Leadership is a topic of interest to all of us in the field of parks, recreation, and leisure services. Whether we are referring to direct leadership, where we work one-on-one with participants; supervisory leadership, where we guide and mentor our staff; or managerial leadership, where we make decisions at the board or executive level, all agencies, organizations, and individuals are affected by it. Highly effective leadership can move an organization ahead in its efforts to provide quality leisure services to a variety of constituents, while poor leadership can negatively affect an organization to such an extent as to put the organization "out of business."
Leadership has an obvious level of importance in all arenas of life, yet we do not have a clear understanding of what the leadership construct is all about. Different people believe it means different things at different times. We do know that it encompasses much of daily living-skills areas in which we tend to assume people are skilled and experienced (e.g., with an ability to work with people, get jobs done, and see the big picture). Thus, many of us find it difficult to address leadership competencies, attitudes, and concepts in staff training.
To begin this month's "Research Update," and to help us gain a better understanding of leadership, we will turn to the literature. There are two primary types of literature in existence that relate to leadership. The popular press (found in the self-help and business sections of most bookstores) has inundated bookstores with texts and manuals about improving one's leadership potential. The names of Peter Drucker, William Deming, and Tom Peters may sound familiar. Each of these individuals has written a great deal about leadership, much of which is based on research as well as personal experiences.
The other type of literature is found in research journals and reports; this is the area I delved into to learn about the latest thinking related to leadership. Leadership has been studied since humans first conceptualized a difference between those who helped others achieve goals, had access to resources, and used their power and those who followed the aforementioned individuals. Thus, there is a good deal of research available for us to review. Having studied leadership through the past 15 years, I can report that most of the research about leadership is based either in the business world or the military. Leadership has risen out of a desire to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of businesses and military institutions for maximum productivity.
While the research literature about leadership is primarily based in the military and the corporate world, what has been learned is relatively easy to apply in a variety of situations and settings including parks, recreation, and leisure services. Research about leadership, followers, and group dynamics has been reported since the early 1900s. For this article, however, we are interested in an update of the research; thus, in this "Research Update," you will be reading primarily about what we have learned in this past decade.
Part of the difficulty in understanding leadership and knowing how to teach others about it can be attributed to the many definitions of the term. Over the years, leadership has been defined as a group process, a matter of personality, an exercise of influence, specific behaviors, a form of persuasion, a power relationship, an instrument to achieve goals, an effect of interaction, a differentiated role, initiation of structure, and a variety of combinations of the above (Bass, 1990). One of the combined definitions of leadership related to leisure services is "a dynamic process of interactions between two or more members of a group which involves recognition and acceptance of leader-follower roles by group members within a certain situation" (Jordan, 1996, p. 8). We do know that leadership is something that occurs in a group and that, when used well, it can move a group toward its potential in many positive ways.
Thoughts about Leadership
As research dealing with people in groups has become more sophisticated, theories about leadership have been developed, cast away, refined, and redeveloped. People studying leadership began with the notion that specific people were born with "something special." We quickly learned that this was not the case, and moved into beliefs related to leadership and physical/personality traits and attributes. For instance, some believed that leaders were tall, physically fit, and superior to others in many ways. These "trait" theories were also soon cast aside in favor of viewing leadership as a set of behaviors. These behaviors included such things as consideration (e.g., how leaders related to other people, their interpersonal skills) and initiation of structure (e.g., the ability to attend to tasks, procedures, and policies).
Research focused on these elements for quite some time before moving into other arenas such as contingency theories (leadership depends on the leader, the group, and the situation), leader-member exchange (leadership is result of a series of exchanges between the leader and each follower), transactional (the leader provides guidance and rewards in exchange for follower loyalty and work), and transformational leadership (the leader empowers followers and guides them toward a moral ideal). As we discuss the state of the research about leadership, we will touch on many of these concepts.
Trait Theory Revisited
Since the beginning, researchers, in an attempt to pre-identify leaders based on certain attributes, have tried to identify various characteristics or traits of leaders. While scientists once publicly dismissed this type of research because of conflicting results, it nonetheless continued over the years. The research findings have still been a bit contradictory, yet there are some characteristics that seem to apply to all leaders. Recent research has found that leaders are different from others in that they have greater physical energy and intelligence than followers; are a positive social influence; have the ability to adjust to changing situations; and are serf-confident, motivated toward achievement, and flexible (Bass, 1990; House & Aditya, 1997). These traits are fairly stable but do change during the course of one's life. Trait-based research continues with emphasis on characteristics such as gender, ethnicity, and age as the primary foci.
In terms of research and literature regarding the behavioral aspects of leadership, there have been quite a few studies about the role of consideration (a concern for people) and initiating structure (a concern for task) in leadership (Bass, 1990; Behling & McFillen, 1996; Chemers & Ayman, 1993; Cooper, 1997; Doherty, 1997; Foschi & Lawler, 1994; Hinde & Groebel, 1991; Hooijberg, Hunt & Dodge, 1997; House & Aditya, 1997; Hunt, 1991b; Hutchinson, Valentino & Kirkner, 1998; Kolb, 1997; Luthar, 1996; Phillips & Bedeian, 1994; Shields, 1997; Sonnenberg, 1994; Sosik, 1997; Zander, 1994). Early theories about leadership suggested that it was primarily a function of initiating structure. The current research, however, suggests that both consideration and initiating structure are required for successful leadership (Kent & Moss, 1994; Luthar, 1996; Shields, 1997).
A slightly different view of these behaviors has been characterized by Bass (1990), who describes a concept of leadership competence. According to Bass, leadership competence consists of being skilled in tasks as well as socioemotional aspects of leadership. He includes competencies in such areas as being able to enable others to make effective contributions to the group, handling people and their differences, giving direction to the task at hand, and helping group members effectively perform their roles.
Shields (1997) also studied consideration and initiating structure in an investigation of cohesion in team sports. He found that group cohesiveness was positively affected by a leader who exhibited both types of these behaviors. Shields found that a leader who fostered friendships, mutual trust, heightened respect, and interpersonal warmth was viewed as high in consideration. An individual who established rules and regulations, as well as identified and used various channels of communication, procedural methods, and organizational patterns, was viewed as high in initiating structure. The individuals who exhibited both of these types of behaviors were more highly regarded by followers than those who did not.
In another study that examined consideration and initiating structure, Hutchinson et al. (1998) tried to determine if there were any gender effects intertwined with the two constructs. They found that followers who worked for leaders who were high in both consideration and initiating structure perceived a climate of support in the organization that outsiders did not enjoy. From these studies, then, we know that both initiating structure and consideration contribute to a supportive organizational climate, cohesion within a group, and productive work teams.
As the research was being conducted regarding leadership, traits, and behaviors, other researchers began investigating the notion of leadership as a transaction (similar to a monetary transaction) between leaders and followers. In this view of leadership, leaders give followers guidance and rewards; in return, followers give leaders a job well done (Bass, 1990; Chemers & Ayman, 1993; Doherty, 1997; Ross, 1997). In transactional leadership, a distinguishing notion is that one must be viewed and validated as a leader by followers to be effective. In this way, the roles of leadership and followership are interrelated: neither makes sense without the other. Follower expectations affect the performance of the leader. At the same time, follower perceptions of leader motives and actions control what the leader can accomplish (Bass, 1990). For instance, if followers believe that the leader is acting in the best interest of the group, they will work hard to help him or her achieve success. If, on the other hand, followers believe a leader's actions are self-serving, they may interfere with leader's goals.
In Doherty's (1997) research, a transactional leader is described as engaging in three types of behaviors: contingent reward, where the leader gives rewards or withholds punishment in return for performance; management-by-exception (active), where the leader watches for and criticizes/corrects/punishes deviations in follower performance; and management-by-exception (passive), where the leader waits for deviations to occur and then reacts. Doherty's work was focused on college/university athletic directors (ADs). The results of her research indicated that male and older athletic directors used more passive management-by-exception behaviors than did female and younger ADs. Doherty suggested that male and older athletic directors may have been more rigid (in their view of leadership) than others, and so engaged in a traditional form of leadership.
Also studying transactional leadership, Hunt (1991b) found that this type of leadership motivates followers by appealing to their self-interests (pay, status, rewards) because these are used in exchange for work. He also found that organizational culture clearly affects the type of leadership that is primarily used by management. If the culture is such that it promotes leader-follower transactions, that is what will permeate the organization. On the other hand, if empowerment and employee growth is the norm, then transformational leadership will permeate the organization.
As researchers began to investigate the phenomenon of leadership as a transaction, others noticed people who seemed to lead by the power of their personality (charisma). A new theory of leadership was developed and research now leaned in the direction of a transformational view of leadership. In this model, it is suspected that leaders, through their skills and personalities, transform followers into better and more effective "workers" (Behling & McFillen, 1996; Chemers & Ayman, 1993; Doherty, 1997; House & Aditya, 1997; Ross, 1997; Sosik, 1997; Spreitzer & Quinn, 1996). Sosik identified four components of transformational leadership: intellectual stimulation (questioning assumptions, reframing problems, thinking in new ways); individualized consideration (a sense of community to encourage integration and support of different viewpoints); inspirational motivation (a moral idealism that stirs in people a desire to contribute more to the goal); and idealized influence (where the leader and the group consider broader implications of the ideas generated in the group). Empowerment is often a result of transformational leadership. In addition, Doherty (1997) identified leader charisma as a distinct characteristic of transformational leadership.
In his research on the effects of transformational leadership on group work, Sosik (1997) found that groups underhigh transformational leaders reported higher levels of perceived performance, extra effort, and satisfaction with their leader than did other groups. People prefer transformational leadership to transactional leadership when given a choice.
In another study of transformational leadership, where subjects first underwent transformational leadership training, Spreitzer and Quinn (1996) found the training to be somewhat successful. While they found a genuine desire by individuals to want to be more transformational, some difficulties existed. After the training, supervisors were not equally willing to allow individuals (subordinates) to act in transformational ways. Some embraced the personal responsibility employees felt and acted upon, while others negated employee efforts at empowerment and self-direction. The employees who were most successful in becoming transformational leaders in their own units had high self-esteem, positive job effect (they felt good about their jobs), a solid base of social support, and received positive reactions by subordinates. In the previously mentioned study of athletic directors, Doherty (1997) found female and younger athletic directors to be perceived by others as more transformational than male and older ADs. She posited that this might be because of an increased willingness by women and younger managers to try a nontraditional form of leadership.
Transformational and transactional leadership behaviors are often studied in conjunction with one another. In fact, some researchers now believe that leaders exhibit both in the course of their day (Hunt, 1991a; Lynch & Vineyard, 1991; Ross, 1997). In trying to determine leader personality attributes and work-group performance, Ross (1997) found that transformational leaders were higher in the feminine attributes of nurturing and pragmatism than were others. Transformational leaders were also lower in the masculine traits of dominance, aggression, and criticalness. Ross also reported that the most effective leaders exhibited both transactional and transformational leadership skills. Furthermore, the greatest predictor of transformational leadership was an enabling personality profile (e.g., individuals who want to empower and enable others to reach their potential).
The Leader-Member Exchange theory, or LMX, was first presented in the late 1970s and is currently being revisited by many researchers as an alternative to the investigations into transformational and transactional leadership. This view of leadership suggests that there should be a high degree of mutual influence between a leader and follower, and that this quality of relationship exchange will result in high group performance (House & Aditya, 1997). The relationship exchanges are different for each person, and trust and loyalty are critical to the exchange process (Bauer & Green, 1996). Bauer and Green state that this model is a continuous, dynamic trust-building process. In their research, they found that to best develop high-quality leader-member exchanges, leaders should give increased responsibility and latitude to employees. They suggest early delegation of responsibilities to enhance the leader-member exchange.
Sex/Gender and Cultural Issues
The meaning and understanding of leadership varies from culture to culture. And unfortunately, almost all research about leadership has been conducted in the United States. (And much of it, until recently, with white males as subjects and as the target of examination.) In the past 15 years, research about women and sex/gender roles has emerged, as has some research that attempts to examine issues of culture (ethnicity, in particular). It is recognized that culture influences leadership in that the meaning of leadership changes from culture to culture (Chemers & Ayman, 1993). These two authors, summarizing early research about minorities and leadership, reported that minorities face increased levels of stress in the workplace (in addition to loneliness and estrangement) and that, because of this, they often don't perform as well in leadership situations as they otherwise would. A lack of role models and mentors, as well as promotion ceilings and lack of access to information, results in cultural stress that has a negative impact on leadership success. For those minorities who are in leadership positions, research shows that there is little difference in ethnic values and actual performance as leaders (Bass, 1990).
In addition to the various theories and models of leadership studied to help our basic understanding, ongoing research has attempted to determine if gender, sex, or culture play any part in leadership emergence, effectiveness, and acceptance. Early research has suggested that men are more likely than women to emerge as leaders in groups (Kent & Moss, 1994; Kolb, 1997), that men tend to dominate in groups (Hutchinson et al., 1998; Kent & Moss, 1994), that there is a denial of female leadership in general (Bass, 1990), and that women tend to devalue their own leadership accomplishments (Bass, 1990; Chemers & Ayman, 1993). Kent and Moss (1994) reported that men emerge as leaders more frequently than women, that women need to be seen as experts in order to be viewed as leaders, and that the possession of masculine traits by leaders is viewed as a good thing. They also found that those leaders who were androgynous in gender were just as likely as masculine-group members to emerge as leaders.
Kolb (1997) found that women need to be exceptional to succeed in leadership positions because leadership is viewed as a masculine activity. Thus, Kolb concluded that the possession of masculine traits is beneficial to leadership. He also reported that the concept of "man" is related to that of manager and leadership, while "woman" is inversely related. In this study, masculinity was found to be the strongest predictor for self-reported leader emergence. "Attitude toward leadership," however, was the strongest predictor of actual leader emergence. At the same time, males were described by the group as contributing ideas, suggestions, and opinions more often than females. No differences were found based on sex (male/female), only on gender (masculine, feminine, androgynous). A balance of feminine and masculine traits is important to successful leadership.
Cooper (1997), Hutchinson et al. (1998), and Luthar (1996) all examined gender issues related to the evaluation of leadership by followers. Cooper (1997) was concerned with the notion that leadership behaviors are evaluated differently for female and male leaders. In particular, followers appear to have a tendency to evaluate female leaders more harshly than males. Cooper found that traditional women viewed other women as rivals, and did not rate them highly (especially in higher status positions). Luthar (1996) examined gender and two leadership styles: democratic/participative (e.g., a person who is friendly, helpful, encouraging, inclusive) and autocratic/task-driven (e.g., a person who is directive, controlling, discouraging participation). He found that, in general, democratic/participative leaders were viewed as higher performers and superior leaders than were autocratic/task-driven leaders. Luthar also found that females were positively biased toward female leaders and males were positively biased toward male leaders in their evaluations.
Hutchinson et al. (1998) reported that, based on their research, female and male leaders are more alike than they are different. However, people with masculine traits emerge as leaders more frequently than those with feminine traits. This may be because of the fact that female leaders who violate gender roles as leaders are seen as less influential, less effective, and less successful than their male counterparts. Hutchinson et al. (1998) also reported that employees who worked for people exhibiting an androgynous leadership style were more satisfied with their work environments than others. Men who were high in interpersonal skills were rated highest as leaders. This may be because interpersonal skills are perceived as a "bonus" for successful leadership for men, yet task skills are not similarly considered for women. The authors indicated that successful leaders exhibit both masculine and feminine qualities, yet successful female leaders are still perceived as lacking in key leadership qualities.
From this review we find that several definitions of leadership still exist. We also learned that there is some truth to the trait or attribute notion of leadership. This information, however, is purely comparative; it is not information we can use to predict who will emerge as a leader of a particular group. Still viable in the literature is a view of leadership that suggests two general leader behavior categories: consideration and initiating structure. At the same time, we have reaffirmed that leaders use multiple styles and types of leadership. It is recognized that whatever the nuances of leadership are, they are connected to relationships between leaders and those who follow. Lastly, the current research tells us that while we know a bit about sex, gender, and leadership, we are sorely deficient in research about cultural issues and leadership.
Bass, B. 1990. Bass & Stogdill's handbook of leadership. (3rd ed.) New York: The Free Press.
Bauer, T., and S. Green. 1996. "Development of leader-member exchange: A longitudinal test." Academy of Management Journal 39(6): 1538-1567.
Behling, O., and J. McFillen. 1996. "A syncretical model of charismatic/transformational leadership." Group & Organization Management 21(2): 163.
Chemers, M., and R. Ayman, eds. 1993. Leadership theory and research. San Diego: Academic Press, Inc.
Cooper, V. 1997. "Homophily or the Queen Bee Syndrome: Female evaluation of female leadership." Small Group Research 28(4): 483-99.
Doherty, A. 1997. "The effect of leader characteristics on the perceived transformational/transactional leadership and impact of interuniversity athletic administrators." Journal of Sport Management 11: 275-85.
Foschi, M., and E. Lawler, eds. 1994. Group processes: Sociological analyses. Chicago: Nelson Hall.
Hinde, R., and J. Groebel, eds. 1991. Cooperation and prosocial behavior. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hooijberg, R., J. Hunt, and G. Dodge. 1997. "Leadership complexity and development of the Leaderplex Model." Journal of Management 23(3): 375-408.
House, R., and R. Aditya, R. 1997. "The social scientific study of leadership: Quo Vadis?" Journal of Management 23(3): 409-73.
Hunt, J. 1991a. Ethics and experiential education as professional practice. Journal of Experiential Education, 14(2), 14-18.
--. 1991b. Leadership:A newsynthesis. Newbury Park, CA: SAGE.
Hutchinson, S., K. Valentino, and S. Kirkner. 1998. "What works for the gander does not work as well for the goose: The effects of leader behavior." Journal of Applied Social Psychology 28(2): 171-82.
Jordan, D. 1996. Leadership in leisure services: Making a difference. State College, PA: Venture.
Kent, R. and S. Moss. 1994. "Effects of sex and gender on leader emergence." Academy of Management Journal 37(5): 1,335.
Kolb, J. 1997. "Are we still stereotyping leadership? A look at gender and other predictors of leader emergence." Small Group Research 28(3): 370-93.
Luthar, H. 1996. "Gender differences in evaluation of performance and leadership ability: Autocratic vs. democratic managers." Sex Roles 35(5-6): 337-61.
Lynch, R., and S. Vineyard. 1991. Secrets of leadership. Downers Grove, IL: Heritage Arts.
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Shields, D. 1997. "The relationship between leadership behaviors and group cohesion in team sports." The Journal of Psychology 131(2): 196-210.
Sonnenberg, E 1994. Managing with a conscience. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Sosik, J. 1997. "Effect of transformational leadership and anonymity on idea generation in computer-mediated groups." Group & Organization Management 22(4): 460-887.
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RELATED ARTICLE: Research Into Action: What is Leadership?
Leadership is a much discussed and frequently misunderstood concept among park and recreation professionals. Academic courses have taught small group leadership since the inception of academic programs. Management courses frequently touch on leadership but do little to provide students or practitioners with an answer to the question, What is leadership? This may be because researchers also have trouble identifying what leadership is. There are two primary sources of information about leadership: the popular press, or how-to books, on leadership, and research about leadership. The latter has more credence among professionals.
Impact of this Research
The differing theories of leadership provide different windows for observing how individual researchers attempt to explain the phenomenon of leadership. The oldest and, at one time, most accepted explanation for leadership was that it was trait-derived. While much of this perception of leadership has fallen out of favor, there is evidence that leaders do exhibit traits that set them apart from their followers. Traits such as physical energy, intelligence, and positive social influence have appeared in numerous research reports. Research into the behavioral aspect of leadership has suggested two characteristics essential for successful leadership: a concern for people (consideration role), and concern for the task (initiating structure).
Transactional leadership is described as a transaction between leaders and followers. This theory of leadership suggests that to be effective, one must be viewed and validated as a leader by followers. Transactional leaders motivate followers by appealing to their self-interests. Transformational leadership proposes that leaders, through their skills and personalities, transform followers into better, more effective workers. They do it through intellectual stimulation, individualized consideration, inspirational motivation, and idealized influence. Empowerment is often an outcome of transformational leadership.
The influence of sex/gender and cultural issues related to leadership is not always well understood or well researched. In particular, cultural impacts on leadership are very poorly understood. Minorities, however, experience considerably more stress in the workplace as they strive to complete the tasks expected of them and serve as role models, and frequently feel they must excel in order to be accepted. The same has been true for women. Research has suggested that men are more likely to emerge as leaders in groups and that women may need to be seen as experts in order to be viewed as leaders.
How to Use this Research
* Recognize that leadership does not have a single definition or perception. Rather, leadership is viewed from many different perspectives, and none of them is wholly right or wholly wrong.
* While popular literature may provide "how to" tools for those who desire to be leaders or improve their leadership skills, these tools may be highly dependent upon the existence of specific variables or situations.
* There is no right way to be a leader, but there are some characteristics that appear frequently in the literature. Highest among these is role consideration and initiating structure, or taking care of people and tasks.
* Our knowledge about sex/gender and cultural influences of leadership is growing dramatically. In a society where white-male dominance was assumed and accepted for hundreds of years, the recognition of unique skills and perspectives that females and people from other cultures bring to leadership is slowly emerging.
For More Information
Bass, B. 1990. Bass & Stodgill's handbook of readership, 3rd Ed. New York: The Free Press.
Jordan, D.J. 1996. Leadership in leisure services: Making a difference. State College, PA: Venture Publishing.
Research Into Action is published monthly by the Society of Park and Recreation Educators, National Recreation and Park Association. As an accompaniment to "Research Update," its goal is to turn research findings into field action by highlighting management strategies. Founding editors are Dr. Ruth Russell and Dr. Daniel D. McLean, Department of Recreation and Park Administration, Indiana University.
Debra J. Jordan, Re.D. is an associate professor of leisure studies at Oklahoma State University.
Research Update is edited by Dr. Irma O'Dell of Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.…