Leadership in the Apparel Manufacturing Environment: An Analysis Based on the Multi-Factor Leadership Questionnaire

By McCann, Jack | SAM Advanced Management Journal, Autumn 2008 | Go to article overview

Leadership in the Apparel Manufacturing Environment: An Analysis Based on the Multi-Factor Leadership Questionnaire


McCann, Jack, SAM Advanced Management Journal


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Introduction

One of the most dramatic social changes of the past 50 years has been the reduction of manufacturing employment in the affluent democracies of the world (Brady and Denniston, 2006). Nowhere has this been more evident than in the United States. The U.S. manufacturing industry experienced downsizing and a dramatic decline in employment that reached 14.2 million in August 2006 from a previous high in 1979 of 19.4 million--numbers not seen since the 1950s (Bernstein and Bivens, 2006). Between 2000 and 2004, Bernstein and Bivens (2006) indicated manufacturing lost three million jobs (a 17% drop). The predictions are even darker for the apparel and textile manufacturing industry, which is bracing for a 46% decline in employment for the period 2004 through 2014, compared with a projected increase of 14% for all U.S. industries combined (Bureau of Labor Statistics, n.d.). Declining employment in the apparel and textile industry reflects growth in imports and technological advances (Abend, 2000).

The continuing changes in the U.S. market for apparel goods will exert cost-cutting pressures that affect all workers in the textile and apparel industries (Lin, Moore, Kincade, and Avery, 2002). Consumers have become more price conscious, while retailers are gaining bargaining power over apparel producers. This increased competition limits the ability of apparel producers to pass on costs to consumers. U.S. apparel firms are likely to respond by relying more on foreign production and by boosting productivity through investments in technology and new work structures (Abend, 2000). In addition to affecting employment, these responses change how leaders must manage these firms to adapt to the challenges of a global economy (Baker, 2004). The link between effective leader behavior and organizational performance must be determined to help firms compete in this challenging environment. Researchers continue to study the causality and correlation between leader behavior and organizational performance (Burns, 1978: Bass, 1985; Yukl, 1989; Avolio, Waldman, and Yammarino, 1991; Bass and Avolio, 1992; Dionne, Yammarino, Atwater and Spangler, 2004).

The most important factor affecting the future of the apparel industry is changing trade regulations (Scott, 2003). The labor-intensive nature of this industry makes it vulnerable to competition from nations in which workers receive lower wages (Brown, 2001). Import quotas for apparel and textile products were lifted in 2005 among members of the World Trade Organization, which includes most U.S. trading partners and China (Baker, 2004). Even though some bilateral quotas have been re-imposed between the United States and China, the lifting of many restrictions allows more apparel and textile products to be imported into the United States (Baker, 2004).

A few apparel firms have responded to competition by merging with other apparel firms and by moving into the retail market (Baker, 2004). Even more are contracting out functions such as warehousing and order fulfillment in addition to the production of garments (Reichard, 2007). These changes allow them to focus on core strengths, which for many are design and marketing. These types of changes may help the apparel manufacturing industry address the growing competition and continue to supply U.S. consumers with garments at reasonable costs (Bureau of Labor Statistics, n.d.). Reichard (2007) predicted that over the next few years the apparel industry will continue to face a multitude of serious challenges, including rising import levels, changing international ground rules, cutthroat competition, and ever-changing consumer wants.

Despite challenges, the textile and apparel industries continue to survive by improving efficiencies, responding to competition with innovation, and developing strong leadership (Reichard, 2007). New technology will increase the productivity of the apparel industry, but it will remain labor-intensive because of the variability of cloth and because the intricacy of the cuts and seams of the assembly process are obstacles automation (Abend, 2000; Lin, et al.

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