Testing Multi-Dimensional Nature of "New Leadership" in a Non-Western Context: The Case of Malaysia

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Leadership can be practiced by any organization members regardless of their status in the organizations, and leadership is generally understood as the ability to exert influence over others (Peabody, 1962). Past studies (Ansari, 1990; Farrell & Schroder, 1999; Rajan & Krishnan, 2002) have conceptualized leadership as a social influence process from an organizationally designated superior to his or her subordinates.

In view of the fact that Malaysia's colonial heritage, coupled with more recent foreign direct investments by Japanese and Westerners, the traditional patterns of leadership and business management have been modified (Sin, 1991). It is evidenced that Malaysians' management styles and practices are being westernized especially in those working in manufacturing companies that reported directly to their foreign partners and/or bosses. In spite of the above statement, it has been found that Malaysian leaders are not expected to be self-serving such as placing their own interest ahead of the group, as they are still governed by their key cultural and religious values which underpin their behavior, beliefs, and attitude (Kennedy & Mansor, 2000). As revealed by Abdullah (1996), Malaysian managers are only familiar with one level of interaction; hence, it is time to learn through exposure to different work settings, social interaction, and observation of work related practices not only in intracultural levels, but at the intercultural levels, and cross-cultural levels.

LITERATURE REVIEW

Leadership Styles

Past studies on leadership have not found conclusive evidence on Malaysian leadership style. For example, Gill (1998) suggested that Malaysian managers are found to be more direct, less delegate, and are more transactional. However, Govindan (2000) reported that Malaysian leaders lean more towards participative and consultative styles. This is in line with the assertion of Abdullah (1992) that the use of stronger tactics in Malaysian context is not likable as Malaysians generally are not in favor of overt display of anger and aggressive behavior. Lewin, Lippitt, and White (1939) have pioneered the study of leadership where an experiment study was designed to examine the relative effectiveness of democratic, laissez-faire, and authoritarian leadership styles. Later, trait, behavior, leader-member exchange, charismatic, transactional, transformational, and power-influence approach came into existence. Major researches in leadership can be classified into four approaches, namely, (i) trait approach, (ii) behavior approach, (iii) power influence approach, and (iv) situational approach (Yukl, 2005). In view of the complex nature of leadership effectiveness, researchers in the past have defined leadership based on their researched frame of reference. It is generally agreed that, leadership begins with trait approach, which emphasized on the personal attributes of leaders, followed by behavior approach, which examined leadership in terms of content categories, such as managerial roles, functions, and responsibilities (Yukl, 2005).

Other approaches including contingency approach, is known as the combination of trait and behavioral approaches to leadership. This approach deduced that effective leadership is based on the match between a leader's style and situational favorability (Fiedler, 1964). On the other hand, some researchers (e.g., Hersey & Blanchard, 1984) came up with other leadership theory known as situational leadership theory that emphasized on leadership effectiveness as a function of leadership behavior and subordinates maturity. As compared to other theories, situational theory uses more contemporary approach to researching aspects of leadership (Bolman & Deal, 1997). Another contemporary approach, the integrative approach, focuses more on the dynamics between leaders and followers. The two most popular theories that fall under the integrative approaches are transformational and transactional leadership. …