Leadership style and performance
An overview of the topic of leadership styles summarizes that the existing studies on how performance is affected by leadership style is separated into important phases. Early studies on leadership (frequently categorized as ‘trait’ studies on leadership) concentrated on identifying the personality traits which characterized successful leaders (Argyris, 1955; Mahoney et al., 1960). According to them successful leaders are ‘naturally born’ and those they have certain native characteristics which distinguish them from non-leaders (see Stodgill, 1948). However, there was significant difficulty in validating these characteristics led to widespread criticism of this trait approach, signaling the emergence of ‘style’ and ‘behavioral’ approaches to leadership (Stodgill, 1948). Style and behavioral theorists shifted the emphasis away from the characteristics of the leader to the behavior and style the leader adopted. The primry conclusion of these studies is that adoption of democratic or participative styles by leaders are more successful (see, for example, Bowsers and Seashore, 1966). In this sense, these early studies are focused on identifying the ‘one best way of leading’. Similarly to trait theories, the major weakness of style and behavioral theories is the ignorance of how important role situational factors play in determining the effectiveness of individual leaders (Mullins, 1999). It is this limitation that gives rise to the ‘situational’ and ‘contingency’ theories of leadership (for example, Fiedler, 1967; House, 1971; Vroom and Yetton, 1974) which shift the emphasis away from ‘the one best way to lead’ to context-sensitive leadership. Although each study emphasizes the importance of different factors, the general tenet of the situational and contingency perspectives is that leadership effectiveness is dependent on the leader’s diagnosis and understanding of situational factors, followed by the adoption of the appropriate style to deal with each circumstance. However, recent studies on leadership have contrasted ‘transactional’ leadership with ‘transformational’. Transactional leaders are said to be ‘instrumental’ and frequently focus on exchange relationship with their subordinates. In contrast, transformational leaders are argued to be visionary and enthusiastic, with an inherent ability to motivate subordinates. Although the brief summary above indicates that research into leadership has gone through periods of skepticism, recent interest has focused on the importance of the leadership role to the success of organizations. Fiedler (1996), one of the most respected researchers on leadership, has provided a recent treatise on the importance of leadership by arguing that the effectiveness of a leader is a major determinant of the success or failure of a group, organization or even an entire country. It has been argued that one way in which organizations have sought to cope with the increasing volatility and turbulence of the external environment is by training and developing leaders and equipping them with the skills to cope. These claims are based on the assumption of a direct link between leadership and organizational performance. This assumption requires critical review. Widely celebrated cases of a direct leadership–performance link may be found in numerous anecdotal accounts of improvements of company performance attributed to changes in leadership (see, for example, Nicholls, 1988; Quick, 1992; Simms, 1997). However, empirical studies into the links between leadership and performance have been lacking. One notable exception is the detailed study of the impact of leadership on performance in the somewhat surprising context of Icelandic fishing ships. Thorlindsson (1987) suggests that variations in the performance of different fishing ships, under identical conditions, can be accounted for by the leadership skills of captains. Over a three-year period, Thorlindsson revealed that...
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