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Chapter 1. Aims and Outline of the Book

The aim of the book is to provide an overview of the basic theories and theoretical approaches of today’s leadership research. The theories described in this book enhance the traditional thinking of traits and styles. At the same time, they supplement theoretical approaches found in top leadership journals nowadays, but also offer alternative explanations, and sometimes challenge mainstream leadership research. As a consequence, the book intends to highlight the diversity of theoretical approaches in contemporary leadership research. It focuses on approaches which can be regarded as well elaborated in terms of their clear theoretical contribution and the amount of existing research for each approach. Moreover, these theories and their ideas could be considered as central to present leadership research. Leadership is often understood and used following a normative understanding, i.e., providing advice for effective leadership, resulting in followers’ high performance and satisfaction. The key question examined by many researchers is: “What makes an effective leader?” (Van Seters and Field 1990, p. 29). In this regard, theoretical approaches to leadership are often related to leadership practice by incorporating normative statements into the theory itself. This book, however, takes a somewhat different perspective, namely that of emphasizing the descriptive and explicative content of contemporary theoretical approaches to leadership. Even if leadership research could be considered as dominantly normative, theories in this field, in my opinion, primarily serve to describe and explain leadership. This particular focus of the book, however, does not neglect any normative content included in some of the presented theories.

Ingo Winkler

Chapter 2. Characteristics of Contemporary Theoretical Approaches in Leadership Research

The focus on more recent theories more or less necessarily means to neglect classical leadership approaches, such as the trait approach, the behavior or style approach, and the situational leadership approach. These theories are criticized for their determined and narrow perspective, which fails to cover leadership reality. Classical approaches assume that there is a unidirectional personal influence of the leader on the followers. Leaders are traditionally seen as having a particular personality with traits different from those of followers. They are conceptualized as active players in the process of leadership. In contrast, followers are regarded as passive and reactive. Additionally, leadership relations in the context of a formal hierarchy are usually understood as situations that are socially predetermined. That means it is always clearly defined who is the supervisor/leader and who is the follower and, consequently, who has power and who does not. A last point of criticism addresses the lack of empirical evidence (e.g., Bryman 1996, 1999; Heller 2002). For example, classical leadership research failed to provide clear empirical evidence for the influence of traits on the emergence of leadership or leadership effectiveness as the result of a certain type of behavior. Following these critical reflections it becomes obvious that it is not sufficient to explain leadership by just concentrating on individual characteristics or patterns of leader behavior that might vary with situational differences. According to a statement expressed by Chemers (1997) some 10 years ago, it can be summarized that 50 years of leadership research have shown that simple answers, which emphasize the universal validity of characteristics, behaviors, or styles, are not suitable for explaining the dynamics of the leadership process (see also Yukl 1994, 2006).

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Chapter 3. Attribution Theory in Leadership Research

Attribution theory is basically dealing with the formation of individual opinions about the reasons of particular events or observations. This also includes opinions about the behavior of other people and about oneself. Attribution theory is usually seen as originating from the work of Heider (1958), Jones and Davis (1965) as well as Kelley (1967, 1972, 1973). It is argued that ordinary people use methods of ascribing reasons to observed events that are similar to the inductive approach used in scientific research. They try to identify the reasons for observed incidents and actions by collecting information which might be helpful for explaining them. More generally, in our everyday life we are constantly trying to form chains of cause and effect that link observed incidents (e.g., a traffic accident or a nervous breakdown of a colleague) and experiences (e.g., failing an exam) to possible reasons. Consequently, attributions are understood to play a crucial role in human categorization processes and, thus, in the reduction of ambiguity. By attributing causes to effects, observed or experienced incidents are linked to certain stimulus categories of the world in our mind. Hence, attributions provide order and increase the ability of a person to understand his/her own behavior and that of others. By linking incidents and actions to concrete reasons, they are interpreted and arranged by the observer. Based on this fact, the individual is then able to determine his/her own behavior.

Ingo Winkler

Chapter 4. Psychodynamic Leadership Approach

According to Stech (2006), the basic ideas of the psychodynamic leadership approach can be summarized as follows. People gain their initial experiences with leadership from the day they are born. Parents function as first leaders within the family. Following the basic assumption of this approach, these early experiences of leadership form an unconscious basis for future behavior as leader and follower. Experiences of childhood and adolescence are mirrored in patriarchal, matriarchal, or familial leadership patterns and, therefore, are mainly responsible for the way members of organizations act as leaders or react to authority. Within socialization we also learn the unconscious archaic image of the powerful male, which is seen as a basic source for leadership (Goethals 2004). If a leader mirrors this image consisting of a strong and independent individual who imposes his will on other group members, then he is reawakening this archaic image, which leads to obedience in the group. The psychodynamic leadership approach follows the tradition of management research using the psychodynamic approach, with Zaleznik (1977) and Maccoby (1977) probably being the most important representatives.

Ingo Winkler

Chapter 5. Neocharismatic Leadership

The neocharismatic leadership approach basically deals with the process of change and consequently the transformation of followers. This process contains charismatic and visionary aspects which are especially understood as located in the characteristics and subsequent patterns of behavior of the leading person. “(Leadership) must be visionary; it must transform those who see the vision, and give them a new and stronger sense of purpose and meaning” (Van Seters and Field 1990, p. 38). Resulting from that idea the main research focus of scholars adopting the perspective of this theoretical approach is on how to distinguish charismatic from “ordinary” leaders and on how charismatic or transformational leaders affect followers. The neocharismatic leadership research can be divided into several approaches (e.g., House et al. 1998; Bryman 1992; Yukl 2006). The syllable “neo” in the title of this theoretical approach means, firstly, that this research is advancing explicitly or implicitly the early charisma concept of Max Weber and, secondly, that the concept of charisma is now applied to private organizations in addition to its early application to religious or political movements.

Ingo Winkler

Chapter 6. Leader–Member Exchange Theory

The Leader–Member Exchange (LMX) theory first emerged in the 1970s. It conceptualizes leadership as a process of interaction between leader and follower and centers on the dyadic exchange relationships between both. The leader–follower relationships within work groups are split up into a set of working relationships between a leader and the various members of the work team (Van Breukelen et al. 2006) since it is assumed that different relationships between the leader and every single follower develop. Hence, the leader may have different types of transactions and different kinds of relations with different followers (Van Seters and Field 1990). “For example, each superior may offer one subordinate a substantial amount of interpersonal support and attention … while at the same time he or she offers a second subordinate less support” (Dansereau et al. 1982, p. 84). Following Blau’s (1964) writings on social and economic exchange, LMX theory assumes that leaders and followers are involved in an exchange relationship. Followers follow because they receive something from the leader. In turn, leaders lead as they get something from followers (Messick 2004). Hence, the quality of the exchange relationship is the basic unit of analysis (Van Breukelen et al. 2006). The theoretical approach basically grounds in the writings of Graen (1976), Dansereau et al. (1975), as well as Graen and Cashman (1975). To date, the theory has undergone several stages of development; a first stage where the idea of vertical dyadic linkages was elaborated, a second stage that concentrated on the effects of linkages regarding different exchange qualities, a third stage that deals with the development of dyadic leader–member exchange relationships (the life cycle of leadership making), and a fourth and so far final stage that expands the ideas of the concept to groups and networks (Graen and Uhl-Bien 1995). This chapter does not follow this four-stage development but offers a simpler division into early studies on LMX theory, reflecting the first and second stages described by Graen and Uhl-Bien, and later publications, demonstrating the normative turn in the theory, and concentrating on the development of high-quality leader–member exchange relations (see also Northouse 2004).

Ingo Winkler

Chapter 7. Idiosyncrasy Credit Model of Leadership

The idiosyncrasy credit model of leadership (e.g., Hollander 1958, 1960, 1980, 1992, 1993, 2006, 2008) builds upon the awareness that leadership is an outcome of shared interpersonal perceptions. To become a leader in a given group is the result of an interaction process. This process is market by an assessment of the various contributions of the group members, in which positive (negative) contributions lead to an increased (decreased) level of status of an individual group member (Hollander 1958). The degree of status of a given group member can be compared to a bank balance in the context of this theory (Jacobs 1971). As a consequence, this credit is referred to as idiosyncrasy credit. An idiosyncrasy credit is defined as the “positively disposed impressions” an individual acquires from other group members (Hollander 1958, p. 120, 1960, p. 247). This group-awarded credit allows idiosyncratic behavior to a certain degree before group sanctions are applied (Hollander 1958).

Ingo Winkler

Chapter 8. Symbolic Leadership

The theory of symbolic leadership goes back to ideas of numerous authors (e.g., Pondy 1978; Pfeffer 1981; Smircich and Morgan 1982). Presenting it as a cohesive leadership approach that incorporates various ideas and concepts of symbolic management and leadership and as clearly distinguishable from other theoretical leadership approaches has to be credited to the German leadership scholar Oswald Neuberger (1990, 1995, 2002). According to Neuberger (1995), the approach of symbolic leadership embeds the understanding of leadership reality in a more comprehensive theoretical frame. This frame is based on anthropology (e.g., Geertz 1973), research on corporate culture (e.g., Hofstede 1980; Schein 1985; Sackmann 1991; Martin 1992), and organizational symbolism (e.g., Pondy et al. 1983; Turner 1990; Alvesson and Berg 1992). Additionally, the sociological concepts of symbolic interactionism (e.g., Mead 1934; Blumer 1969) and the constructivist approach (e.g., Hosking et al., 1995) play an important role in this approach. Symbolic leadership is defined as leadership which refers to, and is based on, the category of meaning. Meaning becomes tangible and therefore can be experienced in the form of symbols (Neuberger 1995). The concept assumes that reality, created and lived by employees in companies, is a social construction, with leadership being a part of this reality (Bartölke 1987). The approach rejects the existence of a level of substantive actions and results, like noted in Pfeffer’s (1981a) writings about management as symbolic action. Instead, it is emphasized that the meaningful world of organizations is the outcome of numerous interaction processes creating the organizational reality. Hence, symbolic leadership concentrates on studying values, meaning, interpretation, history, context, as well as other symbolic elements in the leadership process (Kezar et al. 2006).

Ingo Winkler

Chapter 9. Micro-Politics Approach to Leadership

According to the prevailing opinion, the term “organizational policy” can be traced back to Burns (1962), who introduced it into social sciences. He considered political behavior to be the main driver for social changes in organizations. The term “micro-politics” might be defined as the portfolio of those daily tactics with which power is built up and applied in order to extend the room for maneuver and to defy external control (Neuberger 1995). From this perspective, power and politics become essential variables to describe leadership reality in organizations or, as Küpper and Ortmann (1992) put it, organizations are pervaded with politics. Making decisions, formulating rules, creating structures, distributing tasks, or providing instructions are political processes and the people involved are “micro-politicians” or “influencers” as Mintzberg (1983) names them. Consequently, political behavior in organizations is intended to promote or protect the interest of individuals or groups and thereby to threaten the interest of others (Porter et al. 1981). Such behavior is not regarded as being outside the legitimate systems of influence or as being clandestine, as Mintzberg (1983) understands organizational politics. Rather organizational politics and micro-politics behavior – opened and covered – are considered as day-to-day phenomena in organizations and the legitimate system is nothing else but the result of such behavior. Put differently, political processes are considered to be endemic to organizing and organizations (Hosking and Morley 1991). Furthermore, political behavior is not conceived as necessarily dysfunctional but as a matter of fact in organizations and a principal way in which people get things done (Bacharach and Lawler 1998).

Ingo Winkler

Chapter 10. Role Theory of Leadership

Role theory of leadership as a theoretical approach borrows to a large extent concepts from the sociological role theory and applies these ideas to leader–follower relations. The role concept is regarded as a basic link between the individual and the group, and hence considered an essential element of social systems. Role theory of leadership understands leadership within a group as a result of a process of differentiation by which group members achieve group aims faster and whereby they meet their individual needs. Leadership is considered as being “a part of the problem-solving machinery of groups” (Gibb 1958, p. 103). Based on the different approaches in role theory, the following three basic approaches in role theory of leadership can be distinguished (Neuberger 2002).

Ingo Winkler

Chapter 11. Social Learning Theory of Leadership

For a long time motivational and learning approaches to leadership were based on a rather functional understanding of leadership behavior. Focusing on the stimulus-response model, behavior and behavioral change were understood as functions of the consequences a certain kind of behavior might cause. Following the ideas of Skinner’s theory of learning (e.g., Skinner 1966, 1969), systematic modification of behavior has to start with the consequences, i.e., rewarding and punishment. In this regard, different possibilities of increasing desired and reducing undesired behavior are at the leader’s disposal, in terms of offering rewards to followers or threatening them with punishments. This approach of learning or motivation theory is usually termed as classical and/or behavioristic, and the appropriate stage in the development of leadership theory is named an operant period (e.g., Ashour and Johns 1983). Nowadays, however, this approach is regarded as limited to observable behavior and often criticized by neglecting cognitive aspects. Due to this and other points of criticism, a second, more recent theoretical approach to learning and leadership emerged following the ideas of the social learning theory (e.g., Bandura 1969, 1977a, 1986). This theoretical approach advances traditional ideas of the operant period in leadership theory, focused on the leader as manager of reinforcements (Van Seters and Field 1990). Instead, the role of social and mental aspects in the learning process is considered as well as the interactive and reciprocal nature of cognitive, behavioral and environmental aspects (e.g., Manz and Sims 1980, 1981; Sims and Manz 1982; Luthans and Kreitner 1985; Manz et al. 1987; Luthans 1992, 2008; Sims and Lorenzi 1992; Luthans and Rosenkrantz 1995; Stajkovic and Luthans 1998).

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