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Predictors of Effective Leadership in Organizational Settings: A Literary Analysis

Abstract

The role of a leader is one comprised of an individual who seeks to exert their influence over others in order to increase the performance of a collective, with respect to a common goal. Research on leadership has made considerable strides in recent decades, yet there is no perfect formula for what constitutes an effective leader in every circumstance. There are however mutual understandings amongst researchers in determining what characteristics an effective leader should possesses. This research extends to genetic and social influences, that work in tandem to foster leadership emergence and development. Additionally, leaders vary in terms of personality correlates, namely the five-factor model of personality (FFM), and leadership styles that mediate unique interactions with their followers. Within these interactions, there is a subjective component regarding how a leader is perceived by the individuals they are leading. Finally, there have been a number of leadership theories to date that provide a framework in improving the leader’s ability to lead. This literary analysis attempts to synthesize aspects of the leadership role, not only to establish constructs of an effective leader, but also to determine theories of leadership that enhance their followers’ performance.

Introduction

Research on leadership in the early 20th century, up until the latter half mainly focused on determining traits and characteristics of leaders, albeit with methodological constraints. These constraints included failing to operationally define leadership and were generally concerned with listing characteristics and traits of leadership without answering the questions posed (Stogdill, 1948). Exhaustive criterion measures only scratched the surface; as it became clear that definitions of effective leadership in the literature varied, situational influences were overlooked, and varying personality correlates across leaders were not necessarily useful in predicating effectiveness (Meyer, 1950). Stogdill (1950) understood the problem lay not in identifying traits of leadership, rather, he sought to understand behavioral aspects of leadership along with situational influences. Thus, he proposed the authoritarian leader who possessed a particular set of personality correlates differed from the leader who incorporated perceptions from their subordinates. The difference between these two ideas being where the leader’s influence comes from.

Leadership research began to shift from its focus on the individual to the influence an individual possesses. Influence contextually represents the power that comes with leadership. This may take the form through consideration of subordinates’ needs and the respect a leader shows for their overall welfare or forming structures that serve the leader with an end-goal in mind (Bass, 1999; Judge, Piccolo, & Ilies, 2004). Burns’ (1978) influential theories of leadership would go on circumscribe behaviors that leaders demonstrated with respect to how they interacted with their subordinates. He took the idea of consideration of subordinates and deemed it transformational leadership because transformational leaders tend to elevate others around them, along with themselves, with a common goal in mind. He contrasted that idea with transactional leadership, a laissez-faire style of behavior, contingent upon rewards and punishments. It was not long before these overarching theories of leadership behavior came under criticism from other scholars in the field.

In the latter half of the 20th century, a sizeable proportion of scholars emphasized the importance of personality correlates of effective leadership, rather than focusing on behavioral theories. This sentiment attempted to highlight the methodological flaws in research centered around behavioral aspects of leadership. Lord, De Vader, and Alliger (1986) claimed that Stogdill, and other researchers that shared similar views on leadership, negatively impacted the field because this type of thought encouraged subsequent research to deter and even discredit the influence of personality correlates in leadership. Further they, found substantiated claims based on methodological errors and evidence derived from an emphasis on median correlations, along with drawing a majority of their correlations from one study (Tagger, Hackett, & Saha, 1999). In order disprove their contemporaries, Lord et al. (1968) showed that intelligence, masculinity-femininity, and dominance were significantly related to leadership. They sought to emphasize the trait-perspectives of leadership and argued that there was too much of an emphasis on contingency theories that attempted to circumvent individual differences; placing the emphases instead on situational factors. Yet the latter half of the 20th century, especially in the 1960’s and 1970’s, did not deter scholars from highlighting the merits of qualitative research.

Conger (1998) argues, the contention regarding qualitative versus quantitative leadership research undermines the importance that qualitative research has brought to the field. He writes that quantitative methods fail to exemplify the phenomena of leadership. The argument that quantitatively-focused scholars will use to support their research insists upon leadership as a social influence process (Parry, 1998). Campbell (2012) pointedly notes that much of the qualitatively centered literature’s in the 20th century fails to see leadership as a subset of a larger construct, namely performance. He notes the behavioral explanations that explain leader performance fail to work towards identifying a dependent variable; highlighting that these contingency centered studies incorporate the same components. Charismatic leadership is a concept that spun off of Burns’ (1978) theories of leadership. Scholars who placed importance upon the ideas of charismatic leadership frequently used Burns’ (1978) and Hunt’s (1999) to support their theories. Although, the seminal work of Burns (1978) on transformational leadership did not place great significance on emotional aspects of the charismatic leadership, scholars have incorrectly used his work to make the claim that leader performance, along with leader effectiveness is a subset of charismatic leadership (Campbell, 2012). The disagreements in the 20st century, regarding what constitutes leadership have not diminished. Additionally, to list every faction and contention in the field of leadership research is beyond the scope of this analysis. Thus, before explaining predictors of effective leadership, there must be a distinction between leadership and management.

Leadership and management do share many similarities, however the difference between the two lies in the idea that each role has a specific set of behaviors or end-goals. These two positions involve common behavioral dimensions that can also be held by a single person in the organization (Borman & Brush, 1993; Yukl, Gordon, & Taber, 2002). To preface, the descriptions given do not clearly highlight the dissimilarities, as the body of literature explaining the difference between the two is scant. For all intents and purposes, this review defines leaders as individuals who directly influence others in order to heighten the performance of those they are leading (Campbell, 2012). In contrast, managers are defined as individuals who handles resources to attain the organization’s goals (Yukl & Lepsinger, 2005). An example of leadership might be a leader coaching their subordinates in a one-on-one setting to enhance their skill-set; this behavior is emblematic of transformative leadership (Burns, 1978). An example of a managerial duty might be setting a budget and monitoring it closely, with the sole task of reaching an end-goal for the sake of the organization (Borman, & Brush, 1993).

As it stands, this differentiation of interpersonal influence as opposed to task completion is the basis of defining leadership and while there may be exceptions to this claim, it is crucial to understand what the dependent variable is in this analysis (Campbell, 2012). The dependent variable seems to be what is most disagreed upon because there seem to be inconsistencies as to what measures the outcome of effectiveness. Some researchers emphasize leadership traits and others behavior; it is fair to say that performance of a leader is dependent upon these traits or behaviors, not the other way around (Campbell, 2012). These ideas do not need to signify contention, as they all clarify and conceptualize the leadership construct.

In the interest of understanding effective leadership it is useful to define what constitutes and distinguishes effectiveness from performance. Campbell, Dunnette, Lawler, and Weick’s (1970) definition of performance states that individuals do things (e.g., behaviors or actions) that are observable and are ideally related to achieving organizational goals. The term “performance” is not static (e.g., it fluctuates over time) or composed of just one factor; it is multidimensional (Campbell, McHenry, & Wise, 1990). In defining effectiveness, Campbell (2012) describes this variable as a function of performance. He also explained that variability in effectiveness, depending on its determinants, implies that the individual is not responsible for their level of effectiveness if they lack complete control over it to begin with. As such, effectiveness cannot be used as a complete measure to define effective leadership because some aspects of leadership are out of the leader’s control (e.g., a subordinate’s negative perception or heritable traits). In the context of leadership effectiveness, this assertion might sound unfulfilling, however there are variables (e.g., abilities or skills) that can be used to increase the reliability in predicting effective performance (Campbell et al., 1990).

Clearly there is no secret formula that equates to leadership in the modern day because predictors of effective leadership vary in the literature. Moreover, defining the concept of leadership in an organizational setting is difficult and likely to yield several definitions. To reiterate, leadership is the process by which one exerts their influence over another (Campbell, 2012). Bearing in mind that these leaders possess the ability to channel their own influence in a manner that enhances the overall performance of others (Burns, 1978). Major themes in this review will attempt to cover traits and behaviors associated with the leadership role. For the sake of clarity, trait-based approaches refer to consistent patterns of behavior that remain relatively stable across social domains (Zaccaro, Kemp, & Bader, 2004). Additionally, we must understand the individual with respect to social and genetic factors. Moreover, personal narratives and other subjective components will also be touched upon as well. Finally, theories of leadership will be discussed in order to account for the custom-approach that comes with the individualistic tendency to lead. What this review will not attempt to do is solve a longstanding debate regarding methodological approaches to leadership assessment. However, both qualitative and quantitative measures will be take into account in the interest of explaining effective predictors of leadership. Whether leaders possess inherent traits or develop through their experiences, they should ideally have some capacity to inspire or lead others. Although not all leaders have this inspirational quality, they should be prepared to exert their influence on their subordinates in a way that enhances their own performance to help meet their organization’s goals.

 

 

 

Leadership Emergence and Development. Although research regarding leadership development has gravitated towards explaining associated personality correlates, social environments at an early age and to a lesser extent heritability, influence those personality correlates (Day, Fleenor, Atwater, Sturm, & McKee, 2014). Gene and environmental interactions were not always accepted in the scholarly domain (Plomin, DeFries, & Loehlin, 1977). Over time, that notion has changed considerably, as scholars studying determinants of leadership refer to gene-environment interactions to predict whether they moderate the development of leadership characteristics (Arvey, Rotundo, Johnson, Zhang, & McGue, 2006). Arvey et al. (2006) studied a sample of male twins to determine the extension of genetic factors to leadership roles. The sample consisted of individuals who were identical and fraternal male twins that went on to occupy leadership roles. They showed that 30% of the variance in the sample was due to genetic factors that influenced leadership roles and personality correlates. Arvey, Zhang, Avolio, and Krueger (2007) went on to replicate similar results to leadership occupancy roles among identical and fraternal female twins. Despite the sizeable variance alluding to the heritability of leadership role occupancy, environmental factors cannot be ruled out either.

Arvey et al. (2006, 2007) concluded that non-shared environmental experiences tended to have a greater influence on an individual’s capacity to develop the leadership occupancy variable. Non-shared environments refer to experiences specific to each individual, despite growing up in the same family (Zhang, Ilies, & Arvey, 2009). These experiences can contribute to the development of leadership skills because siblings may experience the same situation differently. For example, a parent who is remarrying represents an event that is shared among siblings, however the degree to which the event is experienced by both parties represents the non-shared environment. The marriage or wedding event itself in this example would represent a shared-environment and this extends to domains such as socioeconomic status or educational experiences (Arvey et al., 2006). Studying shared and non-shared environments was an important step in garnering the necessary evidence to explore social environmental influence. Arvey et al. (2006,2007) surmised that shared-environments were not significant because genetic and non-shared environments predisposed individuals to gravitate towards leadership occupancy roles. This argument assumes there are constraints on the effectiveness of leadership development or intervention techniques earlier in life and in organizational settings (Zhang et al., 2009). Accordingly, this led researchers to explore aspects of the social environment using familial variables classified under shared environments.

Social environments in this context refer to how enriched an environment may become.  Enriched environments are composed of families who are higher socioeconomic status, increased levels of parental support, and lower perceived conflict with parents (Zang et al., 2009). Zang et al. (2009) hypothesized that these enriched environmental factors could be responsible for moderating genetic components. They found that enriched environmental factors were associated with a lower heritability of leadership role occupancy. Additionally, their findings showed adverse experiences incurred early in life allowed greater influences of genetic differences. That is, genetics played a larger part in leadership development if the individual had a poor social environment. If familial experiences in certain environmental settings or lack thereof can impact leadership development, then surely individuals can be taught or modeled leadership behaviors.

The idea that family factors can be responsible for promoting leadership development in children can be traced to Bass (1960), although Burns (1978) referred to this type of modeling as transformational leadership. Moreover, mentors, coaches, and especially teachers can model transformational leadership skills that nurture follower’s leadership skills, accounting for 9-10% in work outcomes (Oliver et al., 2011). Research has shown that parents who exhibit transformational leadership behaviors encourage adolescents to display similar behaviors in a group setting (Zacharatos, Barling, & Kelloway, 2000). That finding extends to Keating, Rosch, and Burgoon (2014) who showed that leadership skills such as self-efficacy, transformational and transactional leadership, and motivation can be taught in a classroom setting. The issue with their findings was that increases in effective leadership capacity were not uniform across the board; the implication being that personal factors like personality, intelligence, or self-perception may hinder the ability to learn leadership skills. The intersection of a stimulating and supportive environment, along with proper modeling, specifically during adolescence, represent effective methods that increase the likelihood of emergent leadership qualities. Limitations regarding transformational leadership are in the length of time it takes to develop or influence an individual. Hence, a more efficient way to predict whether an individual will aspire towards leadership roles is to determine the personality correlates associated with leadership.

(before emergent leadership?) Personality Correlates Associated with Leadership. The five-factor model (FFM; McCrae & Costa, 1997) represents a taxonomy for classifying personality correlates in a measurable manner and has been used across disciplines to measure job performance criteria (Barrick & Mount, 1991). As explained by Barrick, Mount, and Judge (2001), the five factors associated with this model are: (a) Extraversion which includes sociability, ambition, and assertiveness; (b) Agreeableness encompasses cooperative behaviors, trustfulness, and tolerance; (c) Openness to Experience involves intellect, creativity, and unconventionality; (d) Emotional Stability is characterized by the degree to which an individual lacks anxiety or hostility, and instead possessing self-confidence and resilience; (e) Contentiousness is associated with dependability, hardworking tendencies and orderliness. These five personality correlates are broken down into further subsets and represent a meaningful taxonomy that interprets individual differences (Barrick & Mount, 1991). Accordingly, the FFM is useful in determining the personality correlates of effective leaders, however one caveat emerges in this attempt. As previously mentioned, effective leadership and effective performance are two distinct ideals, such that effectiveness is a factor in overall performance (Campbell, 2012). In attempting to understand the intersection of FFM traits to effective leadership it may prove beneficial to explore personality correlates of overall performance (i.e., performance across all employees) and group performance settings. The latter due to the notion that individuals may find a way to differentiate themselves from the collective and emerge as a leader themselves.

Due to individual differences leaders possess, research has shown time and again that there is little significance regarding the relationship between personality correlates and the leadership role (e.g., Arvey et al., 2006; Barrick et al., 2001). Instead, scholars have chosen to focus on linking personality correlates to predictors of overall job performance, such as performance within team settings. Barrick et al., (2001) conducted a meta-analysis of 15 meta-analyses, finding that the FFM trait showing the highest validity across performance criterion was contentiousness. Additionally, emotional stability appeared to be common across their performance criterion as well. They implied that it made inherent sense why an individual who lacked hostility while demonstrating persistence and efficiency might perform well across occupations. Agreeableness, openness, and extraversion did not show the same consistency across all performance criterion. For example, they found extraversion and openness to be predictive of training performance outcomes, but not necessarily overall performance. In addition, they found emotional stability and agreeableness to moderately predict teamwork. Their conclusions mirror and strengthen that of a similar analysis conducted by Barrick and Mount (1991). As a result, there is a fair degree of certainty that while it is difficult to significantly relate aspects of the FFM to an overall performance criterion, it is possible to explore other predictors of leadership by assessing emergent leadership behaviors as shown in group settings.

Kickul and Nueman (2000) attempted to find a relationship between personality correlates and cognitive ability; specifically for emergent leadership performance within a team performance simulation. In contrast to Barrick et al., (2001), they found that extraversion and openness were predictive of emergent leaders. Along with cognitive ability, these factors accounted for 83% of the variance in their explanation of leadership emergence. These results follow Lord et al.’s (1986) explanation of extraversion as a predictor for emergent leadership, although it is worth mentioning that Lord et al.’s (1986) research did not emphasize extraversion to the extent that the current study did. Furthermore, they found cognitive ability not to be a significant in predicting overall team performance, the implication being the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. If interdependence in team settings matter to the extent that cognitive ability is not a prerequisite to team performance, looking at the leader’s skill-set could represent a more fruitful approach.

Skills and Trait-Based Approaches. While trait theories may not hold the strongest models for understanding leader performance (Lord et al., 1986), they can be coupled with skill-based approaches to provide a more conceptual understanding of leadership behavior. This approach assesses how certain types of knowledge and skills are needed to implement solutions to complex social issues that arise in the workplace (Mumford, Zaccaro, Harding, Jacobs, & Fleishman 2000). Mumford et al.’s (2000) model is comprised of problem-solving skills that are used to assess and understand the problem in order to solve the issue; solution construction skills whichrefine solutions and provide a proactive approach in creating the framework for problem solving; and social judgment skills are used to motivate and guide followers towards the implemented framework. They emphasize that these are the requisite skills that distinguish effective leaders from ineffective ones because former is engaged with subordinates and seeking their best interests.

An alternative approach taken by Chen, Gully, Whiteman, & Kilcullen, (2000) assesses individual differences with regards to distal and proximal traits. Distal traits (e.g., trait-like) tend to remain stable over time and uninfluenced by situational factors. These distal attributes include personality, cognitive abilities, motives, and values. In contrast, Chen et al., (2000) refer to social appraisal, problem-solving skills, and tacit knowledge (i.e., knowledge that is difficult to transfer onto paper) as proximal attributes (e.g., state-like) that are dependent upon the situation and can change over time. Mumford et al.’s (2000) model refers to proximal attributes and they believe these state-like differences are what moderate leader problem solving skills. Consequently, determining leader problem solving skills can be used to clarify what exactly predicts leader performance. These models by Mumford et al., (2000) and Chen et al., (2000) have practical implications for identifying emerging leaders over a variety of situational factors.

Behavioral Approaches. Behavioral approaches to leadership are generally concerned with the effectiveness of particular behaviors as shown by leaders (Lindell & Rosenqvist, 1992). The literature on behavioral approaches to leadership is vast, with researchers choosing to focus on leadership styles or types of leaders. Aversive leaders (Arvey& Ivancevich, 1980) tend to focus more on intimidation and reprimanding techniques that vary in intensity, with an end-goal of changing subordinate behaviors. Directive leaders (Bass, 1967) are considered a task-oriented stimulus that initiates structure by issuing instructions and commands that lead to concrete goals. Transactional leaders (House, 1971) utilize rewards and punishments to manage their subordinates. These types of leaders are not concerned with elevating those around them; their main focus tend to align with reaching organizational goals. Transformational leadership (Burns, 1978) is characteristic of dyadic interactions between a leader and their followers that seek to elevate the other through the leader’s ideal vision; often through inspirational and charismatic communication. Finally, empowering leaders (Bandura, 1989) encourage independence, teamwork, self-development, self-reward, and active goal setting. These five behavioral approaches are derived from the idea that all leaders demonstrate their authority in certain ways (Pearce & Sims, 2002), however these styles are not mutually exclusive and can be used in tandem with one another.

One theory of behavioral leadership, not yet mentioned uses a combination of transactional and transformational theories; Leader-Member Exchange (LMX; Graen & Uhl-Bien, 1995). LMX theory views leadership as a process because it focuses on interaction between a leader and their subordinates (Gerstner & Day, 1997). LMX theory is not implying that effective leadership is predicted by the leader or their subordinates; it solely focuses on the interaction between the two parties. Graen and Uhl-Bien (1995) state that this theory is concerned with vertical dyad linkage, which emphasizes the unique relationships that the leader has formed with each individual subordinate. Thus, interactions may be ideal or suboptimal in nature, consequently forming in-groups (i.e., certain subordinates are favored) and out-groups (i.e., neutral interactions that are transactive in nature). These groups are crucial in defining LMX theory because in-groups might be privy to certain types of insider information and may receive more attention from the leader. Out-groups are less close to the leader, receive little information, and do not enjoy going to work or interacting with their leader.

This theory suggested by Graen and Uhl-Bien (1995), asserts that if the leader intrinsically wants positive outcomes for members of the in-group, then ideally that leader should want to add more members to the in-group. This is because a high quality LMX would theoretically translate to lower employee turnover rates, positive performance reviews in the eyes of the leader, an increased frequency of promotions, greater organizational commitment from subordinates, better job attitudes from everyone involves, and finally more desirable work outcomes. LMX touts the benefit of eliminating the focus on differences between leader and follower and can help remedy adverse situations that arise in the workplace. However, this theory is not without its criticisms. Yukl (1999) points out this theory may support the development of so called privileged work groups (i.e., the in-group) at the expense of the outsiders. This practice may lead to unfair or discriminatory measures, although this may be an inevitable reality in organizational settings. Additionally, it is difficult to measure dyadic relationships. Similar to trait-based approaches to effective leadership, behavioral theories receive their fair share of criticism.

Discussion

This literature review synthesizes prior research regarding predictors of effective leadership. Individuals are not always inclined to believe that they may become leaders one day; it is a gradual development that may be comprised of innate abilities, traits, or experiences. Leaders do not necessarily have to possess inspirational qualities; however they should be prepared to exert their influence onto others with the organization’s goals in mind. Effective leaders are only human after all, and as this analysis has shown, individual differences translate to leaders with varying strengths and weaknesses.

-Summarize research

-trait vs behavioral based (use conclusion of http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.475.9808&rep=rep1&type=pdf to help

– Importance of this research

-Future directions for research to better explore leadership characteristics

-different perspectives

researchers begin to adopt both qualitative and quantitative methods of studying the concept of leadership. While there is still disagreement in leadership research with respect to the emphasis scholars place on behavioral or situational factors, as opposed to trait-based analyses, there is widespread agreement that leadership research requires a multifaceted approach.

References

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