Leadership style affect on employee work performance

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According to Khurana, R. (2002) leadership is essentially the "secret" to successfully fulfilling demanding roles in today's society. A leadership style encompasses a consistent combination of individual behaviors and attitudes towards group members in order to achieve goals. Effective leadership can be a fundamental tool in maximizing company performance and has elicited an abundance of research. Employee performance comprises of two components: "performance on the job and withdrawal from the job" (Brayfield, A.H. and Crockett, W.H., 1955). "Performance on the job" refers to factors such as efficiency and overall quantity and quality of output. "Withdrawal from the job" demonstrates adverse occurrences including absences, accidents and turnover. Subsequent definitions have marked performance as the ability to accomplish a purpose and produce the desired result (Chatman and Flynn, 2001).

This essay seeks to outline types of leadership styles projected by various researchers. In a culture that has denoted the immense importance of effective leadership, it will then analyse the effects of leadership styles on employee work performance in accordance to the criteria above. To conclude, this essay will question the impact of leadership style, and finally debate whether it is crucial for adequate performance.

During the twentieth century, it was thought that reaching goals were vital to success, leading to the development of classical theories such as Taylor's theory of Scientific Management and Ford's introduction of the 'Assembly Line'. However, Mayo's Hawthorne Studies exposed the importance of social factors in addition to economic motivators. Thus, the 'Human Relations Movement' emerged resulting in a shifted focus onto social processes, and effectively the expansion of leadership theories.

The Ohio State Studies highlighted two central factors to leadership: "Initiating Structure" and "Consideration" (Stogdill, 1974). Initiating structure addressed task behaviours which served to fulfill duties whereas consideration represented relationship behaviours which aided to build leader-follower links. Essentially, levels of each component would combine to signify the leadership style a particular leader would adopt (see Appendix 1 in Appendices). Likert (1961) went on to summarise leadership styles into four types: exploitative autocratic, benevolent autocratic, consultative and democratic.

Leadership styles could be distinguished into four main types: autocratic, democratic, laissez-faire and human relations. An autocratic (or directive) leader would exude a sense of control and often outlining the means of how to achieve targets. Democratic leaders would alternatively consult group members and implement a vote before final decisions. Democratic leaders fall into a sub-group of participative leaders which involve group members in decision making. The laissez-faire approach encourages independence of followers and rarely contributes to the methods of output. Finally, a human relations style comprises of attributes similar a democratic leader, emphasizing the importance of consulting those involved before making a decision (Berkowitz, 1954).

The Michigan Studies concluded that leadership styles could be formed on a basis of their "employee orientation" and "production orientation", which consisted of behaviours similar to the Ohio State studies (Katz, D., & Kahn, R.L., 1951). Originally, these constructs were seen as dependent variables; that is, if a leader was highly employee orientated their focus on product was compromised and vice versa. However, this principle was subsequently reconceptualised and viewed as independent constructs (Kahn, R.L., 1956).

The development of assessment methods later materialized including the Managerial Grid which assigned leaders levels of task and people concern (Blake and Mouton, 1964, 1978 & 1985). The five central styles are exhibited in Appendix 2 in the Appendices. An authority-compliance leadership style would possess large focus on output and presuppose that followers would obey their orders. Conversely, a County club style leader would stress the importance of addressing people's needs before output. Impoverished Management Style involves little input from the leader in both aspects, which could be associated with the laissez-faire approach.

Initially, autocratic leadership appeared to be idyllic in boosting performance. Before Ford's 'Assembly Line' was introduced the factory was producing two-hundred cars per day at a rate of ten days per car. The introduction of Fordism entailed ordering employees when and how to complete tasks. Consequently, productivity rose leading to a total increase of two-thousand-and-five hundred cars per day (Roberts, A., 2009). One cannot deny that autocratic leadership was effective in reaching, and even exceeding, performance targets. However, according to Blake, R.R. and Mouton, J.S. (1975), the effectiveness of authority has diminished. It seems that as the human relations movement emerged, so did new preferential leadership styles: "today, in an environment of vastly improved education... many are rejecting traditional authority and trying to set up and act upon their own."

Results from Blake and Mouton's Managerial Grid found that "most respondents score towards the 5, 5 middle-of-the-road style". This implies that most common leadership styles consist of a balance between people and task concern. "The 9, 9 approach is acknowledged by managers as the soundest way to achieve excellence. This conclusion has been verified from studies throughout the U.S. and around the world." (Blake & Mouton, 1975). It seems that nowadays attention to employee's needs whilst maintaining performance targets is a must. Leadership styles that incorporate both concerns are vital to boosting employee performance.

According to Lewin et. al (1939), variations of leadership styles influences performances. This study measured the consequence of leadership style on aggression, which could used to connote performance since aggression could be attributed to withdrawal from the job. Laissez-faire was the most common situation for provoking aggression followed by autocracy and democracy. This suggests leadership styles alternate aggression levels and possibly performance. However, it is difficult to generalise findings from a study of young children performing trivial tasks to large organisations where tasks are complex and aggression is not tolerated.

Further findings concluded 'the boys agreed in a relative dislike for their autocratic leader' whereas the majority of participants preferred their democratic leaders to their autocratic ones. Assuming that higher liking for a leader would result in preferential performance, this could infer that a democratic leadership style has a positive effect, thus supporting the argument that leadership style impacts performance.

However, it would be reductionist to draw a finite conclusion on the practicality of leadership styles according to this piece. It fails to recognise the importance of upbringing which evidently affects the impact of leadership styles. The participant to dislike their democratic leader happened to be "the son of an army officer...and consciously put a high value upon strict discipline". Thus, it is not exclusively leadership style that affects behaviour but also the values and social norms an individual has acquired. If this concept were expanded onto organisational terms, it could be said that the culture of a business would contribute to whether leadership has a consequence. For instance, in the Ford factories a democratic approach may have been inappropriate in an environment where workers were unskilled and required guidance, hence why autocracy succeeded in boosting performance.

An important factor to consider when assessing the usefulness of leadership style is situational variables that exist beyond the control of leaders. According to Tannenbaum and Schmidt (1958) these variables include:

  • "Type of Organisation";
  • "Group Effectiveness";
  • "The Problem Itself" and
  • "The Pressure of Time"

These factors could determine the success of leadership styles, and leadership as a general instrument of performance. Participative leadership has been found to be more favourable for moderately structured problems while directive leadership was more compatible in situations facing fairly structured problems (Kahai, S. et. al, 1997). This most certainly has implications for the role of leadership styles within the workplace. It could infer that under circumstances where the problem comprises of routine and repetitive tasks a participative leadership style is complimentary in motivating employees to sustain performance. Conversely, problems which are more ambiguous may call for a directive leadership style to inspire followers and unite towards the same goal. Thus, in one respect, it could be argued that leadership styles are ineffective in promoting employee performance as situational variables will ultimately alter overall success. Nevertheless, it is not unreasonable to dispute that, provided the right style is adopted, leadership style can be imperative in steering employees towards the right aims using the appropriate methods.

Conducted research measured the effects of directive and participative leadership style on Heterogeneous teams (teams comprised of members deriving from varying backgrounds with dissimilar skills) and team reflection, and subsequently performance (Somech, A., 2006). Findings discovered that 'participative leadership lowered team in-role performance under the condition of high functional heterogeneity' but found no effect on 'low functional heterogeneity'. Directive leadership, however, had a positive impact on performance. Therefore, it could be debated that leadership style has a consequence on work performance. However, Somech has pointed out that an investigation by Kahai et al. (1997) found 'no difference in frequency of supportive remarks or of critical remarks in teams working with a participative and with a directive superior'. Hence, suggesting that workers cease to notify a difference between these leadership styles and are able to respond to both forms, which subsequently casts doubt over the value of leadership styles.

The relevance of leadership styles is challenged by several theories including the trait approach. It proposes that successful leadership is derived from the possession of certain characteristics such as "drive", "honesty and integrity" and "self-confidence" rather than styles (Kirkpatrick, S.A. and Locke, E.A., 1991). Supporting research for this approach is plentiful in comparison to the style approach (Stogdill, R.M, 1948 & 1974; Mann, R.D., 1959; Kirkpatrick, S.A. & Locke, E.A., 1991). However, it is yet to generate a definite list of traits and there is less clear evidence to support certain traits such as charisma. In reality, despite its enticing facade, the possession of charisma can often lead to corporations hiring inappropriate candidates. The detrimental effects of charisma were exposed in the case of Enron; the hiring of Jeff Skilling as CEO contributed to their fatal downfall as he was able to justify unethical activities through his 'charismatic' traits, such as allowing top executives to participate in the off-balance-sheet partnerships, (Khurana, R., 2002). However, this approach has failed to produce substantial research linking it to performance outcomes (Yukl, G., 1994).

The issues addressed in this essay relate to the introduction of leadership styles and examines the value on employee performance. The profusion of research in this area infers that leadership style has a consequence on employees in the workplace. Nonetheless, research has failed to depict an adequate association between leadership style and work performance, with many results proving contradictory and inconclusive (Yukl, 1994).

The lack of conclusive evidence for any approach to explaining leadership could have implications for the concept itself. There is reason to suggest that leadership is not critical with studies finding that forty-seven percent of executives rated their companies' overall leadership capacity as poor/fair while a minor eight percent ranked it as excellent (Csoka, L.S., 1998). The reliance of leadership in enhancing performance has largely been questioned with some arguing it as a "romanticized conception" (Meindl, J.R., et. al, 1985) and others speculating the concept as a social myth which "symbolically represents a regressive wish to return to the symbiotic environment of the womb" (Gemmill, G. and Oakley, J., 1992). In other words, leadership is a necessity that society has created itself in order to disillusion individuals with the belief that another should be responsible for creating the visions and responsibilities that they could merely accept themselves. In addition, researchers have argued that leadership is not vital if substitutes are available such as "individual job expertise" and "intrinsic task satisfaction" (Kerr, S. and Jermier, J.M., 1978). Thus, it brings it into question that if leadership is not a stabilized concept, then perhaps all theories based on leadership could be brought into interrogation, including the principle of leadership styles.

The usefulness of leadership styles is undermined by the lack of an optimal style in all situations. Nevertheless, it has been suggested that leaders have back-up strategies if the usual style of accomplishing tasks fail (Blake, R.R & Mouton, J.S, 1975). As oppose to debating which style is superlative, it may be sensible to advocate the notion that styles could compliment one another (Sagie, A., 1997). This proposal reinforces the usefulness of leadership style providing that the appropriate style is employed according to varying circumstances.

The extent of research conducted, regardless of its substantiality, generates implications that "leadership styles do matter"(Somech, A., 2006). It would be ignorant to deny the magnitude of leadership in organisations, but that is not to say it should not be considered with caution. It would be reductionist to claim leadership is purely the reason for performance variations. Situational variables, such as culture, will inevitably influence leadership success. Rather than arguing a prime style, an appropriate approach to delegating leadership style would be the Path-Goal Theory which states that leadership styles should be allocated according to the characteristics of the subordinates and the nature of the task (House, R.J. & Mitchell, R.R., 1974). Leadership style as a reputable concept clearly imposes an effect on efficacy but companies cannot place full reliance on this tool; leadership style is merely a stimulant and not the sole foundation of employee performance.


Appendix 1

"Classic descriptors of leaders' decision behaviours" - diagram taken from Roberts, A. and Corbett, M. (2009) Understanding Organisational Behaviour IB1230. Warwick Business School; McGraw Hill Custom Publishing, p. 197.












  • Appendix 2

    Blake & Mouton's Managerial Grid. (Blake, R.R and Mouton, J.S. 1975)


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    House, R.J. & Mitchell, R.R. (1974) 'Path-goal theory of Leadership'. Journal of Contemporary Business, 3, pp. 81-97.

    Kahai, S., Sosik, J. and Avolio, B.J. (1997) 'The effects of leadership style and problem structure on work group process and outcomes in an electronic meeting system environment', Personnel Psychology, 50 (1), March, p. 121-146.

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    Mann, R.D. (1959). 'A Review of the Relationship between Personality and Performance in Small Groups'. Psychological Bulletin, 56, pp. 241-270.

    Meindl, J.R., Ehrlich, S.B. and Dukerich, J.M. (1985) 'The Romance of Leadership', Administrative Science Quarterly, 30 (1), March, p. 78-102.

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    Sagie, A. (1997) 'Leader direction and employee participation in decision making: Contradictory or compatible practices?' Applied Psychology: An International Review, 46. p. 387-452.

    Somech, A. (2006) 'The Effects of Leadership Style and Team Process of Performance and Innovation in Functionally Heterogeneous Teams', Journal of Management, 32 (1), February, p. 132-157.

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