Differentiated Leadership

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In this research by Wu, Tsui and Kinicki (2010) sought to prove that when leaders display different degrees of attention and support to individuals (within a group), group performance is diminished; whereas similar displays focused on the group as a whole enhances group performance.

Wu et al chose to use “differentiated leadership due to the tendency for leaders to display varying degrees of individual-focused behaviour to group members.” (p.90). This is grounded in Leader Member Exchange Theory (LMX) as acknowledged in the study, which exerts some influence on the study. Previous studies on LMX have largely shown that nearly all leaders differentiate in behaviour towards subordinates (Daniesh & Liden, 1986).

Methodology and Assumptions

The study drew on data collected via web based surveys conducted over two months from a sample of seventy work groups. Seven hypotheses (as shown in Table 1) were drawn up and tested using a group-level model. Wu et al applied the effects of “individual focused leadership” to group level using this model. This was appropriate to use as they sought to study the effects on one variable (groups). In contrast, Wang and Howell (2010) used a ‘dual-level scale’ to test the dual dimensions of their study. They did report though that “important elements of transformational leadership are ignored by using a single “group-level model.”

Wu et al tested their hypotheses for correlation using validity testing and results showed ‘reasonable fit’. The hypotheses were tested using Structural equation modelling (SEM) and other statistical analyses.

Table 1. Wu, Tsui and Kinicki: Tested Hypothesis.

HypothesisMeasures Used
1. When groups are motivated as a group, they have a shared sense of purpose and vision (group identification).Idealised influence, inspirational motivation using MLQ (with revised wording). 2. Collective vision enhances group’s belief in its abilities to performFour indicators (aggregated to group level) 3. Group’s belief in its abilities enhances group effectiveness.Items from two scales used in previous research. 4. Attending to individuals in a group causes individuals to relate to leaders differently.Differentiated individualised consideration and differentiated intellectual stimulation using MLQ5 5. Have different views in leader identification causes individuals to have different levels of self-belief.Six items aggregated to group level. 6. Group members do not believe in the ability to perform because individuals have varying degrees of self-belief.Generalized self-efficacy measure (fit better than task specific measures.) 7. Lack of group’s belief in abilities results in reduced group effectiveness.Group performance and group variability using previous research theories.

Source: Wu, Tsui and Kinicki (2010)

Findings and Analysis

Wu et al found that members identified with the group, and consequently asserted collective abilities which resulted in positive group performance. This was expected. On the other hand, ‘individual-focused leadership’ resulted in varying degrees of leader identification and self-belief. This had an adverse effect on group performance (p.101).

Previous studies on transformational leadership have highlighted its capacity to “raise followers to higher levels of motivation and morality [followers aspire to perform better thereby exhibiting its transforming effects.] (Burns, 978: 20) [cited by] Fairholm (2001). For example in a study in forty six Korean companies, employees displayed increased levels of creativity as a result, in part, of increased motivation due to transformational leadership effects. (Shin & Zhou, 2003).

The findings [of diminished group performance] appear to contradict the validity of LMX theory which, in this study builds on from transformational leadership. The suggestion here is that for optimal group performance, leaders should not use differentiated leadership towards...
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