The Leadership Quarterly

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The Leadership Quarterly 17 (2006) 559 – 576

Leadership and the organizational context: Like the weather? ☆ Lyman W. Porter ⁎, Grace B. McLaughlin 1
The Paul Merage School of Business, University of California–Irvine, Irvine, CA 92697-3125, USA

Abstract This article reviews the leadership literature from 1990–2005 in twenty-one major journals in order to determine the nature and extent of attention to the organizational context as a factor affecting leaders' behavior and their effectiveness. Both conceptual and empirical articles were rated as having “moderate/strong,” “slight,” or “no” emphasis on the organizational context. Those articles classified in the moderate/strong category were analyzed under seven organizational context components. Suggestions are included for improving the breadth and depth of empirical knowledge about the interaction of leadership and the organizational context. © 2006 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. Keywords: Leadership; Organizational context

1. Introduction In the past 15 years or so, there have been increasing calls in the literature for the necessity to give more attention to the role of the organizational context as a major factor affecting leadership behavior and outcomes. Consistent with those calls, the basic premise of this article is: Leadership in organizations does not take place in a vacuum. It takes place in organizational contexts. The key issue, therefore, is whether, and to what extent, the organizational context has been front and center in recent leadership literature. That is, does a relative void still exist in the research literature on the impact of the organizational context on leadership? If it does, the situation would seem to be like the weather: many talking about it, but very few doing much about it insofar as empirical research is concerned. Progress in filling this void, to the extent that it exists, would seem to be essential for a better understanding of leadership phenomena. In the field of organizational behavior generally, there has been a relative lack of attention to how the larger organization context affects specific areas of individual and group behavior. These areas would include, among others, motivation, communication, teams, and, as emphasized here, leadership. The need for more focus and research on the

☆ The authors would like to thank Tassaporn (Pam) Kietikajorn, Simon He, James Thompson, and Yearly Review Editor, Jerry Hunt, for their valuable assistance on this project. ⁎ Corresponding author. Paul Merage School of Management, University of California, Irvine, CA 92697, USA. Tel.: +1 949 644 5358. E-mail addresses: (L.W. Porter), (G.B. McLaughlin). 1 Tel.: +1 949 824 4945.

1048-9843/$ - see front matter © 2006 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.leaqua.2006.10.002


L.W. Porter, G.B. McLaughlin / The Leadership Quarterly 17 (2006) 559–576

organizational context in the OB field was noted by Mowday and Sutton in their 1993 Annual Review of Psychology chapter on “organizational behavior”: We believe the field [of organizational behavior] needs to return to a focus on organizational phenomena. This effort will be aided by the immersion of researchers in organizational contexts. It may also move the field in useful directions that will counter the common criticism that much organizational behavior research is irrelevant to the well-being of organizations and their members. (Mowday & Sutton, 1993, p. 225). Likewise, Porter in an article in 1996 stated: Probably the most significant failure of micro-OB…is that we have tended to ignore the “O” in our studies of micro phenomena. We clearly have emphasized the “B,”…but we have by and large been remiss in considering organizations as critical contexts affecting the behavior occurring in them… We have given too little attention to the internal, organizational environment affecting behavior (Porter,...
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