After reading chapters Ch: 5 & 6 of different theories of leadership in your book, what differences in leadership approach you have noticed between top executives (CEO, President, Vice-president) and first level supervisors ( manager, middle manager etc).

seventh edition

To Laurel, Lisa, Madison, Scott, and Kallie

Theory and practice • seventh edition

Peter g.Northouse
Western Michigan University

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Copyright  2016 by SAGE Publications, Inc.

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Printed in the United States of America

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Northouse, Peter Guy.

Leadershop : theory and practice/Peter Northouse,
Western Michigan University.—Seventh Edition.

pages cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 978-1-4833-1753-3 (pbk. : alk. paper)

1. Leadership. 2. Leadership—Case studies. I. Title.

HM1261.N67 2015
303.3′4—dc23 2014044695

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Brief Contents

Preface xvii

1. Introduction 1
2. Trait Approach 19
3. Skills Approach 43
4. Behavioral Approach 71
5. Situational Approach 93
6. Path–Goal Theory 115
7. Leader–Member Exchange Theory 137
8. Transformational Leadership 161
9. Authentic Leadership 195
10. Servant Leadership 225
11. Adaptive Leadership 257
12. Psychodynamic Approach 295
13. Leadership Ethics 329
14. Team Leadership 363
15. Gender and Leadership 397
16. Culture and Leadership 427

Author Index 467
Subject index 477
About the Author 491
About the Contributors 493

Detailed Contents

Preface xvii

1. Introduction 1
Leadership Defined 2

Ways of Conceptualizing Leadership 5
Definition and Components 6

Leadership Described 7
Trait Versus Process Leadership 7
Assigned Versus Emergent Leadership 8
Leadership and Power 10
Leadership and Coercion 12
Leadership and Management 13

Plan of the Book 15
Summary 16
References 17

2. Trait Approach 19
Description 19

Intelligence 23
Self-Confidence 24
Determination 24
Integrity 25
Sociability 26
Five-Factor Personality Model and Leadership 26
Emotional Intelligence 27

How Does the Trait Approach Work? 29
Strengths 30
Criticisms 30

Application 32
Case Studies 32

Case 2.1 Choosing a New Director of Research 33
Case 2.2 A Remarkable Turnaround 34
Case 2.3 Recruiting for the Bank 36

Leadership Instrument 37
Leadership Trait Questionnaire (LTQ) 38

Summary 40
References 41

3. Skills Approach 43
Description 43

Three-Skill Approach 44
Technical Skill 44
Human Skill 44
Conceptual Skill 45
Summary of the Three-Skill Approach 46

Skills Model 47
Competencies 48
Individual Attributes 52
Leadership Outcomes 53
Career Experiences 54
Environmental Influences 55
Summary of the Skills Model 56

How Does the Skills Approach Work? 56
Strengths 57
Criticisms 58
Application 59
Case Studies 60

Case 3.1 A Strained Research Team 60
Case 3.2 A Shift for Lieutenant Colonel Adams 62
Case 3.3 Andy’s Recipe 64

Leadership Instrument 66
Skills Inventory 67

Summary 69
References 70

4. Behavioral Approach 71
Description 71

The Ohio State Studies 72
The University of Michigan Studies 73
Blake and Mouton’s Managerial (Leadership) Grid 74

Authority–Compliance (9,1) 75

Country-Club Management (1,9) 75
Impoverished Management (1,1) 75
Middle-of-the-Road Management (5,5) 76
Team Management (9,9) 77

Paternalism/Maternalism 77
Opportunism 77

How Does the Behavioral Approach Work? 78
Strengths 80
Criticisms 81
Application 81
Case Studies 82

Case 4.1 A Drill Sergeant at First 83
Case 4.2 Eating Lunch Standing Up 84
Case 4.3 We Are Family 85

Leadership Instrument 87
Leadership Behavior Questionnaire 88

Summary 90
References 91

5. Situational Approach 93
Description 93

Leadership Styles 94
Development Levels 96

How Does the Situational Approach Work? 97
Strengths 98
Criticisms 99
Application 102
Case Studies 103

Case 5.1 Marathon Runners at Different Levels 103
Case 5.2 Why Aren’t They Listening? 105
Case 5.3 Getting the Message Across 107

Leadership Instrument 108
Situational Leadership Questionnaire: Sample Items 109

Summary 112
References 113

6. Path–Goal Theory 115
Description 115

Leader Behaviors 117
Directive Leadership 117
Supportive Leadership 117
Participative Leadership 118
Achievement-Oriented Leadership 118

Follower Characteristics 118
Task Characteristics 119

How Does Path–Goal Theory Work? 120
Strengths 122
Criticisms 123
Application 124
Case Studies 125

Case 6.1 Three Shifts, Three Supervisors 126
Case 6.2 Direction for Some, Support for Others 128
Case 6.3 Playing in the Orchestra 129

Leadership Instrument 132
Path–Goal Leadership Questionnaire 133

Summary 135
References 136

7. Leader–Member Exchange Theory 137
Description 137

Early Studies 137
Later Studies 140
Leadership Making 142

How Does LMX Theory Work? 144
Strengths 145
Criticisms 146
Application 148
Case Studies 149

Case 7.1 His Team Gets the Best Assignments 150
Case 7.2 Working Hard at Being Fair 151
Case 7.3 Taking on Additional Responsibilities 152

Leadership Instrument 154
LMX 7 Questionnaire 155

Summary 157
References 158

8. Transformational Leadership 161
Description 161

Transformational Leadership Defined 162
Transformational Leadership and Charisma 164
A Model of Transformational Leadership 166

Transformational Leadership Factors 167
Transactional Leadership Factors 171
Nonleadership Factor 172

Other Transformational Perspectives 172
Bennis and Nanus 172
Kouzes and Posner 174

How Does the Transformational Approach Work? 175
Strengths 176
Criticisms 178
Application 180
Case Studies 181

Case 8.1 The Vision Failed 181
Case 8.2 An Exploration in Leadership 183
Case 8.3 Her Vision of a Model Research Center 185

Leadership Instrument 187
Summary 190
References 191

9. Authentic Leadership 195
Description 195

Authentic Leadership Defined 196
Approaches to Authentic Leadership 197

Practical Approach 197
Theoretical Approach 200

How Does Authentic Leadership Work? 205
Strengths 206
Criticisms 207
Applications 208
Case Studies 209

Case 9.1 Am I Really a Leader? 210
Case 9.2 A Leader Under Fire 212
Case 9.3 The Reluctant First Lady 214

Leadership Instrument 217
Authentic Leadership Self-Assessment Questionnaire 218

Summary 220
References 221

10. Servant Leadership 225
Description 225

Servant Leadership Defined 226
Historical Basis of Servant Leadership 226
Ten Characteristics of a Servant Leader 227
Building a Theory About Servant Leadership 229

Model of Servant Leadership 231
Antecedent Conditions 231
Servant Leader Behaviors 233
Outcomes 236
Summary of the Model of Servant Leadership 238

How Does Servant Leadership Work? 238
Strengths 239

Criticisms 240
Application 241
Case Studies 242

Case 10.1 Everyone Loves Mrs. Noble 243
Case 10.2 Doctor to the Poor 244
Case 10.3 Servant Leadership Takes Flight 247

Leadership Instrument 249
Servant Leadership Questionnaire 250

Summary 253
References 254

11. Adaptive Leadership 257
Description 257

Adaptive Leadership Defined 258
A Model of Adaptive Leadership 260

Situational Challenges 261
Leader Behaviors 263
Adaptive Work 273

How Does Adaptive Leadership Work? 274
Strengths 275
Criticisms 276
Application 277
Case Studies 279

Case 11.1 Silence, Stigma, and
Mental Illness 279

Case 11.2 Taming Bacchus 281
Case 11.3 Redskins No More 283

Leadership Instrument 286
Adaptive Leadership Questionnaire 287

Summary 292
References 293

12. Psychodynamic Approach 295
Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries and Alicia Cheak
Description 295
The Clinical Paradigm 296
History of the Psychodynamic Approach 297
Key Concepts and Dynamics Within the

Psychodynamic Approach 301
1. Focus on the Inner Theatre 301
2. Focus on the Leader-Follower

Relationships 302
3. Focus on the Shadow Side of Leadership 305

How Does the Psychodynamic Approach Work? 305
Strengths 306

Criticisms 307
Application 308

Group Coaching 309
Case Studies 313

Case 12.1 Dealing With Passive-Aggressives 313
Case 12.2 The Fear of Success 314
Case 12.3 Helping a Bipolar Leader 315

Leadership Instrument 317
The Leadership Archetype

Questionnaire (Abridged Version) 318
Summary 324
References 324

13. Leadership Ethics 329
Description 329

Ethics Defined 330
Level 1. Preconventional Morality 331
Level 2. Conventional Morality 332
Level 3. Postconventional Morality 332

Ethical Theories 333
Centrality of Ethics to Leadership 336
Heifetz’s Perspective on Ethical Leadership 337
Burns’s Perspective on Ethical Leadership 338
The Dark Side of Leadership 339
Principles of Ethical Leadership 341

Ethical Leaders Respect Others 341
Ethical Leaders Serve Others 342
Ethical Leaders Are Just 344
Ethical Leaders Are Honest 345
Ethical Leaders Build Community 346

Strengths 347
Criticisms 348
Application 349
Case Studies 349

Case 13.1 Choosing a Research Assistant 350
Case 13.2 How Safe Is Safe? 351
Case 13.3 Reexamining a Proposal 352

Leadership Instrument 355
Perceived Leader Integrity Scale (PLIS) 356

Summary 359
References 360

14. Team Leadership 363
Susan E. Kogler Hill
Description 363

Team Leadership Model 366
Team Effectiveness 367
Leadership Decisions 372
Leadership Actions 377

How Does the Team Leadership Model Work? 381
Strengths 382
Criticisms 383
Application 384
Case Studies 385

Case 14.1 Can This Virtual Team Work? 385
Case 14.2 They Dominated the Conversation 386
Case 14.3 Starts With a Bang, Ends With a Whimper 387

Leadership Instrument 389
Team Excellence and Collaborative

Team Leader Questionnaire 391
Summary 393
References 393

15. Gender and Leadership 397
Crystal L. Hoyt and Stefanie Simon
Description 397

The Glass Ceiling Turned Labyrinth 398
Evidence of the Leadership Labyrinth 398
Understanding the Labyrinth 399

Gender Differences in Leadership Styles
and Effectiveness 401

Navigating the Labyrinth 406
Strengths 409
Criticisms 410
Application 411
Case Studies 411

Case 15.1 The “Glass Ceiling” 412
Case 15.2 Lack of Inclusion and Credibility 413
Case 15.3 Pregnancy as a Barrier to Job Status 414

Leadership Instrument 415
The Gender–Leader Implicit Association Test 416

Summary 419
References 420

16. Culture and Leadership 427
Description 427

Culture Defined 428
Related Concepts 428

Ethnocentrism 428
Prejudice 429

Dimensions of Culture 430
Uncertainty Avoidance 431
Power Distance 432
Institutional Collectivism 432
In-Group Collectivism 432
Gender Egalitarianism 433
Assertiveness 433
Future Orientation 433
Performance Orientation 434
Humane Orientation 434

Clusters of World Cultures 434
Characteristics of Clusters 436

Anglo 437
Confucian Asia 437
Eastern Europe 437
Germanic Europe 437
Latin America 438
Latin Europe 438
Middle East 438
Nordic Europe 439
Southern Asia 439
Sub-Saharan Africa 439

Leadership Behavior and Culture Clusters 439
Eastern Europe Leadership Profile 441
Latin America Leadership Profile 441
Latin Europe Leadership Profile 441
Confucian Asia Leadership Profile 443
Nordic Europe Leadership Profile 443
Anglo Leadership Profile 444
Sub-Saharan Africa Leadership Profile 445
Southern Asia Leadership Profile 445
Germanic Europe Leadership Profile 446
Middle East Leadership Profile 446

Universally Desirable and Undesirable
Leadership Attributes 448

Strengths 449
Criticisms 450
Application 451
Case Studies 452

Case 16.1 A Challenging Workplace 452
Case 16.2 A Special Kind of Financing 454
Case 16.3 Whose Hispanic Center Is It? 456

Leadership Instrument 458
Dimensions of Culture Questionnaire 459

Summary 464
References 465

Author Index 467
Subject index 477

About the Author 491

About the Contributors 493



This seventh 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.


New to this volume is a chapter on adaptive leadership, which examines the
nature of adaptive leadership, its underpinnings, and how it works. The
chapter presents a definition, a model, and the latest research and applica-
tions of this emerging approach to leadership. In addition, the strengths and
weaknesses of the adaptive leadership approach are examined, and a ques-
tionnaire to help readers assess their own levels of adaptive leadership is
provided. Three case studies illustrating adaptive leadership are presented at
the end of the chapter.

This volume also presents an entirely new chapter on psychodynamic leader-
ship written by a leading expert in the field, Manfred F. R. Kets De Vries,
and Alicia Cheak. Like the other chapters, this chapter provides a theoreti-
cal explanation of psychodynamic leadership, applications, cases studies, and
an assessment instrument.

This edition also includes an expanded discussion of the dark side of leader-
ship and psuedotransformational leadership and the negative uses and
abuses of leadership. New research has been added throughout the book as

xvIII Leadership Theory and pracTice

well as many new case studies and examples that help students apply leader-
ship concepts to contemporary settings.

This edition retains many special features from previous editions but has
been updated to include new research findings, figures and tables, and every-
day 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.


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 determin-
ing the relative merits of each approach.

• Each chapter includes an application section that discusses the prac-
tical 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.

preface xix


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 psychol-
ogy, 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 over-
view 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.

Instructor Teaching Site

SAGE edge for Instructors, a password-protected instructor resource site,
supports teaching by making it easy to integrate quality content and create
a rich learning environment for students. The test banks, which have been
expanded for this edition, include multiple-choice and true/false questions
to test comprehension, as well as essay questions that ask students to apply
the material. An electronic test bank, compatible with PCs and Macs
through Diploma software, is also available. Chapter-specific resources
include PowerPoint slides, study and discussion questions, suggested exer-
cises, full-text journal articles, and video and audio links. General resources
include course-long projects, sample syllabi, film resources, and case notes.
Printable PDF versions of the questionnaires from the text are included for
instructors to print and distribute for classroom use. A course cartridge
includes assets found on the Instructor Teaching Site and the Student Study
Site, as well as a bonus quiz for each chapter in the book—all in an easy-to-
upload package. Go to edge.sagepub.com/northouse7e to access the com-
panion site.

Student Study Site

SAGE edge for Students provides a personalized approach to help students
accomplish their coursework goals in an easy-to-use learning environment.
Mobile-friendly eFlashcards and practice quizzes strengthen understanding
of key terms and concepts and allow for independent assessment by students
of their mastery of course material. A customized online action plan includes

xx Leadership Theory and pracTice

tips and feedback on progress through the course and materials, which
allows students to individualize their learning experience. Learning objec-
tives, multimedia links, discussion questions, and SAGE journal articles help
students study and reinforce the most important material. Students can go
to edge.sagepub.com/northouse7e to access the site.

Media Icons

Icons appearing at the bottom of the page will direct you to online media
such as videos, audio links, journal articles, and reference articles that cor-
respond with key chapter concepts. Visit the Student Study Site at edge.
sagepub.com/northouse7e to access this media.


northouse on Leadership

reference article



saGe Journal article



Many people directly or indirectly contributed to the development of the
seventh edition of Leadership: Theory and Practice. First, I would like to
acknowledge my editor, Maggie Stanley, and her talented team at SAGE
Publications (Nicole, Abbie, MaryAnn, Liz, Katie, and Lauren) who have
contributed significantly to the quality of this edition and ensured its suc-
cess. For their very capable work during the production phase, I would like
to thank copy editor Melinda Masson, and senior project editor Libby Lar-
son. In her own unique way, each of these people made valuable contribu-
tions to the seventh edition.

For comprehensive reviews of the seventh edition, I would like to thank the
following reviewers:

Meera Alagaraja, University of Louisville

Mel Albin, Excelsior College

Thomas Batsching, Reutlingen University

Cheryl Beeler, Angelo State University

Mark D. Bowman, Methodist University

Dianne Burns, University of Manchester

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

xxII Leadership Theory and pracTice

Denise Danna, LSUHSC School of Nursing

S. Todd Deal, Georgia Southern University

Caroline S. Fulmer, University of Alabama

Greig A. Gjerdalen, Capilano University

Andrew Gonzales, University of California, Irvine

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

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

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

acknowledgments xxiii

Kristi Tyran, Western Washington University

Tamara Von George, Granite State College

Natalie Walker, Seminole State College

William Welch, Bowie State University

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

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), Renee Kosiarek (North Central College)
and Lisa Burgoon (University of Illinois), and for his feedback in the con-
struction and scoring of the adaptive leadership questionnaire, Paul Yelsma
(Western Michigan University).

A special acknowledgment goes to Laurel Northouse for her insightful
critiques and ongoing support. In addition, I am grateful to Marie Lee, for
her exceptional editing and guidance throughout this project. For their
reviews of and comments on the adaptive leadership chapter, I am indebted
to Sarah Chace (Marian University), Carl Larson (University of Denver),
and Chip Bailey (Duke University).

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.

SAGE was founded in 1965 by Sara Miller McCune to
support the dissemination of usable knowledge by publishing
innovative and high-quality research and teaching content.
Today, we publish more than 750 journals, including those
of more than 300 learned societies, more than 800 new
books per year, and a growing range of library products
including archives, data, case studies, reports, conference
highlights, and video. SAGE remains majority-owned by our
founder, and after Sara’s lifetime will become owned by a
charitable trust that secures our continued independence.

Los Angeles | London | Washington DC | New Delhi | Singapore | Boston


Leadership is a highly sought-after and highly valued commodity. In the
15 years since the first edition of this book was published, the public

has become increasingly captivated by the idea of leadership. People con-
tinue 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 institu-
tions throughout the country have responded by providing programs in
leadership studies.

In addition, leadership has gained the attention of researchers worldwide. A
review of the scholarly studies on leadership shows that there is a wide variety
of different theoretical approaches to explain the complexities of the leader-
ship process (e.g., Bass, 1990; Bryman, 1992; Bryman, Collinson, Grint, Jack-
son, & Uhl-Bien, 2011; Day & Antonakis, 2012; Gardner, 1990; Hickman,
2009; Mumford, 2006; Rost, 1991). Some researchers conceptualize leader-
ship as a trait or as a behavior, whereas others view leadership from an infor-
mation-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. Collec-
tively, 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

Leadership Defined Role of Leadership

2 LeaDeRship TheoRy anD pRacTice

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.

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

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:


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 lead-
ership 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).

Defining Leadership

chapter 1 introduction 3


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.


The group approach came into the forefront 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 coer-
cion (copeland, 1942).


Three themes dominated leadership definitions during this decade:

• 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.


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 under-
scored by seeman (1960) who described leadership as “acts by persons
which influence other persons in a shared direction” (p. 53).


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


Leadership in nursing

4 LeaDeRship TheoRy anD pRacTice

of mobilizing by persons with certain motives and values, various eco-
nomic, 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).


This decade exploded with scholarly and popular works on the nature
of leadership, bringing the topic to the apex of the academic and
public consciousnesses. as a result, the number of definitions for lead-
ership became a prolific stew with several persevering themes:

• do as the leader wishes. Leadership definitions still predomi-
nantly 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 manage-
ment, however, scholars insisted that leadership is noncoercive

• Traits. spurred by the national best seller In Search of Excellence
(peters & Waterman, 1982), the leadership-as-excellence move-
ment brought leader traits back to the spotlight. as a result,
many people’s understanding of leadership is based on a trait

• Transformation. Burns (1978) is credited for initiating a move-
ment 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).

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


The Future of Leadership Working across Generations

chapter 1 introduction 5

• 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, knowledge-
able, and like servants themselves; and

• adaptive leadership, in which leaders encourage followers to
adapt by confronting and solving problems, challenges, and

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 con-
cept 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: praeger.

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 (1990, pp. 11–20). He suggested that some defini-
tions 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 per-
sonality 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.

perspectives of Leadership

6 LeaDeRship TheoRy anD pRacTice

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. 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. Oth-
ers (a group) are required for leadership to occur. Leadership training pro-
grams 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).

The ethical Dimension of Leadership effective Leadership

chapter 1 introduction 7

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). Although leaders and followers
are closely linked, it is the leader who often initiates the relationship, creates
the communication linkages, and carries the burden for maintaining the

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).

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 dif-
fer from leadership.

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., extra-
version), and other characteristics (e.g., intelligence and fluency; Bryman,
1992). In Chapter 2, we will discuss a large body of research that has exam-
ined these personal qualities.

Development of Leadership Followership

8 LeaDeRship TheoRy anD pRacTice

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 prop-
erty or set of properties possessed in varying degrees by different people
( Jago, 1982). This suggests that it resides in select people and restricts lead-
ership 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.

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 leader-
ship and emergent leadership. Leadership that is based on occupying a posi-
tion in an organization is assigned leadership. Team leaders, plant managers,
department heads, directors, and administrators are all examples of assigned

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 (Fisher, 1974).

In addition to communication behaviors, researchers have found that per-
sonality plays a role in leadership emergence. For example, Smith and Foti
(1998) found that certain personality traits were related to leadership emer-
gence in a sample of 160 male college students. The individuals who were
more dominant, more intelligent, and more confident about their own per-
formance (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: skill or process?

chapter 1 introduction 9

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 iden-
tical 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 signifi-
cantly less likable than comparably influential men were. These results sug-
gest 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 pro-
totype. Being similar to the prototype makes leaders attractive to the group
and gives 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

figure 1.1 The Different Views of Leadership



• Height
• Intelligence
• Extraversion
• Fluency
• Other Traits

Followers Followers


Leader Leader


souRce: adapted from A Force for Change: How Leadership Differs From Management
(pp. 3–8), by J. p. Kotter, 1990, new york: Free press.

ordinary Leaders

10 LeaDeRship TheoRy anD pRacTice

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.

Leadership and Power

The concept of power is related to leadership because it is part of the influ-
ence 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 leader-
ship. 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. Studying

power and Leadership Bases of power

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 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 gives rewards to 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.


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: 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: holt, Rinehart, & Winston.

chapter 1 introduction 11

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. But regardless of people’s general interest in
power and leadership, power has not been a major variable in theories of
leadership. Clearly it is a component in the overall leadership process, but
research on its role is limited.

In her recent book, The End of Leadership (2012), 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 of leaders and leaders’ legiti-
mate 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.

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 lead-
er’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

Types of power

Table 1.2 Types and Bases of power

Position Power Personal Power

Legitimate Referent
Reward Expert


souRce: adapted from A Force for Change: How Leadership Differs From Management
(pp. 3–8), by J. p. Kotter, 1990, new york: Free press.

12 LeaDeRship TheoRy anD pRacTice

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).

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. Per-
sonal 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.

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 influ-
ence 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. Classic examples
of coercive leaders are Adolf Hitler in Germany, the Taliban leaders in
Afghanistan, Jim Jones in Guyana, and North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim
Jong-il, each of whom has 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

Leadership and coercion

chapter 1 introduction 13

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.

Leadership and Management

Leadership is a process that is similar to management in many ways. Leader-
ship 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. Man-
agement was created as a way to reduce chaos in organizations, to make
them run more effectively and efficiently. The primary functions of manage-
ment, as first identified by Fayol (1916), were planning, organizing, staffing,
and controlling. These functions are still representative of the field of man-
agement today.

In a book that compared the functions of management with the functions of
leadership, Kotter (1990) argued that the functions of the two are quite dis-
similar (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 seek-
ing order and stability; leadership is about seeking adaptive and constructive

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 lead-
ership are essential if an organization is to prosper. For example, if an orga-
nization 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.

Managers Require; Leaders inspire

14 LeaDeRship TheoRy anD pRacTice

figure 1.2 Functions of Management and Leadership

Management produces Order
and Consistency

Leadership produces Change
and Movement

Planning and Budgeting
• Establish agendas
• Set timetables
• Allocate resources

Establishing Direction
• Create a vision
• Clarify big picture
• Set strategies

Organizing and Staffing
• Provide structure
• Make job placements
• Establish rules and


Aligning People
• Communicate goals
• Seek commitment
• Build teams and coalitions

Controlling and Problem Solving
• Develop incentives
• Generate creative solutions
• Take corrective action

Motivating and Inspiring
• Inspire and energize
• Empower followers
• Satisfy unmet needs

souRce: adapted from A Force for Change: How Leadership Differs From Management
(pp. 3–8), by J. p. Kotter, 1990, new york: Free press.

Many scholars, in addition to Kotter (1990), argue that leadership and man-
agement are distinct constructs. For example, Bennis and Nanus (1985)
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 influ-
ence relationship and management is a unidirectional authority relationship.
Whereas leadership is concerned with the process of developing mutual pur-
poses, 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 over-
lap and differences between leadership and management in regard to 63
different competencies. They found a large number of competencies (22)

Leadership in the nhs

chapter 1 introduction 15

descriptive of both leadership and management (e.g., productivity, customer
focus, professionalism, and goal setting), but they also found several 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, orderli-
ness, 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 differ-
ences between them.

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 leader-
ship approach and discusses various research studies applicable to the
approach. The second section of each chapter evaluates the approach, high-
lighting 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 discus-
sion 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.

Leadership and nursing Theory

16 LeaDeRship TheoRy anD pRacTice

suMMary _______________________________________

Leadership is a topic with universal appeal; in the popular press and aca-
demic 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 attain-
ment. 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 leader-
ship is based on a formal title or position in an organization. Emergent lead-
ership results from what one does and how one acquires support from fol-
lowers. 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, infor-
mation, 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 impor-
tant because it deemphasizes the idea that leaders are power wielders.

While coercion has been a common power brought to bear by many indi-
viduals in charge, it should not be viewed as ideal leadership. Our definition

chapter 1 introduction 17

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
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 plan-
ning, 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 man-
agement 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/northouse7e

referenCes ______________________________________

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Harper & Row.

Bryman, A. (1992). Charisma and leadership in organizations. London: SAGE.
Bryman, A., Collinson, D., Grint, K., Jackson, G., & Uhl-Bien, M. (Eds.). (2011).

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Trait Approach

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, 1990; 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,
an analysis of much of the previous trait research by Lord, DeVader, and

Heroic Women What Traits Do Leaders Have?

20 LeaDersHip THeory anD pracTice

Alliger (1986) found that traits were strongly associated with individuals’
perceptions of leadership. Similarly, Kirkpatrick and Locke (1991) went so
far as to claim that effective leaders are actually distinct types of people in
several key respects.

The trait approach has earned new interest through the current emphasis
given by many researchers to visionary and charismatic leadership (see Bass,
1990; Bennis & Nanus, 1985; Nadler & Tushman, 1989; 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.

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 the average individual in the 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

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

Great Man Theory impression Management

chapter 2 Trait approach 21

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 also identified traits that
were positively associated with leadership. The list included the following 10

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

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.

Trait Leadership everyday Leaders

22 LeaDersHip THeory anD pracTice

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

Table 2.1 studies of Leadership Traits and characteristics

Stogdill (1948)
(1959) Stogdill (1974)


and Locke

Zaccaro, Kemp, and
Bader (2004)






cognitive abilities
emotional stability
social 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: Harper and row; Zaccaro,
Kemp, & Bader (2004).

Leadership presence Florence nightingale

chapter 2 Trait approach 23

“right stuff ” for leaders. Kirkpatrick and Locke contended that leadership
traits make some people different from others, and this difference should be
recognized as an important part of the leadership process.

In the 1990s, researchers began to investigate the leadership traits associated
with “social intelligence,” characterized as those abilities to understand one’s
own and others’ feelings, behaviors, and thoughts and to 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
(2004) included such social abilities in the categories of leadership traits they
outlined as important leadership attributes (see 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.

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).


Intelligence or intellectual ability is positively related to leadership. Based on
their analysis of a series of recent studies on intelligence and various indices
of leadership, Zaccaro et al. (2004) found support for the finding that leaders
tend to have higher intelligence than nonleaders. Having strong verbal

emotional and other intelligences

Table 2.2 Major Leadership Traits

• Intelligence
• Self-confidence
• Determination

• Integrity
• Sociability

24 LeaDersHip THeory anD pracTice

ability, perceptual ability, and reasoning appears to make one a better leader.
Although it is good to be bright, the research also indicates that a leader’s
intellectual ability should not differ too much from that of the subordinates.
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.

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, have revolutionized the personal
computer and electronic device industry, changing the way people play and

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.


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).


Many leaders also exhibit determination. Determination is the desire to get
the job done and includes characteristics such as initiative, persistence,

political Leadership steve Jobs

chapter 2 Trait approach 25

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, 2014).


Integrity is another of the important leadership traits. Integrity 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 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

Terry Fox consultant nurses

26 LeaDersHip THeory anD pracTice

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 in Georgia at www.fanning.uga.edu.) In short, society is
demanding greater integrity of character in its leaders.


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

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;


chapter 2 Trait approach 27

McCrae & Costa, 1987). These factors, commonly called the Big Five, are
neuroticism, extraversion (surgency), openness (intellect), agreeableness, and
conscientiousness (dependability). (See 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.

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, 2008).

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

Agreeableness The tendency to be accepting, conforming, trusting, and

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.

emotional intelligence

28 LeaDersHip THeory anD pracTice

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,

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 (2008) 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), 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. 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.

emergent Leadership

chapter 2 Trait approach 29

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

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.

introvert contributions

30 LeaDersHip THeory anD pracTice

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.

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

character Traits

chapter 2 Trait approach 31

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 might 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.

effective and ineffective Leaders

32 LeaDersHip THeory anD pracTice

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.

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

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

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.

What are My Traits?

chapter 2 Trait approach 33

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 5 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 plan-
ning 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


34 LeaDersHip THeory anD pracTice

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 devel-
opment 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.


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?


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.

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 6 months, carol spent her time familiarizing herself with the
employees and the operations of the company. next, she did a citywide

chapter 2 Trait approach 35

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 5 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 2 months of radiation therapy and 6 months of strong chemo-
therapy. 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, good-
ness, 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.


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?

36 LeaDersHip THeory anD pracTice

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 institu-
tion. 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 dis-
criminating about whom he recommends hiring. Management is con-
cerned 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

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 confiden-
tiality. 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.

chapter 2 Trait approach 37


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 subordinates or peers. It measures an
individual’s traits and points the individual to the areas in which that
individual 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.

38 LeaDersHip THeory anD pracTice

leadership Trait Questionnaire (lTQ)

Instructions: The purpose of this questionnaire is to measure personal charac-
teristics of leadership. The questionnaire should be completed by the leader
and five people who are familiar with the leader.

Make five copies of this questionnaire. This questionnaire should be com-
pleted by you and five people you know (e.g., roommates, coworkers, rela-
tives, 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 2 = Disagree 3 = neutral 4 = agree 5 = strongly
disagree 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


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.

chapter 2 Trait approach 39

example 2.1 leadership Traits Questionnaire ratings

average self-
rater 1 rater 2 rater 3 rater 4 rater 5 rating 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

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

The example ratings show how the leader self-rated higher than the observ-
ers did on the characteristic articulate. on the second characteristic, percep-
tive, the leader self-rated substantially higher than others. on the
self-confident characteristic, the leader self-rated quite close to others’ rat-
ings 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 weak-
nesses and to evaluate areas where your perceptions are congruent with
those of others and where there are discrepancies.

40 LeaDersHip THeory anD pracTice

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 f ive-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.

chapter 2 Trait approach 41

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 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

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/northouse7e

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Skills Approach

DeScription _____________________________________

Like the trait approach we 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 knowl-
edge and abilities are needed for effective leadership.

Researchers have studied leadership skills directly or indirectly for a number
of years (see Bass, 1990, 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 orga-
nizational 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,

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

Leadership Skills

44 LeaderShip Theory and pracTice

the recent work of Mumford and colleagues that has resulted in a new skills-
based model of organizational leadership.

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: tech-
nical, 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). Leader-
ship 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 Skill

Technical skill is knowledge about and proficiency in a specific type of work
or activity. It includes 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 skill might include knowing soft-
ware language and programming, the company’s software products, and how
to make these products function for clients. Similarly, in an accounting firm,
technical skill 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 pro-
ducing the actual products a company is designed to produce.

As illustrated in Figure 3.1, technical skill is 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 Skill

Human skill is knowledge about and ability to work with people. It is quite
different from technical skill, which has to do with working with things

applying Katz’s Skills Technical Skills

chapter 3 Skills approach 45

(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 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 skill is the capacity to get along with oth-
ers as you go about your work.

In Figure 3.1, 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 Skill

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 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 skill 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 skill has to do with the mental work of shaping the mean-
ing of organizational or policy issues—understanding what a company
stands for and where it is or should be going.

In Figure 3.1, conceptual skill is most important at the top management
levels. In fact, when upper-level managers do not have strong conceptual

outdoor Leadership Skills

46 LeaderShip Theory and pracTice

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 con-
ceptual 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

Figure 3.1 Management Skills necessary at Various Levels of an











SoUrce: adapted from “Skills of an effective administrator,” by r. L. Katz, 1955, Harvard
Business Review, 33(1), pp. 33–42.

chapter 3 Skills approach 47

skills approach received recognition in leadership research. In the next sec-
tion, the comprehensive skill-based model of leadership is presented.

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 stud-
ies 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 effec-
tive 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’ indi-
vidual characteristics, career experiences, and environmental influences affect
their job performance? As a whole, researchers wanted to identify the leader-
ship factors that create exemplary job performance in an actual organization.

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 (Mum-
ford, 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 this text, Chapter 2), which implies that leader-
ship is reserved for only the gifted few, the skills approach suggests that
many people have the potential for leadership. If people are capable of learn-
ing 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: competen-
cies, individual attributes, leadership outcomes, career experiences, and envi-
ronmental 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.

Leadership development career experiences

48 LeaderShip Theory and pracTice


As can be observed in the middle box in 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

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. These skills
do not function in a vacuum, but are carried out in an organizational con-
text. Problem-solving skills demand that leaders understand their own
leadership capacities as they apply possible solutions to the unique prob-
lems 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 organizational goals, and
external issues, all of which could influence the solution (Mumford, Zaccaro,
Harding, et al., 2000, p. 15).

Figure 3.2 Three components of the Skills Model


General Cognitive

Crystallized Cognitive





Social Judgment



Problem Solving


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, 2000, Leadership Quarterly, 11(1), 23.

conceptualizations of Skill Shared Leadership

chapter 3 Skills approach 49

To clarify what is meant by problem-solving skills, 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 could demonstrate problem-solving skills in
the following ways. First, you identify the full ramifications for employees of
changing their health insurance coverage. What is the impact going to be?
Second, you gather information about how benefits can be scaled back.
What other companies have attempted a similar change, and what were their
results? Third, you find a way to teach and inform the employees about the
needed change. How can you frame the change in such a way that it is
clearly understood? Fourth, you create possible scenarios for how the changes
will be instituted. How will the plan be described? Fifth, you look closely at
the solution itself. How will implementing this change affect the company’s
mission and your own career? Last, are there issues in the organization (e.g.,
union rules) that may affect the implementation of these changes?

As illustrated by this example, 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 also requires social judgment skills (see 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 judg-
ment skills are the people skills that are necessary to solve unique organiza-
tional 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 fol-
lowing: 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

emotional intelligence Skills problem-Solving approaches

50 LeaderShip Theory and pracTice

organization view a problem and possible solutions. 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 organiza-
tion function. What is important to others? What motivates them? What
problems do they face, and how do they react to change? Social perceptive-
ness 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 pro-
posed 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 also
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 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 communi-
cating 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 per-
formance 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 con-
flict? Social judgment skills are the people skills needed to advance change
in an organization.

Knowledge. As shown in the model (see Figure 3.2), the third aspect
of competencies is knowledge. Knowledge is inextricably related to the


chapter 3 Skills approach 51

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 struc-
tures 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. Leaders with knowledge know much
about the products, the tasks, the people, the organization, and all the dif-
ferent ways these elements are related to each other. A knowledgeable
leader has many mental structures with which to organize the facts of orga-
nizational 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 (see
Figure 3.2).

evidence-Based practice

52 LeaderShip Theory and pracTice

individual Attributes

Returning to Figure 3.2, the box on the left identifies four individual attri-
butes that have an impact on leadership skills and knowledge: general cogni-
tive 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 leader-
ship competencies.

General Cognitive Ability. General cognitive ability can be thought of as
a person’s intelligence. It includes perceptual processing, information pro-
cessing, general reasoning skills, creative and divergent thinking capacities,
and memory skills. General cognitive ability is linked to biology, not to

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 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 intelli-
gence: the ideas and mental abilities people learn through experience.
Because it stays fairly stable over time, this type of intelligence is not dimin-
ished as people get older.

Motivation. Motivation is listed as the third attribute in the model.
Although the model does not purport to explain the many ways in which
motivation may affect leadership, it does suggest three aspects of motivation
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

role of emotions

chapter 3 Skills approach 53

person wants to lead. Second, leaders must be willing to express domi-
nance—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. The
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 responsi-
bility of trying to advance the overall human good and value of the organi-
zation. 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, open-
ness, 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 perfor-
mance. 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 perfor-
mance 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.

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 (see Figure 3.2), problem-solving skills, as compe-
tencies, lead to effective problem solving as a leadership outcome. The cri-
teria 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

Managerial Leadership

54 LeaderShip Theory and pracTice

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 3.3. 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 3.3, career experiences have an impact on the char-
acteristics and competencies of leaders. The skills model suggests that the
experiences acquired in the course of leaders’ careers influence their knowl-
edge 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 lead-
ers. 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 experi-
ence helps leaders to improve their skills and knowledge over time. Leaders
learn and develop higher levels of conceptual capacity if the kinds of prob-
lems they confront are progressively more complex and more long term as
they ascend the organizational hierarchy (Mumford, Zaccaro, Connelly,
et al., 2000). Similarly, upper-level leaders, as opposed to first-line supervi-
sors, develop new competencies because they are required to address prob-
lems 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).

Mentoring and coaching

chapter 3 Skills approach 55

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 experi-
ences,” 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 3.3. Environmental influences represent
factors that lie outside the leader’s competencies, characteristics, and experi-
ences. 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 man-
ufacturers 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 com-
panies, both Japanese and American, had to respond to unique challenges
posed by external forces completely beyond their control.

The skills model does not provide an inventory of specific environmental
influences. Instead, it acknowledges the existence of these factors and recog-
nizes 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.

Veterans and Leadership

56 LeaderShip Theory and pracTice

Summary of the Skills Model

In summary, the skills model frames leadership by describing five compo-
nents of leader performance. At the heart of the model are three competen-
cies: 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 environ-
mental influences all have impacts on leader competencies. Through job
experience and training, leaders can become better problem solvers and more
effective leaders.

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 leader-
ship, 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?

Figure 3.3 Skills Model of Leadership

Career Experiences

Environmental Influences


General Cognitive

Crystallized Cognitive





Social Judgment



Social Judgment



Problem Solving


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, 2000, Leadership Quarterly, 11(1), 23.

chapter 3 Skills approach 57

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 manage-
ment, 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, mid-
dle, 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 judg-
ment 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 abil-
ity, crystallized cognitive ability, motivation, and personality influence the
leader’s competencies. And finally, the model describes how career experi-
ences and environmental influences play a direct or indirect role in leader-
ship 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 capabili-
ties 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.

StrengtHS ______________________________________

In several ways, the skills approach contributes positively to our under-
standing about leadership. First, it is a leader-centered model that stresses

Leadership Skills development

58 LeaderShip Theory and pracTice

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 impor-
tance of skills and the value of skills across different management levels, the
later work placed learned skills at the center of effective leadership perfor-
mance 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 vari-
ables, the skills approach can capture many of the intricacies and complexi-
ties 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 pro-
grams 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.

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 crys-
tallized cognitive ability). Although both areas are studied widely in the field

chapter 3 Skills approach 59

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 contribut-
ing 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 general-
ized to other groups (Mumford, Zaccaro, Connelly, et al., 2000), more
research is needed to address this criticism.

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 valu-
able 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.

Skills and Business intelligence

60 LeaderShip Theory and pracTice

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.

cASe StUDieS

The following three case studies (Cases 3.1, 3.2, and 3.3) describe leader-
ship situations that can be analyzed and evaluated from the skills perspec-
tive. 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 restau-
rant 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.

Case 3.1

A Strained research team

dr. adam Wood is the principal investigator on a 3-year, $1 million feder-
ally 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

Training Skills

chapter 3 Skills approach 61

them. regardless of the resource strain, all team members are committed
to the project; they believe in its goals and the importance of its out-
comes. 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 meet-
ings 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.


1. Based on the skills approach, how would you assess dr. Wood’s leader-
ship and his relationship to the members of the elder care project
team? Will the project be successful?


62 LeaderShip Theory and pracTice

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?

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 com-
pleted 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 engi-
neering projects, which were supported by small technical staffs.

Based on his strong performance, Major adams was promoted to lieuten-
ant 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
6 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 1 year, and the base was to be prepared for the arrival of the first
army troops in 2 years. as part of the reduction program, the federal


chapter 3 Skills approach 63

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 6 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 2 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 familiar-
ized himself with all of the rules concerning the early-retirement pro-
gram. after a series of initial meetings with the other base branch chiefs,
he laid out a plan that could be accomplished by the established dead-
lines. 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 sec-
tions 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 thorough examination of
the data, he mandated further reductions in his sections. Specifically
targeted were personnel in base housing, single-person accommoda-
tions, family services, and recreational sections. he also mandated a fur-
ther 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


64 LeaderShip Theory and pracTice

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 him-
self struggling to keep his head above water. To make matters worse, the
base was having difficulty meeting its operational mission, and vital sec-
tions were critically understaffed. The base commander wanted answers.
When pressed, adams stated that his plan met all of the required dead-
lines 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.”


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?

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 oppo-
site 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


chapter 3 Skills approach 65

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 dif-
ficulty getting along with the salespeople, delivery people, and waitstaff.

danielle, who works out front in the restaurant, has been with andy the
longest, 6 years. danielle likes working at Garafallo’s—she lives and
breathes the place. She fully buys into andy’s approach of putting cus-
tomers first. in fact, andy says she has a knack for knowing what custom-
ers 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 4 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 rea-
son, 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.


66 LeaderShip Theory and pracTice


1. What accounts for andy’s success in the restaurant business?

2. From a skills perspective, how would you describe the three manag-
ers, 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 leader-
ship suggest that one does not need all three skills in order to be

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 question-
naires are not used in research because they have not been tested for reli-
ability and validity. Nevertheless, they are useful as self-help instruments
because they provide specific information to people about their leadership

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 understand-
ing 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.


chapter 3 Skills approach 67

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 2 = Seldom 3 = occasionally 4 = Somewhat 5 = Very
true true true true 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


The skills inventory is designed to measure three broad types of leadership
skills: technical, human, and conceptual. Score the questionnaire by doing

68 LeaderShip Theory and pracTice

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 ____

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.

chapter 3 Skills approach 69

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 per-
sonal skills: technical, human, and conceptual. Although all three skills are
important for leaders, the importance of each skill varies between manage-
ment 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 com-
plex 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 per-
spective. 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 prob-
lem solving, conflict resolution, listening, and teamwork.

In addition to the positive features, there are also 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,

70 LeaderShip Theory and pracTice

critical thinking, motivation theory, and personality theory. Second, the skills
model is weak in predictive value. It does not explain how a person’s compe-
tencies lead to effective leadership performance.

Third, the skills model claims not to be a trait approach; nevertheless, indi-
vidual traits such as cognitive abilities, motivation, and personality play a
large role in the model. Finally, the skills model is weak in general applica-
tion 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/northouse7e

reFerenceS ______________________________________

Bass, B. M. (1990). Bass & Stogdill ’s handbook of leadership: Theory, research, and man-
agerial application (3rd ed.). New York: Free Press.

Connelly, M. S., Gilbert, J. A., Zaccaro, S. J., Threlfall, K. V., Marks, M. A., & Mum-
ford, M. D. (2000). Exploring the relationship of leadership skills and knowledge
to leader performance. Leadership Quarterly, 11(1), 65–86.

Katz, R. L. (1955). Skills of an effective administrator. Harvard Business Review, 33(1),

Mumford, M. D., & Connelly, M. S. (1991). Leaders as creators: Leader performance
and problem solving in ill-defined domains. Leadership Quarterly, 2, 289–315.

Mumford, M. D., Zaccaro, S. J., Connelly, M. S., & Marks, M. A. (2000). Leadership
skills: Conclusions and future directions. Leadership Quarterly, 11(1), 155–170.

Mumford, M. D., Zaccaro, S. J., Harding, F. D., Jacobs, T. O., & Fleishman, E. A.
(2000). Leadership skills for a changing world: Solving complex social problems.
Leadership Quarterly, 11(1), 11–35.

Mumford, T. V., Campion, M. A., & Morgeson, F. P. (2007). The leadership skills
strataplex: Leadership skill requirements across organizational levels. Leadership
Quarterly, 18, 154–166.

Yammarino, F. J. (2000). Leadership skills: Introduction and overview. Leadership
Quarterly, 11(1), 5–9.

Zaccaro, S. J., Gilbert, J., Thor, K. K., & Mumford, M. D. (1991). Leadership and
social intelligence: Linking social perceptiveness and behavioral flexibility to leader
effectiveness. Leadership Quarterly, 2, 317–331.

Zaccaro, S. J., Mumford, M. D., Connelly, M. S., Marks, M. A., & Gilbert, J. A. (2000).
Assessment of leader problem-solving capabilities. Leadership Quarterly, 11(1),


Behavioral Approach

Description _____________________________________

The style 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.

What is the Behavior Approach? Hip-Hop Leader Behaviors

72 LeAdersHip THeory And prAcTice

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.

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

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

different Leadership Behaviors Leadership Behavior

chapter 4 Behavioral Approach 73

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 integrate consideration and structure into their behaviors.

The University of Michigan Studies

Whereas 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, 1960; 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 subordinates 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

Aesthetic Leadership Behavior Approach: An example

74 LeAdersHip THeory And prAcTice

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, 1994). 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.

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

Likeable Leaders

chapter 4 Behavioral Approach 75

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,

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).

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 subordinates 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

country-club Management (1,9)

The 1,9 style represents a low concern for task accomplishment coupled
with a high concern for interpersonal relationships. Deemphasizing
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

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

Leadership Trust

76 LeAdersHip THeory And prAcTice

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

Figure 4.1 The Leadership Grid





Concern for Results High

1 98765432



1,9 9,9

Thoughtful attention to the needs of the
people for satisfying relationships leads
to a comfortable, friendly organization
atmosphere and work tempo.

Middle-of-the-Road Management

Adequate organization performance is possible through
balancing the necessity to get work out while maintaining

morale of people at a satisfactory level.

Exertion of minimum effort to get
required work done as appropriate
to sustain organization membership.

Efficiency in operations results from
arranging conditions of work in such a

way that human elements interfere to a
minimum degree.

Work accomplishment is from
committed people. Interdependence

through a common stake in
organization purpose leads to

relationships of trust and respect.















Country-Club Management Team Management

Impoverished Management Authority-Compliance Management

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: 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.

negative Leadership

chapter 4 Behavioral Approach 77

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.


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.


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,

charisma paternalistic Leadership

78 LeAdersHip THeory And prAcTice

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.

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

Figure 4.2 paternalism/Maternalism






,9 1

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: 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.

perspectives on Leadership

chapter 4 Behavioral Approach 79

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. The behavioral approach gives the leader a way to
look at his or her own behavior by subdividing it into two dimensions.

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

Figure 4.3 opportunism







, 9 1




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: 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.

personal Leadership Behaviors

80 LeAdersHip THeory And prAcTice

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.

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) and Blake and McCanse (1991), the behavioral approach
is substantiated by a multitude of research studies that offer a viable approach
to understanding the leadership process.

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

Leadership Theories

chapter 4 Behavioral Approach 81

assess their actions and determine how they may want to change to improve
their leadership behaviors.

criticisMs _______________________________________

Along with its strengths, the behavioral approach also 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, 1994). 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 (1994, 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.

A final 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, 1994). 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.

ApplicAtion _____________________________________

The behavioral approach can be applied easily in ongoing leadership
settings. At all levels in all types of organizations, managers are continually

college Graduate Behaviors Behavioral strategies

82 LeAdersHip THeory And prAcTice

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

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
(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.

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
style approach.

organic Leadership Behaviors

chapter 4 Behavioral Approach 83

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 hos-
pital, 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 4-month analysis of the direct and indi-
rect 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 subordinates. 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 sub-
stantially 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.


1. From the behavioral perspective, how would you describe Mark’s

2. How did his behavior change over time?

3. in general, do you think he is more task oriented or more relationship

4. What score do you think he would get on Blake and Mouton’s grid?

84 LeAdersHip THeory And prAcTice

Case 4.2

eating lunch standing Up

susan parks is the part–owner and manager of Marathon sports, an ath-
letic 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 salesper-
son. 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.


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 subordinates?

3. do you think she should change her behavior?

4. Would she be effective if she changed?

chapter 4 Behavioral Approach 85

Case 4.3

we Are Family

Betsy Moore has been hired as the director of marketing and communi-
cations 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 col-
lege’s program. Marianne also explains that she has established a depart-
mental culture of teamwork and empowerment and that she is a strong
advocate of being a mentor to her subordinates 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 plan-
ning 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, accus-
ing Betsy of insulting her work. Later, Betsy watches suzanne and
Marianne leave the office together for lunch. A few hours later, Marianne


86 LeAdersHip THeory And prAcTice

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 direc-
tion 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 4 months on the job, Betsy goes to Marianne and outlines the chal-
lenges that the vice president’s close relationships with Bridget and
suzanne have presented to the progress of the marketing and commu-
nications 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
same team.”

Marianne shakes her head. “The problem is that we have very different lead-
ership styles. i like to empower people, and you like to boss them around.”


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 situa-
tion with Bridget and suzanne? does Marianne need to change her
style of leadership?

3. How can Marianne and Betsy work together?


chapter 4 Behavioral Approach 87

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.

88 LeAdersHip THeory And prAcTice

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

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


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 ____________

chapter 4 Behavioral Approach 89

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 subordinates 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 rela-
tionships. 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 per-
ceptions of you as a leader. This will give you additional data to compare and
contrast to your own scores about yourself.

90 LeAdersHip THeory And prAcTice

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,

chapter 4 Behavioral Approach 91

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).

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/northouse7e

reFerences ______________________________________

Blake, R. R., & McCanse, A. A. (1991). Leadership dilemmas: Grid solutions. Houston,
TX: Gulf Publishing Company.

Blake, R. R., & Mouton, J. S. (1964). The Managerial Grid. Houston, TX: Gulf
Publishing Company.

Blake, R. R., & Mouton, J. S. (1978). The new Managerial Grid. Houston, TX: Gulf
Publishing Company.

Blake, R. R., & Mouton, J. S. (1985). The Managerial Grid III. Houston, TX: Gulf
Publishing Company.

Bowers, D. G., & Seashore, S. E. (1966). Predicting organizational effectiveness with
a four-factor theory of leadership. Administrative Science Quarterly, 11, 238–263.

Bryman, A. (1992). Charisma and leadership in organizations. London: SAGE.
Cartwright, D., & Zander, A. (1960). Group dynamics research and theory. Evanston,

IL: Row, Peterson.
Hemphill, J. K., & Coons, A. E. (1957). Development of the Leader Behavior

Description Questionnaire. In R. M. Stogdill & A. E. Coons (Eds.), Leader
behavior: Its description and measurement (Research Monograph No. 88). Columbus:
Ohio State University, Bureau of Business Research.

Kahn, R. L. (1956). The prediction of productivity. Journal of Social Issues, 12, 41–49.
Katz, D., & Kahn, R. L. (1951). Human organization and worker motivation. In

L. R. Tripp (Ed.), Industrial productivity (pp. 146–171). Madison, WI: Industrial
Relations Research Association.

Likert, R. (1961). New patterns of management. New York: McGraw-Hill.

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Likert, R. (1967). The human organization: Its management and value. New York:

Misumi, J. (1985). The behavioral science of leadership: An interdisciplinary Japanese
research program. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Stogdill, R. M. (1948). Personal factors associated with leadership: A survey of the
literature. Journal of Psychology, 25, 35–71.

Stogdill, R. M. (1963). Manual for the Leader Behavior Description Questionnaire form
XII. Columbus: Ohio State University, Bureau of Business Research.

Stogdill, R. M. (1974). Handbook of leadership: A survey of theory and research. New
York: Free Press.

Yukl, G. (1994). Leadership in organizations (3rd ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice


Situational Approach

DeScription _____________________________________

One of the more widely recognized approaches to leadership is the situa-
tional 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, Zigarmi, & Nelson, 1993; Blanchard, Zigarmi, & Zigarmi,
1985; 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 effec-
tive 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
(1985) and Blanchard et al. (1985; 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 appro-
priately in a given situation. To determine what is needed in a particular
situation, a leader must evaluate her or his followers and assess how compe-
tent and committed they are to perform a given goal. Based on the assump-
tion that followers’ skills and motivation vary over time, situational leadership

Situational Leadership Creating Compelling Vision

94 LeaderShip Theory and praCTiCe

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 is comprised of two major dimensions: leadership style and development
level of followers.

Leadership Styles

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 com-
fortable about themselves, their coworkers, and the situation. Supportive behav-
iors 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 (see 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 follow-
ers by giving encouragement and soliciting follower input. However, coach-
ing 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.

Ken Blanchard Cultural Situational Leadership

Chapter 5 Situational approach 95

Style 3 (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 exclu-
sively 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.

Last, 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

adjusting Behavioral Style

Figure 5.1 Situational Leadership ii

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:
William Morrow. Used with permission. This model cannot be used without the expressed,
written consent of The Ken Blanchard Companies. To learn more, visit http://www

Leadership Styles

High Directive

High Supportive

High Directive
Low Supportive













Low to Some


Moderate to High






Development Levels



S3 S2

High Supportive
Low Directive

Low Supportive

Low Directive








Task Leadership



96 LeaderShip Theory and praCTiCe

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 responsi-
bility for getting the job done the way they see fit. A leader using S4 gives control
to followers and refrains from intervening with unnecessary social support.

The SLII model (see 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.

Development Levels

A second major part of the SLII model concerns the development level of
followers. Development level is the degree to which followers have the com-
petence and commitment necessary to accomplish a given goal or activity
(Blanchard et al., 1985). Stated another way, it indicates whether a person has
mastered the skills to achieve a specific goal and whether a person has devel-
oped a positive attitude regarding the goal (Blanchard et al., 1993). 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 motiva-
tion 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 commit-
ment. 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 essen-
tially 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.

The Situational approach decisional involvement

Chapter 5 Situational approach 97

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 lead-
ers to be effective, it is essential that they determine where followers are on
the developmental continuum and adapt their leadership styles so they
directly match their style to that development level.

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 developmental level at which their followers are
functioning. For example, new followers who are very excited but lack under-
standing 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 repre-
sented 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 and low-supportive leadership style
(S1, or directing). If followers are more advanced and at the second develop-
ment 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

More on the Situational approach Leadership programs

98 LeaderShip Theory and praCTiCe

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.

When it comes to painting, Levi is a developed follower needing little direc-
tion 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 some-
thing 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 compli-
cated 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 in to 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 can-
not use the same style in all contexts; rather, they need to adapt their style to
followers and their unique situations. Unlike the trait and contingency
approaches, which advocate a fixed style for leaders, the situational approach
demands that leaders demonstrate a high degree of flexibility.

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.

Situational Leadership in practice

Chapter 5 Situational approach 99

A second strength of the approach is its practicality. Situational Leadership
is easy to understand, intuitively sensible, and easily applied in a variety of set-
tings. 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 prescrip-
tive 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 sup-
porting style. These prescriptions provide leaders with a valuable set of guide-
lines that can facilitate and enhance leadership.

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 leader-
ship 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 differ-
ent 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 mid-
dle of a project.

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 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.

criticiSmS _______________________________________

Despite its history of use in leadership training and development, Situational
Leadership has several limitations. The following criticisms point out

Creative Leadership Leader effectiveness

100 LeaderShip Theory and praCTiCe

several weaknesses in this approach and help to provide a more balanced
picture of the general utility of this approach in studying and practicing

The first criticism of Situational Leadership is that only a few research stud-
ies 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 ques-
tions about the theoretical basis of the approach (Fernandez & Vecchio, 1997;
Graeff, 1997; 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. Further-
more, 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 commit-
ment 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.
(1985) 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

Situational Leadership Theory

Chapter 5 Situational approach 101

high in D1, moves down in D2, becomes variable in D3, and rises 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 follow-
ers who learn a task become less committed? Why is there a decrease in
commitment at Development Levels 2 and 3? Without 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 prin-
cipals 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.

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 exam-
ple, a study conducted by Vecchio and Boatwright (2002) showed that level
of education and job experience were inversely related to directive leadership

102 LeaderShip Theory and praCTiCe

and were not related to supportive leadership. In other words, followers with
more education and more work experience desired less structure. An inter-
esting 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 differ-
ent 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 leader-
ship 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 Situa-
tional 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).

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.

practice of Corporate hiring

Chapter 5 Situational approach 103

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. Mid-
dle 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 situ-
ational 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.

cASe StuDieS

To see how Situational Leadership can be applied in different organiza-
tional 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 simi-
lar situation. At the end of each case, there are questions that will help you
analyze the context from the perspective of Situational Leadership.

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

emergency Situations


104 LeaderShip Theory and praCTiCe

who hope to complete the new york City Marathon. Because david has
run many marathons and ultramarathons successfully, he feels quite com-
fortable assuming the role and responsibilities of coach for the marathon

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 differ-
ent from those that david had expected to hear from runners in a mar-
athon-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, pep-
pered 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 imma-
ture, 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 train-
ing 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 con-
fidence in their ability to compete and finish well, they lacked an ele-
ment of excitement about running in the new york event. The occasional


Chapter 5 Situational approach 105

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 may not appre-
ciate him or his coaching.


1. Based on the principles of the SLii model, 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

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

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?

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 company-
wide survey, Jim specifically designed a 6-week training program on lis-
tening 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


106 LeaderShip Theory and praCTiCe

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 fre-
quent coffee breaks during the sessions; during these breaks, he pro-
moted 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.


1. according to the SLii model (see 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


Chapter 5 Situational approach 107

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 stu-
dents 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 poli-
cies 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 rec-
ognizes the quality of her students, ann mostly lets them do what they
want at the station.


1. What’s the problem at WCBa?


108 LeaderShip Theory and praCTiCe

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 mea-
sure 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

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

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 respon-
dent makes, one can determine that respondent’s leadership flexibility. Lead-
ership 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.


Chapter 5 Situational approach 109

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).

Situation 1

Because of budget restrictions imposed on your department, it is necessary
to consolidate. you are thinking of asking a highly capable and experi-
enced 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

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 ____________

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

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 sug-
gestions 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 ___________

110 LeaderShip Theory and praCTiCe

Situation 3

Because of a new and very important unit project, for the past 3 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 occa-
sionally 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 encour-
age and support their efforts to overcome the project setbacks.

development level ____________ action ____________

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 expe-
rience 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 sugges-
tions and involve him in decision making.

C. Listen to his concerns but assure him he can do the job and support his

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.

Scoring Interpretation

a short discussion of the correct answers to the brief questionnaire will help
to explain the nature of Situational Leadership questionnaires.

Chapter 5 Situational approach 111

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 to direct the downsizing project
who appears to be highly competent, experienced, and motivated. according
to the SLii model, this person is at developmental 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 developmental 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 fol-
lowers 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 iden-
tified 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?

112 LeaderShip Theory and praCTiCe

SummAry _______________________________________

Situational Leadership is a prescriptive approach to leadership that sug-
gests how leaders can become effective in many different types of organiza-
tional 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 com-
mitment), 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 pre-
scribed 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 question-
naires 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 recog-
nized 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

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 underpin-
nings 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,

Chapter 5 Situational approach 113

nor is it clear on how commitment changes over time for followers. Without
the basic research findings, the validity of the basic prescriptions for match-
ing 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 opposed
to one-to-one contexts.

Sharpen your skills with SaGe edge at edge.sagepub.com/northouse7e

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Blanchard, K., Zigarmi, P., & Zigarmi, D. (2013). Leadership and the one minute
manager: Increasing effectiveness through Situational Leadership II. New York:
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Blanchard, K., Zigarmi, P., & Zigarmi, D. (1992). Game plan for leadership and the one
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Carew, P., Parisi-Carew, E., & Blanchard, K. H. (1990). Group development and
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Hersey, P., & Blanchard, K. H. (1969b). Management of organizational behavior:
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Hersey, P., & Blanchard, K. H. (1988). Management of organizational behavior:
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Thompson, G., & Vecchio, R. P. (2009). Situational Leadership theory: A test of three
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theory. Journal of Applied Psychology, 72(3), 444–451.

Vecchio, R. P., & Boatwright, K. J. (2002). Preferences for idealized style of supervision.
Leadership Quarterly, 13, 327–342.

Vecchio, R. P., Bullis, R. C., & Brazil, D. M. (2006). The utility of Situational
Leadership theory: A replication in a military setting. Small Group Leadership, 37,

Vroom, V. H., & Yetton, P. W. (1973). Leadership and decision-making. Pittsburgh, PA:
University of Pittsburgh Press.

Yukl, G. A. (1989). Leadership in organizations (2nd ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ:
Prentice Hall.

Yukl, G. A. (1998). Leadership in organizations (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ:
Prentice Hall.


Path–Goal Theory


Path–goal theory is about how leaders motivate followers to accomplish
designated goals. Drawing heavily from research on what motivates follow-
ers, 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 leadership
theory is to enhance follower performance and follower satisfaction by
focusing on follower motivation.

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 char-
acteristics 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 fol-
lowers need to reach their goals.

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 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).

Path-Goal Theory

116 LeadershiP Theory and PracTice

Followers Goal(s)

Path–Goal Leadership

• Defines goals
• Clarifies path
• Removes obstacles
• Provides support

Path Path


Figure 6.1 The Basic idea Behind Path–Goal Theory

In brief, path–goal theory is designed to explain how leaders can help fol-
lowers 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 style, leaders increase followers’ expec-
tations 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.

Conceptually, path–goal theory is complex. 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, includ-
ing leader behaviors, follower characteristics, task characteristics, and moti-
vation. 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.

Motivation is contagious Path-Goal Theory

chapter 6 Path–Goal Theory 117

Figure 6.2 Major components of Path–Goal Theory

Followers Goal(s)

Task Characteristics

Follower Characteristics



Achievement oriented

Leader Behaviors

Leader Behaviors

Although many different leadership behaviors could have been selected to
be a part of path–goal theory, this approach has so far examined directive,
supportive, participative, and achievement-oriented leadership behaviors
(House & Mitchell, 1974, p. 83). Path–goal theory is explicitly left open to
the inclusion of other variables.

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. 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. 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. Supportive
leadership consists of being friendly and approachable as a leader and

steve Jobs hope and Leadership

118 LeadershiP Theory and PracTice

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. 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.

Achievement-oriented Leadership

Achievement-oriented leadership is characterized by a leader who chal-
lenges 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 expecting a lot from 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 four styles with various followers and in different situations. Path–goal
theory is not a trait approach that locks leaders into only one kind of leader-
ship. Leaders should adapt their styles to the situation or to the motivational
needs of their followers. For example, if followers need participative leader-
ship 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 com-
ponents 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.

Follower Characteristics

Follower characteristics determine how a leader’s behavior is interpreted by
followers in a given work context. Researchers have focused on followers’

Followers as individuals

chapter 6 Path–Goal Theory 119

needs for aff iliation, preferences for structure, desires for control, and self-
perceived level of task ability. These characteristics and many others deter-
mine 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 lead-
ership 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’ percep-
tions of their abilities and competence goes up, the need for directive leader-
ship goes down. In effect, directive leadership becomes redundant and
perhaps excessively controlling when followers feel competent to complete
their own work.

Task Characteristics

In addition to follower characteristics, task characteristics also have a major
impact on the way a leader’s behavior influences followers’ motivation (see
Figure 6.2). Task characteristics include the design of the follower’s task, the
formal authority system of the organization, and the primary work group of
followers. Collectively, these characteristics in themselves can provide moti-
vation for followers. When a situation provides a clearly structured task,
strong group norms, and an established authority system, followers will find

Path-Goal Leadership Motivating Volunteers

120 LeadershiP Theory and PracTice

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, unempathic, and excessively

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 set-
tings 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, frus-
trations, 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.

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 leader-
ship 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

How Does PATH–GoAL THeory work?

Path–goal theory is an approach to leadership that is not only theoretically
complex, but also pragmatic. In theory, it provides a set of assumptions about
how various leadership styles interact with characteristics of followers and
the work setting to affect the motivation of followers. In practice, the theory

Motivation in Work settings role-Play exercise

chapter 6 Path–Goal Theory 121

Table 6.1 Path–Goal Theory: how it Works

Leadership Behavior
Characteristics Task Characteristics

Provides guidance and
psychological structure


Unclear rules

Provides nurturance

need affiliation
need human touch


Provides involvement

need for control
need for clarity


Achievement oriented
Provides challenges

high expectations
need to excel


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 pro-
vides 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).

Motivation and rewards Goal orientation

122 LeadershiP Theory and PracTice

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 leader-
ship 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 set-
tings where the task is more structured and less ambiguous, however,
achievement-oriented leadership appears to be unrelated to followers’ expec-
tations 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 followers confront them. This
may mean helping the follower around the obstacle, or it may mean remov-
ing the obstacle. The leader’s job is to help followers reach their goals by
directing, guiding, and coaching them along the way.


Path–goal theory has several positive features. First, path–goal theory pro-
vides a useful theoretical framework for understanding how various leader-
ship behaviors affect followers’ satisfaction and work performance. It was
one of the first theories to specify four conceptually distinct varieties of
leadership (e.g., directive, supportive, participative, and achievement ori-
ented), 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 leader-
ship 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.

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.

Motivation Theories dispersed Leadership

chapter 6 Path–Goal Theory 123

This makes path–goal theory unique because no other leadership approach
deals directly with motivation in this way. Path–goal theory forces us con-
tinually 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? Path–goal theory is designed to keep these kinds of questions,
which address issues of motivation, at the forefront of the leader’s mind.

A third strength, and perhaps its greatest, is that path–goal theory provides
a model that in certain ways is very practical. The representation of the
model (see Figure 6.1) underscores and highlights the important ways lead-
ers 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 sim-
plest form, the theory reminds leaders that the overarching purpose of lead-
ership is to guide and coach followers as they move along the path to achieve
a goal.


Although path–goal theory has various strengths, it also has several identi-
fiable weaknesses. First, path–goal theory is so complex and incorporates so
many different aspects of leadership that interpreting the theory can be
confusing. For example, path–goal theory makes predictions about which of
four 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 organi-
zational 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


124 LeadershiP Theory and PracTice

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 participative and achievement-oriented leadership. 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).

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
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 lead-
ership 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 inad-
equate 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 depen-
dent 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 depen-
dency and fails to recognize the full abilities of followers.


Path–goal theory is not an approach to leadership for which many manage-
ment training programs have been developed. You will not find many
seminars with titles such as “Improving Your Path–Goal Leadership” or

how to Use Path-Goal Theory

chapter 6 Path–Goal Theory 125

“Assessing Your Skills in Path–Goal Leadership,” either. Nevertheless,
path–goal theory does offer significant insights that can be applied in ongo-
ing 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 be direc-
tive, supportive, participative, or achievement oriented. For instance, the
theory suggests that leaders should be directive when tasks are complex, and
the leader 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 appro-
priate 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 fac-
ulty member feels apprehensive about his or her teaching and research, a
department chair should give supportive leadership. By giving care and sup-
port, 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.

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
an 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.


126 LeadershiP Theory and PracTice

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 opera-
tions 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

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 gen-
uine 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

chapter 6 Path–Goal Theory 127

and equipment when changes are made from making one part to making
another. in addition, the second shift is responsible for the complex com-
puter 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

carol supervises the third shift. her style is different from that of the
others at Brako. carol routinely has meetings, which she labels trouble-
shooting 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 work-
ers 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 per-
sonal 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 other shifts at Brako.


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?

128 LeadershiP Theory and PracTice

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 ser-
vices. it has three large, state-of-the-art copy machines and several com-
puter 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 stand 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 reputa-
tion of being really helpful with working out schedule conflicts. no con-
flict 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

duplicating is a straightforward operation that entails taking a custom-
er’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 pro-
motes 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 wel-
comes 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.

chapter 6 Path–Goal Theory 129

Through the years, daniel has found that employees who work best in
desktop publishing are a unique type of person, 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.


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

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 moti-
vation in this area?

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.


130 LeadershiP Theory and PracTice

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, 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 of a cello so it 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 compli-
ments 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 chil-
dren 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 mid-
dle schoolers, stressing practice and challenging students to improve
their skills. at this level, students are placed in “chairs” for each instru-
ment. 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


chapter 6 Path–Goal Theory 131

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 sur-
prising 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 too excited about playing. Because she is highly trained herself,
Martina likes to show students advanced techniques and give them chal-
lenging 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.


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

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

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 four major kinds of
path–goal leadership. For which of the three orchestras do you think
this style would be most effective? discuss.

132 LeadershiP Theory and PracTice

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). This questionnaire provides information for respondents about four
different leadership styles: directive, supportive, participative, and achieve-
ment 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, 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 act participatively.

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 unchalleng-
ing. 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 expec-
tancies, and follower satisfaction. Although the primary use of these instru-
ments has been for theory building, many of the instruments offer valuable
information related to practical leadership issues.

chapter 6 Path–Goal Theory 133

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

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 per-
form 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

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 feel-

1 2 3 4 5 6 7

12. i ask for suggestions from followers concern-
ing how to carry out assignments.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7

13. i encourage continual improvement in follow-
ers’ 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 assign-
ments should be made.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7

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 follow-
ers to attain.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7

20. i behave in a manner that is thoughtful of fol-
lowers’ personal needs.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7

134 LeadershiP Theory and PracTice


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.

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 consid-
ered 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 pro-
vide 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 indvik (1988). Based on the work of house and dessler (1974) and
house (1977) cited in Fulk and Wendler (1982). Used by permission.

chapter 6 Path–Goal Theory 135


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 directive, supportive, par-
ticipative, and achievement-oriented styles of leadership affect the produc-
tivity and satisfaction of followers. Second, path–goal theory is unique in
that it integrates the motivation principles of expectancy theory into a the-
ory of leadership. Third, it provides a practical model that underscores the
important ways in which leaders help followers.

On the negative side, four 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 set-
ting. Second, research findings to date do not support a full and consistent
picture of the claims of the theory. Furthermore, path–goal theory does not
show in a clear way how leader behaviors directly affect follower motivation
levels. Last, path–goal theory is very leader oriented and fails to recognize
the interactional nature of leadership. It does not promote follower involve-
ment in the leadership process.

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Exchange Theory


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 con-
ceptualizes 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

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).

Leader-Member Exchange Theory

138 LEadErship ThEory and pracTicE

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).

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). In addition,
membership in one group or the other is based on how followers involve
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 dif-
ferent 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,

LeaderFollower Dyadic

Figure 7.1 dimensions of Leadership

soUrcE: reprinted from 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.

in and out Functions out-Group Members

chapter 7 Leader–Member Exchange Theory 139

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



noTE: The leader (L) forms special relationships with all of his or her followers (F). Each of
these relationships is special and has its own unique characteristics.

What is LMX about? in-Groups and out-Groups

140 LEadErship ThEory and pracTicE

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 fre-
quency 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 (Graen
& Uhl-Bien, 1995; Liden, Wayne, & Stilwell, 1993).

In a meta-analysis of 164 LMX studies, Gerstner and Day (1997) found that
LMX was consistently related to member job performance, satisfaction
(overall and supervisory), commitment, role conflict and clarity, and turnover

Figure 7.4 in-Groups and out-Groups







+3+3 +3 +3 +3 +3







0 0 0 0 0 0


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.

Examining outcomes with LMX

chapter 7 Leader–Member Exchange Theory 141

intentions. In addition, they found strong support in these studies for the
psychometric properties of the LMX 7 Questionnaire. For purposes of
research, they highlighted the importance of measuring LMX from the
perspective of both the leader and the follower.

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 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.

For example, using a sample of employees in a variety of jobs in Israeli orga-
nizations, 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 LMX and employee citizen-
ship 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.
Harris, Wheeler, and Kacmar (2009) explored how empowerment moder-
ates 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 alumni, they found that empow-
erment 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.

Empowerment Through LMX Empowering Employees

142 LEadErship ThEory and pracTicE

In essence, the aforementioned findings clearly illustrate that organizations
stand to gain much from having leaders who can create good working rela-
tionships. When leaders and followers have good exchanges, they feel better
and accomplish more, and the organization prospers.

Leadership Making

Research of 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.

Graen and Uhl-Bien (1991) suggested that leadership making develops pro-
gressively 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 chap-
ter. 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).

In a study of the early stages 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 qual-
ity for the leaders. A key predictor of relationship quality for both leaders
and followers was behaviors such as performance.

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

Leader Follower interaction changing relationships

chapter 7 Leader–Member Exchange Theory 143

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 followers. 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 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. 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

relationships Mature partnership

Table 7.1 phases in Leadership Making

phase 1

phase 2

phase 3

roles scripted Tested negotiated

influences one way Mixed reciprocal

Exchanges Low quality Medium quality high quality

interests self self and other Group

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, 1995, Leadership
Quarterly, 6(2), 231.

144 LEadErship ThEory and pracTicE

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 orga-
nization (see Chapter 8).

The benefits for employees who develop high-quality leader–member rela-
tionships 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 ques-
tionnaire 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.

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 a leader forms with each of the leader’s 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 work-
ing 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,

chapter 7 Leader–Member Exchange Theory 145

out-group members receive the standard benefits as defined in the job

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. Further-
more, leaders should nurture high-quality exchanges with their followers.
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. 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 special, unique relationship that leaders can create with
others. When these relationships are of high quality, the goals of the leader,
the followers, and the organization are all advanced.


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 because 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 lead-
ers, followers, contexts, or a combination of these, but none of them addresses
the specific relationships between the leader and each follower. LMX theory

Leadership and communication

146 LEadErship ThEory and pracTicE

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 communica-
tion. 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, reli-
gion, or age). 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

Finally, a large body of research substantiates how the practice of LMX the-
ory 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 distribu-
tive justice, career progress, and many other important organizational vari-
ables. By linking the use of LMX theory to real outcomes, researchers have
been able to validate the theory and increase its practical value.


LMX theory also has some limitations. First, on the surface, leader–member
exchange in its initial formulation (vertical dyad linkage theory) runs coun-
ter 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

attribution Biases

chapter 7 Leader–Member Exchange Theory 147

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 fol-
lowers’ perceptions of the fairness of pay increases and promotion opportunities
(distributive justice), decision-making rules (procedural justice), or communi-
cation 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. For example, the model on leadership making highlights
the importance of role making, incremental influence, and type of reciproc-
ity (see Table 7.1), but it does not explain how these concepts function to
build 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 theoriza-
tion about leader–member exchange and its basic processes is needed. Simi-
larly, 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 proposi-
tions about the theory.

nGo Leadership

148 LEadErship ThEory and pracTicE

A third criticism of the theory is that researchers have not adequately
explained the contextual factors that may have an impact on LMX relation-
ships (Anand et al., 2011). Since leader–member exchange is often studied in
isolation, researchers have not examined the potential impact of other vari-
ables 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 influ-
ence 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, Castro, & Cogliser, 1999; Schriesheim, Castro, Zhou, et al.,
2001). For example, no empirical studies have used dyadic measures to
analyze the LMX process (Schriesheim, Castro, Zhou, 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, Castro, Zhou, et al., 2001).


Although LMX theory has not been packaged in a way to be used in stan-
dard 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. For example, LMX theory could be used to explain how
CEOs develop special relationships with select individuals in upper manage-
ment to develop new strategic and tactical corporate goals. A presidential
cabinet is a good example of this. A U.S. president will handpick the 15
people that serve as his or her closest advisers. The cabinet includes the vice
president and the heads of 15 executive departments—the secretaries of the
Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health
and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development,
Interior, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs, as well

Using LMX

chapter 7 Leader–Member Exchange Theory 149

as the attorney general. These individuals, in turn, run their own departments
in accordance with the goals and philosophy of the president.

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 produc-
tion quotas of their work unit. The point is that the ideas presented in LMX
theory are applicable throughout organizations.

In addition, the ideas of LMX theory can be used to explain how individuals
create leadership networks throughout an organization to help them accom-
plish 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 indi-
viduals 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 us to be aware of how we relate to our fol-
lowers. It tells us to be sensitive to whether some followers receive special
attention and some followers do not. In addition, it tells us 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 us to be respectful and to build
trusting relationships with all of our followers, recognizing that each
follower is unique and wants to relate to us in a special way.

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 set-
tings. 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.

150 LEadErship ThEory and pracTicE

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 main-
tains 10 major accounts and a number of smaller accounts. it has a repu-
tation 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 addi-
tion, 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 budg-
ets. 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 assign-
ment and carries it out. Being in carly’s inner circle would entail putting

chapter 7 Leader–Member Exchange Theory 151

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.


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 is carly’s relationship 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?

Case 7.2

working Hard at Being Fair

city Mortgage is a medium-size mortgage company that employs about
25 people. Jenny hernandez, who has been with the company for 10
years, is the production manager who oversees 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

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.


152 LEadErship ThEory and pracTicE

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 exam-
ple, she avoids social lunches because she thinks they foster the percep-
tion 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.


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?


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.

chapter 7 Leader–Member Exchange Theory 153

The primary work of the office is to provide the public with information
about social security benefits and to process retirement, survivor, disabil-
ity, and Medicare claims.

Jim has been the manager of the office for 6 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 6 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 repre-
sentatives, 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 threaten-
ing 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 sched-
ules 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.


154 LEadErship ThEory and pracTicE

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.


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 the trust and respect Jim places in some of his staff are
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?


Researchers have used many different questionnaires to study LMX theory.
All of them have been designed to measure the quality of the working rela-
tionship between leaders and followers. We have chosen to include in this
chapter the LMX 7, 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


chapter 7 Leader–Member Exchange Theory 155

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

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 (fol-
lower) 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

Extremely Worse than average Better than Extremely
ineffective average average effective

1 2 3 4 5

156 LEadErship ThEory and pracTicE

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 fol-
lowers. in the follower role, you would complete the questionnaire
based on the leaders to whom you report.

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 “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, 1995, Leadership
Quarterly, 6(2), 219–247. copyright © 1995. reprinted with permission from Elsevier

The LMX score

chapter 7 Leader–Member Exchange Theory 157


Since it first appeared more than 30 years ago under the title “vertical dyad
linkage (VDL) theory,” LMX theory has been and continues to be a much-
studied approach to leadership. LMX theory addresses leadership as a pro-
cess 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 dif-
ferent 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. It is believed that 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 mem-
bers. 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 mul-
tiple 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 empha-
sizes 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

LMX Explanation

158 LEadErship ThEory and pracTicE

point of the leadership process. Related to this focus, LMX theory is note-
worthy because it directs our attention to the importance of effective com-
munication in leader–member relationships. In addition, it reminds us to be
evenhanded in how we relate to our followers. Last, LMX theory is sup-
ported by a multitude of studies that link high-quality 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 cre-
ated by the use of in-groups can have a devastating impact on the feelings,
attitudes, and behavior of out-group members. Second, LMX theory empha-
sizes 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 relation-
ships, it does not fully explicate how this takes place. Third, researchers have
not adequately explained the contextual factors that influence LMX rela-
tionships. Finally, there are questions about whether the measurement pro-
cedures used in LMX research are adequate to fully capture the complexities
of the leader–member exchange process.

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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 pub-
lished in 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.

As its name implies, transformational leadership is a process that changes
and transforms people. It is concerned with emotions, values, ethics, stan-
dards, and long-term goals. It includes assessing followers’ motives, satisfying
their needs, and treating them as full human beings. Transformational lead-
ership 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.

Transformational Leadership

162 Leadership Theory and pracTice

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 inextri-
cably bound together in the transformation process.

Transformational Leadership Defined

The term transformational leadership was first coined by Downton (1973). Its
emergence 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.

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 fol-
lower. 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 gov-
ernment support of AIDS research. In the organizational world, an example
of transformational leadership would be a manager who attempts to change

James MacGregor Burns

chapter 8 Transformational Leadership 163

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.

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 leaders such
as Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein, who were 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 pseu-
dotransformational 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

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 transforma-
tional leadership is positively associated with group ethical climate, decision
making, and moral action. In the future, research is needed to test the valid-
ity of the assumptions laid out in this model.

Transformational Leadership

164 Leadership Theory and pracTice

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 leader-
ship 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 cha-
risma as a special personality characteristic that gives a person superhu-
man 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 fol-
lowers (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 also 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 fol-
lowers. 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.

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.”

Teaching charisma

chapter 8 Transformational Leadership 165

According to House’s charismatic theory, several effects are the direct result
of charismatic leadership. They include follower trust in the leader’s ideol-
ogy, similarity between the followers’ beliefs and the leader’s beliefs, unques-
tioning 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 con-
fidence in goal achievement. Consistent with Weber, House contends that
these charismatic effects are more likely to occur in contexts in which fol-
lowers 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 pos-
tulated that charismatic leadership transforms followers’ self-concepts and
tries to link the identity of followers to the collective identity of the orga-
nization. Charismatic leaders forge this link by emphasizing the intrinsic
rewards of work and deemphasizing 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.

Table 8.1 personality characteristics, Behaviors, and effects on
Followers of charismatic Leadership

Characteristics Behaviors Effects on Followers


Desire to influence


Strong moral values

Sets strong role model

Shows competence

Articulates goals

Communicates high

Expresses confidence

Arouses motives

Trust in leader’s ideology

Belief similarity between
leader and follower

Unquestioning acceptance

Affection toward leader


Identification with leader

Emotional involvement

Heightened goals

Increased confidence

romance of Leadership

166 Leadership Theory and pracTice

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 lead-
ers’ needs, by suggesting that transformational leadership could apply to situ-
ations in which the outcomes were not positive, and by describing transac-
tional 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 follow-
ers 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).

As can be seen in Table 8.2, the model of transformational and transac-
tional 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 168. A discussion of each of these seven factors will help

Transformational Leadership

chapter 8 Transformational Leadership 167

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).

Table 8.2 Leadership Factors




Factor 1

Idealized influence


Factor 2

Inspirational motivation

Factor 3

Intellectual stimulation

Factor 4

Individualized consideration

Factor 5

Contingent reward

Constructive transactions

Factor 6


Active and passive

Corrective transactions

Factor 7



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 moti-
vating followers to act in ways that support the greater good rather than
their own self-interests (Kuhnert, 1994).

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.

The idealized influence factor is measured on two components: an attribu-
tional 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.

innovative Leader Behaviors

168 Leadership Theory and pracTice

In essence, the charisma factor describes people who are special and who make
others want to follow the vision they put forward. A person whose leadership
exemplifies the charisma factor is Nelson Mandela, the first non-White pres-
ident 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.









LF Laissez-Faire

MBE-P Management-by-Exception, Passive
MBE-A Management-by-Exception, Active
CR Contingent Reward
Transformational 4 I’s

Idealized Influence
Inspirational Motivation
Intellectual Stimulation
Individualized Consideration

LF Laissez-Faire

MBE-P Management-by-Exception, Passive
MBE-A Management-by-Exception, Active
CR Contingent Reward

Idealized Influence
Inspirational Motivation
Intellectual Stimulation
Individualized Consideration

4 I’s





Figure 8.2 Full range of Leadership Model

soUrce: From Bass, B. M., & avolio, B. J., Improving Organizational Effectiveness Through
Transformational Leadership, © 1994, saGe publications, inc. reprinted with permission.

chapter 8 Transformational Leadership 169

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

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. 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

additive effect Mother Theresa

170 Leadership Theory and pracTice

findings were true for higher- and lower-level leaders, and for leaders in both
public and private settings. Transformational leadership 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 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 behaviors such as
idealized influence, inspirational motivation, individualized consideration,
and intellectual stimulation were positively related to acquisition acceptance,
job satisfaction, and performance.

More recently, Tims, Bakker, and Xanthopoulou (2011) examined the
relationship between transformational leadership and work engagement in

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, 231–272.





+ +










Figure 8.3 The additive effect of Transformational Leadership

Transformational or Transactional?

chapter 8 Transformational Leadership 171

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.

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 (see Figure 8.2). 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 transaction is a parent who
negotiates with a child about how much television the child can watch after
practicing the piano. 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

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

172 Leadership Theory and pracTice

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

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 (see 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” 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.

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 (1987, 2002). These schol-
ars 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 (1985) 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

Maxwell’s Five Levels

chapter 8 Transformational Leadership 173

Nanus identified four common strategies used by leaders in transforming

First, transforming leaders had a clear vision of the future state of their orga-
nizations. It was an image of an attractive, realistic, and believable future
(Bennis & Nanus, 1985, 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 organiza-
tion. 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 direc-
tion 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 (1985) found 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.

Workplace civility

174 Leadership Theory and pracTice

Kouzes and posner

Kouzes and Posner (1987, 2002) developed their model by interviewing lead-
ers 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

Challenge the Process. 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.

philanthropic Leadership

chapter 8 Transformational Leadership 175

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 pre-
scriptive 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 devel-
oped 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

How Does THe TransFormaTionaL
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 signifi-
cant 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,

achieving More Than expected

176 Leadership Theory and pracTice

competent, and articulate, and they express strong ideals. They listen to
followers and are not intolerant of opposing viewpoints. A spirit of coop-
eration 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 orga-
nization is headed; it gives meaning and clarifies the organization’s identity.
Furthermore, the vision gives followers a sense of identity within the orga-
nization 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 organiza-
tion and help shape its meaning. People need to know their roles and under-
stand how they contribute to the greater purposes of the organization.
Transformational leaders are out front in interpreting and shaping for orga-
nizations the shared meanings that exist within them.

Throughout the process, transformational leaders are effective at working
with people. They build trust and foster collaboration with others. Trans-
formational leaders encourage 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.


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 prom-
inent 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
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 transforma-
tional perspective describes how the leader is out front advocating change

inspiring Leaders

chapter 8 Transformational Leadership 177

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 leader-
ship 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).

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, Jim Jones, and David Koresh
can be disregarded as models of leadership.

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 Multi-
factor Leadership Questionnaire (MLQ) to appraise leaders, transforma-
tional leadership was positively related to follower satisfaction, motivation,
and performance. Furthermore, in studies that used interviews and observa-
tions, transformational leadership was shown to be effective in a variety of
different situations.

Morals Matter

178 Leadership Theory and pracTice


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 transforma-
tional 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 con-
sideration), 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.

Another criticism revolves around how transformational leadership is mea-
sured. 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 transac-
tional and laissez-faire factors, which means they may not be unique to the
transformational model (Tejeda et al., 2001).

A third criticism is that transformational leadership treats leadership as a
personality trait or personal predisposition rather than a behavior that peo-
ple 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, there is an inclination to see this approach from a trait per-
spective. Perhaps this problem is exacerbated because the word transforma-
tional 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 vision-
aries. 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.

comparing Leadership Theories

chapter 8 Transformational Leadership 179

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 associ-
ated with positive outcomes, such as organizational effectiveness; however,
studies have not yet clearly established a causal link between transforma-
tional leaders and changes in followers or organizations.

A fifth criticism some have made is that transformational leadership is elit-
ist and antidemocratic (Avolio, 1999; Bass & Avolio, 1993). Transforma-
tional 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 demo-
cratic 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 leader-
ship 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.

A final 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
followers challenge leaders or respond to their visions is 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 argued that understanding this area (i.e., charisma and follower wor-
ship) is one of the central problems in leadership studies today (Bailey &
Axelrod, 2001). The charismatic nature of transformational leadership pres-
ents significant risks for organizations because it can be used for destructive
purposes (Conger, 1999; Howell & Avolio, 1993).

180 Leadership Theory and pracTice

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 it is collective or self-focused,
whether the leader is tolerant of opposing viewpoints, and whether 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.


Rather than being a model that tells leaders what to do, transformational lead-
ership provides a broad set of generalizations of what is typical of leaders who
are transforming or who work in transforming contexts. Unlike other leader-
ship approaches, such as Situational Leadership (discussed in Chapter 5),
transformational leadership does not provide a clearly defined set of assump-
tions 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 lead-
ership 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 pro-
motion, and training and development. It can also be used in improving
team development, decision-making groups, quality initiatives, and reorga-
nizations (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 spring-
board 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

Become a Transformational Leader

chapter 8 Transformational Leadership 181

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
behaviors work.

Overall, transformational leadership provides leaders with information about
a full range of their behaviors, from nontransactional to transactional to trans-
formational. In the next section, we provide some actual leadership examples
to which the principles of transformational leadership can be applied.

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.

Case 8.1

The Vision Failed

high Tech engineering (hTe) is a 50-year-old family-owned manufactur-
ing company with 250 employees that produces small parts for the air-
craft industry. The president of hTe is harold Barelli, who came to the
company from a smaller business with strong credentials as a leader in


Transformational Leadership in education

182 Leadership Theory and pracTice

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 3 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 leader-
ship 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 con-
trol 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 work-
ers reported to three different bosses, and other situations in which one
manager had far too many workers to oversee. rather than feeling com-
fortable 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 com-
pany 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


chapter 8 Transformational Leadership 183

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 empow-
ered, 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 com-
pany was never realized.


1. if you were consulting with the hTe board of directors soon after
harold started making changes, what would you advise them regard-
ing 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?

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 8 weeks. The participants, who come from big and small colleges
throughout the country, usually have little prior knowledge or back-
ground in what takes place during an excavation. dr. cook enjoys lead-
ing these expeditions because he likes teaching students about
archaeology and because the outcomes of the digs actually advance his
own scholarly work.


184 Leadership Theory and pracTice

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 eve-
rything 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 at 5, even after several

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 success-
ful outcome of the venture, and (b) that they had independent authority
to design, schedule, and carry out the details of their respective assign-
ments, 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 atti-
tude 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.


chapter 8 Transformational Leadership 185

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 challeng-
ing. i try to listen to the students and use their particular strengths. it
really is quite amazing how these students can develop in 8 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


1. how is this an example of transformational leadership?

2. Where are dr. cook’s strengths on the Full range of Leadership model
(see Figure 8.2)?

3. What is the vision dr. cook has for the archaeology excavations?

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 con-
ducted, 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 5 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, main-
tains 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,


186 Leadership Theory and pracTice

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 wom-
en’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 lead-
ership 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 com-
pany 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 com-
pany. at a recent directors’ meeting, she expressed frustration that peo-
ple 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 mak-
ing 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 tri-
als, 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 pharma-
ceutical company dedicated primarily to the research and development
of new drugs.


chapter 8 Transformational Leadership 187


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’s

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 transfor-
mational 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 aware-
ness 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
(see 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 effec-
tiveness, Bryman (1992) and Bass and Avolio (1994) have suggested that
the charisma and motivation factors on the MLQ are the most likely to

188 Leadership Theory and pracTice

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 transfor-
mational leadership itself.

chapter 8 Transformational Leadership 189

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 exem-
plified below, you can get a sense of your own belief about your leadership.

Key: 0 = not 1 = once in 2 = sometimes 3 = Fairly 4 = Frequently,
at all a while often if not always

Transformational Leadership Styles

idealized influence i go beyond self-interest for the good 0 1 2 3 4
(attributes) of the group.

idealized influence i consider the moral and ethical 0 1 2 3 4
(Behaviors) consequences of decisions.

inspirational i talk optimistically about 0 1 2 3 4
Motivation the future.

intellectual i reexamine critical assumptions 0 1 2 3 4
stimulation to question whether they
are appropriate.

individualized i help others to develop 0 1 2 3 4
consideration their strengths.

Transactional Leadership Styles

contingent reward i make clear what one can expect 0 1 2 3 4
to receive when performance
goals are achieved.

Management by i keep track of all mistakes. 0 1 2 3 4
exception: active

Passive/Avoidant Leadership Styles

Management by i wait for things to go wrong before 0 1 2 3 4
exception: passive taking action.

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.

190 Leadership Theory and pracTice


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) and
Kouzes and Posner (1987) are also representative of transformational leadership.

Transformational leadership can be assessed through use of the Multifac-
tor 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 trans-
formational leadership.

There are several positive features of the transformational approach, includ-
ing that it is a current model that has received a lot of attention by research-
ers, 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 leader-
ship has a trait-like quality; it is sometimes seen as elitist and undemo-
cratic; 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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Authentic Leadership


Authentic leadership represents one of the newest 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

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, and massive failures in the banking
industry have all created fear 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 devel-
oped 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 authen-
tic leadership and more clearly conceptualize it, efforts that continue today.

Authentic Leadership Character and Purpose

196 LeAdershiP Theory And PrACTiCe

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 schol-
ars, 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 Shamir and
Eilam’s (2005) description of the intrapersonal approach, they suggest that
authentic leaders exhibit genuine leadership, lead from conviction, and are
originals, not copies. This perspective emphasizes a leader’s life experiences
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, 2005; 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.

Building Authenticity Vital Leadership

Chapter 9 Authentic Leadership 197

Approaches to Authentic Leadership

Formulations about authentic leadership can be differentiated into two
areas: (1) the practical approach, which evolved from real-life examples and
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
will discuss Bill George’s authentic leadership approach (2003).

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 authen-
tic 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 understand their 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 passionate about their mission (i.e., act
from their heart) (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, con-
nectedness, 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 addi-
tion to knowing their purpose, authentic leaders are inspired and intrinsi-
cally 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.

The Authentic Leader

198 LeAdershiP Theory And PrACTiCe

A good example of an authentic leader who exhibited passion about his goals
was Terry Fox, a cancer survivor, whose leg was amputated after it was over-
come by bone cancer. Using a special 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 accom-
plished 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 $400 million (Canadian) for cancer research (www.terryfox.org).
Of the dimensions and characteristics in Figure 9.1, Terry Fox clearly dem-
onstrated purpose and passion in his leadership.

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,







Self-Discipline Relationsh




Consistency Connecte



Figure 9.1 Authentic Leadership Characteristics

soUrCe: From Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting
Value by Bill George, copyright © 2003. reproduced with permission of John Wiley &
sons, inc.

Chapter 9 Authentic Leadership 199

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 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

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 qual-
ity 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 every-
one 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

human rights Leadership

200 LeAdershiP Theory And PrACTiCe

can discipline themselves to move forward, even in challenging circum-
stances. 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 communi-
cate 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, back-
grounds, and living situations.

In summary, George’s authentic leadership approach highlights five impor-
tant features of authentic leaders. Collectively, these features provide a practi-
cal 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 lead-
ership is emerging in social science literature. In this section, we identify the
basic components of authentic leadership and describe how these compo-
nents are related to one another.

Background to the Theoretical Approach. Although people’s interest in
“authenticity” is probably timeless, research on authentic leadership is very
recent, with the first article appearing in 2003. The primary catalyst for this
research was 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 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. Prior to the summit, Luthans and
Avolio (2003) published an article on authentic leadership development

Authenticity and Brand

Chapter 9 Authentic Leadership 201

and positive organizational scholarship. The article also helped to ignite
this area of research.

Interest in authentic leadership increased during 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 Steidlmeier (1999) regarding the meaning of authentic transforma-
tional 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., 2005).

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 chap-
ter, we have selected the definition set forth in an article 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 trans-
parency 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 leader-
ship and how it works.

In the research literature, different models have been developed to illustrate
the process of authentic leadership. Gardner et al. (2005) 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 lead-
ership as a developmental process. In this chapter, we will present a basic
model of authentic leadership that is derived from the research literature that

Fostering Authenticity Ceos and Positive Psychology

202 LeAdershiP Theory And PrACTiCe

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.

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,

Figure 9.2 Authentic Leadership






Critical Life




soUrCe: Adapted from Luthans, F., & Avolio, B. J. (2003). Authentic leadership development. in
K. s. Cameron, J. e. dutton, & r. e. Quinn (eds.), Positive organizational scholarship (pp. 241–
258). san Francisco: Berrett-Koehler; and Gardner, W. L., Avolio, B. J., Luthans, F., May, d. r., &
Walumbwa, F. o. (2005). “Can you see the real me?” A self-based model of authentic leader
and follower development. Leadership Quarterly, 16, 343–372.

Authenticity and identity

Chapter 9 Authentic Leadership 203

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., 2005). Other people see leaders who have greater
self-awareness as more authentic.

Internalized moral perspective refers to a self-regulatory process whereby indi-
viduals 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 con-
sistent with their expressed beliefs and morals.

Balanced processing is also a self-regulatory behavior. It refers to an individu-
al’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 solicit-
ing 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-regulatory because individuals can control their
transparency with others. Relational transparency occurs when individuals
share their core feelings, motives, and inclinations with others in an appropri-
ate 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 rela-
tional 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).

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

Leadership from Within

204 LeAdershiP Theory And PrACTiCe

(Table 9.1; Luthans & Avolio, 2003). Positive attributes predispose or
enhance a leader’s capacity to develop the components of authentic leader-
ship 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.

table 9.1 related Positive Psychological Capacities

• Confidence

• hope

• optimism

• resilience

soUrCe: Luthans, F., & Avolio, B. J. (2003). Authentic leadership development. in K. s.
Cameron, J. e. dutton, & r. e. Quinn (eds.), Positive organizational scholarship (pp. 241–
258). san Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

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

Authentic Leadership

Chapter 9 Authentic Leadership 205

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.

A final factor related to authentic leadership is critical life events (Figure 9.2).
Critical events are major events that shape people’s lives. 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 having a loved one die. Crit-
ical 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 CEO 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 Star-
bucks 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.

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.

How Does AutHentic
LeADersHip tHeory work?

In this chapter, we have discussed authentic leadership from a practical and
theoretical perspective. Both perspectives describe authentic leadership as a
developmental process that forms in leaders over time; however, both per-
spectives 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 (2003)


206 LeAdershiP Theory And PrACTiCe

focuses on five characteristics leaders should develop to become authentic
leaders. More specifically, George advocates that leaders become more purpose-
ful, value centered, relational, self-disciplined, and compassionate. The essence of
authentic leadership is being a leader who strongly demonstrates these five

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.


Although it is in its early stages of development, the authentic leadership
approach has several strengths. First, it fulfills an expressed need for trust-
worthy 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.

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 process-
ing, 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

Authenticity Framework

Chapter 9 Authentic Leadership 207

work with followers to align their interests in order to create a greater
common good.

Fourth, authentic leadership emphasizes that authentic values and behaviors
can be developed in leaders over time. Authentic leadership is not an attri-
bute 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 could learn to develop
positive psychological capacities such as confidence, hope, optimism, and
resilience, and could 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 Leader-
ship Questionnaire (ALQ). The ALQ is a validated, theory-based instru-
ment 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.


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.

Authentic Leadership Questionnaire

208 LeAdershiP Theory And PrACTiCe

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 ratio-
nale for including positive psychological capacities as an inherent part of
authentic leadership has not been clearly explained by researchers. In addi-
tion, 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 psycho-
logical capacities in authentic leadership theory needs further clarification.

Finally, it is not clear how authentic leadership results in positive organi-
zational outcomes. Given that it is a new area of research, it is not unex-
pected that there are few data on outcomes, but these 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, and whether authen-
tic leadership results in productive outcomes. Relatedly, it is also not clear
in the research whether authentic leadership is sufficient to achieve orga-
nizational 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 con-
ducted to explore how authentic leadership is related to organizational


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

Teaching Authentic Leadership

Chapter 9 Authentic Leadership 209

leaders. In their original work on authentic leadership, Luthans and Avolio
(2003) constructed a model of authentic leadership development. Concep-
tualizing it as a lifelong learning process, they argued that authentic leader-
ship 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, Rob-
erts, 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 unethi-
cal 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 rela-
tional 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

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.

210 LeAdershiP Theory And PrACTiCe

Case 9.1

Am i really a Leader?

sally helgesen was born in the small Midwestern town of saint Cloud,
Minnesota. her mother was a housewife who later taught english, and
her father was a college professor of speech. 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 free-
lance 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 gradu-
ate center in preparation for a Phd in comparative religion. she envi-
sioned 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

Chapter 9 Authentic Leadership 211

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 advan-
tages 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 organ-
izations 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 were somewhat daunting to sally. While she
recognized the value of her book, she also knew that she was not a social
scientist with a body of theoretical data on women’s issues. she saw her-
self 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 authen-
ticity. Through this self-awareness, she grew to trust her own expertise as
a writer with a keen eye for current trends in organizational life.


212 LeAdershiP Theory And PrACTiCe

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 compara-
tive 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.


1. Learning about one’s self is an essential step in becoming an authen-
tic 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 authentic-
ity? does every leader reach a point in his or her career where embrac-
ing the leadership role is essential?


Case 9.2

A Leader under Fire

(The previous 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 perspec-
tive on Mortenson, you can access the original case study at www.sage

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), which told how the
former emergency trauma room nurse had become 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

Chapter 9 Authentic Leadership 213

success led him to create the Central Asia institute (CAi), a nonprofit
organization that “empowers communities of Central Asia through lit-
eracy and education, especially for girls, promotes peace through educa-
tion, and conveys the importance of these activities globally.” 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 (CAi, 2011a).

Greg’s story seemed too good to be true. in April 2011, television news
show 60 Minutes and author Jon Krakauer alleged that it was. 60 Minutes
accused Greg of misusing money and benefitting 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 next day, Krakauer (Into Thin Air [1997] and Under the Banner of
Heaven [2003]) 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” (CAi, 2011b). Many criticized the organiza-
tion’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, with 17 of those
receiving “full support” from the CAi, which includes teachers’ salaries,
supplies, books, and furniture and monitoring by CAi contractors
(Flandro, 2011).


214 LeAdershiP Theory And PrACTiCe

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 as per-
sonal. The attorney general’s conclusions did not address the allegations
that Mortenson 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, 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).


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 exhibited
these components as part his leadership?

3. how was Greg’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?


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 13-term U.s. Congressman Gerald “Jerry” r. Ford who was looking

Chapter 9 Authentic Leadership 215

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 Jerry
was tapped to replace then-U.s. Vice President spiro Agnew who had
resigned. After only 9 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 eye-
brows 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 diag-
nosed 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 maga-
zine 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 atmos-
phere 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,


216 LeAdershiP Theory And PrACTiCe

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, entertain-
ing dignitaries and heads of state from countries across the globe. in
1975 she began actively campaigning for her husband for the 1976 pres-
idential 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 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 prob-
lems, 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 pro-
grams 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 peo-
ple come forward and address their own addictions. And i don’t think


Chapter 9 Authentic Leadership 217

there’s anything as wonderful in life as being able to help someone
else” (Ford, 1987, p. 217).


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

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 transpar-
ency. 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, organiza-
tional 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 ques-
tionnaire includes 16 questions that assess the four major components of
authentic leadership discussed earlier in this chapter: self-awareness, internal-
ized 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 authen-
tic leadership. This questionnaire is intended for practical applications to help
you understand the complexities of authentic leadership. It is not designed
for research purposes.

218 LeAdershiP Theory And PrACTiCe

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 writ-
ing the number from the scale below that you feel most accurately character-
izes your response to the statement.

key: 1 = strongly 2 = disagree 3 = neutral 4 = Agree 5 = strongly
disagree 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 1 2 3 4 5
as a person.

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 1 2 3 4 5
of others.

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 1 2 3 4 5
making decisions.

16. i admit my mistakes to others. 1 2 3 4 5


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).

Chapter 9 Authentic Leadership 219

total scores

self-Awareness: ______

internalized Moral Perspective: _____

Balanced Processing: _____

relational Transparency: _____

scoring interpretation

This self-assessment questionnaire is designed to measure your authentic lead-
ership by assessing four components of the process: self-awareness, internal-
ized 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 cat-
egory. 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.

220 LeAdershiP Theory And PrACTiCe


As a result of leadership failures in the public and private sectors, authentic
leadership is emerging in response to societal demands for genuine, trust-
worthy, and good leadership. Authentic leadership describes leadership that
is transparent, morally grounded, and responsive to people’s needs and val-
ues. Even though authentic leadership is still in the early stages of develop-
ment, 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 knowl-
edge, self-regulation, and self-concept. The interpersonal perspective claims
that authentic leadership is a collective process, created by leaders and fol-
lowers together. The developmental perspective emphasizes major compo-
nents 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 approach (2003) identifies
five basic dimensions of authentic leadership and the corresponding
behavioral characteristics individuals need to develop to become authentic

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, bal-
anced 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 is prescriptive and provides
a great deal of information about how leaders can learn to become authen-
tic. 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.

Chapter 9 Authentic Leadership 221

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 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.
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.

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Servant Leadership


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 contradic-
tory 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 focus-
ing on leadership from the point of view of the leader and his or her behav-
iors. Servant leadership emphasizes that leaders be attentive to the concerns
of their followers, empathize with them, and nurture them. Servant leaders
put followers f irst, 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

Servant Leadership Everyday Servant Leadership

226 LEadErShip ThEory and pracTicE

ways that serve the greater good of the organization, community, and society
at large.

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 f irst. 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 auton-
omous, 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 lead-
ership 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 behav-
ior 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.

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 practi-
cal and theoretical level. He founded the Center for Applied Ethics in 1964,
now the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, which provides a clearing-
house 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

Being a Servant Leader Serving on Southwest

chapter 10 Servant Leadership 227

intrigued by issues of power and authority and how individuals in organiza-
tions could creatively support each other. Decidedly against coercive leader-
ship, Greenleaf advocated using communication to build consensus in

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 ser-
vant becomes lost and disappears from the group, the travelers fall into disar-
ray 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 privi-
leged. 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).

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., talk-
ing 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 lead-
ers 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.

Unexpected Servant Leaders

228 LEadErShip ThEory and pracTicE

3. Healing. To heal means to make whole. Servant leaders care about
the personal well-being of their followers. They support followers by help-
ing 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 posi-
tional 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 abil-
ity 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 ser-
vant 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 occur-
ring in the present and what 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 lead-
ership 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 contribu-
tions to the organization. Servant leaders are committed to helping each
person in the organization grow personally and professionally. Commitment


chapter 10 Servant Leadership 229

can take many forms, including providing followers with opportunities for
career development, helping them develop new work skills, taking a per-
sonal interest in the 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.

Building a Theory About Servant Leadership

For more than three decades after Greenleaf ’s original writings, servant leader-
ship 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 under-
pinnings of servant leadership in an effort to build a theory about it. These
studies have resulted in a wide array of models that describe servant leader-
ship using a multitude of variables. For example, Russell and Stone (2002)
developed a practical model of servant leadership that contained 20 attri-
butes, nine functional characteristics (distinctive behaviors observed in the
workplace), and 11 accompanying characteristics that augment these behav-
iors. Similarly, Patterson (2003) created a value-based model of servant
leadership that distinguished seven constructs that characterize the virtues
and shape the behaviors of servant leaders.

dave ramsey Servant Leadership Framework







































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chapter 10 Servant Leadership 231

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 ser-
vant leadership. This table also exhibits the lack of agreement among research-
ers 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.
In addition, Table 10.1 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 oth-
ers). Although scholars are not in agreement regarding the primary attributes
of servant leadership, these studies provide the groundwork necessary for the
development of a refined 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.

Antecedent Conditions

As shown on the left side of Figure 10.1, three antecedent, or existing, con-
ditions have an impact on servant leadership: context and culture, leader attri-
butes, 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 ser-
vant 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

232 LEadErShip ThEory and pracTicE

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 dispo-
sition 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.

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

Context and Culture

Leader Attributes

Follower Receptivity


Follower Performance
and Growth


Societal Impact

Servant Leader

• Conceptualizing

• Emotional Healing

• Putting Followers First

• Helping Followers
Grow and Succeed

• Behaving Ethically

• Empowering

• Creating Value for
the Community


figure 10.1 Model of Servant Leadership

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, England: oxford University
press; and van dierendonck, d. (2011). Servant leadership: a review and syntheses. Journal
of Management, 37(4), 1228–1261.

The ripple Effect antecedents of Servant Leadership

chapter 10 Servant Leadership 233

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, Wayne, et al., 2008). Similarly, Meuser,
Liden, Wayne, and Henderson (2011) found empirical evidence showing
that when servant leadership was matched with followers who desired it,
this type of leadership had a positive impact on performance and organiza-
tional citizenship behavior. 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.

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 behav-
iors emerged from Liden, Wayne, 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

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 prob-
lems, to know if something is going wrong, and to address problems cre-
atively 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’

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234 LEadErShip ThEory and pracTicE

problems and being willing to take the time to address them. Servant
leaders who exhibit emotional healing make themselves available to oth-
ers, 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 stand-
ing 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 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 fol-
lowers 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 oth-
ers 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 know-
ing followers’ professional or personal goals and helping them to accom-
plish those aspirations. Servant leaders make followers’ career development
a priority, including mentoring followers and providing them with sup-
port. At its core, helping followers grow and succeed is about aiding
these individuals to become self-actualized, reaching their fullest human

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.

community health nursing

chapter 10 Servant Leadership 235

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 com-
pany. “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 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

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 volun-
teer 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.

community Building

236 LEadErShip ThEory and pracTicE

An example of creating value for the community can be seen in the leader-
ship of Mercedes Urbanez, principal of Alger High School. Alger is an alter-
native 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 appreci-
ated 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 soci-
ety and away from crime. The other high schools in the community know
that Alger provides services they find difficult to provide. Mercedes
Urbanez serves the have-nots in the community, and the whole community
reaps the benefits.


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, organi-
zational performance, and societal impact (see Figure 10.1). As Greenleaf
highlighted in his original work (1970), the central goal of servant leader-
ship 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

Servant Leadership review

chapter 10 Servant Leadership 237

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.

Finally, another expected result of servant leadership is that followers them-
selves may become servant leaders. Greenleaf ’s conceptualization of servant
leadership hypothesizes that when followers receive caring and empower-
ment 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. Further research is needed, however, to
test this hypothesis.

Organizational Performance. In addition to positively affecting fol-
lowers and their performance, initial research has shown that 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 their duties and help
the overall functioning of the organization (Ehrhart, 2004; Liden,
Wayne, 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.

Current research on organizational outcomes is in its initial stages. Further
study is needed 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

cultural Servant Leadership

238 LEadErShip ThEory and pracTicE

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.

In his conceptualization of servant leadership, Greenleaf did not frame the
process as one that was intended to directly change society. Rather, he visu-
alizes leaders who become servants first and listen to others and help them
grow. As a result, their organizations are healthier, ultimately benefiting soci-
ety. In this way, the long-term outcomes of putting others first include pos-
itive social change and helping society flourish.

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 lead-
ership: 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.


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.

Servant Leaders iron Man helps the homeless

chapter 10 Servant Leadership 239

Instead, servant leadership focuses on the behaviors leaders should exhibit to
put followers first and to support followers’ personal development. It is con-
cerned with how leaders treat followers and the outcomes that are likely to

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 relation-
ships 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, Wayne, et al., 2008).

Servant leadership works best when leaders are altruistic and have a strong moti-
vation 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 soci-
etal change. Individuals within an organization who care for each other
become committed to developing an organization that cares for the com-
munity. 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.


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

Service Leadership

240 LEadErShip ThEory and pracTicE

authentic leadership that include an ethical dimension, servant leadership
is unique in the way it makes altruism the central component of the lead-
ership 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; but rather, leaders should share con-
trol 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 lead-
ership 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 ser-
vant leadership moderates the potential usefulness of leading from this
approach (Liden, Wayne, et al., 2008).

Fourth, recent research has resulted in a sound measure of servant leadership.
Using a rigorous methodology, Liden, Wayne, 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, Wayne,
et al., 2008; Schaubroeck, Lam, & Peng, 2011). The SLQ has proved to be
a suitable instrument for use in future research on servant leadership.


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

chapter 10 Servant Leadership 241

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 defini-
tion 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 leader-
ship 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 nec-
essarily researchers who want to conduct studies to test the validity of ser-
vant 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 charac-
teristic of servant leadership? A clearer explanation for its central role in
servant leadership needs to be addressed in future research.


Servant leadership can be applied at all levels of management and in all
types of organizations. Within a philosophical framework of caring for oth-
ers, 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.

242 LEadErShip ThEory and pracTicE

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 ser-
vant 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, Wayne, et al. (2008) suggest that organizations that want to build a
culture of servant leadership should be careful to select people who are inter-
ested in and capable of building long-term relationships with followers.
Furthermore, because “behaving ethically” is positively related to job perfor-
mance, organizations should focus on selecting people who have high integ-
rity and strong ethics. In addition, organizations should develop training
programs that spend time helping leaders develop their emotional intelli-
gence, 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 con-
sultants. 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.


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

Emotional intelligence in Servant Leaders

chapter 10 Servant Leadership 243

of each case, several questions are provided to help you analyze the case
from the perspective of servant leadership.

Case 10.1

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.


244 LEadErShip ThEory and pracTicE

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 won-
derful principal, many good teachers, and great coaches, but when alumni
were asked, who runs the school? The answer was always “Mrs. noble.”


1. What servant leader behaviors would you say Mrs. noble demon-

2. Who are Mrs. noble’s followers?

3. Based on the model of servant leadership (Figure 10.1), what out-
comes 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.


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

chapter 10 Servant Leadership 245

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

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 deter-
mined 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 vac-
cination 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 infec-
tious 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

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


246 LEadErShip ThEory and pracTicE

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 8 months and enrolled nearly 700 in drug ther-
apy 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 impover-
ished 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 dorchester districts. pih has since sent
pacT project teams across the United States to provide support to other
community health programs.

By 2009, partners in health had grown to 13,600 employees working in
health centers and hospitals in 8 countries (partners in health, 2013),
including the dominican republic, peru, Mexico, rwanda, Lesotho,
Malawi, 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.


1. Would you characterize paul Farmer as a servant leader? Explain your

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’s followers, and how did they become servants to his

4. What role do you think paul’s childhood had in his development as a
servant leader?


chapter 10 Servant Leadership 247

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 atten-
dant 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 atten-
dant 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 par-
ents, but also indirectly saw to the comfort of a planeload of other

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 employ-
ees would take care of the customers, and the shareholders would win,

From the first days of Southwest airlines, herb resisted establishing tra-
ditional hierarchies within the company. he focused on finding employ-
ees 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.


248 LEadErShip ThEory and pracTicE

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 cus-
tomers, and then president and chief operating officer in 2001 (which
she stepped down from in 2008). She had no formal training in avia-
tion, 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.


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.


chapter 10 Servant Leadership 249


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, Wayne, 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, Wayne, et al.
established the multiple dimensions of this scale and described how it is
uniquely different from other leadership measures.

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 pro-
cess, and taking the SLQ is one way to discover the dynamics of how it

250 LEadErShip ThEory and pracTicE

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 ques-
tionnaire and give a copy to each individual you have chosen. Using the fol-
lowing 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 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
personal problem.

2. he/She emphasizes the importance of giving back to 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
the community.

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 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
decisions about their own jobs.

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 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 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
decisions on their own.

12. he/She is interested in making sure others reach their 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
career goals.

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

17. he/She has a thorough understanding of the organization 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
and its goals.

18. he/She gives others the freedom to handle difficult 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
situations in the way they feel is best.

chapter 10 Servant Leadership 251

19. he/She provides others with work experiences that 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
enable them to develop new skills.

20. he/She sacrifices his/her own interests to meet 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
others’ needs.

21. he/She would not compromise ethical principles in 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
order to meet success.

22. he/She can recognize when others are feeling down 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
without asking them.

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 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
creative ideas.

25. if others need to make important decisions at work, they 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
do not need to consult him/her.

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 “Servant Leadership: development of a
Multidimensional Measure and Multi-Level assessment,” by r. c. Liden, S. J. Wayne,
h. Zhao, and d. henderson, 2008, The Leadership Quarterly, 19, 161–177. copyright ©
reprinted with permission from Elsevier Science.


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 com-
plete the scoring of the questionnaire:

1. add up the scores on 1, 8, 15, and 22. This is your score for emotional

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

4. add up the scores for 4, 11, 18, and 25. This is your score for empowering.

252 LEadErShip ThEory and pracTicE

5. add up the scores for 5, 12, 19, and 26. This is your score for helping fol-
lowers grow and succeed.

6. add up the scores for 6, 13, 20, and 27. This is your score for putting followers

7. add up the scores for 7, 14, 21, and 28. This is your score for behaving

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
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.

chapter 10 Servant Leadership 253


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 f irst—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 extraordi-
nary 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, fore-
sight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people, and building com-
munity. 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.

Liden, Panaccio, et al. (2014) have 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 cre-
ating 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

254 LEadErShip ThEory and pracTicE

conditions under which servant leadership is not a preferred kind of leader-
ship. Last, recent research has resulted in a sound measure of servant leader-
ship (Servant Leadership Questionnaire) that identifies seven distinct
dimensions of the process.

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 com-
mon 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 ser-
vant 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 under-
standing of the complexities of the process will emerge.

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Adaptive Leadership


As the name of the approach implies, adaptive leadership is about how
leaders encourage people to adapt—to face and deal with problems, chal-
lenges, 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) or 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 effec-
tively to explain how leaders encourage effective change across multiple lev-
els, 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 & Sinder,
1988; Heifetz, Grashow, & Linsky, 2009; Heifetz & Laurie, 1997; Heifetz
& Linsky, 2002). From the beginning, they set out to create a different
approach to leadership. Rather than seeing the leader as a savior who solves

Adaptive Leadership Ronald Heifetz on Adaptive

258 LeAdeRsHip THeoRy And pRAcTice

problems for people, they conceptualized the leader as one who plays the
role of mobilizing people to tackle tough problems (e.g., drug abuse or sex-
ism 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 assumptions, perceptions,
beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that they are likely to encounter in address-
ing real problems.

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 chal-
lenges 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 con-
cerned with the behaviors of leaders. This approach also makes a distinction
between leadership and authority (Heifetz and Sinder, 1988). Leadership
revolves around work and how people are mobilized to do work. It is not
defined by position, so anyone can exhibit leadership. In contrast, authority
revolves around power and how it is formally (e.g., position) and informally
(e.g., admiration) conferred to leaders by followers. Authority allows leaders
to do what followers expect them to do and is a primary tool for exercising
leadership and giving followers a sense of security and protection.

Adaptive leaders engage in activities that mobilize, motivate, organize, orient,
and focus the attention of others (Heifetz, 1994). In addition, this approach to
leadership is about helping others to explore and change their values. The
goal of adaptive leadership is to encourage people to change and learn new
ways of living so that they may do well and grow. In short, adaptive leader-
ship is the behavior of leaders and the actions they take to encourage others
to address and resolve changes that are central in their lives. To better under-
stand how adaptive leadership works, Table 11.1 provides some examples of
“real world” situations in which adaptive leadership would be ideal.

Conceptually, the process of adaptive leadership incorporates ideas from four
different viewpoints: the systems, biological, service orientation, and psycho-
therapy perspectives (Heifetz, 1994). First, adaptive leadership takes a systems

nature of Adaptive Leadership

chapter 11 Adaptive Leadership 259

table 11.1 Adaptive Leadership in practice

Adaptive leaders mobilize, motivate, organize, orient, and focus the attention of others
to address and resolve changes that are central in their lives. The first step will be to
help followers address the challenges they are experiencing. 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 same-sex 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
marriage and members of the LGBT community.

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 disparate groups of employees together to have their company
function successfully. They will have to identify their adaptive challenges and then
decide what work needs to be done (e.g., learning new ways of performing,
shedding old ways that no longer work, and reevaluating their beliefs and values).

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 condo association, and two groups in the association
are at odds about an association 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, in this area, young, new homeowners are buying condos at higher rates
than empty nesters. The president must guide the association to reach consensus in
a way that will benefit the association.

perspective, in that this approach assumes that many problems people face are
actually embedded in complicated interactive systems. 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,

260 LeAdeRsHip THeoRy And pRAcTice

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 prescribing possible 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

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 commod-
ity rather than the production of goods that was prevalent in the industrial era
(Uhl-Bien, Marion, & McKelvey, 2007). Complexity Leadership Theory
(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 leader-
ship 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 conceptualized not as a person
or a specific act (Uhl-Bien et al., 2007), but rather as a dynamic process.

Adaptive leadership is a unique kind of leadership that focuses on the
dynamics of mobilizing people to address change. In the next section, we will
describe the various components of adaptive leadership and discuss how
each component contributes to the overall process of adaptive leadership.

A MoDeL oF ADAptiVe LeADersHip

Although adaptive leadership is in the early stages of theoretical develop-
ment, the initial writings about this approach provide a basis for formulating
a model of the adaptive leadership process. Based on the work of Heifetz and
his associates (Heifetz, 1994; Heifetz & Sinder, 1988; Heifetz et al., 2009;
Heifetz & Laurie, 1997; Heifetz & Linsky, 2002), 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.

Adaptive Leader Behaviors

chapter 11 Adaptive Leadership 261

Situational Challenges

As illustrated on the left side of Figure 11.1, the practice of leadership
requires that leaders address three kinds of situational challenges. There
are challenges or problems that are primarily technical in nature, chal-
lenges that have both a technical and an adaptive dimension, and challenges
that are primarily adaptive in nature. Not all situational challenges are
adaptive challenges. While addressing technical challenges is important,
adaptive leadership is concerned with helping people address adaptive


Technical and
Adaptive Challenges

Adaptive Challenges

Adaptive Work

Holding Environment

Leader Followers



1. Get on the Balcony
2. Identify the Adaptive
3. Regulate Distress
4. Maintain Disciplined
5. Give the Work
Back to the People
6. Protect Leadership
Voices from Below


Figure 11.1 Model of Adaptive Leadership

technical challenges

Technical challenges are problems in the workplace or community that are
clearly defined with known solutions that can be implemented through
existing organizational rules and procedures. They are problems that can be
solved by experts. 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 could 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 it through the accepted

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262 LeAdeRsHip THeoRy And pRAcTice

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.

technical and Adaptive challenges

Some challenges have both a technical and an adaptive dimension. In this
case, the challenges are clearly defined but do not have distinct straightfor-
ward solutions within the existing organizational system. The responsibility
of tackling this type of challenge is shared between the leader and the peo-
ple. 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., provid-
ers 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, to give them access
to their own records, and to 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.

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 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, with their support, to define challenging situations and
implement solutions. Not easy to tackle and often resisted, adaptive chal-
lenges are difficult because they usually require changes in people’s assump-
tions, perceptions, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. 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 uncer-
tainty 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
his or her family 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

Technical or Adaptive challenge

chapter 11 Adaptive Leadership 263

prepare for it? How will they cope with the loss going forward? In this con-
text, 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.

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 con-
flicts among people, ways they may be avoiding work, and other dysfunc-
tional 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 the 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 group, 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

264 LeAdeRsHip THeoRy And pRAcTice

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 to separate from
the emotion and intensity and reflect on the goals of the talks. Once this
leader 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.

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 adap-
tive challenges and technical leadership for technical challenges. Treating
challenges with the wrong kind 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, lead-
ers need to take an adaptive approach. How a leader decides if he or she faces
an adaptive challenge is 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 require
that people learn new ways of coping, they are adaptive. Take the manufac-
turing environment that was discussed earlier. If another company buys that
manufacturing facility and the new owners implement production proce-
dures 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

Member expertise

chapter 11 Adaptive Leadership 265

they cannot solve themselves and that demand collaboration between the
leader and followers. For adaptive challenges, leaders do what is necessary
(e.g., give support, challenge, or even take themselves out of the picture) to
mobilize others to 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
of adaptive change to consider (Heifetz et al., 2009).

Archetype 1: Gap Between Espoused Values and Behavior. This archetype is pres-
ent when an organization espouses, or claims, to adhere to values that it doesn’t
in reality support by its actions. For example, a company that promotes itself
as a family-friendly place to work but does not have a flexible-hour work
policy, an extended maternity leave policy, or in-house child care doesn’t have
behaviors that match the family-friendly image it promotes itself as having.

Archetype 2: Competing Commitments. 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 trim-
ming the number of trainers and staff it employs.

Archetype 3: Speaking the Unspeakable. The phrases “sacred cow” and “ele-
phant in the room” are examples of this archetype—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, estab-
lished 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 hurting 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 com-
pany refuse to confront or discuss a very skilled employee who is not par-
ticipating 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 busy work. The
agency then hires a second graphic designer to do the more creative work

266 LeAdeRsHip THeoRy And pRAcTice

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 (Figure 11.1). 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 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. This is what it means
to regulate distress. The model suggests three ways that leaders can main-
tain 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. This refers to establishing an atmo-
sphere in which people can feel safe tackling difficult problems, but not so
much so that they can avoid the problem. You can think of a holding envi-
ronment 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. 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 pro-
vide a sense of safety and protection for the client (Heifetz & Linsky, 2002;

chapter 11 Adaptive Leadership 267

Modell, 1976). Within the holding environment, adaptive leaders use
authority 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. It can be described 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 address-
ing problems. However, without the leader’s initial catalyst of the issues,
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. These are specific ways leaders can use their formal
and informal authority to help people manage the uncertainty and distress that
accompany adaptive work. They are prescribed behaviors for adaptive leaders.

• Providing direction involves helping identify 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 con-
fused 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. 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 accor-
dance with those values, people may need to adopt entirely new roles

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268 LeAdeRsHip THeoRy And pRAcTice

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
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 and are not easily changed. When norms are con-
structive, 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. This is a third 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 neces-
sary 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 ten-
sion that accompanies that, while at the same time being sensitive to the very
real frustrations and pain that people feel when doing adaptive work.

To help others through the adaptive process, adaptive leaders need to make
sure they have their own act together. They must be strong and steady
because people look to 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 frus-
trations and pain that people feel during change but not to the extent that
they lose their own sense of who they are as leaders.

chapter 11 Adaptive Leadership 269

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 stu-
dents 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 communi-
cating, 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 frustrations recovering addicts feel are tremendous,
and the therapist has to be in touch with this pain without losing her role as
therapist. Hearing stories of recovery and failed recovery can be heartbreak-
ing, 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

As illustrated in Figure 11.1, the fourth leader behavior described 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.
Maintaining disciplined attention is about the leader 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 avoid-
ance, the leader’s task is to mobilize and encourage people to drop their
defenses and openly confront their problems. Adaptive leaders help people
focus on issues. If some topics are deemed to “hot” in the organization, the
leader should support people in getting these topics on the agenda for dis-
cussion. If some issues create deep divisions between people, the leadership

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270 LeAdeRsHip THeoRy And pRAcTice

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 “ele-
phant 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—to show disciplined
attention to the work at hand.

An example of disciplined attention can be seen in how the director of an
assisted care facility 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 and prides herself on being able to cook, drive,
and live independently. Although her forgetfulness and physical problems
have her two adult children very concerned about their mother’s health and
safety, they just cannot bring themselves to make their mother move from
her home. They say things like “Mom just doesn’t need it yet. She is so much
better than those people at the care facility. She won’t survive in a new envi-
ronment. She just won’t be herself if she’s not at her own home.” The direc-
tor of the assisted care facility’s challenge is to help them make the
decision—a decision they are afraid of making, and avoiding. He always
gives a listening ear and sets up multiple appointments for the children to
visit the care facility. In addition, he arranges for the children to talk to staff
members and other families who have a parent at the facility. In all of these
sessions, the director emphasizes the importance of the children communi-
cating their concerns while letting them know that the children’s concerns
and hesitations are normal because accepting the failing health of a parent
is very difficult. He continues to tell them gently, without sounding like he’s
selling something, the benefits of going into the assisted care facility: 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 chil-
dren 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 their decisions.

5. Give the Work Back to the people

A fifth leader behavior important for adaptive leaders is to give the work
back to the people (Figure 11.1). People want leaders to provide some direc-
tion and structure to their work and want to feel secure in what they are
doing, but too much leadership and authority can be debilitating, decrease
people’s confidence to solve problems on their own, and suppress their cre-
ative capacities. Overly directive leadership can result in people being

chapter 11 Adaptive Leadership 271

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 thinking for them.

The famous boarding school Summerhill, 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 stu-
dents 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 learn-
ing back to the students. Instead of the teachers telling students what to
study and learn, the students themselves make those decisions within a sup-
portive 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 responsibil-
ity for meeting those goals.

6. protect Leadership Voices from Below

A final leader behavior that is important to the adaptive leadership process
is protecting leadership voices from below (Figure 11.1). This means that
adaptive leaders have to be cautious to listen and be open to the ideas of
people who may be at the fringe, marginalized, or even deviant in 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

Learning and Adaptive Leadership

272 LeAdeRsHip THeoRy And pRAcTice

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.

Protecting voices from below is important because it puts low-status indi-
viduals 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 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 com-
fortable 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 proj-
ect, wanted to proceed without her help. 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. He 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. As a result, Alissa was asked to
use her strengths for the group. 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 so frequently 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,
which would not have happened if the leader had not given voice to
Alissa’s concerns and talents.

Wicked problems and public policy

chapter 11 Adaptive Leadership 273

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 process that occurs between the leader
and followers but is primarily the work of followers. It occurs within a hold-
ing 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 adap-
tive work is conducted. It is a real or virtual space where people can address
the adaptive challenges that confront them. Because the holding environ-
ment plays a critical role in the adaptive process, leaders direct considerable
energy toward establishing and maintaining it.

While the term followers is used in the holding environment portion of the
model to depict individuals who are not the leader, it is important to note
that throughout most of the writing on adaptive leadership, the term follower
is not used because it implies 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. The term
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 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 fit-
ness instructor.

Another example where adaptive work can be observed is in a public ele-
mentary school where the principal is asking the teachers to adopt the
Common Core State 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 discuss freely their con-
cerns about the new policies. The meetings provide a holding environment
where teachers can confront their deeply held positions regarding the useful-
ness and efficacy of standardized testing and what it will mean for them to

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274 LeAdeRsHip THeoRy And pRAcTice

have to shift to the Common Core. The principal’s role is to communicate
in ways that support the teachers in their adaptive work.

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 con-
front 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 com-
plexities 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 first makes an
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

While the recipe for adaptive leadership is composed of 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 more important
at the beginning of the process and others at the end. Some important
adaptive leader behaviors are regulating distress, creating a holding envi-
ronment, providing direction, keeping people focused on important issues,
empowering people, and giving voice to those who feel unrecognized or

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 fol-
lowers do adaptive work.

Using Adaptive Leadership

chapter 11 Adaptive Leadership 275


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 interactional 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 formal, 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.
The raison d’être of adaptive leaders is to provide a holding environment 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 attention to the use of
leadership to help followers deal with conflicting values that emerge in chang-
ing work environments and social contexts. Change and learning are inher-
ent 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’s central
purpose is 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 (Heifetz, 1994; Heifetz & Sinder, 1988; Heifetz et al., 2009;
Heifetz & Laurie, 1997; Heifetz & Linsky, 2002) 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 work back to the people” are all prescrip-
tive 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 con-
text where this is most likely to occur. In short, adaptive leadership provides a

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276 LeAdeRsHip THeoRy And pRAcTice

recipe for what leaders and followers should do to facilitate adaptive change.
It describes the kind of work that followers should address and then the
behaviors leaders should employ to help them accomplish this work.

Finally, adaptive leadership makes a unique contribution to the field of lead-
ership studies by identifying the concept of a holding environment as an inte-
gral 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 importantly, 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.


In addition to its strengths, adaptive leadership has several weaknesses. First,
very little empirical research has been conducted to test the claims of adap-
tive 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.

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 is 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,”

chapter 11 Adaptive Leadership 277

“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 clar-
ity. Without clear conceptualizations of recommended behaviors, it is diffi-
cult to know how to analyze them in research or implement them in practice.
As a result, leaders may infer their own conceptualizations of these prescrip-
tions, which may vary widely from what Heifetz and his colleagues (Heifetz,
1994; Heifetz & Sinder, 1988; Heifetz et al., 2009; Heifetz & Laurie, 1997;
Heifetz & Linsky, 2002) intended.

Finally, from a theoretical perspective, adaptive leadership 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 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.


How can adaptive leadership be applied to real-life situations? There are
several ways. On an individual level, adaptive leadership provides a concep-
tual framework made up of a unique set of constructs that help us determine
what type of challenges we face (e.g., technical vs. adaptive) and strategies for
managing them (e.g., establishing a holding environment). Individuals can eas-
ily 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.

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. It has been studied as a model to train urban school
superintendants (Chace, 2013) and to enhance the leadership education
of aspiring school principals (Guilleux, 2010). Consultants have applied
adaptive leadership at all levels in many different kinds of organizations. In

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278 LeAdeRsHip THeoRy And pRAcTice

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 view patients
as complex adaptive systems who face both technical and adaptive challenges
(Figure 11.2). Overall, they claim the adaptive leadership 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 chal-
lenges, 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, Eubank et al. 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.

Figure 11.2 Adaptive Leadership Framework developed by
Heifetz & Linsky

Patient/Caregivers Challenges

Technical Challenges


Technical Work

Adaptive Challenges

Adaptive Work Adaptive Leadership

Patient/Caregiver Provider

soURce: Adapted from Adams, J. A., Bailey, d. e., Jr., Anderson, R. A., & Thygeson, M.
(2013). Finding your way through eoL challenges in the icU using Adaptive Leadership
behaviours: A qualitative descriptive case study. Intensive and Critical Care Nursing, 29,
329–336 and Thygeson, M., Morrissey, L., & Ulstad, V. (2010). Adaptive leadership and the
practice of medicine: A complexity-based approach to reframing the doctor-patient
relationship. Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice, 16, 1009–1015.

chapter 11 Adaptive Leadership 279

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 patients in intensive care units to 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, both on the
personal and on the organizational level, as well as in the research environ-
ment. 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.

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 news-
paper who wanted to lessen the stigma of mental illness by sharing other
students’ stories. 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.

Case 11.1

silence, stigma, and Mental illness

Madeline Halpert and eva Rosenfeld had three things in common: Both
were on the high school newspaper staff, 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 who experienced these challenges, and in a concerted effort


280 LeAdeRsHip THeoRy And pRAcTice

to support others and lessen the stigma of mental illness, they decided
to do 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 (Halpert & Rosenfeld, 2014). 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 will-
ing 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 bully-
ing 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 pro-
tect 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 depres-
sion 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 student 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.


chapter 11 Adaptive Leadership 281

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. 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 strug-
gles 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.”


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 envi-
ronment 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?

Case 11.2

taming Bacchus

Kyle Barrett is a serious ultimate disc 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 disc team. His excitement quickly turned to
dismay when he found the team members were more interested in par-
tying than playing.


282 LeAdeRsHip THeoRy And pRAcTice

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 drunken-
ness), reflected this culture.

Kyle found a like-minded soul in his teammate Harrison, and together
they sought to turn the club team into a program that operated on a
more competitive level. The pair was chosen as team 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, “you were either 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. so 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 disc 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 publically 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 who 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 was young with a
number of inexperienced players, which sometimes caused stress,


chapter 11 Adaptive Leadership 283

frustration, and friction. The captains, however, 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 disc. older, more experienced
players began mentoring the younger, newer players to help them
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 optimal for his own enjoyment and playing abili-
ties, 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


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 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?

Case 11.3

redskins no More

When there became a vacancy on the school board for Gooding public
schools, scott Rogers decided to throw his hat into the ring for consid-
eration. A former college professor who had retired with his wife to the


284 LeAdeRsHip THeoRy And pRAcTice

small Midwestern town, scott was hoping to help the board, which had
for years been a “good old boy” network, 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
Gooding High school’s athletic teams be changed from the Redskins. The
family found the use of the name Redskins to be offensive. “The use of
the word Redskins is essentially a racial slur,” says 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 identi-
fied 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 ramifica-
tions 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 was offensive to someone and recog-
nized as a racial slur, then the intent of its original choosing was irrele-
vant. 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 fester-
ing over the change. They began circulating petitions to recall the school
board members and received enough signatures for the recall to be put
up for an election.


chapter 11 Adaptive Leadership 285

“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 mem-
bers included 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 department of civil Rights and the state’s
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 stu-
dents again voted to become the Gooding Redhawks.

“you know, the kids were fine with it,” says scott. “it’s been 10 years,
and there’s an entire generation of kids who don’t have a clue that it
was ever different. They are Redhawks and have always been Redhawks.

“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 who
believe there was nothing disrespectful in the Redskins name. once that
group is gone, it will be a nonissue.”


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: (1) get on the
balcony, (2) maintain disciplined attention, and (3) give the work back
to people.

5. What group would you describe as the “low-status group”? How did
the school board seek to give voice to this group?

286 LeAdeRsHip THeoRy And pRAcTice

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, feed-
back about your leadership. The adaptive leadership questionnaire is com-
posed of 30 items that assess six dimensions of adaptive leadership discussed
earlier in this chapter: get on the balcony, identify the adaptive challenge, regu-
late distress, maintain disciplined attention, give the work back to people, and
protect leadership voices from below. The results you obtain on this question-
naire will provide you with information on how you view yourself and how
others view you on these six dimensions of adaptive leadership. This ques-
tionnaire is intended for practical applications. It is not designed for
research purposes. For research purposes, the psychometric properties of the
questionnaire (i.e., reliability and validity) would need to be established.

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.

chapter 11 Adaptive Leadership 287

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 of five individuals indicate the degree to which they agree
with each of the 30 statements below regarding your leadership by circling
the number from the scale that they believe most accurately characterizes
their response to the statement. There are no right or wrong responses.

Key: 1 = strongly 2 = disagree 3 = neutral 4 = Agree 5 = strongly
disagree agree

1. When difficulties emerge in our organization, this leader is 1 2 3 4 5
good at stepping back and assessing the dynamics of the
people involved.

2. When events trigger strong emotional responses among 1 2 3 4 5
employees, this leader uses his/her authority as a leader
to resolve the problem.

3. When people feel uncertain about organizational change, 1 2 3 4 5
they trust that this leader will help them work through
the difficulties.

4. in complex situations, this leader gets people to focus on the 1 2 3 4 5
issues they are trying to avoid.

5. When employees are struggling with a decision, this leader 1 2 3 4 5
tells them what he/she thinks they should do.

6. during times of difficult change, this leader welcomes the 1 2 3 4 5
thoughts of group members with low status.

7. in difficult situations, this leader sometimes loses sight of 1 2 3 4 5
the “big picture.”

8. When people are struggling with a value conflict, this 1 2 3 4 5
leader uses his or her expertise to tell them what to do.

9. When people begin to be disturbed by unresolved conflicts, 1 2 3 4 5
this leader encourages them to address the issues.

10. during organizational change, this leader challenges people 1 2 3 4 5
to concentrate on the “hot” topics.

11. When employees look to this leader for answers, he/she 1 2 3 4 5
encourages them to think for themselves.

12. Listening to group members with radical ideas is valuable 1 2 3 4 5
to this leader.

288 LeAdeRsHip THeoRy And pRAcTice

13. When this leader disagrees with someone, he/she has 1 2 3 4 5
difficulty listening to what the other person is really saying.

14. When others are struggling with intense conflicts, this leader 1 2 3 4 5
steps in to resolve their differences for them.

15. This leader has the emotional capacity to comfort others 1 2 3 4 5
as they work through intense issues.

16. When people try to avoid controversial organizational 1 2 3 4 5
issues, this leader brings these conflicts into the open.

17. This leader encourages his/her employees to take 1 2 3 4 5
initiative in defining and solving problems.

18. This leader is open to people who bring up unusual ideas 1 2 3 4 5
that seem to hinder the progress of the group.

19. in challenging situations, this leader likes to observe the 1 2 3 4 5
parties involved and assess what’s really going on.

20. This leader encourages people to discuss the “elephant 1 2 3 4 5
in the room.”

21. people recognize that this leader has confidence to tackle 1 2 3 4 5
challenging problems.

22. This leader thinks it is reasonable to let people avoid 1 2 3 4 5
confronting difficult issues.

23. When people look to this leader to solve problems, he/she 1 2 3 4 5
enjoys providing solutions.

24. This leader has an open ear for people who don’t seem to 1 2 3 4 5
fit in with the rest of the group.

25. in a difficult situation, this leader will step out of the 1 2 3 4 5
dispute to gain perspective on it.

26. This leader thrives on helping people find new ways of 1 2 3 4 5
coping with organizational problems.

27. people see this leader as someone who holds steady 1 2 3 4 5
in the storm.

28. in an effort to keep things moving forward, this leader lets 1 2 3 4 5
people avoid issues that are troublesome.

29. When people are uncertain about what to do, this 1 2 3 4 5
leader empowers them to decide for themselves.

30. To restore equilibrium in the organization, this leader 1 2 3 4 5
tries to neutralize comments of out-group members.


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.

Chapter 11 Adaptive Leadership 289

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

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 16 and 20 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) ____ 16 ____ 20 ____ Total

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

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 ____ 26 ____ 22(R) ____ 28(R) ____ Total

Give the Work Back to 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

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




















’ s






























































































































chapter 11 Adaptive Leadership 291

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 by assessing six compo-
nents of the process: get on the balcony, identify the adaptive challenge,
regulate distress, maintain disciplined attention, give the work back to peo-
ple, 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. 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 con-
firming 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

292 LeAdeRsHip THeoRy And pRAcTice


Adaptive leadership is about helping people change and adjust to new situ-
ations. Originally formulated by Heifetz (1994), adaptive leadership con-
ceptualizes the leader not as one who solves problems for people, but rather
as one who encourages others to do the problem solving. Adaptive leader-
ship 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 adap-
tive work (Figure 11.1). Leaders confront three kinds of situational challenges
(technical, technical and adaptive, and adaptive); adaptive leadership is con-
cerned 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 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 creating a holding environ-
ment, 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 composed of 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 prescrip-
tions for what leaders and followers should do to facilitate adaptive change.
Last, adaptive leadership highlights the important role a holding environ-
ment plays in the leadership process.

chapter 11 Adaptive Leadership 293

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 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 pre-
scriptions 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 dimen-
sion of leadership and the importance of change for the common good,
but does not show how doing adaptive work leads to such socially useful

Overall, adaptive leadership offers a unique prescriptive approach to leader-
ship 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.

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your way through EOL challenges in the ICU using Adaptive Leadership behav-
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tive leadership to family medicine residents: What? Why? How? Families, Systems
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Heifetz, R. A., Grashow, A., & Linsky, M. (2009). The practice of adaptive leadership:
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Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries and Alicia Cheak


The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the uncon-
scious activities of the mind.

—Sigmund Freud

Kafka truly illustrates the way the environment oppresses the individual.
He shows how the unconscious controls our lives.

—Manuel Puig

At its heart, leadership is about human behavior—what we do, how we do
it, and why we do it. Leadership is about the way people behave in orga-
nizations, and effective leaders are those who meet the needs of their
followers, pay careful attention to group processes, calm anxieties and
arouse hopes and aspirations, and know how to liberate human energy
and inspire people to positive action. In short, leadership involves har-
nessing and leveraging the different and complex forces and dynamics at
play in organizational functioning.

Our everyday lives consist of webs of constantly shifting and irrational
forces that underlie seemingly “rational” behaviors and choices—and life in
organizations is no exception. However, most definitions of leadership,

The Psychodynamic Approach

296 LeAdershiP Theory And PrAcTice

methodologies for studying leadership, and recommendations for leader-
ship development address observable, conscious, and rational phenomena.
Moreover, historically, many organizational practitioners and researchers
have tended to avoid treading in the emotional and psychological realm of
organizational life, fearing the messy but real-life complexities and the
relationships within (Kets de Vries, 1980, 2006b; Kets de Vries & Miller,
1984; Volkan, 1988). The result is that too many organizational phenom-
ena remain unresolved and unexplained. Any meaningful explanation of
human behaviors therefore requires both a rational and an irrational lens
of investigation.

The psychodynamic approach to leadership study and development focuses
on the dynamics of human behavior, which are often the most difficult to
understand. It acknowledges that people are complex, unique, and paradox-
ical beings with rich and myriad motivational drivers and decision-making
and interaction patterns. Applying psychodynamic concepts to the ebb and
flow of life in organizations contributes to our understanding of the vicis-
situdes of life and leadership. Only through accepting and exploring the
hidden undercurrents that affect human behavior can we begin to under-
stand organizational life in all its complexities.

the clinicAl PArADigm _________________________

The Clinical Paradigm is the framework through which we apply a psycho-
dynamic lens to the study of behavior in organizations. By making sense out
of leaders’ deeper wishes and fantasies, and showing how these fantasies
influence behavior in the organizational world, this paradigm offers a practi-
cal way of discovering how leaders and organizations really function (Kets
de Vries & Miller, 1984).

The Clinical Paradigm consists of four basic premises:

• First, it argues that there is a rationale behind every human act—a
logical explanation—even for actions that seem irrational. This point
of view stipulates that all behavior has an explanation. Because that
explanation may be elusive—inextricably interwoven with uncon-
scious needs and desires—one has to do “detective work” to tease out
hints and clues underlying perplexing behavior.

• The second premise is that a great deal of mental life—feelings, fears,
and motives—lies outside of conscious awareness, but still affects
conscious reality and even physical well-being. We all have blind
spots. People aren’t always aware of what they are doing much less

emotional intelligence effect of early iQ Testing

chapter 12 Psychodynamic Approach 297

why they are doing it. Though hidden from rational thought, the
human unconscious affects (and in some cases even dictates) con-
scious reality. Even the most “rational” people have blind spots, and
even the “best” people have a shadow side—a side that they don’t
know, and don’t want to know.

• The third premise states that nothing is more central to whom a
person is than the way he or she regulates and expresses emotions.
Emotions color experiences with positive and negative connotations,
creating preference in the choices we make and the way we deal with
the world. Emotions also form the basis for the internalization of
mental representations of the self and others that guide relationships
throughout one’s life. The way a person perceives and expresses emo-
tions may change as the years go by, influenced by life experiences
(Darwin, 1920; Plutchick, 1980; Tomkins, 1995).

• The fourth premise underlying the Clinical Paradigm is that human
development is an inter- and intrapersonal process; we are all products
of our past experiences, and those experiences, including the develop-
mental experiences provided by our early caregivers, continue to
influence us throughout life (Emde, 1980; Erikson, 1950; Kagan,
1994; Kohlberg, 1981; Oglensky, 1995; Piaget, 1952; Pine, 1985).

The Clinical Paradigm unlocks and reveals the subconscious forces under-
lying human behavior. It illuminates the human mind—a dark sea filled
with strange life-forms, most of them unconscious. And unless we can
understand the motives and reasonings for this obscurity, we can hardly
hope to foresee or control them. Unless we recognize the role that psycho-
dynamic processes play in organizational life, we will never truly understand
why leaders, and followers, act the way they do.

history of the PsychoDynAmic APProAch ____

The psychodynamic paradigm has its origins in Freud’s psychoanalytic
theories of human behavior. Specifically, this approach draws attention to
the sources of energy and motivational forces that drive human actions by
considering what is “within”—the inner world of individuals, including
their emotions—and relationships between individuals—the “reality”
created by the dynamics of groups (Neumann & Hirschhorn, 1999).

Freud also believed that neurotic symptoms or dysfunctional behavior
were manifestations of a person’s inner drivers and that these types of
acting-out behaviors can be seen as “the royal road to an understanding

sigmund Freud

298 LeAdershiP Theory And PrAcTice

of the unconscious” (Freud, 1900/1953, p. 608). This perspective implies
that every neurotic symptom or act has an underlying reason. The repeti-
tion of certain dysfunctional patterns suggests the existence of specific
motivational undercurrents underlying decision making and behavior.

Freud himself didn’t make any direct observations about the application of
his ideas to the working world, but the psychoanalytic paradigm was taken
up by many of his contemporaries and became a critical element of analy-
ses of modern society. Many scholars, influenced by Freud’s contributions,
applied aspects of the psychodynamic paradigm to the workplace by claim-
ing that the inner world of the leader—his or her early childhood experi-
ences, and related hopes, fears, and desires—was extremely influential,
even at a systemic level in organizations, and should not be ignored
(Erikson, 1950).

Most noticeably, in the aftermath of World War II, four streams of research
from the London Tavistock Institute, the Menninger Clinic in Topeka,
Kansas, Harvard Business School, and Weill Cornell Medical College sig-
nificantly advanced the application of the psychodynamic approach to the
study of organizations by being among the first to argue that applying psy-
choanalytic concepts to organizational life could help in illuminating the
irrational processes that underlie leader and follower behavior and decision

Founded in 1946, London-based Tavistock brought together an illustrious
group of psychoanalysts such as Elliott Jaques, Wilfred Bion, John Bowlby,
Eric Trist, Melanie Klein, and R. D. Laing. Elaborating on Bion’s work on
the unconscious functioning of the group as a whole, rather than as an aggre-
gate of individuals (Bion, 1961; Bion & Rickman, 1943), the Tavistock
group contributed a great deal to our understanding of the hidden dynamics
within organizations that may directly influence leadership through socio-
technical systems (Trist & Bamforth, 1951); industrial democracy ( Jaques,
1951); social systems as a defense against anxiety ( Jaques, 1955, 1970; Menzies
Lyth, 1959); the interpretation of social dreaming as a way to define meaning
for a group (Lawrence, 1998); and organizational role analysis (Newton, Long
& Sievers, 2006). However, members of the Tavistock Institute focused pri-
marily on group processes in public organizations such as hospitals and
schools, and not specifically in business organizations, with the notable
exception of Elliott Jaques, who in partnership with businessman Wilfred
Brown conducted a 17-year study, “the Glacier project,” that explored the
underlying motives and drivers of authority, role clarity, accountability, and
power of both leaders and workers in a Scottish factory, Glacier Metal, of
which Brown was the CEO.

Psychoanalytic Approach

chapter 12 Psychodynamic Approach 299

The Menninger Clinic, founded in 1942 to promote the training of psy-
choanalysts, also began to apply a psychodynamic approach to the world
of work, notably through the work of Will Menninger and Harry
Levinson with the Menninger Foundation Division of Industrial Mental
Health. In the mid-1950s, an extensive national survey of mental health
problems in industries was conducted, including recommendations on
how to solve or alleviate them. In response to the findings of the survey,
Menninger offered weeklong seminars for executives from all parts of the
country in order to give these business leaders an understanding of why
human beings act as they do. At Harvard Business School, Levinson con-
tinued to apply psychoanalytic theory to management and leadership and
linked the failure of managers to effectively contain the anxieties of work-
ers to employee depression and low productivity. He proposed the concept
of a “psychological contract” between leaders and followers, arguing in
Men, Management and Mental Health (1962) that if management did not
pay attention to the conscious and subconscious needs of their employees,
organizational performance would be adversely affected. His seminal
book, Organizational Diagnosis, outlined a new, clinical contribution to
the diagnosis of systemic organizational problems (1972).

Around the same time, Abraham Zaleznik (while in training as a psycho-
analyst at the Boston Psychoanalytic Society & Institute) started to influ-
ence a group of young scholars, including Manfred Kets de Vries, Sudhir
Kakar, Pierre Laurin, Anne Jardim, Roland Reitter, Georges Trepo, and
Michael Hofmann, who were interested in marrying the world of work and
the world of psychoanalysis. Zaleznik (1989) argued that businesspeople
focused too much on process and structure, and not enough on ideas and
emotions, and suggested that leaders should relate to followers in more
empathetic and intuitive ways. To emphasize this point, in Power and the
Corporate Mind, Zaleznik and Kets de Vries (1975) applied concepts from
psychoanalysis, political science, and management theory to examine the
effect that the conscious and unconscious motivations of the chief executive
have upon his or her organization. In the seminal study, The Neurotic
Organization, Kets de Vries and Miller (1984) integrated psychiatric and
psychological findings and insights with organizational behavior theories to
create a new framework for analysis of organizations, proposing that the
neuroses of a top leader can be re-created throughout the organization.

The early work of Zaleznik and his group of young scholars also provided
the stimulus for the first International Symposium on Applied Psychoanalysis
and Organizations in 1980, organized by Michael Hofmann of the
Wirtschaftsuniversität of Vienna (in collaboration with the Vienna

Leadership development

300 LeAdershiP Theory And PrAcTice

Psychoanalytic Society). A further impetus came from Leopold Gruenfeld,
who organized a number of conferences under the auspices of Cornell
University. Eventually, in 1983, these various symposia led to the founding
of the International Society for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organizations
(ISPSO); by the early 2000s, ISPSO had a worldwide reach, whose vision
was to provide “a forum for academics, clinicians, consultants and others
interested in working in and with organizations utilizing psychoanalytic
concepts and insights” (www.ispso.org).

Larry Hirschhorn, another influential scholar in the study of organizational
dynamics, used the term applied clinical practice to describe organizational con-
sulting interventions that included diagnostic methods and actions based on
a clinical, applied approach: exploring the organization systemically, and draw-
ing on personality theory and group and organizational processes. His study
The Workplace Within: Psychodynamics of Organizational Life (1988) opened the
door to a better understanding of the irrational and emotional character of
organizations. With the goal of creating healthier organizational cultures,
Hirschhorn proposed a systemic, psychodynamic model of work that entailed
working with real clients on practical outcomes, by addressing the hidden, and
unconscious mechanisms underlying patterns of organizational behavior.

In Germany, psychoanalyst Alexander Mitscherlich applied the principles
of psychoanalysis to postwar society, and his books Society Without the
Father (1963) and The Inability to Mourn (with Margarete Mitscherlich,
1975) became extremely influential works that not only shaped Germany’s
analyses of the causes of its war, but also opened the field of social psychol-
ogy to a much broader audience. In France, a sociopsychoanalytic move-
ment emerged that included scholars such as Gérard Mendel (1968),
Didier Anzieu (1972, 1999), René Kaës (1993), Eugène Enriquez (1992),
Gilles Amado and Leopold Vansina (2005), and Jean Benjamin Stora
(2007), who used psychoanalytic conceptualizations to better understand
the fantasies, projections, and identifications that play themselves out in
groups, as well as the processes of repression, suppression, and idealization
that are manifest in organizational life.

As this brief history of the psychodynamic approach shows, the field has
come a long way from the early roots in Freud’s psychoanalytic concepts and
techniques with clinical patients to its application on a larger scale to the
dynamics and functioning of leaders and organizations. Through the work of
researchers and practitioners working at the interface of psychoanalysis and
organizational studies, psychoanalytic theory and techniques have become
increasingly sophisticated, incorporating the findings from domains such as
dynamic psychiatry, developmental psychology, ethology, anthropology,

Psychological development

chapter 12 Psychodynamic Approach 301

neuroscience, cognitive theory, family systems theory, and individual and
group psychotherapy. The clinical lens addresses practical problems and
opportunities in social systems from a simultaneously deep (psychodynamic)
and broad (organizational theory) perspective. Although quite a few aspects
of Freud’s theories are no longer valid in light of new information about the
workings of the mind, fundamental components of psychoanalytic theory and
technique have been scientifically and empirically tested and verified, spe-
cifically as they relate to cognitive and emotional processes (Barron & Eagle,
1992; Westen, 1998). Hence, many of Freud’s ideas have retained their rele-
vance and have contributed to our understanding of organizations, the prac-
tice of management, and the hidden dynamics in the world of work (Czander,
1993; DeBoard, 1978; Gabriel, 1999; Kets de Vries, 1984, 1989, 1991, 2004,
2005, 2006a, 2006b, 2009, 2011a, 2011b, 2014; Kets de Vries & Korotof,
2011; Kets de Vries & Miller, 1984; Kets de Vries, Vrignaud, Agrawal, &
Florent-Treacy, 2010; Levinson, 1972; Zaleznik, 1966, 1989; Zaleznik & Kets
de Vries, 1975). The psychodynamic approach has greatly advanced the
understanding of the vicissitudes of organizational behavior and the people
working in such systems.

Key concePts AnD DynAmics Within
the PsychoDynAmic APProAch ________________

This section describes the key concepts and ideas that have emerged from
the psychodynamic field as it relates to leadership and organization study.
Each perspective or lens provides a way of looking at the hidden dynamics
and undercurrents of organizational behavior in order to decipher the
motives for why people behave the way they do.

1. Focus on the Inner Theatre
One of the core concepts of the psychodynamic paradigm is the “inner
theatre” (McDougall, 1985). It is the stage filled with people who have influ-
enced, for better or worse, our experiences in life. Early experiences with key
individuals (such as early caregivers) contribute to the creation of response
patterns that have a tendency to repeat themselves in other contexts with
different people.

Within the inner theatre, certain relationship themes develop over time—
themes rooted in our deepest wishes, needs, and goals, which contribute to
our unique personality style. These “core conflictual relationship themes”

302 LeAdershiP Theory And PrAcTice

(CCRTs; Luborsky & Crits-Christoph, 1998) become recurring relationship
patterns that we take into adulthood. In the context of the workplace, replete
with superior and subordinate relationships, we act out these themes onto
others and, based on those wishes, rightly or wrongly anticipate how others
will react to us; then we react to their perceived reactions, and not to their
actual reactions. Unfortunately, these scripts drawn up in childhood on
the basis of our CCRTs can become psychic prisons—ineffectual and even
dysfunctional in adult situations.

Attending to the CCRT of an individual allows us to understand the motiva-
tion behind human behavior, identify key relationship conflicts affecting one’s
ability to live and work productively, and in doing so work to align these deep
wishes to more productive and mutually enhancing interpersonal relationships.

2. Focus on the Leader-Follower Relationships

A study of leader-follower relationships necessarily addresses the psychology
of groups. The psychiatrist Wilfred Bion (1961) identified three basic
assumptions in groups—dependency, fight-flight, and pairing—that may
result in pathological regressive processes, deflecting people from the prin-
cipal tasks to be performed.

People often assume, at an unconscious level, that the leader or organization can
and should offer protection and guidance similar to that offered by parents in
earlier years. Groups subject to the dependency assumption are united by feelings
of helplessness, inadequacy, neediness, and fear of the outside world. They per-
ceive the leader as omnipotent, and as a result, readily give up their autonomy.
This contributes to goal-directedness and cohesiveness, but impairs followers’
critical judgment and leaves them unwilling to take initiative.

Another common unconscious assumption is that the organizational world
is dangerous and participants must use fight or flight as a defense mechanism.
In groups subject to the fight-flight assumption, there is a tendency to split the
world into camps of friend or foe. Fight reactions manifest themselves in
aggression against the self, peers, or authority and include avoidance, absen-
teeism, and resignation. Subscribing to a rigid, bipolar view of the world,
these groups possess a strong desire for protection from and conquest of “the
enemy.” Some leaders even encourage the fight-flight assumption, inflaming
their followers against real and/or imagined enemies, using the in-group/
out-group division to motivate people and to channel anxiety outward. This
enforces the group’s identity and creates meaning for followers who feel lost.
The resulting sense of unity is highly reassuring but makes the group
increasingly dependent on their leader.

Michael Mccoby

chapter 12 Psychodynamic Approach 303

Bion’s third assumption is that pairing up with a person or subgroup per-
ceived as powerful will help a person cope with anxiety, alienation, and
loneliness. People experiencing the pairing assumption fantasize that
strength will take place in pairs. Unfortunately, pairing also implies split-
ting, which may result in intra- and intergroup conflict and building of
smaller systems within the group. It also manifests itself in ganging up
against the leader perceived as an aggressor or authority figure.

social Defense mechanisms

Organizational life is filled with angst and unpredictability, and leaders
need to know how to deal adequately with the emerging anxiety of work-
ing in a social setting (Diamond, 1993; Gilmore & Krantz, 1985; Gould,
Stapley & Stein, 2001; Hirschhorn, 1988; Jaques, 1951; Kets de Vries,
2011a; Menzies Lyth, 1959). When organizational anxieties are not
properly managed, people may act out and engage in regressive social
defenses to transform and neutralize strong tensions. These defenses
include splitting (seeing everything as black or white); projection (seeing
one’s own shortcomings in others); displacement (expressing negative
emotions by focusing on a less threatening target); and denial (refusal to
accept facts).

Typically, executives rely on existing structures and processes to “contain”
anxiety. When these ways of dealing with organizational anxieties become
the dominant mode of operation (rather than an occasional stopgap mea-
sure), they become dysfunctional for the organization as a whole by creating
bureaucratic obstacles. Task forces, administrative procedures, rationaliza-
tion, intellectualization, and other structures and processes are used to keep
people emotionally uninvolved and to help them feel safe and in control.
However, these bureaucratic routines and pseudorational activities can also
obscure personal and organizational realities, allowing people to detach
themselves by replacing creativity, empathy, awareness, openness to change,
and meaning with control and impersonality.

mirroring and idealizing

Mirroring and idealizing are two types of transferential processes that are
especially common in the workplace. It is said that the first mirror for a
baby is the mother’s face. From that point on, the process of mirroring—
that is, taking our cues about being and behaving from those around

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304 LeAdershiP Theory And PrAcTice

us—becomes an ongoing aspect of our daily life and of our relationships
with others (Kets de Vries, 2011a; Kohut, 1971, 1985). In organizations,
this mirroring dynamic between leader and follower can become collu-
sive. Followers are eager to use their leaders to reflect what they would
like to see. Leaders, on the other hand, find the affirmation of followers
hard to resist. The result is often a mutual admiration society that
encourages leaders to take actions that shore up their image rather than
serve the needs of the organization. When these transferential patterns
persist, however, leader and followers gradually stop responding to the
reality of the situation, allowing their past hopes and fantasies instead to
govern their interactions.

identification With the Aggressor

To overcome the anxiety prompted by a leader’s aggressive behavior, some
followers may resort to the defensive process known as “identification with
the aggressor.” Confronted with a superior force, people sometimes feel a
strong incentive to become like that superior force, to protect against pos-
sible aggression (Freud, 1966; Kets de Vries, 2009). In full-fledged identifi-
cation with the aggressor, individuals impersonate the aggressor,
transforming themselves from those threatened to those making threats. In
this climate of dependency, the world becomes starkly black and white. In
other words, the leader sees people as being either for or against him or her.
When a leader has this kind of mind-set, independent thinkers are
“removed”; those who hesitate to collaborate become fresh targets for the
leader’s anger or become scapegoats, designated victims on whom the group
assigns blame whenever things go wrong.

Folie à Deux

Some leader-follower collusions can be described as “folie à deux,” or shared
madness (Kets de Vries, 1979, 2001). In such collusions, there is usually a
dominant person whose delusions become adopted by other members of the
organization. Leaders whose capacity for reality testing has become impaired
may transfer their delusions to their followers, who in order to minimize
conflict and disagreement and risk opportunities for self-enhancement will
sacrifice truth and honest criticism to maintain a connection with the leader
even though he or she has lost touch with reality. In extreme cases, a folie à
deux can lead to the self-destruction of the leader, professionally speaking,
and to the collective demise of followers.


chapter 12 Psychodynamic Approach 305

3. Focus on the Shadow Side of Leadership


At the heart of leadership lies narcissism (Freud, 1914/1957; Kernberg, 1975;
Kets de Vries, 1989; Kets de Vries & Miller, 1985; Kohut, 1971, 1985; Maccoby,
1976). Narcissism—which Freud (1914/1957) summarized as behaviors that
range from a normal self-interest to a pathological self-absorption—offers
leaders the conviction about the righteousness of their cause, which in turn
inspires loyalty and group identification. Narcissism can be either constructive
or reactive (Kets de Vries, 2004; Kets de Vries & Miller, 1985). Constructive, or
healthy, narcissists have been fortunate enough to have caretakers who provided
a supportive environment that led to basic trust and to a sense of control over
one’s actions. In leadership roles, constructive narcissists tend to be relatively
well balanced and have vitality and a sense of self-esteem, capacity for intro-
spection, and empathy. They inspire others not only to be better at what they
do, but also to entirely change what they do. Reactive, or excessive, narcissistic
leaders, on the other hand, were not as fortunate in childhood. Instead, they
were the recipients of over- or understimulation, or inconsistent stimulation.
Typically, such leaders are fixated on issues of power, status, prestige, and supe-
riority. They are often driven toward achievement and attainment by the need
to get even for perceived slights experienced in childhood. Unwilling to tolerate
disagreement and criticism, such leaders rarely consult with others. The result
is that reactive narcissists operate in their own reality, and without any measures
of control or reality testing, this can wreak havoc in the organization.

hoW Does the PsychoDynAmic
APProAch WorK?

As mentioned, the essence of leadership is about human behavior and effec-
tive leadership is rooted in the underlying motives that govern such behavior.
Contrary to the writings of various management theorists who attribute
organizational effectiveness to environmental constraints, the psychodynamic
approach defends the idea that psychological, social and emotional processes
between leaders and followers have a great influence and need to be taken
into consideration. That is not to minimize the context in which leaders oper-
ate. But a company can have all the “environmental” advantages in the
world—strong financial resources, enviable market position, and state-of-the-
art technology—and still fail in the absence of leadership.

Anyone wanting to create or manage an effective organization needs to
understand the complexity of why leaders act the way they do. What the
psychodynamic study of leadership effectiveness demonstrates more clearly

narcissistic Personality narcissism

306 LeAdershiP Theory And PrAcTice

than other conceptual frameworks is that leaders need to recognize that
people differ in their motivational patterns (Kets de Vries, 2006). This approach
also acknowledges that leaders and followers are not one-dimensional enti-
ties, but rather complex and paradoxical people who radiate a combination of
soaring idealism and gloomy pessimism, stubborn short-sightedness and
courageous vision, narrow-minded suspicion and open-handed trust, irratio-
nal envy and greed and unbelievable unselfishness. Taking the emotional
pulse of followers, both individually and as a group, is essential, but that
alone does not comprise effective leadership. The essence of leadership is the
ability to use motivational patterns to influence others—in other words, to get
people to voluntarily do things that they would not otherwise do.

Scholars and leaders who adopt a psychodynamic approach to organizational
studies look at the dark side of leadership as well as the atypical successes
(Czander, 1993; DeBoard, 1978; Eisold, 2010; Gabriel, 1999; Hirschhorn,
1988; Kets de Vries, 1989; Kets de Vries & Miller, 1985; Krantz, 2010;
Levinson, 1962; Obholzer & Zagier Roberts, 1994; Zaleznik, 1966; Zaleznik
& Kets de Vries, 1975). They realize that only by accepting the fact that
leaders, like the rest of us, are not paragons of rationality can we begin to
understand why many well-laid plans and strategies derail or, conversely, why
great leaders sometimes come from very unexpected places.

However, the application of psychodynamics into leadership or organizational
phenomena is not without challenges. Neumann and Hirschhorn (in a special
issue of Human Relations) identified this challenge as the “limited degree to
which those working with psychodynamic theories have managed to also relate
to organizational theories, and vice versa” (1999, p. 683). They also identified a
delicate balance that needs to be maintained in the psychodynamic approach
to organizational study. A too narrowly focused psychodynamic approach could
limit the scope of interventions to the unconscious motivation of individuals
and groups. Conversely, a broader organizational theory perspective that focuses
on large systems or environments might overlook major sources of motivation
and energy that are imperceptible at the organizational level, but influential at
the individual level. However, both authors agreed that despite this challenge,
integrating psychodynamic and organizational theory would promote better
analyses of the “motivational forces in individuals, groups and their leaders in
the context of structures and processes within major subsystems, organizations,
and their environments—and vice versa” (1999, p. 685).

strengths —————————————————————————————————-

The psychodynamic approach provides another lens to the study of organi-
zational dynamics beyond a purely rational, structural approach. Specifically,

Mood Matters

chapter 12 Psychodynamic Approach 307

it addresses the undercurrents of organizational life through issues such as
interpersonal communication, group processes, social defenses, and organiza-
tion-wide neurosis. A clinically informed approach aims to instill in the orga-
nization’s leaders an interest in and understanding of their own
behavior—why they do what they do—as well as the behavior of others in
order to best influence and leverage the potential of their followers. In short,
the psychodynamic approach focuses on personal and collective insight on
the part of the leader and follower—it strives to create reflective practitioners.

Another strength is that the psychodynamic approach involves an in-depth
and systemic investigation of a single person, group, event, or community. It
consists not only of an analysis of the self but also of the self in relation to
others and to the context in which he or she exists. To this end, life case stud-
ies, coaching, and 360° feedback assessments gathered from a variety of sources
may be used to provide rich and detailed insight into a person’s behavior.

Another strength is that the psychodynamic approach emphasizes the rela-
tionship between leader and follower by focusing on the underlying drivers
of each and what accounts for the type of relationship between them. Ideally,
leaders will eventually internalize the ability to learn, work, and reflect with
the psychological realm in mind, and in doing so improve their organiza-
tional relationships and team performance.


The most prevalent criticism of the psychodynamics approach comes from
the fact that much of the early work was based on clinical observation of the
treatment of individuals with serious mental issues. This approach focuses
on dysfunction and is premised on atypical or abnormal rather than the
typical behavior. Many of the concepts central to Freud’s theories are subjec-
tive and difficult to prove scientifically.

Another criticism is that the psychodynamic approach does not lend itself to
training in a conventional sense. This is because the focus is to increase an
individual’s self-awareness in order to find better ways to behave and relate
personally. The route to change therefore varies from individual to individual,
with no standard solution that can be applied broadly. This makes it difficult
to provide specific guidelines for systematic change. A third criticism, related
to the second, is that it situates the intervention at the individual level, focus-
ing on the leader’s personality and leadership style, and hence, more structural
and systemic organizational issues, while important, remain in the background.
Team dynamics can be addressed through psychodynamic team coaching,

308 LeAdershiP Theory And PrAcTice

although the focus again is on the interpersonal relationships and issues within
the group. Structural issues may, however, arise through team discussions, but
they are not the focal point of discussion. Just as the structural approach to
leadership studies and development may fail to address people issues, the
psychodynamic approach likewise may fail to capture key structural issues.
Hence the best intervention is a holistic one, which adopts both a structural
and a psychodynamic lens.


As mentioned, the psychodynamic approach to organizational study has
evolved visibly during the last 25 years or so, rooted in the Clinical Paradigm
of psychoanalysis and in particular the psychoanalytic study of organizations
(Czander, 1993; Diamond, 1993; Gabriel, 1999). Kets de Vries (2005) argued
that to be more effective in developing reflective leaders, leadership develop-
ment programs should integrate a clinical or psychodynamic orientation,
because this paradigm provides a solid framework for designing executive
programs in which participants learn to become “organizational detectives,”
uncovering the nonrational patterns—the intrapsychic and interpersonal
undercurrents—that influence the behavior of individuals, dyads, and groups.

One of the objectives of a psychodynamic leadership development program
is to create an opportunity for participants that provokes an exploration of
hidden or unconscious rationale—often related in some way to sexuality,
financial issues, a search for happiness and meaning, or fears of mortality—
for what may appear to be irrational career choices and leadership decisions.
Leadership coaches and organizational consultants work with their clients
to explore undercurrents that drive behavior so that executives can better
manage defenses, learn how to express emotions in a situation-appropriate
manner, and cultivate a perception of self and others that is in accord with
reality (Kets de Vries, 2006; McCullough Vaillant, 1997).

In such programs, a peer group coaching methodology plays a vital role
wherein group dynamic effects such as social reciprocity, peer pressure, and
network contagion are harnessed. Participants work together to uncover
blind spots, challenge one another, identify behavior for change, and experi-
ment with new behavior in their workplace that will help them advance in
their career trajectory and future goals (Dubouloy, 2004; Kets de Vries, 2005,
2011a, 2011b; Kets de Vries & Korotov, 2011).

Mirvis (2008) suggested that executive programs may be, under some cir-
cumstances, a “consciousness-raising” experience that cultivates participants’

Team coaching

chapter 12 Psychodynamic Approach 309

self-awareness, deepens their understanding of others, and helps them to
relate to society. Some of these programs may even be described by the par-
ticipants themselves as “a transformative experience through which an indi-
vidual comes to a new or altered sense of identity” (Bennis & Thomas, 2002,
p. 40). By paying attention to behavioral patterns that may have their origin
in their clients’ earlier life experiences, consultants and coaches look for the-
matic unity (Kets de Vries, 2011a) to create meaning at multiple levels to
determine the individual and organizational roots and consequences of
actions and decisions. When the link between present and distant past rela-
tionships is made meaningful, leaders are more likely to arrive at tipping
points for change. Indeed, one of the most powerful and effective experiences
in leadership programs is creating such turning points in which participants
make a connection between their current choices in life, see the discrepancies
in their lives, and work to realign them.

Moreover the clinical intervention can have team and organizational
benefits beyond just individual change. By making conscious what had been
unconscious and then working to address dysfunctional behavior patterns at
the team and organizational level, the consultant and the client can work
together to address social defenses with the aim of healing organizational

Group Coaching

A group coaching intervention is one very effective methodology for apply-
ing the psychodynamic principles to leadership development. Guided by an
experienced external group facilitator, group coaching brings a group of lead-
ers together to reflect on their interpersonal relationships, work practices,
leadership styles, decision-making practices, and organizational culture. An
always-present agenda, however, is to create alignment and become more
effective in implementing the organizational strategy.

Prior to the actual intervention, the group facilitator/coach interviews the
participants to get a better idea of individual and team issues and identify
the major themes preoccupying the group. Participants are also asked to
answer a number of 360° feedback surveys on various dimensions such as
leadership behaviors, personality, inner drivers, and leadership roles. The
purpose of these surveys is to draw from multiple sources of feedback, from
the individual’s private and public/work life to provide a more well-rounded
view of the individual and the system within which he or she operates. The
day prior to the actual intervention, participants are given a copy of their
assessment results to reflect on.

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310 LeAdershiP Theory And PrAcTice

On the day of the group intervention, the group coach gives a short lecture
about high-performance organizations and effective leadership. Subsequently,
using an approach popularized at INSEAD, a top business school with cam-
puses in France, Singapore, and Abu Dhabi, the coach asks all members of
the leaders’ committee to draw a self-portrait of how they see themselves as
it relates to their head, heart, stomach, past, present, work, and leisure. When
all the self-portraits are complete and displayed on the wall, the group coach
begins the session by asking a first participant to kick off the process by tell-
ing the group about his or her drawing. Through the narrative of one’s self-
portrait, the group is able to learn intimate facts about the individual in
question. Next, the group coach focuses on the 360° survey feedback reports,
which were handed out to the group the night before. The coach then asks
the participant about his or her own and observers’ feedback, and if there was
anything in the report that was not new or surprising to the participant.
Specifically, the coach draws attention to the discrepancies between self and
observers’ perceptions in order to examine blind spots, or areas of a person’s
personality not known to the self but perceived to be poignant by others.
Through further exploration of the feedback report and personal narrative
and history of the individual, the participant continues to reveal aspects of
his or her life underlying major life decisions and current behaviors. The
coach then asks other members of the team to provide feedback to the par-
ticipant. This begins a two-way dialogue between the individual and the
group, with the purpose of arriving at mutual understanding—and making
the person in the “hot seat” more effective. The participant, working with the
coach and other team members, identifies a number of specific behaviors to
focus on to facilitate communication and collaboration with the other team
members. These priorities are aimed at drawing out one’s strengths while
minimizing less effective behavior. The participant then confirms publically
his or her commitments to change. In response, others voice their under-
standing and support of this change process. Subsequently, each member of
the executive team goes through the same process. Each takes the “hot seat”
in turn to tell his or her story and is given constructive feedback by the
group. Each individual session is concluded with an action plan to identify
ways in which the team member could improve his or her leadership behaviors
and personally contribute to team alignment and performance.

Group coaching has several advantages. Compared to one-on-one coaching,
group coaching has proven to be a highly intensive and effective intervention
to prepare leaders for individual and organizational change. Although indi-
vidual interventions can be valuable, they don’t create the same intensity and
focus in a single session that group coaching does. Group coaching ensures
that, after the intervention, the team will assume a constructively challenging
follow-up role supporting one another. By contrast, in one-on-one coaching,

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chapter 12 Psychodynamic Approach 311

follow-up is conducted by executive coaches who are often available irregularly,
leaving individual leaders very much on their own to get things done. In group
coaching, individuals also benefit from the peer group; they become mutually
invested in encouraging the new behaviors that each one has identified, and
they are committed to working together to achieve their goals. Group mem-
bers get the opportunity to know each other much better—even though some
of them may have worked together for many years. Furthermore, it encourages
them to really have courageous conversations—and to be more open with one
another. This kind of “group contagion” is a powerful way to bring about
tipping points for change. A final benefit is the opportunity for peer coaching,
in which members of the group learn to give and receive feedback. When
continued beyond the intervention and into the workplace, this peer coaching
relationship is a powerful means for supporting one another through the
change process.

The following are a number of complex (conscious and unconscious)
psychological processes at play that bring about the much desired tipping
points for change:

1. To start, a group intervention provides a context for cathartic experiences.
The group setting allows executives to get things off their chest—a forum,
at least figuratively, for “emotional cleansing.” The group becomes an
enabler of bringing repressed feelings, fears, and covert conflicts to the
surface. Putting out into the open the things that trouble them can be an
extremely powerful emotional experience. Under the right circumstances,
using the narrative technique provides an opportunity to reexperience and
transform deeply troubling incidents, helping executives better understand
why they do what they do.

2. Furthermore, while listening to the other leaders’ life stories and chal-
lenges, the members of the group come to realize that they are not alone in
their confusion. They are not the only ones who, at times, feel like impos-
tors working in the organization. Others, too, struggle with similar fears.
This realization can bring a great sense of relief. Mutual identif ication with
specific problems brings the team together and offers opportunities to
jointly discuss more effective ways of dealing with knotty issues at work.

3. A psychodynamic lens into the discussion can set into motion a whole
process of associations of why a leader has been doing things in a particu-
lar way. It contributes to reflections whether there are other, better ways
to solve problems they may be struggling with. Is a particular behavioral
repertoire that was extremely appropriate at one point in time still effec-
tive in the present? Should other ways be explored to deal with specific
issues? While these reflections take place, a major tool in the intervention

312 LeAdershiP Theory And PrAcTice

methodology will be transferential interpretations—the realization that
we tend to act toward people in the present based on models of the past.
Understanding these old patterns of interaction can help us unpack dys-
functional behavior. Through recognizing long-standing and maladaptive
past patterns, the link between present relationships and distant past is
made meaningful, thereby improving the chances for change.

4. In addition (very much encouraged by the other members of the group),
such reflections can lead to a willingness to experiment in doing things dif-
ferently—and by doing so, create new scenarios for the future. Leaders may
come to realize that they can free themselves from what may resemble
psychic prisons. In many instances, such self-understanding and insight
moves people a long way along the road to personal and organizational

5. What also should be kept in mind is that every presentation—not just
one’s own—offers the opportunity for vicarious learning. Leaders soon
come to realize that learning does not only occur through direct participa-
tion in dialogue (being in the “hot seat”), but that much of the learning
takes place vicariously through observing and listening to other people’s
stories. This kind of learning implies retaining and replicating effective
behavior observed in others. Furthermore, as there are always leaders in the
group who are admired because of the way they deal with life’s adversities,
they may turn into role models, the kind of people the others would like to
emulate. Imitative, mirroring behavior—or identification with the other—is
an important part of the interpersonal learning process and a very powerful
force for change.

6. During the group coaching process (if done well), the leaders going
through it become a real community, members of a “tribe” that have gone
through the same emotional experience. Tribe people draw on a great deal
of mutual support whenever one of them embarks on a new challenge. This
feeling of social belonging also becomes a very powerful catalyst for change.

7. A group setting is also an opportunity for collective learning. Occasionally,
didactic instruction by the group coach can be beneficial, although (in my
experience) it should be given sparingly. Explanation, clarification, and
even direct advice about how to do things better within the group can
reduce anxiety and establish control when there is a troublesome issue.
However, it should not only be the leadership coach who offers sugges-
tions, as leaders themselves are vast troves of expertise. And here again, the
process of vicarious experience can be extremely powerful. Leaders can
draw from their own rich experiences to share information about work
issues and recommend different approaches and ways of doing things. And

chapter 12 Psychodynamic Approach 313

by giving advice to others, they are practicing the supportive and challeng-
ing behaviors that can help the team function better.

8. Finally, a further positive force for change can be the altruistic motive,
or the desire to put the needs of others above our own. While helping for
helping’s sake—the genuine desire to make things better for others—may
seem selfless, ironically, it can have some selfish side effects. The act of
giving to others can have numerous personal benefits. Helping others—
offering support, reassurance, suggestions, and insights—can have a
therapeutic effect, contributing to each leader’s level of positive emotion,
sense of self-respect, and well-being.

cAse stUDies

In this section, we present three cases (12.1, 12.2, and 12.3) onto which you
can apply the psychodynamic lens to decipher why the leader behaves the
way he or she does and to think about ways a coach can help address the
underlying dynamics and help the individual change his or her behavior.

Case 12.1

Dealing With Passive-Aggressives

robert wondered why he was always so stressed out when he was dealing
with Lucas, the latest addition to his team. on the face of it, the new hire
seemed very agreeable and supportive, but whatever interactions robert
had with Lucas left him wondering about Lucas’s true intentions. Lucas
made lots of promises but never really seemed to deliver on them. What
troubled him especially was that Lucas didn’t respect deadlines. Whenever
he pointed this out, Lucas always had a good excuse: The instructions
hadn’t been clear, perhaps, or he had misunderstood, or he had been
relying on someone else for some key task and that person hadn’t come
through. To make matters even worse (according to some colleagues),
Lucas also had the habit of constantly complaining about robert behind
his back. it is not difficult to ascertain that Lucas’s behavior is passive-
aggressive: continuously expressing negative feelings, resentment, and
aggression in an unassertive, passive manner. All the while, people like
Lucas show all the signs of agreeable compliance, which makes them dif-
ficult to pin down and hold to account. As a coach, what can you do to
help robert and Lucas work more effectively together?


314 LeAdershiP Theory And PrAcTice


1. should robert confront Lucas directly?

2. What can the coach do to get Lucas to express his negative feelings

3. What subjects or issues should be explored with Lucas?

4. What exercises can Lucas do to practice direct confrontation with

5. What can robert do to improve his relationship with Lucas?


Case 12.2

the fear of success

Tim had been on the fast track. An ivy League graduate, he had joined
one of the premier consulting firms as an associate. he went on to earn
an MBA, graduating at the top of his class. recruited by a pharmaceuti-
cal firm, he rose quickly through the ranks, joining the executive team
in record time. Just eight years after joining the company, he was
appointed its ceo. That was when things started to fall apart. colleagues
soon noticed that Tim seemed oddly reluctant to make important deci-
sions. he would put off big projects and spend an inordinate amount of
time on minor problems. As a result, the company missed out on some
big opportunities. his behavior became increasingly worrisome. he
would even turn up visibly drunk for important meetings. Although the
board cut Tim some slack at first, his shortcomings quickly became too
obvious to be ignored, and within two years of his appointment the
board dismissed him. What went wrong?

Tim appears to have functioned extremely well as long as he wasn’t in
the number-one position. But the moment he was placed in the spot-
light, he was in uncharted territory and could no longer hide behind
someone else. in that extremely visible role, he became highly vulnera-
ble, and his effectiveness diminished as he succumbed to self-destructive
behaviors. At times, he even felt like an impostor. he also feared that the
higher he climbed, the further he would fall when he made a mistake.

Tim seemed to have unconscious feelings of guilt about his success.
he was consumed by the idea that his being too successful would
upset his father, who had repeatedly failed in his business endeavors

chapter 12 Psychodynamic Approach 315

and had become embittered by it. he had taken out these emotions
on Tim, constantly telling him that he didn’t have what it took to be
successful. As the years went by, Tim had internalized these criticisms.
But this debasing sense of self remained dormant until Tim finally
became ceo.


1. should the executive board have fired Tim for failing to live up to
expectations? What alternatives are there?

2. What could the board have done to help Tim address these disruptive

3. What areas should be explored with Tim in trying to decode his neg-
ative associations with success?

4. What can Tim do to develop an alternative, more constructive internal
narrative of success?

5. As a coach, how would you work with Tim to confront his fear of

Case 12.3

helping a Bipolar leader

John is a talented executive with extraordinary drive and charisma. The
people reporting to him all agreed that he provided outstanding leader-
ship in the company’s last crisis; his refusal to bow to adversity and his
ability to rally people behind him had been truly remarkable. But they
also agreed he could go over the top. he sent emails at 2 a.m., and it was
sometimes hard to follow exactly what he was saying. he would jump
suddenly from one idea to another, and some of his plans seemed unre-
alistic, even grandiose. And whenever anyone tried to slow him down,
John wouldn’t hear of it. his sense of invincibility made him feel that he
could do anything. once he had made up his mind, it was almost impos-
sible to change it. his inability to listen coupled with his lack of judgment
eventually resulted in his making a number of seriously bad decisions,
plunging his unit into the red. The board was considering firing him.

John suffers from a mood disorder called bipolar dysfunction, previously
known as manic depression, a condition that haunts approximately 4%
of the population. People suffering from this condition report they


316 LeAdershiP Theory And PrAcTice

periodically experience an overactive mind and often seem to get by on
little or no sleep. They often feel a heightening of the senses, which may
trigger increased sexual activity, and are highly prone to bouts of extrav-
agant behavior. Their moods swing wildly from this state of exuberance
to the polar opposite, when they suddenly become withdrawn and
inert, shunning the company of others. Bipolar dysfunction is a condi-
tion often associated with highly creative people (e.g., William Blake,
Friedrich nietzsche, and Ludwig van Beethoven, as well as many famous
leaders such as Theodore roosevelt, Winston churchill, and General
George Patton).

As history shows, manic-depressive leaders are great in a crisis, refusing
to bow to adversity. They rush in where others fear to tread and can
inspire others to follow. The downside is that due to their extreme sense
of empowerment, energy, and optimism, their thinking and judgment
can be flawed. caught up in their grandiosity, they overestimate their
capabilities and try to do more than they can handle. The problems are
often aggravated by an inability to recognize that their behavior is dys-
functional. While “high,” they rarely have insight into their condition.
They like the sense of invulnerability that comes with the “high,” and
are reluctant to give that up.

When the inevitable setbacks and disasters happen, they fall into a tail-
spin of depression. This had just happened to John, who had gone so
far as to check himself into a hospital psychiatric ward for a brief stay.
Adding to his woes, his wife asked for a trial separation. Apparently
John had been reckless with his personal finances and had been involved
in numerous affairs. John is a clearly talented executive, but his behavior
is self-destructive.


1. What should the board members do with regard to John’s poor deci-
sions? should they fire him? What alternative routes are available?

2. how can John be made aware of his disruptive behaviors?

3. What role can his wife/family play to help John address his bipolarity?

4. Within the workplace, what can be done to leverage John’s strengths
(creativity) and minimize his disruptive behavior? What type of struc-
ture will be a best fit for John in the organization?

5. As a coach, how can you help John to rebalance his life?


chapter 12 Psychodynamic Approach 317

leADershiP instrUment

Effective leaders have two roles—a charismatic one and an architectural
one. In the charismatic role, leaders envision a better future and empower
and energize their followers to work toward this vision. In the architectural
role, leaders address issues related to organizational design processes and
control and reward systems. Both roles are necessary for effective leadership,
but it is a rare leader who can fulfill both roles seamlessly. Usually, align-
ment is only achieved within a leadership role constellation that enables
members to take different but complementary roles. A diverse group of
carefully selected individuals can be structured to become a highly effective
team that delivers much more than the sum of its parts. The first step is to
identify each individual’s personality makeup and leadership style, and then
match his or her strengths and competencies to particular roles and chal-
lenges. This sort of creative team configuration can energize and enhance
the workplace.

The Leadership Archetype Questionnaire (Kets de Vries, 2006b) is a psy-
chometrically validated 360° feedback instrument designed to identify indi-
viduals’ dominant leadership behaviors and what steps are needed to create
a well-balanced team. Leadership archetypes are prototypes of leadership
styles in today’s complex organizational environment. Successful organiza-
tions are characterized by a distributive, collective, complementary form of
leadership, wherein a group of carefully selected individuals can become a
highly effective team that delivers much more than the sum of its parts.
Although individuals may “drift” toward one particular archetype, it is more
common for a person to possess the characteristics of a number of arche-
types. It is also important to keep in mind that each of these leadership
archetypes will prove more or less effective, depending on the situation.
Therefore, the ideal leadership team should include people with diverse
dominant leadership characteristics. A team in which multiple archetypes
are represented should be able to cover most of the leadership needs that are
required, whatever the context.

From a psychodynamic point of view, leadership archetypes represent differ-
ent leadership styles and different ways of behaving in the organizational
environment. These behaviors in turn are rooted in different personalities,
inner drivers, and strengths. Some of these styles can come in conflict with
others, while others are more complementary. In becoming aware of these
different ways of being and behaving, leaders can better understand their
own strengths and weaknesses, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of
others. This awareness can then be used to help them better influence their
people, through leveraging their strengths and managing weaknesses, and in
doing so create balanced, symbiotic, and mutually enhancing teams.

318 LeAdershiP Theory And PrAcTice

the leadership Archetype Questionnaire
(Abridged Version)

To assist you in understanding the process of what your own dominant
leadership behaviors might be, this questionnaire provides 360°, or multi-
rater, feedback about your leadership. The Leadership Archetype
Questionnaire (LAQ), Abridged Version, comprises 8 items that assess 8
archetypes: the strategist, the change catalyst, the transactor, the builder,
the innovator, the processor, the coach, and the communicator. The results
you obtain on this questionnaire will provide you with information on what
your own leadership archetype may be.

note: Another recommendation is to get other members of your team to
complete the questionnaire for themselves so that you can map out your team
constellation to see how balanced your team is, or if there are areas that are

instructions: This questionnaire contains items that assess different dimensions
of your 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. self-assessment: Fill out the assessment about yourself.

3. For the 360° feedback, have each individual answer the same questions
about you. it is insightful to see how other people perceive you; their percep-
tions also influence the way they deal and interact with you.

study the following statements and mark the ones that you think are true for
you. select more than one if appropriate.

1. i have great strategic sense.

2. i take on the role of deal maker, always prepared to make propositions
about new business deals.

3. i am highly experienced at turning around difficult situations.

4. i suggest entrepreneurial ways of developing the business.

5. i come up with a number of new product or process innovations.

6. i promote and monitor structures, systems, and tasks.

7. i am very interested in devising creative ways to develop people.

8. i take on the role of communicator in my organizations.

chapter 12 Psychodynamic Approach 319

scoring interpretation

each statement corresponds to one of the following leadership archetypes:

1. the strategist—Leadership as a game of chess

2. the change catalyst—Leadership as a turnaround activity

3. the transactor—Leadership as deal making

4. the Builder—Leadership as entrepreneurial activity

5. the innovator—Leadership as creative idea generation

6. the Processor—Leadership as an exercise in efficiency

7. the coach—Leadership as people development

8. the communicator—Leadership as stage management

1. The Strategist

strategists are good at dealing with developments in the organization’s envi-
ronment. They provide vision, strategic direction, and outside-the-box thinking
to create new organizational forms and generate future growth. They can see
the big picture, anticipate future developments, and respond quickly to
change. Although strategists have a talent for aligning vision with strategy,
they are not always good at taking the next step—aligning strategy with values
and behavior. They prefer to ignore “soft” issues and avoid conflict, focusing
instead on facts, figures, and abstract scenarios. To compensate for this defi-
ciency, strategists often join forces with coaches. strategists are often not good
communicators. Their followers may not always fully understand what they are
trying to do or what message they are trying to get across. Because they are
preoccupied with the big picture, strategists may ignore some of the “micro”
issues that warrant attention to keep organizational processes on track. in
these instances, processors and communicators can be very helpful to them.

2. The Change Catalyst

change catalysts function best in the integration of organizational cultures
after a merger or acquisition or when spearheading reengineering or turna-
round projects. They are also excellent at managing rapidly growing organi-
zational units and recognizing opportunities for organizational
transformation. change catalysts are implementation driven and very good
at selecting talent to get the task done. Unlike strategists, they have the talent
to align vision, strategy, and behavior. They are both outcome and process
oriented. The flip side is that change catalysts can quickly become bored in

320 LeAdershiP Theory And PrAcTice

stable situations and are not suited to participating in small, incremental
change efforts. Many operate on a short-term timeline, and need to see imme-
diate results. if no challenging assignment is available, these leaders may try
to create one (sometimes for the wrong reasons). Although many change
catalysts have a talent for people management, there will be times when their
sense of urgency may override their sensitivity to people and make them poor
communicators. change catalysts also tend to have a starkly black-and-white
view of what is right or wrong. Thus, they are not always politically sensitive
enough to handle complex organizational problems. What they see as inno-
cent actions can have disastrous consequences. some of these problems can
be avoided, however, if they team up with coaches.

3. The Transactor

Transactors like making acquisitions or other deals. extremely dynamic and
enthusiastic, they thrive on new challenges and negotiations. They like novelty,
adventure, and exploration, and have high risk tolerance.

Proactive in welcoming change and instinctive networkers, transactors know
how to lobby inside and outside the organization to get their point of view
across. They are outcome oriented but not as effective at processes. Like
change catalysts, transactors can become very restless if they do not have
enough stimulation. As a result, they can be seduced by the excitement of
mergers and takeovers. once they get going, there is no holding them back,
and they can take other people on a very risky journey. After they pull off a
deal, however, transactors lose interest in taking the project to the next
phase. Their impatience with structures, processes, and systems means that
they are poor at organization building. Their sometimes mercurial tempera-
ments can also create very stressful situations. Being good deal makers and
negotiators, they are frequently hard to read—an asset in negotiation, which
can confuse collaborators. They need others, such as strategists, processors,
and coaches, to compensate for their limitations.

4. The Builder

Builders enjoy starting and building their own organizations or setting up
“skunkworks” and other entrepreneurial ventures inside a large organization.
They have a powerful need for independence and to be in control. They also
have the talent to make their dreams come true: They possess an enormous
amount of energy, drive, dynamism, and enterprise. Builders are creative,
decisive, focused, single-minded, and persevering, and have a great capacity
to deal with setbacks. They also have a high, but calculated, propensity to take

chapter 12 Psychodynamic Approach 321

risks, and they are quick to adapt when they see opportunities. They know
how to get other people to produce results. Builders have to be at the center
of things, however. They tend to have little regard for authority and great
difficulties with delegation. Although a builder’s leadership can be inspira-
tional, poor communication and a culture of domination and control can
contribute to dysfunctional decision making. Builders need others, such as
processors and coaches, to be their sparring partners.

5. The Innovator

extremely curious, innovators want to learn more about anything and every-
thing that grabs their attention. Their passion for learning new things and their
insatiable search for knowledge can be a source of inspiration to others.
innovators are the most reluctant of all the leadership archetypes to do things
in a particular way simply because that is how things have always been done.
Because of this innovative mind-set, they can bring fresh, new approaches to
their organizations. More politically astute innovators can be good at managing
innovative projects, if not hampered by routine. starting in childhood, innova-
tors tend to be introverts, stimulated by thoughts and ideas rather than people
and things. Adept at logic and reason, they typically lack the usual social graces
and may not always express their feelings appropriately. They are poor social
sensors, unskilled at decoding body language, sensing others’ feelings, or recog-
nizing hidden agendas, thus making a rather “nerdy” impression. Moreover,
innovators’ driven way of working means that they have trouble conforming to
organizational norms and may be treated as outsiders. in going their own way,
they may lose sight of the financial realities and limitations, thus endangering
the viability of the organization.

6. The Processor

Processors like to create order out of disorder and are adept at helping organ-
izations make an effective transition from an entrepreneurial to a more pro-
fessionally managed stage. Talented at setting boundaries and at creating the
structures and systems necessary to support the organization’s objectives, they
have a systemic, practical outlook and dislike unstructured situations. They are
good at time management, very conscientious, reliable, and efficient, able to
keep a cool head in stressful situations. As team players, they have a very
positive attitude toward authority and are committed corporate citizens.
Because they tend to be adaptable and collaborative, processors complement
most other leadership styles and thus play an important role in any executive
role constellation. sometimes, however, a processor’s need for order, systems,

322 LeAdershiP Theory And PrAcTice

and rules can shade into stubbornness and inflexibility, so these leaders can
be slow to respond to new opportunities or even hinder them. They tend to
lack imagination, flexibility, and spontaneity. Their inflexibility can create
people-management problems. not only will it be helpful for processors to be
paired up with coaches, but strategists or innovators can also help to bring in
an element of out-of-the-box thinking.

7. The Coach

coaches are very good at instituting culture change projects to address
organizational alienation and loss of trust. They are exceptional people
developers who possess empathy, are extremely good listeners, and have
high emotional intelligence. With their positive, constructive outlook on
life, they inspire confidence and trust. Great communicators and motiva-
tors, coaches are excellent at handling difficult interpersonal and group
situations and at giving constructive feedback. They create high-perfor-
mance teams and high-performance cultures. They are great believers in
participatory management and know how to delegate. The downside is
that their sensitivity to others’ feelings can make them overly careful when
giving feedback: They may find it hard to be tough when needed, and they
may shy away from dealing with difficult underperformance and personal
issues. in crisis situations, some coaches may be slow to act or may procras-
tinate about important issues, a danger when speed is a competitive advan-
tage. Given the organizational context, teaming coaches with executives
who possess other archetypes can be highly effective.

8. The Communicator

With their ability to express a vision strongly and powerfully, communicators
can inspire people at all levels. They are good at projecting optimism in times
of adversity or crisis and are strongly influential with the various constituen-
cies in the organization. Possessing impressive theatrical skills and great
presence, communicators are very effective in building alliances and enlist-
ing the support of other people. however, a communicator’s preference for
looking at the big picture, rather than dealing with details, means that these
leaders need others, such as strategists and processors, to make their dreams
become reality. communicators can also appear to operate on the surface:
When it’s time to deliver, very little happens, and everything they have been
saying can seem like empty rhetoric. expert in looking out for number one,
they are not averse to obtaining excessive perks and other benefits for them-
selves. They sometimes latch on to others for support and even take credit
for other people’s achievements, a self-serving style that can contribute to

chapter 12 Psychodynamic Approach 323

organizational disintegration. in their drive to acquire the symbols of power,
they will tolerate warfare between internal fiefdoms in the organization.
As in the case of coaches, when balanced with other archetypes, communica-
tors can play an essential role in many role constellations.

When interpreting the Leadership Archetype Questionnaire results, keep
this in mind:

• The results are based on your own (and your observers’) perceptions at
a single point in time. Though the responses certainly reflect long-
standing behavioral characteristics, situational factors can have consider-
able influence.

• Most of us—and most effective leaders—can be slotted into more than
one archetype. Archetype identifications change as our life changes.
Assessing where and what we are is not a static, one-off, operation.

• Furthermore, it is a rare leader who can fulfill all the roles seamlessly.
successful organizations are characterized by a distributive, collective,
complementary form of leadership.

• Finally, people are much more complex than the scores shown on the
LAQ (or any other instrument). What the LAQ attempts to do is capture
some of that complexity and illuminate basic elements of your behavior.
The results are jumping-off points for self-examination and discussion.

For more information on the development and validation of the Leadership
Archetype Questionnaire, please refer to Kets de Vries et al. (2010).
Development and application of the Leadership Archetype Questionnaire.
International Journal of Human Resource Management, 21(15), 2846–2861.

324 LeAdershiP Theory And PrAcTice


This chapter proposes an approach to leadership that goes beyond the tradi-
tional, more conventional “rational” approach. The psychodynamic approach
is the flip side of the coin, and looks at the underlying irrational processes
and dynamics governing human behavior. Indeed, much of what we do,
whether we want to admit it or not, is guided by deep-seated experiences and
patterns that are first mapped out in early infancy, through our experiences
with early caregivers. We carry these patterns subconsciously into our adult
and working lives, and they color our interactions with those we work
with—superiors, peers, and followers alike. Any understanding of leadership
behavior needs to consider these undercurrents. Only in understanding our-
selves and our drivers, and in turn turning our analytic gaze to deciphering
the motivations and behaviors of others around us, can we truly understand
the complexity of the system in which we live and work. The psychodynamic
approach not only provides us with better self-knowledge, but this knowl-
edge can also be used in our interface with other organizational actors in a
way that allows us to shape, influence, and leverage organizational dynamics.

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Zaleznik, A., & Kets de Vries, M. F. R. (1975). Power and the corporate mind. Oxford:

Houghton Mifflin.


Leadership Ethics


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 leader-
ship), whereas this chapter is multifaceted and presents a broad set of ethi-
cal 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

Probably since our cave-dwelling days, human beings have been concerned
with the ethics of our leaders. Our history books are replete with descrip-
tions 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 stud-
ies 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).

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330 LEadErship ThEory and pracTicE

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; Ciulla, 2001,
2003; Johnson, 2011; Kanungo, 2001; Price, 2008; Trevino, Brown, &
Hartman, 2003).

Ethics Defined

From the perspective of Western tradition, the development of ethical the-
ory 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 “cus-
toms,” “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 their moral development. 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 who 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 (see Table 13.1).
Kohlberg further classified the first two stages as preconventional moral-
ity, the second two as conventional morality, and the last two as postcon-
ventional morality.

Ethics introduction

Chapter 13 Leadership Ethics 331


Obedience and Punishment

“I follow the rules so I don’t get hurt”
Individualism and Exchange

“I will do a favor for you, if you do
one for me”

Reasoning based on self-interest, avoiding punishment, and rewards



Interpersonal Accord and Conformity
“I try to be good and do what others

expect of me”

Maintaining the Social Order
“I follow the rules and support the

laws of society”

Reasoning based on society’s views and expectations


Social Contract and Individual Rights

“I work with others to do what is best
for all of us”

Universal Principles
“I act out of my internalized and universal

principle of justice”

Reasoning based on conscience and creating a just society

Table 13.1 Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development

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:

Stage 1—Obedience and Punishment. At this stage, the individual is egocen-
tric and sees morality as external to self. Rules are fixed and handed down
by authority. Obeying rules is important because it means avoiding punish-
ment. 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,

332 LEadErship ThEory and pracTicE

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 ques-
tioned, 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.”

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.

Ethical dilemmas

chapter 13 Leadership Ethics 333

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 com-
mitment 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.

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’ con-
duct 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 “pur-
poses,” try to answer questions about right and wrong by focusing on
whether a person’s conduct will produce desirable consequences. From the

table 13.2 domains of Ethical Theories

conduct character

Consequences (teleological theories)

• Ethical egoism
• Utilitarianism

Virtue-based theories

Duty (deontological theories)


334 LEadErship ThEory and pracTicE

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, utilitarian-
ism, and altruism. Ethical egoism states that a person should act so as to cre-
ate 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 lead-
ership theories (Bass & Steidlmeier, 1999). Ethical egoism is common in
some business contexts in which a company and its employees make deci-
sions 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 pre-
ventive 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






Low Medium High


• Ethical Egoism

• Utilitarianism

• Altruism

chapter 13 Leadership Ethics 335

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 altru-
istic principles (Bass & Steidlmeier, 1999; Kanungo & Mendonca, 1996)
and altruism is pivotal to exhibiting servant leadership (Chapter 10). The
strongest example of altruist 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 (teleo-
logical), but also with whether the action itself is good. Telling the truth, keep-
ing promises, being fair, and respecting others are all examples of actions that
are inherently good, independent of the consequences. The deontological per-
spective 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 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 (see 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.

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336 LEadErship ThEory and pracTicE

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, cur-
rent 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 eth-
ics 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 the-
ory 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 man-
ifest our virtues (Frankena, 1973; Pojman, 1995).

Centrality of Ethics to Leadership

As discussed in Chapter 1, leadership is a process whereby the leader influ-
ences 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

integrity drives Growth

chapter 13 Leadership Ethics 337

interests, needs, and conscientious concerns (Beauchamp & Bowie, 1988).
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; Schminke, Ambrose, &
Noel, 1997; Trevino, 1986). Again, because of their influence, leaders play a
major role in establishing the ethical climate of their organizations.

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 promi-
nent 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 leader-
ship today.

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 per-
spective because it speaks directly to the values of workers.

For Heifetz (1994), leaders must use authority to mobilize people to face
tough issues. As was discussed in the chapter on adaptive leadership
(Chapter 11), it is up to the leader to provide a “holding environment” in

Ethical norms

338 LEadErship ThEory and pracTicE

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 con-
flicting 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.

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 fol-
lowers to higher standards of moral responsibility. This emphasis sets
transformational leadership apart from most other approaches to leader-
ship 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 impor-
tant 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 leader-
ship should be carried out.

Teaching Ethical Leadership

chapter 13 Leadership Ethics 339

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. 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 their basest fears. Furthermore, Lipman-Blumen identifies many
dysfunctional personal characteristics destructive leaders demonstrate
including lack of integrity, insatiable ambition, arrogance, and reckless dis-
regard for their actions. The same characteristics and behaviors that distin-
guish 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 occu-
pational stress.

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 (see 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 suscep-
tible 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

The dark side of Leadership

340 LEadErship ThEory and pracTicE

desirable. Because they are psychologically immature, conformers more eas-
ily go along with authority and engage in destructive activity. On the other
hand, colluders may respond to destructive leaders because they are ambitious,
desire 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

Figure 13.2 The Toxic Triangle

• Charisma
• Personalized power

• Narcissism
• Negative life themes

• Ideology of hate

• Unmet needs
• Low core self-
• Low maturity

• Ambition
• Similar world-
• Bad values

• Instability
• Perceived threat
• Cultural values

• Lack of checks and
balances and ineffective





Conformers Colluders

soUrcE: padilla, a., hogan, r., & Kaiser, r. B. (2007). The toxic triangle: destructive
leaders, susceptible followers, and conducive environments. The Leadership Quarterly, 18,

opportunism and Ethics

chapter 13 Leadership Ethics 341

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.

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 edu-
cation (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

Figure 13.3 principles of Ethical Leadership







practical Ethical Theory

342 LEadErship ThEory and pracTicE

themselves and never as means to ends. As Beauchamp and Bowie (1988,
p. 37) pointed out, “Persons must be treated as having their own autono-
mously 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 treat-
ing 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 uncon-
ditional 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.

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.

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 pro-
viders have a duty to help others pursue their own legitimate interests and
goals (Beauchamp & Childress, 1994). Like health professionals, ethical

Ethical school Leadership

chapter 13 Leadership Ethics 343

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 decade, the service principle has received a great deal of empha-
sis 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 pri-
mary 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, consid-
ered to be one of the premier schools producing today’s business 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 prac-
ticing 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.

344 LEadErship ThEory and pracTicE

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 consid-
eration except when his or her particular situation demands it. When indi-
viduals 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 dis-
tributing 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 choose to distribute things as they

Ethics in Management Ethics in nursing

chapter 13 Leadership Ethics 345

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 contri-
bution). Two drivers have been with the company since its inception, and
their performance has been meritorious year after year.

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.

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

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.

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

developing Leadership character

346 LEadErship ThEory and pracTicE

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 monitor-
ing 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 organiza-
tions, 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 influ-
ences 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

Group Ethical Voice

chapter 13 Leadership Ethics 347

the group. Leaders need to take into account their 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
163 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 compat-
ible 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 com-
mon 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

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 farther and suggested that ethical leadership
demands attention to a civic virtue. By this, he meant that leaders and fol-
lowers 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 chapter discusses a broad set of ideas regarding ethics and leadership.
This general field of study has several strengths. First, it provides a body

Ethical role of Management

348 LEadErship ThEory and pracTicE

of timely research on ethical issues. There is a high demand for moral
leadership in our society today. Beginning with the Nixon administration
in the 1970s and continuing through Barack Obama’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 lead-
ership, 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, transfor-
mational, and authentic leadership, none of the other leadership theories dis-
cussed in this book includes ethics as a dimension of 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 show-
ing 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.


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 develop-
ment, and therefore lacks a strong body of traditional research findings to
substantiate it. As was pointed out at the beginning of the chapter, very
little research has been published on the theoretical foundations of leader-
ship ethics. Although many studies have been published on business ethics,
these studies have not been directly related to ethical leadership. The dearth
of research on leadership ethics makes speculation about the nature of
ethical leadership difficult. Until more research studies have been con-
ducted that deal directly with the ethical dimensions of leadership, theo-
retical 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

Ethical issues in nursing

chapter 13 Leadership Ethics 349

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.


Although issues of morality and leadership are discussed more often in
society today, these discussions have not resulted in a large number of pro-
grams 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 peo-
ple 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 lead-
ership 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.

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

Ethical case study

350 LEadErship ThEory and pracTicE

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.

Case 13.1

choosing a research Assistant

dr. angi dirks is the chair of the state university’s organizational psychol-
ogy department, which has four teaching assistants (Tas). angi has just
found out that she has received a grant for research work over the sum-
mer 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 evalua-
tions 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.

chapter 13 Leadership Ethics 351

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 accu-
sations of ill treatment while at the same time facing accusations from
others that she is giving analisa preferential treatment.

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?

Case 13.2

How safe is safe?

perfect plastics incorporated (ppi) is a small injection molding plastics com-
pany 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 work-
ing conditions at ppi. he describes the interior of the plant as being like
a hospital compared with his competitors. order, efficiency, and cleanli-
ness are top priorities at ppi. it is a remarkably well-organized manufac-
turing company.

ppi has a unique approach to guaranteeing safe working conditions. Each
year, management brings in outside consultants from the insurance indus-
try and the occupational safety and health administration (osha) to audit


352 LEadErship ThEory and pracTicE

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 out-
side 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.


1. as a company, would you describe ppi as having an identifiable philoso-
phy 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

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


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

chapter 13 Leadership Ethics 353

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 ster-
ling reputation, to obtain an estimate for human resource services for a
startup company. The estimate was to include costs for payroll, benefits,
workers’ 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 work-
place, 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 pro-
posal 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.


354 LEadErship ThEory and pracTicE


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 (conse-
quences) 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

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?


chapter 13 Leadership Ethics 355

LEADErsHip instrUMEnt

Ethics and morals often are regarded as very personal, and we resist having
others judge us about them. We also resist judging others. Perhaps for this
reason, very few questionnaires have been designed to measure ethical leader-
ship. To address this problem, Craig and Gustafson (1998) developed the
Perceived Leader Integrity Scale (PLIS), which is based on utilitarian ethical
theory. The PLIS attempts to evaluate leaders’ ethics by measuring the degree
to which coworkers see them as acting in accordance with rules that would
produce the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Craig and
Gustafson found PLIS ratings to be strongly and positively related to subor-
dinates’ job satisfaction, and negatively related to their desire to quit their jobs.

Parry and Proctor-Thomson (2002) used the PLIS in a study of 1,354 manag-
ers and found that perceived integrity was positively related to transformational
leadership. Leaders who were seen as transformational were also seen as having
more integrity. In addition, the researchers found that perceived integrity was
positively correlated with leader and organizational effectiveness.

By taking the PLIS, you can try to assess the ethical integrity of a leader you
know, such as a supervisor or leader of a group or organization of which you
are a member. At the same time, the PLIS will allow you to apply the ideas
we discussed in the chapter to a real-world setting. By focusing on observers’
impressions, the PLIS represents one way to assess the principle of ethical

In addition, the PLIS can be used for feedback to employees in organizations
and as a part of leadership training and development. Finally, if used as part
of an organizational climate survey, the PLIS could be useful as a way of
identifying areas in an organization that may need an ethics intervention
(Craig & Gustafson, 1998).

356 LEadErship ThEory and pracTicE

perceived Leader integrity scale (pLis)

Instructions: The following items concern your perceptions of another person’s
behavior. circle responses to indicate how well each item describes the person
you are rating.

Key: 1 = not at all 2 = Barely 3 = somewhat 4 = Well

1. puts his or her personal interests ahead of the 1 2 3 4

2. Would risk other people to protect himself or herself 1 2 3 4
in work matters

3. Enjoys turning down requests 1 2 3 4

4. deliberately fuels conflict between other people 1 2 3 4

5. Would blackmail an employee if she or he thought she 1 2 3 4
or he could get away with it

6. Would deliberately exaggerate people’s mistakes to 1 2 3 4
make them look bad to others

7. Would treat some people better if they were of the other 1 2 3 4
sex or belonged to a different ethnic group

8. ridicules people for their mistakes 1 2 3 4

9. can be trusted with confidential information 1 2 3 4

10. Would lie to me 1 2 3 4

11. is evil 1 2 3 4

12. is not interested in tasks that don’t bring personal 1 2 3 4
glory or recognition

13. Would do things that violate organizational policy and 1 2 3 4
then expect others to cover for him or her

14. Would allow someone else to be blamed for 1 2 3 4
his or her mistake

15. Would deliberately avoid responding to email, telephone, 1 2 3 4
or other messages to cause problems for someone else

16. Would make trouble for someone who got on his 1 2 3 4
or her bad side

17. Would engage in sabotage against the organization 1 2 3 4

chapter 13 Leadership Ethics 357

18. Would deliberately distort what other people say 1 2 3 4

19. is a hypocrite 1 2 3 4

20. is vindictive 1 2 3 4

21. Would try to take credit for other people’s ideas 1 2 3 4

22. Likes to bend the rules 1 2 3 4

23. Would withhold information or constructive feedback 1 2 3 4
because he or she wants someone to fail

24. Would spread rumors or gossip to try to hurt people 1 2 3 4
or the organization

25. is rude or uncivil to coworkers 1 2 3 4

26. Would try to hurt someone’s career because of a grudge 1 2 3 4

27. shows unfair favoritism toward some people 1 2 3 4

28. Would steal from the organization 1 2 3 4

29. Would falsify records if it would help his 1 2 3 4
or her work situation

30. has high moral standards 1 2 3 4

soUrcE: adapted from a version of the pLis that appeared in Leadership Quarterly, 9(2), s.
B. craig and s. B. Gustafson, “perceived Leader integrity scale: an instrument for assessing
Employee perceptions of Leader integrity,” pp. 143–144, 1998. Used with permission of the


The pLis measures your perceptions of another person’s integrity in an organ-
izational setting. your responses on the pLis indicate the degree to which you
see that person’s behavior as ethical.

score the questionnaire by doing the following. First, reverse the scores on
items 9 and 30 (i.e., 1 becomes 4, 2 becomes 3, 3 becomes 2, and 4 becomes
1). next, sum the responses on all 30 items. a low score on the questionnaire
indicates that you perceive the person you evaluated to be highly ethical.
a high score indicates that you perceive that person to be very unethical. The
interpretation of what the score represents follows.

358 LEadErship ThEory and pracTicE

scoring interpretation

your score is a measure of your perceptions of another person’s ethical integ-
rity. Based on previous findings (craig & Gustafson, 1998), the following inter-
pretations can be made about your total score:

• 30–32 high ethical: if your score is in this range, it means that you see the
person you evaluated as highly ethical. your impression is that the person
is very trustworthy and principled.

• 33–45 Moderate ethical: scores in this range mean that you see the person
as moderately ethical. your impression is that the person might engage in
some unethical behaviors under certain conditions.

• 46–120 Low ethical: scores in this range describe people who are seen as
very unethical. your impression is that the person you evaluated does
things that are dishonest, unfair, and unprincipled almost any time he or
she has the opportunity.

chapter 13 Leadership Ethics 359


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 deci-
sions about how to act and how to be morally decent. In the Western tradi-
tion, 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