Towards an understanding of the precursors of effective leadership.

AuthorMurray, Duncan

    Perhaps more than ever, the role of leaders in organizations is complex and demanding. The contemporary leader is expected to effectively perform a host of often conflicting roles to facilitate organizational outcomes. The leader must maintain or increase productivity and output, whilst also guiding, nurturing and mentoring staff. They must be able to manage conflict within the workplace, monitor performance, build and maintain existing relationships with stakeholders, yet also be open to take advantage of new potential opportunities that present themselves. Clearly effective leadership has a high level of both cognitive and behavioral complexity (Denison, Hooijberg & Quinn, 1995).

    Considerable attention has been placed on the qualities and characteristics of leaders that help to predict their effectiveness. These have included personality characteristics and traits of effective leaders (Hogan, Curphy & Hogan 1994), their leadership styles, the qualities or competencies of effective leaders, leadership emergence and the development or training required to be an effective leader (Popper & Mayseless, 2002; Young & Dulewicz, 2009).

    However, for all this attention, it is apparent that no clear consensus exists concerning what makes an effective leader. Likewise, the number of different definitions of what constitutes effective leadership is myriad. Of note is that criticism has been directed at the classical dichotomist nature of much of the more traditional leadership literature. Concepts such as Theory X and Theory Y (MacGregor, 1960), task-oriented vs relationship-oriented, transactional and transformational (Burns, 1978), democratic and autocratic leadership have all been questioned as too simplistic in understanding the complexity inherent in leadership (Denison et al, 1995). More recently, there have been attempts to consider the importance of both cognitive and behavioral complexity in effective leaders. Boal and Hooijberg (2001) suggest that the capacities to learn (absorptive capacity) and to change when the context requires (adaptive capacity) are critical to successful strategic leaders. However, it is Quinn's (1984) competing values framework (CVF) that has been particularly noteworthy in its consideration of behavioral complexity. Of note, Vilkinas' and colleagues (2001; 2005; 2009) extension of Quinn's work in the integrated competing values framework (ICVF), modifying the CVF to include a linchpin 'Integrator' role, has clear potential in explaining how effective leaders function in seemingly disparate roles. However, despite this, there still is no complete model of understanding what constitutes an effective leader. For all their acknowledgement of the complexity of leadership, the CVF and ICVF make no mention of the precursors (both individual and organizational) of the behavioral complexity required from leaders. Similarly, both models have not considered the concept of leadership motivation and the role this plays in the behavioral complexity demonstrated by leaders.

    This paper draws from a range of different sources of management and leadership research to propose a model of effective managerial leadership that incorporates the personality characteristics of individuals, their motivations, their behaviours as leaders and their values. Using the ICVF model as a base, it expands the model to consider antecedents of effective leadership behaviours, considering dispositional antecedents, notably personality of the individual and their motivation to lead, as critical to the ability to become an effective contemporary leader. Finally, it suggests a research agenda to explore the theoretical associations proposed in the paper.


    2.1. Competing Values and Leadership

    The Competing Values Framework (CVF) was developed by Quinn as a way to explain the complexity of roles required for a manager to be effective. In essence, Quinn (1984) proposed that two key dimensions (flexibility-stability and external-internal focus) underpinned effective management. However, unlike other dichotomous leadership or management variables, Quinn proposed that these two variables intersected, creating a quadrant where any of 8 different types of operational management role may exist. These were then grouped into four domains of leadership action; human relations, expansion/adoption, internal process and rational goals, or maximization of output (see Figure 1).

    Each of these roles may be seen as appropriate in given contexts and situations. For example, the leader in the Innovator role encourages innovation and creativity. They facilitate and engage with change. This is essential when an organization is expanding, or when organizational restructuring is occurring. When the leader is engages with the Broker role, they focus on maintenance of stakeholders and external contacts, largely to ensure supply of resources. In increasingly complex organizations, and inter-organizational relationships, leaders often have to take on this role of the corporate politician. Contrast these behaviours with those required in the fourth quadrant, where an internal focus on process and stability dominates. Leaders in this environment must seek stability, working as a Co-ordinator of action and as a problem-solver. Tasks in this role may include timetabling scheduling of casual staff, or allocation of tasks to a particular project. The rational goal domain of the model focuses on outputs and maximization of those outputs. It is task-oriented and driven by the attainment of goals, often external of the organization. The Director role, for example, is engaged with when the leader sets goals, priorities for attention and articulates responsibilities of job roles. At the opposite side of the model lies the human relations, or human compassion, quadrant. Relationship-focussed, roles in this domain focus on the inter-relationships that occur within organizations. The Facilitator role, for example, in engaged with by leaders when consulting with staff in a participatory and inclusive way. The Mentor is the role the leader must take when trying to support and assist staff in their personal and professional development.

    The model suggests that effective leaders are dynamic, and must change their leadership styles and approaches based on the context--whether that is the situation at hand or the person they are interacting with. Of note is the assumption that leaders must be able to move among all of these different, and often paradoxical, leadership approaches. The model suggests that a...

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