pursuits, or community projects, leaders engage
followers and utilize them in their efforts to reach common goals. In all these situations,
leaders have the ethical responsibility to treat followers with dignity and respect—as human
beings with unique identities. This “respect for people” demands that leaders be sensitive to
followers’ own interests, needs, and conscientious concerns (Beauchamp & Bowie, 1988).
In a qualitative study of 17, mostly Swiss, executive ethical leaders, Frisch and
Huppenbauer (2014) reported that these ethical leaders cared about other stakeholders,
such as customers, suppliers, owners of companies, the natural environment, and society.
Although all of us have an ethical responsibility to treat other people as unique human
beings, leaders have a special responsibility, because the nature of their leadership puts them
in a special position in which they have a greater opportunity to influence others in
significant ways.
Ethics is central to leadership, and leaders help to establish and reinforce organizational
values. Every leader has a distinct philosophy and point of view. “All leaders have an
agenda, a series of beliefs, proposals, values, ideas, and issues that they wish to ‘put on the
table’” (Gini, 1998, p. 36). The values promoted by the leader have a significant impact on
the values exhibited by the organization (see Carlson & Perrewe, 1995; Demirtas, 2015;
Eisenbeiss, van Knippenberg, & Fahrbach, 2015; Schminke, Ambrose, & Noel, 1997;
Treviño, 1986; Xu, Loi, & Ngo, 2016; Yang, 2014). Because of their influence, leaders
play a major role in establishing the ethical climate of their organizations. For example, in a
meta-analytic review of 147 articles on ethical leadership, Bedi, Alpaslan, and Green (2016)
found that ethical leadership was positively related to followers’ perceptions of the leader’s
fairness and the followers’ ethical behavior.
In short, ethics is central to leadership because of the nature of the process of influence, the
need to engage followers in accomplishing mutual goals, and the impact leaders have on the
organization’s values.
The following section provides a discussion of some of the work of prominent leadership
scholars who have addressed issues related to ethics and leadership. Although many
additional viewpoints exist, those presented are representative of the predominant thinking
in the area of ethics and leadership today.
495
Heifetz’s Perspective on Ethical Leadership
Based on his work as a psychiatrist and his observations and analysis of many world leaders
(e.g., President Lyndon Johnson, Mohandas Gandhi, and Margaret Sanger), Ronald
Heifetz (1994) has formulated a unique approach to ethical leadership. His approach
emphasizes how leaders help followers to confront conflict and to address conflict by
effecting changes. Heifetz’s perspective is related to ethical leadership because it deals with
values: the values of workers and the values of the organizations and communities in which
they work. According to Heifetz, leadership involves the use of authority to help followers
deal with the conflicting values that emerge in rapidly changing work environments and
social cultures. It is an ethical perspective because it addresses the values of workers.
For Heifetz (1994), leaders must use authority to mobilize people to face tough issues. As
discussed in the chapter on adaptive leadership (Chapter 11), it is up to the leader to
provide a “holding environment” in which there is trust, nurturance, and empathy. In a
supportive context, followers can feel safe to confront hard problems. Specifically, leaders
use authority to get people to pay attention to the issues, to act as a reality test regarding
information, to manage and frame issues, to orchestrate conflicting perspectives, and to
facilitate decision making (Heifetz, 1994, p. 113). The leader’s duties are to assist the
follower in struggling with change and personal growth.
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Burns’s Perspective on Ethical Leadership
As discussed in Chapter 8, Burns’s theory of transformational leadership places a strong
emphasis on followers’ needs, values, and morals. Transformational leadership involves
attempts by leaders to move followers to higher standards of moral responsibility. This
emphasis sets transformational leadership apart from most other approaches to leadership
because it clearly states that leadership has a moral dimension (see Bass & Steidlmeier,
1999).
Similar to that of Heifetz, Burns’s (1978) perspective argues that it is important for leaders
to engage themselves with followers and help them in their personal struggles regarding
conflicting values. The resulting connection raises the level of morality in both the leader
and the follower.
The origins of Burns’s position on leadership ethics are rooted in the works of such writers
as Abraham Maslow, Milton Rokeach, and Lawrence Kohlberg (Ciulla, 1998). The
influence of these writers can be seen in how Burns emphasizes the leader’s role in
attending to the personal motivations and moral development of the follower. For Burns, it
is the responsibility of the leader to help followers assess their own values and needs in
order to raise them to a higher level of functioning, to a level that will stress values such as
liberty, justice, and equality (Ciulla, 1998).
Burns’s position on leadership as a morally uplifting process has not been without its critics.
It has raised many questions: How do you choose what a better set of moral values is? Who
is to say that some decisions represent higher moral ground than others? If leadership, by
definition, entails raising individual moral functioning, does this mean that the leadership
of corrupt leaders is not actually leadership? Notwithstanding these very legitimate
questions, Burns’s perspective is unique in that it makes ethics the central characteristic of
the leadership process. His writing has placed ethics at the forefront of scholarly discussions
of what leadership means and how leadership should be carried out.
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The Dark Side of Leadership
Although Burns (1978) placed ethics at the core of leadership, there still exists a dark side
of leadership that exemplifies leadership that is unethical and destructive. It is what we
defined in Chapter 8 (“Transformational Leadership”) as pseudotransformational leadership
and discussed in Chapter 12 (“Followership”) in regard to destructive leadership. The dark
side of leadership is the destructive and toxic side of leadership in that a leader uses
leadership for personal ends. Lipman-Blumen (2005) suggests that toxic leaders are
characterized by destructive behaviors such as leaving their followers worse off than they
found them, violating the basic human rights of others, and playing to followers’ basest
fears. Furthermore, Lipman-Blumen identifies many dysfunctional personal characteristics
destructive leaders demonstrate including lack of integrity, insatiable ambition, arrogance,
and reckless disregard for their actions. In addition, using two different toxic leadership
questionnaires, Singh, Sengupta, and Dev (2017) identified eight factors of perceived
toxicity in leaders in Indian organizations. The toxicity factors included managerial
incompetency, dark traits, derisive supervision, impervious despotic leadership, dearth of
ethics, erratic behavior, narcissism, and self-promoting. The same characteristics and
behaviors that distinguish leaders as special can also be used by leaders to produce
disastrous outcomes (Conger, 1990). Because researchers have been focused on the positive
attributes and outcomes of effective leadership, until recently, there has been little attention
paid to the dark side of leadership. Nevertheless, it is important to understand that it exists.
In a meta-analysis of 57 studies of destructive leadership and its outcomes, Schyns and
Schilling (2013) found a strong relationship between destructive leadership and negative
attitudes in followers toward the leader. Destructive leadership is also negatively related to
followers’ attitudes toward their jobs and toward their organization as a whole.
Furthermore, Schyns and Schilling found it closely related to negative affectivity and to the
experience of occupational stress.
Figure 13.2 The Toxic Triangle
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Source: From “The Toxic Triangle: Destructive Leaders, Susceptible Followers, and
Conducive Environments,” by A. Padilla, R. Hogan, and R. B. Kaiser, The Leadership
Quarterly, 18, p. 180. Copyright 2007 by Elsevier. Reprinted with permission.
In an attempt to more clearly define destructive leadership, Padilla, Hogan, and Kaiser
(2007) developed the concept of a toxic triangle that focuses on the influences of
destructive leaders, susceptible followers, and conducive environments (Figure 13.2). As
shown in the model, destructive leaders are characterized by having charisma and a need to
use power and coercion for personal gains. They are also narcissistic and often attention-
getting and self-absorbed. Destructive leaders often have negative life stories that can be
traced to traumatic childhood events. Perhaps from self-hatred, they often express an
ideology of hate in their rhetoric and worldview.
As illustrated in Figure 13.2, destructive leadership also incorporates susceptible followers
who have been characterized as conformers and colluders. Conformers go along with
destructive leaders to satisfy unmet needs such as emptiness, alienation, or need for
community. These followers have low self-esteem and identify with charismatic leaders in
an attempt to become more desirable. Because they are psychologically immature,
conformers more easily go along with authority and engage in destructive activity. On the
other hand, colluders may respond to destructive leaders because they are ambitious, desire
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status, or see an opportunity to profit. Colluders may also go along because they identify
with the leader’s beliefs and values, which may be unsocialized such as greed and selfishness.
Finally, the toxic triangle illustrates that destructive leadership includes a conducive
environment. When the environment is unstable, the leader is often granted more authority
to assert radical change. When there is a perceived threat, followers often accept assertive
leadership. People are attracted to leaders who will stand up to the threats they feel in the
environment. Destructive leaders who express compatible cultural values with followers are
more likely to succeed. For example, cultures high on collectiveness would prefer a leader
who promotes community and group identity. Destructive leadership will also thrive when
the checks and balances of the organization are weak and the rules of the institution are
ineffective.
Although research on the dark side of leadership has been limited, it is an area critical to
our understanding of leadership that is unethical. Clearly, there is a need for the
development of models, theories, and assessment instruments about the process of
destructive leadership.
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Principles of Ethical Leadership
In this section, we turn to a discussion of five principles of ethical leadership, the origins of
which can be traced back to Aristotle. The importance of these principles has been
discussed in a variety of disciplines, including biomedical ethics (Beauchamp & Childress,
1994), business ethics (Beauchamp & Bowie, 1988), counseling psychology (Kitchener,
1984), and leadership education (Komives, Lucas, & McMahon, 1998), to name a few.
Although not inclusive, these principles provide a foundation for the development of sound
ethical leadership: respect, service, justice, honesty, and community (Figure 13.3).
Ethical Leaders Respect Others
Philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) argued that it is our duty to treat others with
respect. To do so means always to treat others as ends in themselves and never as means to
ends. As Beauchamp and Bowie (1988, p. 37) pointed out, “Persons must be treated as
having their own autonomously established goals and must never be treated purely as the
means to another’s personal goals.” These writers then suggested that treating others as ends
rather than as means requires that we treat other people’s decisions and values with respect:
Failing to do so would signify that we were treating them as a means to our own ends.
Leaders who respect others also allow them to be themselves, with creative wants and
desires. They approach other people with a sense of their unconditional worth and valuable
individual differences (Kitchener, 1984). Respect includes giving credence to others’ ideas
and confirming them as human beings. At times, it may require that leaders defer to others.
As Burns (1978) suggested, leaders should nurture followers in becoming aware of their
own needs, values, and purposes, and assist followers in integrating these with the leader’s
needs, values, and purposes.
Figure 13.3 Principles of Ethical Leadership
Respect for others is a complex ethic that is similar to but goes deeper than the kind of
respect that parents teach little children. Respect means that a leader listens closely to
followers, is empathic, and is tolerant of opposing points of view. It means treating
followers in ways that confirm their beliefs, attitudes, and values. When a leader exhibits
respect to followers, followers can feel competent about their work. In short, leaders who
show respect treat others as worthy human beings.
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Ethical Leaders Serve Others
Earlier in this chapter, we contrasted two ethical theories, one based on a concern for self
(ethical egoism) and another based on the interests of others (ethical altruism). The service
principle clearly is an example of altruism. Leaders who serve are altruistic: They place their
followers’ welfare foremost in their plans. In the workplace, altruistic service behavior can
be observed in activities such as mentoring, empowerment behaviors, team building, and
citizenship behaviors, to name a few (Kanungo & Mendonca, 1996).
The leader’s ethical responsibility to serve others is very similar to the ethical principle in
health care of beneficence. Beneficence is derived from the Hippocratic tradition, which
holds that health professionals ought to make choices that benefit patients. In a general
way, beneficence asserts that providers have a duty to help others pursue their own
legitimate interests and goals (Beauchamp & Childress, 1994). Like health professionals,
ethical leaders have a responsibility to attend to others, be of service to them, and make
decisions pertaining to them that are beneficial and not harmful to their welfare.
In the past, the service principle has received a great deal of emphasis in the leadership
literature. It is clearly evident in the writings of Block (1993), Covey (1990), De Pree
(1989), Gilligan (1982), and Kouzes and Posner (1995), all of whom maintained that
attending to others is the primary building block of moral leadership. Further emphasis on
service can be observed in the work of Senge (1990) in his well-recognized writing on
learning organizations. Senge contended that one of the important tasks of leaders in
learning organizations is to be the steward (servant) of the vision within the organization.
Being a steward means clarifying and nurturing a vision that is greater than oneself. This
means not being self-centered, but rather integrating one’s self or vision with that of others
in the organization. Effective leaders see their own personal vision as an important part of
something larger than themselves—a part of the organization and the community at large.
The idea of leaders serving others was more deeply explored by Robert Greenleaf (1970,
1977), who developed the servant leadership approach. Servant leadership, which is explored
in depth in Chapter 10, has strong altruistic ethical overtones in how it emphasizes that
leaders should be attentive to the concerns of their followers and should take care of them
and nurture them. In addition, Greenleaf argues that the servant leader has a social
responsibility to be concerned with the have-nots and should strive to remove inequalities
and social injustices. Greenleaf places a great deal of emphasis on listening, empathy, and
unconditional acceptance of others.
In short, whether it is Greenleaf’s notion of waiting on the have-nots or Senge’s notion of
giving oneself to a larger purpose, the idea behind service is contributing to the greater
good of others. Recently, the idea of serving the “greater good” has found an unusual
following in the business world. In 2009, 20% of the graduating class of the Harvard
Business School, considered to be one of the premier schools producing today’s business
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leaders, took an oath pledging that they will act responsibly and ethically, and refrain from
advancing their own ambitions at the expense of others. Similarly, Columbia Business
School requires all students to pledge to an honor code requiring they adhere to truth,
integrity, and respect (Wayne, 2009). In practicing the principle of service, these and other
ethical leaders must be willing to be follower centered, must place others’ interests foremost
in their work, and must act in ways that will benefit others.
Ethical Leaders Are Just
Ethical leaders are concerned about issues of fairness and justice. They make it a top
priority to treat all of their followers in an equal manner. Justice demands that leaders place
issues of fairness at the center of their decision making. As a rule, no one should receive
special treatment or special consideration except when his or her particular situation
demands it. When individuals are treated differently, the grounds for different treatment
must be clear and reasonable, and must be based on moral values. For example, many of us
can remember being involved with some type of athletic team when we were growing up.
The coaches we liked were those we thought were fair with us. No matter what, we did not
want the coach to treat anyone differently from the rest. When someone came late to
practice with a poor excuse, we wanted that person disciplined just as we would have been
disciplined. If a player had a personal problem and needed a break, we wanted the coach to
give it, just as we would have been given a break. Without question, the good coaches were
those who never had favorites and who made a point of playing everyone on the team. In
essence, what we wanted was that our coach be fair and just.
When resources and rewards or punishments are distributed to employees, the leader plays
a major role. The rules that are used and how they are applied say a great deal about
whether the leader is concerned about justice and how he or she approaches issues of
fairness. Rawls (1971) stated that a concern with issues of fairness is necessary for all people
who are cooperating together to promote their common interests. It is similar to the ethic
of reciprocity, otherwise known as the Golden Rule—“Do unto others as you would have
them do unto you”—variations of which have appeared in many different cultures
throughout the ages. If we expect fairness from others in how they treat us, then we should
treat others fairly in our dealings with them. Issues of fairness become problematic because
there is always a limit on goods and resources, and there is often competition for the
limited things available. Because of the real or perceived scarcity of resources, conflicts often
occur between individuals about fair methods of distribution. It is important for leaders to
clearly establish the rules for distributing rewards. The nature of these rules says a lot about
the ethical underpinnings of the leader and the organization.
Beauchamp and Bowie (1988) outlined several of the common principles that serve as
guides for leaders in distributing the benefits and burdens fairly in an organization (Table
13.3). Although not inclusive, these principles point to the reasoning behind why leaders
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choose to distribute things as they do in organizations. In a given situation, a leader may
use a single principle or a combination of several principles in treating followers.
To illustrate the principles described in Table 13.3, consider the following hypothetical
example: You are the owner of a small trucking company that employs 50 drivers. You have
just opened a new route, and it promises to be one that pays well and has an ideal schedule.
Only one driver can be assigned to the route, but seven drivers have applied for it. Each
driver wants an equal opportunity to get the route. One of the drivers recently lost his wife
to breast cancer and is struggling to care for three young children (individual need). Two of
the drivers are minorities, and one of them feels strongly that he has a right to the job. One
of the drivers has logged more driving hours for three consecutive years, and she feels her
effort makes her the logical candidate for the new route. One of the drivers serves on the
National Transportation Safety Board and has a 20-year accident-free driving record
(societal contribution). Two drivers have been with the company since its inception, and
their performance has been meritorious year after year.
Table 13.3 Principles of Distributive Justice
These principles are applied in different situations.
To each person
• An equal share or opportunity
• According to individual need
• According to that person’s rights
• According to individual effort
• According to societal contribution
• According to merit or performance
As the owner of the company, your challenge is to assign the new route in a fair way.
Although many other factors could influence your decision (e.g., seniority, wage rate, or
employee health), the principles described in Table 13.3 provide guidelines for deciding
who is to get the new route.
Ethical Leaders Are Honest
When we were children, grown-ups often told us we must “never tell a lie.” To be good
meant we must be truthful. For leaders the lesson is the same: To be a good leader, one
must be honest.
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The importance of being honest can be understood more clearly when we consider the
opposite of honesty: dishonesty (see Jaksa & Pritchard, 1988). Dishonesty is a form of
lying, a way of misrepresenting reality. Dishonesty may bring with it many objectionable
outcomes; foremost among those outcomes is the distrust it creates. When leaders are not
honest, others come to see them as undependable and unreliable. People lose faith in what
leaders say and stand for, and their respect for leaders is diminished. As a result, the leader’s
impact is compromised because others no longer trust and believe in the leader.
When we relate to others, dishonesty also has a negative impact. It puts a strain on how
people are connected to each other. When we lie to others, we are in essence saying that we
are willing to manipulate the relationship on our own terms. We are saying that we do not
trust the other person in the relationship to be able to deal with information we have. In
reality, we are putting ourselves ahead of the relationship by saying that we know what is
best for the relationship. The long-term effect of this type of behavior is that it weakens
relationships. Even when used with good intentions, dishonesty contributes to the
breakdown of relationships.
But being honest is not just about telling the truth. It has to do with being open with
others and representing reality as fully and completely as possible. This is not an easy task,
however, because there are times when telling the complete truth can be destructive or
counterproductive. The challenge for leaders is to strike a balance between being open and
candid while monitoring what is appropriate to disclose in a particular situation. Many
times, there are organizational constraints that prevent leaders from disclosing information
to followers. It is important for leaders to be authentic, but it is also essential that they be
sensitive to the attitudes and feelings of others. Honest leadership involves a wide set of
behaviors.
Dalla Costa (1998) made the point clearly in his book, The Ethical Imperative, that being
honest means more than not deceiving. For leaders in organizations, being honest means,
“Do not promise what you can’t deliver, do not misrepresent, do not hide behind spin-
doctored evasions, do not suppress obligations, do not evade accountability, do not accept
that the ‘survival of the fittest’ pressures of business release any of us from the responsibility
to respect another’s dignity and humanity” (p. 164). In addition, Dalla Costa suggested
that it is imperative that organizations recognize and acknowledge the necessity of honesty
and reward honest behavior within the organization.
Ethical Leaders Build Community
In Chapter 1, we defined leadership as a process whereby an individual influences a group
of individuals to achieve a common goal. This definition has a clear ethical dimension
because it refers to a common goal. A common goal requires that the leader and followers
agree on the direction to be taken by the group. Leaders need to take into account their
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own and followers’ purposes while working toward goals that are suitable for both of them.
This factor, concern for others, is the distinctive feature that delineates authentic
transformational leaders from pseudotransformational leaders (Bass & Steidlmeier, 1999)
(for more on pseudotransformational leadership see page 165 in Chapter 8). Concern for
the common good means that leaders cannot impose their will on others. They need to
search for goals that are compatible with everyone.
Burns (1978) placed this idea at the center of his theory on transformational leadership. A
transformational leader tries to move the group toward a common good that is beneficial
for both the leaders and the followers. In moving toward mutual goals, both the leader and
the followers are changed. It is this feature that makes Burns’s theory unique. For Burns,
leadership has to be grounded in the leader–follower relationship. It cannot be controlled
by the leader, such as Hitler’s influence in Germany. Hitler coerced people to meet his own
agenda and followed goals that did not advance the goodness of humankind.
An ethical leader takes into account the purposes of everyone involved in the group and is
attentive to the interests of the community and the culture. Such a leader demonstrates an
ethic of caring toward others (Gilligan, 1982) and does not force others or ignore the
intentions of others (Bass & Steidlmeier, 1999).
Rost (1991) went a step further and suggested that ethical leadership demands attention to
a civic virtue. By this, he meant that leaders and followers need to attend to more than their
own mutually determined goals. They need to attend to the community’s goals and purpose.
As Burns (1978, p. 429) wrote, transformational leaders and followers begin to reach out to
wider social collectivities and seek to establish higher and broader moral purposes.
Similarly, Greenleaf (1970) argued that building community was a main characteristic of
servant leadership. All of our individual and group goals are bound up in the common
good and public interest. We need to pay attention to how the changes proposed by a
leader and followers will affect the larger organization, the community, and society. An
ethical leader is concerned with the common good, in the broadest sense. This is
underscored by Wilson and McCalman (2017), who argued that leadership for the greater
good is the ultimate end toward which ethical leadership ought to be directed.
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Strengths
This chapter discusses a broad set of ideas regarding ethics and leadership. This general field
of study has several strengths. First, it provides a body of timely research on ethical issues.
There is a high demand for moral leadership in our society today. Beginning with the
Richard Nixon administration in the 1970s and continuing through Donald Trump’s
administration, people have been insisting on higher levels of moral responsibility from
their leaders. At a time when there seems to be a vacuum in ethical leadership, this research
offers us some direction on how to think about and practice ethical leadership.
Second, this body of research suggests that ethics ought to be considered as an integral part
of the broader domain of leadership. Except for servant, transformational, and authentic
leadership, none of the other leadership theories discussed in this book focuses on the role
of ethics in the leadership process. This chapter suggests that leadership is not an amoral
phenomenon. Leadership is a process of influencing others; it has a moral dimension that
distinguishes it from other types of influence, such as coercion or despotic control.
Leadership involves values, including showing respect for followers, being fair to others,
and building community. It is not a process that we can demonstrate without showing our
values. When we influence, we have an effect on others, which means we need to pay
attention to our values and our ethics.
Third, this body of research highlights several principles that are important to the
development of ethical leadership. The virtues discussed in this research have been around
for more than 2,000 years. They are reviewed in this chapter because of their significance
for today’s leaders.
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Criticisms
Although the area of ethics and leadership has many strengths, it also has some weaknesses.
First, it is an area of research in its early stage of development, and therefore lacks a strong
body of traditional research findings to substantiate it. There is conceptual confusion
regarding the nature of ethical leadership, and it is difficult to measure (Yukl, Mahsud,
Hassan, & Prussia, 2013). Very little research has been published on the theoretical
foundations of leadership ethics. Although many studies have been published on business
ethics, these studies have not been directly related to ethical leadership. One exception is
the work of Yukl and colleagues (2013), who identified key components of ethical
leadership as a result of their efforts to validate an ethical leadership questionnaire, which
they developed based on existing measurement instruments that all had limitations. In this
work, they suggest the construct domain of ethical leadership includes integrity, honesty,
fairness, communication of ethical values, consistency of behavior with espoused values,
ethical guidance, and altruism. In general, the dearth of research on leadership ethics makes
speculation about the nature of ethical leadership difficult. Until more research studies have
been conducted that deal directly with the ethical dimensions of leadership, theoretical
formulations about the process will remain tentative.
Another criticism is that leadership ethics today relies primarily on the writings of just a few
people who have written essays and texts that are strongly influenced by their personal
opinions about the nature of leadership ethics and their view of the world. Although these
writings, such as Heifetz’s and Burns’s, have stood the test of time, they have not been
tested using traditional quantitative or qualitative research methods. They are primarily
descriptive and anecdotal. Therefore, leadership ethics lacks the traditional kind of
empirical support that usually accompanies accepted theories of human behavior.
The fact that most of the research on ethical leadership has focused primarily on the
Western world and Anglo-American countries (Eisenbeiss, 2012; Wilson & McCalman,
2017) is a third criticism. There is a need to widen the scope of research on ethical
leadership to include European and Asian perspectives. As you will read in Chapter 16 on
culture and leadership, different cultures vary widely in what they view as positive
leadership attributes; they also vary in what they define as ethical behavior of leaders. As the
world becomes more connected and cross-cultural, an understanding of these different
cultural perspectives on ethical leadership will be important.
Similarly, there are also generational differences in ethical perspectives. From an analysis of
the literature, Anderson, Baur, Griffith, and Buckley (2017) suggest that today’s generation
of workers, millennials, presents unique challenges regarding ethical leadership. First,
because millennials are more individualistic than older employees, they are less likely to
view the intensity of moral decisions in the same way and less likely to look to their leaders
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for guidance on making ethical decisions. Second, because millennials see their work as less
central to their lives, they are less likely to view ethical dilemmas at work as particularly
problematic. Third, because millennials value highly extrinsic rewards, they are less likely to
respond to ethical appeals to do the right thing for the organization. In fact, research
suggests that these employees may be even more likely to succumb to temptations to be
unethical if such behavior is likely to lead to pay-offs (Ethics Resource Center, 2011).
Because ethical perspectives can change quickly, empirical ethical leadership research will
struggle to be up-to-date and relevant.
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Application
Although issues of morality and leadership are discussed more often in society today, these
discussions have not resulted in a large number of programs in training and development
designed to teach ethical leadership. Many new programs are oriented toward helping
managers become more effective at work and in life in general, but these programs do not
directly target the area of ethics and leadership.
Yet the ethics and leadership research in this chapter can be applied to people at all levels of
organizations and in all walks of life. At a very minimum, it is crucial to state that leadership
involves values, and one cannot be a leader without being aware of and concerned about
one’s own values. Because leadership has a moral dimension, being a leader demands
awareness on our part of the way our ethics defines our leadership.
Managers and leaders can use the information in this research to better understand
themselves and strengthen their own leadership. Ethical theories can remind leaders to ask
themselves, “What is the right and fair thing to do?” or “What would a good person do?”
Leaders can use the ethical principles described in this research as benchmarks for their own
behavior. Do I show respect to others? Do I act with a generous spirit? Do I show honesty
and faithfulness to others? Do I serve the community? Finally, we can learn from the
overriding theme in this research that the leader–follower relationship is central to ethical
leadership. To be an ethical leader, we must be sensitive to the needs of others, treat others
in ways that are just, and care for others.
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Case Studies
The following section contains three case studies (Cases 13.1, 13.2, and 13.3) in which ethical leadership is
needed. Case 13.1 describes a department chair who must choose which student will get a special assignment.
Case 13.2 is concerned with one manufacturing company’s unique approach to safety standards. Case 13.3 deals
with the ethical issues surrounding how a human resource service company established the pricing for its services.
At the end of each case, there are questions that point to the intricacies and complexities of practicing ethical
leadership.
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Case 13.1: Choosing a Research Assistant
Dr. Angi Dirks is the chair of the state university’s organizational psychology department, which has four
teaching assistants (TAs). Angi has just found out that she has received a grant for research work over the summer
and that it includes money to fund one of the TAs as her research assistant. In Angi’s mind, the top two
candidates are Roberto and Michelle, who are both available to work over the summer. Roberto, a foreign
student from Venezuela, has gotten very high teaching evaluations and is well liked by the faculty. Roberto needs
a summer job to help pay for school since it is too expensive for him to return home for the summer to work.
Michelle is also an exceptional graduate student; she is married and doesn’t necessarily need the extra income, but
she is going to pursue a PhD, so the extra experience would be beneficial to her future endeavors.
A third teaching assistant, Carson, commutes to school from a town an hour away, where he is helping to take
care of his aging grandparents. Carson manages to juggle school, teaching, and his home responsibilities well,
carrying a 4.0 GPA in his classwork. Angi knows Carson could use the money, but she is afraid that he has too
many other responsibilities to take on the research project over the summer.
As Angi weighs which TA to offer the position, a faculty member approaches her about considering the fourth
TA, Analisa. It’s been a tough year with Analisa as a TA. She has complained numerous times to her faculty
mentor and to Angi that the other TAs treat her differently, and she thinks it’s because of her race. The student
newspaper printed a column she wrote about “being a speck of brown in a campus of white,” in which she
expressed her frustration with the predominantly White faculty’s inability to understand the unique perspectives
and experiences of minority students. After the column came out, the faculty in the department became wary of
working with Analisa, fearing becoming part of the controversy. Their lack of interaction with her made Analisa
feel further alienated.
Angi knows that Analisa is a very good researcher and writer, and her skills would be an asset to the project.
Analisa’s faculty mentor says that giving the position to her would go a long way to “smooth things over”
between faculty and Analisa and make Analisa feel included in the department. Analisa knows about the open
position and has expressed interest in it to her faculty mentor, but hasn’t directly talked to Angi. Angi is afraid
that by not giving it to Analisa, she may stir up more accusations of ill treatment while at the same time facing
accusations from others that she is giving Analisa preferential treatment.
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Questions
1. Of the four options available to Angi, which is the most ethical?
2. Using the principles of distributive justice, who would Angi choose to become the research assistant?
3. From Heifetz’s perspective, can Angi use this decision to help her department and faculty face a difficult
situation? Should she?
4. Do you agree with Burns’s perspective that it is Angi’s responsibility to help followers assess their own
values and needs in order to raise them to a higher level that will stress values such as liberty, justice, and
equality? If so, how can Angi do that through this situation?
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Case 13.2: How Safe Is Safe?
Perfect Plastics Incorporated (PPI) is a small injection molding plastics company that employs 50 people. The
company is 10 years old, has a healthy balance sheet, and does about $4 million a year in sales. The company has
a good safety record, and the insurance company that has PPI’s liability policy has not had to pay any claims to
employees for several years. There have been no major injuries of any kind since the company began.
Tom Griffin, the owner, takes great pride in the interior design and working conditions at PPI. He describes the
interior of the plant as being like a hospital compared with his competitors. Order, efficiency, and cleanliness are
top priorities at PPI. It is a remarkably well-organized manufacturing company.
PPI has a unique approach to guaranteeing safe working conditions. Each year, management brings in outside
consultants from the insurance industry and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to
audit the plant for unsafe conditions. Each year, the inspections reveal a variety of concerns, which are then
addressed through new equipment, repairs, and changed work-flow designs. Although the inspectors continue to
find opportunities for improvement, the overall safety improves each year.
The attorneys for PPI are very opposed to the company’s approach to safety. The lawyers are vehemently against
the procedure of having outside auditors. If a lawsuit were to be brought against PPI, the attorneys argue that any
previous issues could be used as evidence of a historical pattern and knowledge of unsafe conditions. In effect, the
audits that PPI conducts voluntarily could be used by plaintiffs to strengthen a case against the company.
The president and management recognize the potential downside of outside audits, but they point out that the
periodic reviews are critical to the ongoing improvement of the safety of everyone in the plant. The purpose of
the audits is to make the shop a secure place, and that is what has occurred. Management also points out that PPI
employees have responded positively to the audits and to the changes that result.
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Questions
1. As a company, would you describe PPI as having an identifiable philosophy of moral values? How do its
policies contribute to this philosophy?
2. Which ethical perspective best describes PPI’s approach to safety issues? Would you say PPI takes a
utilitarian-, duty-, or virtue-based approach?
3. Regarding safety issues, how does management see its responsibilities toward its employees? How do the
attorneys see their responsibilities toward PPI?
4. Why does it appear that the ethics of PPI and its attorneys are in conflict?
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Case 13.3: Reexamining a Proposal
After working 10 years as the only minority manager in a large printing company, David Jones decided he
wanted to set out on his own. Because of his experience and prior connections, David was confident he could
survive in the printing business, but he wondered whether he should buy an existing business or start a new one.
As part of his planning, David contacted a professional employer organization (PEO), which had a sterling
reputation, to obtain an estimate for human resource services for a startup company. The estimate was to include
costs for payroll, benefits, worker’s compensation, and other traditional human resource services. Because David
had not yet started his business, the PEO generated a generic quote applicable to a small company in the printing
industry. In addition, because the PEO had nothing tangible to quote, it gave David a quote for human resource
services that was unusually high.
In the meantime, David found an existing small company that he liked, and he bought it. Then he contacted the
PEO to sign a contract for human resource services at the previously quoted price. David was ready to take
ownership and begin his new venture. He signed the original contract as presented.
After David signed the contract, the PEO reviewed the earlier proposal in light of the actual figures of the
company he had purchased. This review raised many concerns for management. Although the goals of the PEO
were to provide high-quality service, be competitive in the marketplace, and make a reasonable profit, the quote
it had provided David appeared to be much too high. It was not comparable in any way with the other service
contracts the PEO had with other companies of similar size and function.
During the review, it became apparent that several concerns had to be addressed. First, the original estimate made
the PEO appear as if it was gouging the client. Although the client had signed the original contract, was it fair to
charge such a high price for the proposed services? Would charging such high fees mean that the PEO would lose
this client or similar clients in the future? Another concern was related to the PEO’s support of minority
businesses. For years, the PEO had prided itself on having strong values about affirmative action and fairness in
the workplace, but this contract appeared to actually hurt and to be somewhat unfair to a minority client. Finally,
the PEO was concerned with the implications of the contract for the salesperson who drew up the proposal for
David. Changing the estimated costs in the proposal would have a significant impact on the salesperson’s
commission, which would negatively affect the morale of others in the PEO’s sales area.
After a reexamination of the original proposal, a new contract was drawn up for David’s company with lower
estimated costs. Though lower than the original proposal, the new contract remained much higher than the
average contract in the printing industry. David willingly signed the new contract.
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Questions
1. What role should ethics play in the writing of a proposal such as this? Did the PEO do the ethical thing
for David? How much money should the PEO have tried to make? What would you have done if you
were part of management at the PEO?
2. From a deontological (duty) perspective and a teleological (consequences) perspective, how would you
describe the ethics of the PEO?
3. Based on what the PEO did for David, how would you evaluate the PEO on the ethical principles of
respect, service, justice, honesty, and community?
4. How would you assess the ethics of the PEO if you were David? If you were among the PEO
management? If you were the salesperson? If you were a member of the printing community?
Leadership Instrument
It is human to want others to see you as an ethical leader, because being viewed as an unethical leader can
carry with it very strong negative connotations. But the social desirability of being judged by others as an
ethical leader makes measuring ethical leadership challenging. Self-reported scores of ethical leadership are
often biased and skewed in a positive direction.
The Ethical Leadership Style Questionnaire (ELSQ) presented in this chapter is a self-reporting measure of
ethical leadership that does not measure whether one is or is not ethical, but rather assesses the leader’s style
of ethical leadership. The ELSQ is a 45-question instrument that measures how a leader approaches ethical
dilemmas. The six ethical styles assessed by the dilemmas are (a) duty ethics (I would do what is right), (b)
utilitarianism ethics (I would do what benefits the most people), (c) virtue ethics (I would do what a good
person would do), (d) caring ethics (I would do what shows that I care about my close personal
relationships), (e) egoism ethics (I would do what benefits me the most), and (f) justice ethics (I would do
what is fair). Based on the individual’s responses, the ELSQ identifies a leader’s primary and secondary
ethical leadership styles.
Although the ELSQ is in its initial stages of development, data from two studies (Baehrend, 2016;
Chikeleze, 2014) confirmed that when leaders face ethical dilemmas, they have a preference for a particular
style of ethical leadership. The ELSQ can be used by leaders as a self-assessment tool to understand their
decision-making preferences when confronting ethical dilemmas. Organizations will find it a useful training
tool to educate leaders on decision making (Chikeleze & Baehrend, 2017).
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Ethical Leadership Style Questionnaire (Short Form)
Instructions: Please read the following 10 hypothetical situations in which a leader is confronted with an
ethical dilemma. Place yourself in the role of the leader or manager in the situation and indicate with an “X”
your most preferred response. Your most preferred response is the response that best describes why you
would do what you would do in that particular situation. Choose only one response. There are no right or
wrong answers.
Response alternatives explained:
I would do what is right: This option includes following the rules, meeting my responsibilities,
fulfilling my obligations, and adhering to organization policy. Rules in this context may be explicit
or implicit.
I would do what benefits the most people: This option includes doing what helps the most people
overall and what creates the greatest total happiness. It also includes doing the greatest good for the
greatest number.
I would do what a good person would do: This option includes exhibiting excellence of character,
acting with integrity, and being faithful to one’s principles. This option includes employing virtues
such as courage, honesty, and loyalty.
I would do what shows that I care about my close relationships: This option includes building and
maintaining caring relationships, nurturing relationships, and being responsive to the needs of
others. It gives special consideration to those with whom I share a personal bond or commitment.
I would do what benefits me the most: This option includes achieving my goals, being successful in
my assigned task, and advancing my career. It also includes doing things that are in my self-interest.
I would do what is fair: This option includes acting with justice, being equitable to others, and
treating others fairly. It also includes distributing benefits and burdens to everyone equally.
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Situations
1. You are the leader of a manufacturing team and learn that your employees are falsifying product
quality results to sell more products. If you report the matter, most of them will lose their jobs, you
may lose yours, and your company will take a significant hit to its reputation. What would you do
in this situation?
□ A. I would do what is right.
□ B. I would do what benefits the most people.
□ C. I would do what a good person would do.
□ D. I would do what shows that I care about my relationships.
□ E. I would do what benefits me the most.
□ F. I would do what is fair.
2. You have an employee who has been having performance problems, which is making it hard for
your group to meet its work quota. This person was recommended to you as a solid performer. You
now believe the person’s former manager had problems with the employee and just wanted to get
rid of the person. If you give the underperforming employee a good recommendation, leaving out
the performance problems, you will have an opportunity to pass the employee off to another group.
What would you do in this situation?
□ A. I would do what is right.
□ B. I would do what benefits the most people.
□ C. I would do what a good person would do.
□ D. I would do what shows that I care about my relationships.
□ E. I would do what benefits me the most.
□ F. I would do what is fair.
3. Your team is hard-pressed to complete a critical project. You hear about a job opening that would
be much better for one of your key employees’ career. If this individual leaves the team, it would
put the project in danger. What would you do in this situation?
□ A. I would do what is right.
□ B. I would do what benefits the most people.
□ C. I would do what a good person would do.
□ D. I would do what shows that I care about my relationships.
□ E. I would do what benefits me the most.
□ F. I would do what is fair.
4. An employee of yours has a child with a serious illness and is having trouble fulfilling obligations at
work. You learn from your administrative assistant that this employee claimed 40 hours on a time
sheet for a week when the employee actually only worked 30 hours. What would you do in this
situation?
□ A. I would do what is right.
□ B. I would do what benefits the most people.
□ C. I would do what a good person would do.
□ D. I would do what shows that I care about my relationships.
□ E. I would do what benefits me the most.
□ F. I would do what is fair.
5. You are a manager, and some of your employees can finish their quotas in much less than the
allotted time to do so. If upper management becomes aware of this, they will want you to increase
the quotas. Some of your employees are unable to meet their current quotas. What would you do in
this situation?
□ A. I would do what is right.
□ B. I would do what benefits the most people.
□ C. I would do what a good person would do.
□ D. I would do what shows that I care about my relationships.
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□ E. I would do what benefits me the most.
□ F. I would do what is fair.
6. You are an organization’s chief financial officer, and you are aware that the chief executive officer
and other members of the senior leadership team want to provide exaggerated financial information
to keep the company’s stock price high. The entire senior management team holds significant stock
positions. What would you do in this situation?
□ A. I would do what is right.
□ B. I would do what benefits the most people.
□ C. I would do what a good person would do.
□ D. I would do what shows that I care about my relationships.
□ E. I would do what benefits me the most.
□ F. I would do what is fair.
7. Two new employees have joined your accounting team right out of school. They are regularly found
surfing the Internet or texting on their phones. Your accounting work regularly requires overtime at
the end of the month to get the financial reports completed. These employees refuse to do any
overtime, which shifts work to other team members. The other team members are getting resentful
and upset. What would you do in this situation?
□ A. I would do what is right.
□ B. I would do what benefits the most people.
□ C. I would do what a good person would do.
□ D. I would do what shows that I care about my relationships.
□ E. I would do what benefits me the most.
□ F. I would do what is fair.
8. You are the director of a neighborhood food cooperative. A member—a single parent with four
children—is caught shoplifting $30 in groceries from the co-op. You suspect this person has been
stealing for years. You consider pressing charges. What would you do in this situation?
□ A. I would do what is right.
□ B. I would do what benefits the most people.
□ C. I would do what a good person would do.
□ D. I would do what shows that I care about my relationships.
□ E. I would do what benefits me the most.
□ F. I would do what is fair.
9. You have been accused of discriminating against a particular gender in your hiring practices. A new
position opens up, and you could hire a candidate of the gender you’ve been accused of
discriminating against over a candidate of another gender, even though the latter candidate has
slightly better qualifications. Hiring the former candidate would let you address this accusation and
improve your reputation in the company. What would you do in this situation?
□ A. I would do what is right.
□ B. I would do what benefits the most people.
□ C. I would do what a good person would do.
□ D. I would do what shows that I care about my relationships.
□ E. I would do what benefits me the most.
□ F. I would do what is fair.
10. You are a professor. One of your best students buys an essay online and turns it in for a grade. Later
in the term, the student begins to feel guilty and confesses to you that the paper was purchased. It is
the norm at the university to fail a student guilty of plagiarism. You must decide if you will flunk
the student. What would you do in this situation?
□ A. I would do what is right.
□ B. I would do what benefits the most people.
□ C. I would do what a good person would do.
□ D. I would do what shows that I care about my relationships.
□ E. I would do what benefits me the most.
□ F. I would do what is fair.
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Scoring
To score the questionnaire, sum the number of times you selected item A, B, C, D, E, or F. The sum of A
responses represents your preference for Duty Ethics, the sum of B responses represents your preference for
Utilitarian Ethics, the sum of C responses represents your preference for Virtue Ethics, the sum of D
responses represents your preference for Caring Ethics, the sum of E responses represents your preference for
Egoism Ethics, and the sum of F responses represents your preference for Justice Ethics. Place these sums in
the Total Scores section that follows.
A. Duty Ethics: __________
B. Utilitarian Ethics: __________
C. Virtue Ethics: __________
D. Caring Ethics: __________
E. Egoism Ethics: __________
F. Justice Ethics: __________
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Scoring Interpretation
The scores you received on this questionnaire provide information about your ethical leadership style; they
represent your preferred way of addressing ethical dilemmas. Given a situation with an ethical dilemma, this
questionnaire points to what ethical perspective is behind the choices you would make to resolve the
dilemma. As you look at your total scores, your highest score represents your primary or dominant ethical
leadership style, your second-highest score is the next most important, and so on. If you scored 0 for a
category, it means that you put lower priority on that particular ethical approach to guide your decision
making when facing ethical dilemmas.
If you scored higher on Duty Ethics, it means you follow the rules and do what you think you are
supposed to do when facing ethical dilemmas. You focus on fulfilling your responsibilities and
doing what you think is the right thing to do.
If you scored higher on Utilitarian Ethics, it means you try to do what is best for the most people
overall when facing ethical dilemmas. You focus on what will create happiness for the largest
number of individuals.
If you scored higher on Virtue Ethics, it means that you pull from who you are (your character) when
facing ethical dilemmas. You act out of integrity, and you are faithful to your own principles of
goodness.
If you scored higher on Caring Ethics, it means that you give attention to your relationships when
facing ethical dilemmas. You may give special consideration to those with whom you share a
personal bond or commitment.
If you scored higher on Egoism Ethics, it means that you do what is best for yourself when facing
ethical dilemmas. You are not afraid to assert your own interests and goals when resolving problems.
If you scored higher on Justice Ethics, it means that you focus on treating others fairly when facing
ethical dilemmas. You try to make sure the benefits and burdens of decisions are shared equitably
between everyone concerned.
Comparing your scores regarding each of these ethical perspectives can give you a sense of what is important
to you when addressing an ethical concern. A low score in any of the categories suggests that you give less
priority to that ethical perspective. All of the ethical perspectives have merit, so there is no “best” perspective
to maintain.
This questionnaire is intended as a self-assessment exercise. Although each ethical approach is presented as a
discrete category, it is possible that one category may overlap with another category. It is also possible that
you may have an ethical leadership style that is not fully captured in this questionnaire. Since this
questionnaire is an abridged version of an expanded questionnaire, you may wish to take the full
questionnaire to gain a more accurate reflection of your ethical approach. It can be taken at
www.leaderdecisionmakingsurvey.com.
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http://www.leaderdecisionmakingsurvey.com
Summary
Although there has been an interest in ethics for thousands of years, very little theoretical
research exists on the nature of leadership ethics. This chapter has presented an overview of
ethical theories as they apply to the leadership process.
Ethical theory provides a set of principles that guide leaders in making decisions about how
to act and how to be morally decent. In the Western tradition, ethical theories typically are
divided into two kinds: theories about conduct and theories about character. Theories about
conduct emphasize the consequences of leader behavior (teleological approach) or the rules
that govern their behavior (deontological approach). Virtue-based theories focus on the
character of leaders, and they stress qualities such as courage, honesty, fairness, and fidelity.
Ethics plays a central role in the leadership process. Because leadership involves influence
and leaders often have more power than followers, they have an enormous ethical
responsibility for how they affect other people. Leaders need to engage followers to
accomplish mutual goals; therefore, it is imperative that they treat followers and their ideas
with respect and dignity. Leaders also play a major role in establishing the ethical climate in
their organization; that role requires leaders to be particularly sensitive to the values and
ideals they promote.
Several prominent leadership scholars, including Heifetz, Burns, and Greenleaf, have made
unique contributions to our understanding of ethical leadership. The theme common to
these authors is an ethic of caring, which pays attention to followers’ needs and the
importance of leader–follower relationships.
This chapter suggests that sound ethical leadership is rooted in respect, service, justice,
honesty, and community. It is the duty of leaders to treat others with respect—to listen to
them closely and be tolerant of opposing points of view. Ethical leaders serve others by
being altruistic, placing others’ welfare ahead of their own in an effort to contribute to the
common good. Justice requires that leaders place fairness at the center of their decision
making, including the challenging task of being fair to the individual while simultaneously
being fair to the common interests of the community. Good leaders are honest. They do not
lie, nor do they present truth to others in ways that are destructive or counterproductive.
Finally, ethical leaders are committed to building community, which includes searching for
goals that are compatible with the goals of followers and with society as a whole.
Research on ethics and leadership has several strengths. At a time when the public is
demanding higher levels of moral responsibility from its leaders, this research provides some
direction in how to think about ethical leadership and how to practice it. In addition, this
research reminds us that leadership is a moral process. Scholars should include ethics as an
integral part of leadership studies and research. Third, this area of research describes basic
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principles that we can use in developing real-world ethical leadership.
On the negative side, this research area of ethical leadership is still in an early stage of
development. Few studies have been done that directly address the nature of ethical
leadership. As a result, the theoretical formulations about the process remain tentative.
Second, this area of research relies on the writings of a few individuals whose work has been
primarily descriptive and anecdotal. As a result, the development of theory on leadership
ethics lacks the traditional empirical support that usually accompanies theories of human
behavior. Despite these weaknesses, the field of ethical leadership is wide open for future
research. There remains a strong need for research that can advance our understanding of
the role of ethics in the leadership process.
Sharpen your skills with SAGE edge at edge.sagepub.com/northouse8e
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http://edge.sagepub.com/northouse8e
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14 Team Leadership
Susan E. Kogler Hill
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Description
Work teams are very prevalent in today’s organizations. The reliance on teams is due
partially to increasingly complex tasks, more globalization, and the flattening of
organizational structures. A team is a type of organizational group that is composed of
members who are interdependent, who share common goals, and who must coordinate
their activities to accomplish these goals. Team members must work collectively to achieve
their goals. Examples of organizational teams include senior executive teams, project
management teams, task forces, work units, standing committees, quality teams, and
improvement teams. Teams can be located in the same place meeting face-to-face, or they
can be geographically dispersed “virtual” teams meeting across time and distance via various
forms of communication technology. Teams can also be hybrids of face-to-face and virtual
teams with some members being co-located and some being dispersed. The exact definition
of which organizational group is a team or not is constantly evolving as organizations
confront the many new forms of contemporary collaboration (Wageman, Gardner, &
Mortensen, 2012).
The study of organizational teams has focused on strategies for maintaining a competitive
advantage. Team-based organizations have faster response capability because of their flatter
organizational structures, which rely on teams and new technology to enable
communication across time and space (Porter & Beyerlein, 2000). These newer
organizational structures have been referred to as “team-based and technology-enabled”
(Mankin, Cohen, & Bikson, 1996). A majority of multinational companies are depending
on virtual teams, or teams that are geographically dispersed and rely on technology to
interact and collaborate (Muethel, Gehrlein, & Hoegl, 2012). Such teams allow companies
to (1) use the best talent across the globe, (2) facilitate collaboration across time and space,
and (3) reduce travel costs (Paul, Drake, & Liang, 2016). These virtual teams face more
difficulty with members separated by time, distance, and culture. They often have less trust,
more conflict, and more subgroup formation. In virtual teams, face-to-face communication
is rare, with decisions and scheduling taking more time. With the development of social
media, new communication technologies, and software applications for meeting
management, virtual teams have richer and more realistic communication environments
where collaboration is facilitated (Schmidt, 2014; Schouten, van den Hooff, & Feldberg,
2016; Scott, 2013).
The organizational team-b