Introduction: Th e Nature of Leadership
2 Chapter 1 • Introduction: The Nature of Leadership
Questions about leadership have long been a subject of speculation, but sci- entific research on leadership did not begin until the twentieth century. The focus of much of the research has been on the determinants of leadership effectiveness. Social scientists have attempted to discover what traits, abilities, behaviors, sources of power, or aspects of the situation determine how well a leader is able to influence followers and accomplish task objectives. There is also a growing interest in understanding leadership as a shared pro- cess in a team or organization and the reasons why this process is effective or ineffective. Other important questions include the reasons why some people emerge as leaders, and the determi- nants of a leader’s actions, but the predominant concern has been leadership effectiveness.
Some progress has been made in probing the mysteries surrounding leadership, but many questions remain unanswered. In this book, major theories and research findings on leader- ship effectiveness will be reviewed, with particular emphasis on managerial leadership in formal organizations such as business corporations, government agencies, hospitals, and universi- ties. This chapter introduces the subject by considering different conceptions of leadership, dif- ferent ways of evaluating its effectiveness, and different approaches for studying leadership. The chapter also provides an overview of the book and explains how subjects are organized.
Definitions of Leadership
The term leadership is a word taken from the common vocabulary and incorporated into the technical vocabulary of a scientific discipline without being precisely redefined. As a consequence, it carries extraneous connotations that create ambiguity of meaning (Janda, 1960). Additional confusion is caused by the use of other imprecise terms such as power , author- ity , management , administration , control , and supervision to describe similar phenomena. An observation by Bennis (1959, p. 259) is as true today as when he made it many years ago:
Always, it seems, the concept of leadership eludes us or turns up in another form to taunt us again with its slipperiness and complexity. So we have invented an endless proliferation of terms to deal with it . . . and still the concept is not sufficiently defined.
Researchers usually define leadership according to their individual perspectives and the as- pects of the phenomenon of most interest to them. After a comprehensive review of the leadership literature, Stogdill (1974, p. 259) concluded that “there are almost as many definitions of leadership as there are persons who have attempted to define the concept.” The stream of new definitions has continued unabated since Stogdill made his observation. Leadership has been defined in terms of traits, behaviors, influence, interaction patterns, role relationships, and occupation of an adminis- trative position. Table 1-1 shows some representative definitions presented over the past 50 years.
Most definitions of leadership reflect the assumption that it involves a process whereby in- tentional influence is exerted over other people to guide, structure, and facilitate activities and rela- tionships in a group or organization. The numerous definitions of leadership appear to have little else in common. They differ in many respects, including who exerts influence, the intended pur- pose of the influence, the manner in which influence is exerted, and the outcome of the influence attempt. The differences are not just a case of scholarly nit-picking; they reflect deep disagreement about identification of leaders and leadership processes. Researchers who differ in their concep- tion of leadership select different phenomena to investigate and interpret the results in different ways. Researchers who have a very narrow definition of leadership are less likely to discover things that are unrelated to or inconsistent with their initial assumptions about effective leadership.
Chapter 1 • Introduction: The Nature of Leadership 3
Because leadership has so many different meanings to people, some theorists question whether it is even useful as a scientific construct (e.g., Alvesson & Sveningsson, 2003; Miner, 1975). Nevertheless, most behavioral scientists and practitioners seem to believe leadership is a real phenomenon that is important for the effectiveness of organizations. Interest in the subject con- tinues to increase, and the deluge of articles and books about leadership shows no sign of abating.
Specialized Role or Shared Influence Process?
A major controversy involves the issue of whether leadership should be viewed as a special- ized role or as a shared influence process. One view is that all groups have role specialization, and the leadership role has responsibilities and functions that cannot be shared too widely without jeopardizing the effectiveness of the group. The person with primary responsibility to perform the specialized leadership role is designated as the “leader.” Other members are called “followers” even though some of them may assist the primary leader in carrying out leadership functions. The distinction between leader and follower roles does not mean that a person cannot perform both roles at the same time. For example, a department manager who is the leader of department employees is also a follower of higher-level managers in the organization. Researchers who view leadership as a specialized role are likely to pay more attention to the attributes that determine selection of designated leaders, the typical behavior of designated leaders, and the effects of this behavior on other members of the group or organization.
Another way to view leadership is in terms of an influence process that occurs naturally within a social system and is diffused among the members. Writers with this perspective believe it is more useful to study “leadership” as a social process or pattern of relationships rather than as a specialized role. According to this view, various leadership functions may be carried out by dif- ferent people who influence what the group does, how it is done, and the way people in the group relate to each other. Leadership may be exhibited both by formally selected leaders and by infor- mal leaders. Important decisions about what to do and how to do it are made through the use of an interactive process involving many different people who influence each other. Researchers who view leadership as a shared, diffuse process, are likely to pay more attention to the complex
TABLE 1-1 Definitions of Leadership • Leadership is “the behavior of an individual . . . directing the activities of a group toward a
shared goal” (Hemphill & Coons, 1957, p. 7). • Leadership is “the influential increment over and above mechanical compliance with the
routine directives of the organization” (Katz & Kahn, 1978, p. 528). • Leadership is “the process of influencing the activities of an organized group toward goal
achievement” (Rauch & Behling, 1984, p. 46). • “Leadership is about articulating visions, embodying values, and creating the environment
within which things can be accomplished” (Richards & Engle, 1986, p. 206). • “Leadership is a process of giving purpose (meaningful direction) to collective effort, and
causing willing effort to be expended to achieve purpose” (Jacobs & Jaques, 1990, p. 281). • Leadership “is the ability to step outside the culture . . . to start evolutionary change processes
that are more adaptive” (Schein, 1992, p. 2). • “Leadership is the process of making sense of what people are doing together so that people
will understand and be committed” (Drath & Palus, 1994, p. 4). • Leadership is “the ability of an individual to influence, motivate, and enable others to contribute
toward the effectiveness and success of the organization . . .” (House et al., 1999, p. 184).
4 Chapter 1 • Introduction: The Nature of Leadership
influence processes that occur among members, the context and conditions that determine when and how they occur, the processes involved in the emergence of informal leaders, and the conse- quences for the group or organization.
Type of Influence Process
Controversy about the definition of leadership involves not only who exercises influence, but also what type of influence is exercised and the outcome. Some theorists would limit the definition of leadership to the exercise of influence resulting in enthusiastic commitment by fol- lowers, as opposed to indifferent compliance or reluctant obedience. These theorists argue that the use of control over rewards and punishments to manipulate or coerce followers is not really “leading” and may involve the unethical use of power.
An opposing view is that this definition is too restrictive because it excludes some influ- ence processes that are important for understanding why a leader is effective or ineffective in a given situation. How leadership is defined should not predetermine the answer to the research question of what makes a leader effective. The same outcome can be accomplished with differ- ent influence methods, and the same type of influence attempt can result in different outcomes, depending on the nature of the situation. Even people who are forced or manipulated into doing something may become committed to it if they subsequently discover that it really is the best op- tion for them and the organization. The ethical use of power is a legitimate concern for leader- ship scholars, but it should not limit the definition of leadership or the type of influence processes that are studied.
Purpose of Influence Attempts
Another controversy about which influence attempts are part of leadership involves their purpose and outcome. One viewpoint is that leadership occurs only when people are influenced to do what is ethical and beneficial for the organization and themselves. This definition of lead- ership does not include influence attempts that are irrelevant or detrimental to followers, such as a leader’s attempts to gain personal benefits at the follower’s expense.
An opposing view would include all attempts to influence the attitudes and behavior of fol- lowers in an organizational context, regardless of the intended purpose or actual beneficiary. Acts of leadership often have multiple motives, and it is seldom possible to determine the extent to which they are selfless rather than selfish. The outcomes of leader actions usually include a mix of costs and benefits, some of which are unintended, making it difficult to infer purpose. Despite good intentions, the actions of a leader are sometimes more detrimental than beneficial for fol- lowers. Conversely, actions motivated solely by a leader’s personal needs sometimes result in un- intended benefits for followers and the organization. Thus, the domain of leadership processes to study should not be limited by the leader’s intended purpose.
Influence Based on Reason or Emotions
Most of the leadership definitions listed earlier emphasize rational, cognitive processes. For many years, it was common to view leadership as a process wherein leaders influence followers to believe it is in their best interest to cooperate in achieving a shared task objective. Until the 1980s, few conceptions of leadership recognized the importance of emotions as a basis for influence.
In contrast, some recent conceptions of leadership emphasize the emotional aspects of in- fluence much more than reason. According to this view, only the emotional, value-based aspects of leadership influence can account for the exceptional achievements of groups and organizations.
Chapter 1 • Introduction: The Nature of Leadership 5
Leaders inspire followers to willingly sacrifice their selfish interests for a higher cause. For exam- ple, leaders can motivate soldiers to risk their lives for an important mission or to protect their comrades. The relative importance of rational and emotional processes and how they interact are issues to be resolved by empirical research, and the conceptualization of leadership should not exclude either type of process.
Direct and Indirect Leadership
Most theories about effective leadership focus on behaviors used to directly influence immediate subordinates, but a leader can also influence other people inside the organization, including peers, bosses, and people at lower levels who do not report to the leader. Some theo- rists make a distinction between direct and indirect forms of leadership to help explain how a leader can influence people when there is no direct interaction with them (Hunt, 1991; Lord & Maher, 1991; Yammarino, 1994).
A chief executive officer (CEO) has many ways to influence people at lower levels in the or- ganization. Direct forms of leadership involve attempts to influence followers when interacting with them or using communication media to send messages to them. Examples include send- ing memos or reports to employees, sending e-mail messages, presenting speeches on television, holding meetings with small groups of employees, and participating in activities involving em- ployees (e.g., attending orientation or training sessions, company picnics). Most of these forms of influence can be classified as direct leadership.
Indirect leadership has been used to describe how a chief executive can influence people at lower levels in the organization who do not interact directly with the leader (Bass, Waldman, Avolio, & Bebb, 1987; Waldman & Yammarino, 1999; Yammarino, 1994). One form of indirect leadership by a CEO is called “cascading.” It occurs when the direct influence of the CEO is trans- mitted down the authority hierarchy of an organization from the CEO to middle managers, to lower- level managers, to regular employees. The influence can involve changes in employee attitudes, beliefs, values, or behaviors. For example, a CEO who sets a good example of ethical and sup- portive behavior may influence similar behavior by employees at lower levels in the organization.
Another form of indirect leadership involves influence over formal programs, management systems, and structural forms (Hunt, 1991; Lord & Maher, 1991; Yukl & Lepsinger, 2004). Many large organizations have programs or management systems intended to influence the attitudes, skills, behavior, and performance of employees. Examples include programs for recruitment, selection, and promotion of employees. Structural forms and various types of programs can be used to increase control, coordination, efficiency, and innovation. Examples include formal rules and procedures, specialized subunits, decentralized product divisions, standardized facilities, and self-managed teams. In most organizations only top executives have sufficient authority to im- plement new programs or change the structural forms (see Chapter 11 ).
A third form of indirect leadership involves leader influence over the organization cul- ture, which is defined as the shared beliefs and values of members (Schein, 1992; Trice & Beyer, 1991). Leaders may attempt either to strengthen existing cultural beliefs and values or to change them. There are many ways for leaders to influence an organization’s culture. Some ways involve direct influence (e.g., communicating a compelling vision or leading by example), and some in- volve forms of indirect influence, such as changing the organizational structure, reward systems, and management programs (see Chapter 11 ). For example, a CEO can implement programs to re- cruit, select, and promote people who share the same values (Giberson, Resick, & Dickson, 2005).
The interest in indirect leadership is useful to remind scholars that leadership influence is not limited to the types of observable behavior emphasized in many leadership theories. However,
6 Chapter 1 • Introduction: The Nature of Leadership
it is important to remember that a simple dichotomy does not capture the complexity involved in these influence processes. Some forms of influence are not easily classified as either direct or indirect leadership. Moreover, direct and indirect forms of influence are not mutually exclusive, and when used together in a consistent way, it is possible to magnify their effects (see Chapter 11 ).
Leadership or Management
There is a continuing controversy about the difference between leadership and manage- ment. It is obvious that a person can be a leader without being a manager (e.g., an informal leader), and a person can be a manager without leading. Indeed, some people with the job title “manager” do not have any subordinates (e.g., a manager of financial accounts). Nobody has proposed that managing and leading are equivalent, but the degree of overlap is a point of sharp disagreement.
Some writers contend that leadership and management are qualitatively different and mutu- ally exclusive (e.g., Bennis & Nanus, 1985; Zaleznik, 1977). The most extreme distinction assumes that management and leadership cannot occur in the same person. For these writers, leaders and managers differ with regard to their values and personalities. Managers value stability, order, and ef- ficiency, and they are impersonal, risk-averse, and focused on short-term results. Leaders value flex- ibility, innovation, and adaptation; they care about people as well as economic outcomes, and they have a longer-term perspective with regard to objectives and strategies. Managers are concerned about how things get done, and they try to get people to perform better. Leaders are concerned with what things mean to people, and they try to get people to agree about the most important things to be done. Bennis and Nanus (1985, p. 21) proposed that “managers are people who do things right, and leaders are people who do the right thing.” However, the empirical research does not support the assumption that people can be sorted neatly into these two extreme stereotypes. Moreover, the stereotypes imply that managers are generally ineffective. The term manager is an occupational title for a large number of people, and it is insensitive to denigrate them with a negative stereotype.
Other scholars view leading and managing as distinct processes or roles, but they do not as- sume that leaders and managers are different types of people (Bass, 1990; Hickman, 1990; Kotter, 1988; Mintzberg, 1973; Rost, 1991). How the two processes are defined varies somewhat, de- pending on the scholar. For example, Mintzberg (1973) described leadership as one of the 10 managerial roles (see Chapter 2 ). Leadership includes motivating subordinates and creating fa- vorable conditions for doing the work. The other nine roles (e.g., resource allocator, negotiator) involve distinct managing responsibilities, but leadership is viewed as an essential managerial role that pervades the other roles.
Kotter (1990) proposed that managing seeks to produce predictability and order, where- as leading seeks to produce organizational change. Both roles are necessary, but problems can occur if an appropriate balance is not maintained. Too much emphasis on the managing role can discourage risk taking and create a bureaucracy without a clear purpose. Too much emphasis on the leadership role can disrupt order and create change that is impractical. According to Kotter, the importance of leading and managing depends in part on the situation. As an organization becomes larger and more complex, managing becomes more important. As the external envi- ronment becomes more dynamic and uncertain, leadership becomes more important. Both roles are important for executives in large organizations with a dynamic environment. When Kotter surveyed major large companies in a dynamic environment, he found very few had executives who were able to carry out both roles effectively.
Rost (1991) defined management as an authority relationship that exists between a man- ager and subordinates to produce and sell goods and services. He defined leadership as a
Chapter 1 • Introduction: The Nature of Leadership 7
multidirectional influence relationship between a leader and followers with the mutual purpose of accomplishing real change. Leaders and followers influence each other as they interact in non- coercive ways to decide what changes they want to make. Managers may be leaders, but only if they have this type of influence relationship. Rost proposed that leading was not necessary for a manager to be effective in producing and selling goods and services. However, leading is essen- tial when major changes must be implemented in an organization, because authority is seldom a sufficient basis for gaining commitment from subordinates or for influencing other people whose cooperation is necessary, such as peers and outsiders.
Defining managing and leading as distinct roles, processes, or relationships may obscure more than it reveals if it encourages simplistic theories about effective leadership. Most scholars seem to agree that success as a manager or administrator in modern organizations also involves leading. How to integrate the two processes has emerged as a complex and important issue in organizational literature (Yukl & Lepsinger, 2005). The answer will not come from debates about ideal definitions. Questions about what to include in the domain of essential leadership pro- cesses should be explored with empirical research, not predetermined by subjective judgments.
A Working Definition of Key Terms
It is neither feasible nor desirable at this point in the development of the discipline to attempt to resolve the controversies over the appropriate definition of leadership. Like all con- structs in social science, the definition of leadership is arbitrary and subjective. Some definitions are more useful than others, but there is no single “correct” definition that captures the essence of leadership. For the time being, it is better to use the various conceptions of leadership as a source of different perspectives on a complex, multifaceted phenomenon.
In research, the operational definition of leadership depends to a great extent on the pur- pose of the researcher (Campbell, 1977). The purpose may be to identify leaders, to determine how they are selected, to discover what they do, to discover why they are effective, or to deter- mine whether they are necessary. As Karmel (1978, p. 476) notes, “It is consequently very dif- ficult to settle on a single definition of leadership that is general enough to accommodate these many meanings and specific enough to serve as an operationalization of the variable.” Whenever feasible, leadership research should be designed to provide information relevant to a wide range of definitions, so that over time it will be possible to compare the utility of different conceptions and arrive at some consensus on the matter.
In this book, leadership is defined broadly in a way that takes into account several things that determine the success of a collective effort by members of a group or organization to accom- plish meaningful tasks. The following definition is used:
Leadership is the process of influencing others to understand and agree about what needs to be done and how to do it, and the process of facilitating individual and collective efforts to accomplish shared objectives.
The definition includes efforts not only to influence and facilitate the current work of the group or organization, but also to ensure that it is prepared to meet future challenges. Both di- rect and indirect forms of influence are included. The influence process may involve only a sin- gle leader or it may involve many leaders. Table 1-2 shows the wide variety of ways leaders can influence the effectiveness of a group or organization.
In this book, leadership is treated as both a specialized role and a social influence process. More than one individual can perform the role (i.e., leadership can be shared or distributed), but