What is leadership in a crisis

The Problem with BP is a failure of leadership after the disaster

These days, you get dozens of results by searching for ‘leadership’ and ‘economic crisis’ on Google. The same happens when searching for ‘leadership’ and ‘downsizing’. The general consensus is clear: during challenging times, individuals look to their leaders for inspiration, guidance and reassurance. But leaders are also the first to be blamed when things go wrong and people start losing their jobs.

The Telegraph suggests that the ‘Financial crisis calls for confident leadership’. Similarly, the Washing Post informs that a ‘Financial Crisis Offers a Study in Leadership Styles’ – and we have just seen an example of how we expect leaders to act (or not act) when we look at the recent oil disaster in the gulf.

It seems that Leadership is, yet again, at the centre of anything that is good and bad when it comes to the heart of the business. Lack of courage, reckless decision making, greed and dishonesty are some of the sins that leaders of today are said to be guilty of. It seems that in the good times they take the money and bask in the glory until a problem occurs that seems to overwhelm them.

So what should leaders do in these critical times? The economic downturn was the ultimate test for those in charge and only those individuals that were most equipped with skills could maximise their chance of keeping their seats until the end of the last rollercoaster ride. On the positive side, however, it is known that Leaders need not be responsible for their own demise. Through coaching and the development of self-awareness, leaders can learn how to avoid over-extending themselves and be able to make a conscious decision to not ‘cross the line’ when compromised – the line that takes them to the unpopular side of business. I wonder who on earth is coaching Tony Hayward is beyond me – its not that he could do anything about stopping the oil leak (bar donning a diving suit and taking along a set of spanners) but the management of the image of the company is woefully inadequate – which after all is something he could do something about.

Leaders of today may not be the leaders of tomorrow for sure. Much of the territory we are exploring today is of an unchartered nature. And perhaps, through a Darwinian lens, we may hypothesise that only the fittest, the strongest and the wisest may able to survive and perhaps flexibility and adaptability as essential skills for effective and successful leadership. And ultimately, of course, the building of self-awareness through coaching and development.

So, what kind of Leader will you be?

What is the relationship between leadership and Motivation?

Leadership and motivation?

Research on motivation and leadership continued for many years with little interaction between the two areas, although more recently motivational concepts have been drawn upon to understand leadership processes. Many motivational theories were posited to have direct implications for leader behaviour, however the evidence for motivational impact is unclear. As motivation is an abstract construct, motives can only be inferred from reports or performance outcomes, not directly measured. Making these inferences are difficult because of the complex, dynamic and multi-causal nature of the concept, and wide variations in expression, furthermore there is considerable debate concerning the nature of the Leadership construct, which we shall discuss elsewhere on the forum. These issues make an assessment of the impact (effect or influence) of leadership on motivation at work, a difficult task. So, do leaders motivate?

Firstly, we need to unpack a little what we mean by ‘motivation’. Definitions concern influences on the direction, vigour and persistence of action. Work contexts are broad and varied, however in most cases organizations need people to be attracted to their organization and stay, perform tasks in a dependable manner and to do so in creative and innovative ways. Whilst one could argue that the latter requirement is not always present in work situations, motivation is of increasing interest as a potential explanation for workers productivity, effort and attendance. How can we assess and measure what impact leadership has upon this process?

In many cases the impact of leadership on motivation tends to be inferred by outcomes, particularly focusing on group or company performance, although work has been carried out on absenteeism (see Porter, Bigley & Steers, 2003). However it is possible that a leader can motivate subordinates without this making any difference to effort or outcomes, conversely there are many other things a leader can do to improve performance that are not linked to motivation, therefore such studies are limited.

Other research uses multiple levels (e.g. follower, leader, leaders’ supervisor) often of performance ratings or constructs such as job satisfaction and organizational commitment. Although it has been suggested that more satisfied workers have a greater chance to perceive their jobs as motivating and take advantage of motivational interventions, the link between these concepts and motivation is unclear. Furthermore, research on attributional biases suggests individuals often view leaders as making a difference only in retrospect, therefore such ratings are prone to error (see e.g. Chemers 1997). Indeed such a broad range of measurement have been used, that this makes comparisons difficult, increasing the potential for confounding. Much research is correlational, making causal direction impossible to assess, and many other variables which cannot be controlled for are likely to influence findings. These issues of measurement have considerable implications for evaluation of research and theories, but firstly we should consider in what ways theories may inform us of a leadership-motivation link.

Theoretical Basis for a link

Steers et al., (1996) suggest ‘one of the most important impacts of organizational leadership, whether it be effective or ineffective, is on the motivation of organizational members’ (p618), but the links between leadership and motivation are often implicit. A great variety of theories of motivation exist, and a correspondingly great number of leadership theories have been developed, some we can discuss elsewhere on this forum). Theories of motivation can be classified on a continuum from proximal to distal (distance from actual behaviour), and content (dispositional/choice focus) or process (perception/volition focus). It is most likely that leadership behaviour will affect more proximal and processual aspects of motivation, making these theories more likely to inform. Motivational theories such as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs are still used to help understanding, but as little research supports the ideas these have been taken over by goal setting and exchange based theories of motivation. In terms of leadership, path-goal theory, and theories of transformation versus transactional leadership, have taken over from some of the earlier ideas. However, I will leave the theory for another day, and concentrate right now on two types of leadership – those at the top of the organization, and those in charge of teams:

a) Organizational Leaders
Much research assumes a link between CEO leadership, motivation and performance, but there is controversy over leadership impact on organizational performance. De Vries (1996) argues for links between top leaders and high performing organizations, although little robust empirical work is cited. Some suggest these outcomes are partly due to Transformational forms of Leadership, although the links are unclear, and even the more academic research has serious weaknesses. It is possible the outcomes considered are too far removed from the construct of motivation, perhaps the results will be clearer if we consider teams?

b) Team Leaders
Some evidence indicates that if a Leader is missing, member motivation may be low, implying that simply having a leader can increase motivation. Others argue that substitutes for leadership can make a leaders role unnecessary, however research indicates that leader effects are not neutralised, suggesting an emotional bond with a leader cannot be replaced (in Chemers 1997). Furthermore much of the ‘substitutes’ research replaces aspects that many would define as Management rather than Leadership.

Some suggest the presence of well-defined leaders may reduce a group’s ability to experiment, this view is supported by evidence that Charismatic leaders may deny empowerment – for some individuals this may result in de-motivation, although again, little systematic research has been carried out on this. It has also been shown that in routine reliable performance areas, charismatic leadership effects are neutralised (see Howell & Costley, 2006).

Research from a Social Exchange perspective suggests particular forms of team leadership can empower subordinates, which leads to increased satisfaction and fairness perceptions, and improved performance. There is also evidence of a significant relationship between delegation and subordinate performance and satisfaction. Deci (1990) argues that social influence strategies can attenuate intrinsic motivation; if one accepts a definition of leadership as a social influence process this suggests a positive influence for leadership. Yet there is evidence that non-contingent rewards and punishment are ineffective and may demotivate

The above evidence, although mixed, does suggest potential negative and positive effects of leadership on follower motivation, however, most of the cited research is correlational, therefore no causal direction can be proven, constructs are often ambiguous, and many studies are weakened by attributional biases. Perhaps difficulties with finding evidence are due to there being no leadership impact on motivation at all?

No Leadership Impact?

Some argue that leadership is purely an explanatory category, used after the event, due to attributional and prototype processes and a need for causal and controlling principles. It is suggested that leadership, in reality, has no direct impact. Others suggests this argument is misplaced, as it is just as likely attributions of outcomes to leadership is widespread because of direct experience of leadership effects. However, the evidence suggests leadership is often attributed after the event, (Steers et al. 1996) lending weight to constructionist arguments.

Others argue that much employee motivation is actually out of a leaders control (Shamir et. al 1996), due to the multitude of meanings that originate outside the organization, however it is acknowledged that these meanings can be influenced through the leadership function, influencing organizational culture, perhaps this is a key to motivation? The next article will consider this aspect.

Chemers, M.M. (1997) An Integrative Theory of Leadership, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Deci, E.L. & Ryan, R.M., (1990) ‘A motivational approach to self: integration in personality’ in R.A. Dienstbier (ed) Perspectives on motivation, Nebraska Symposium on Motivation,
De Vries, M.K., (1996) ‘Leaders Who Make a Difference’, European Management Journal vol. 14, no. 5, p.486-493
Howell, J.P. & Costley, D.L. (2006) Understanding behaviors for effective leadership. 2nd edition. Pearson.
Porter, L.W., Bigley, G.A. & Steers, R.M. (2003) Motivation and work behaviour, 7th edition, McGraw-Hill.
Shamir, B., House, R.J. & Aarthur, M.B. (1996) ‘The Motivational Effects of Charismatic Leadership: A Self-Concept Based Theory’, in Steers, R.M., Porter, L.W., & Bigley, G.A., Motivation and Leadership at Work, 6th Edition, McGraw-Hill International.

What is leadership and does it matter?

What is leadership and does it matter?

Leadership describes a dynamic relationship between people in an organisation. It is not a one-way process as the popular press would have us believe and is strongly associated with other organisation factors such as power and culture. Most people prefer to attribute organisational success (or failure as in the banks) in terms of the actions of powerful leaders compared to external forces such as the environment over which we have little control. However the situation is more complex than this as the environment itself is shaped by the actions of leaders operating within all forms and scales of organisations.

How to define leadership

Leadership exists when a person exercises influence over others in an organisation and sets the everyday action and direction an organisation takes. To be effective a leader must understand the context in which she operates as well as the relationships between herself and the people who are led. Leadership is not a characteristic of an individual in isolation – leadership exists in the duality between leaders and followers.

Researchers and consultants have been trying various forms of definition of what constitutes and makes up a good leader and here are just a few.

* A Trait based view of leadership focuses on the make up of the leader in terms of general intelligence, intellectual ability or sociability.
* A Style perspective looks at what a leader does in terms of interaction with others inside and outside the organisation.
* Task oriented leadership approaches review how leaders organise the task – the scheduling and planning of resources and finance for example.
* Situational leadership was once a popular approach and is an extension of a contextual leadership style and meant that leaders have to adapt their style to the prevalent context and actual situation of the specific task.
* People oriented leaders busy themselves with the creation of environment conducive for action.
* Transformational leadership are those who transcend or seek to change the parameters of the situation – in vogue as it suits the aspirational managers and consultants buzzing around large corporations at the moment.

Participative in forms of leadership may be dependent on the context of the organisation with some professional groups such as teachers expecting to have their opinions polled and considered as do care workers. However when we look at the evidence for which of these above styles are more effective – actually there isn’t any – there is simply no clear evidence that any of these popular management styles are stronger. And whether leaders make any difference to organisational success is far from proved. There is also little evidence to decide whether any of the factors that make up so-called leaders are innate (leaders born) or acquired (made) and it may be that leadership is a happenstance and the attributes of a good leader are constructed in hindsight.

What we can say is that to be effective a leader must account for the complex societal context she operates within and be adept at managing the relationships between herself and the people she leads. The ability and capacity to articulate a change and to construct a vision are the more value laden aspects of leadership and are important parts of the job description.

Leadership is very popular at the moment especially in the public sector where all sorts of leadership development programmes are being launched. No-one it seems wants to be just a manager any more – we all need to be leaders. But this is a false dichotomy in part as we need people in organisations that can run them and pick up the mess after the charismatic leaders have been moved on or pensioned off. ‘Managership’ is just as important as ‘Leadership’ perhaps more so but as a closing point you can be a leader without being a manager but to be an effective manager you probably do need to be a good leader.