The Impact of Substitutes for Leadership on Job Satisfaction and Performance

By Xu, Xiao-Dong; Zhong, Jian An et al. | Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, May 2013 | Go to article overview

The Impact of Substitutes for Leadership on Job Satisfaction and Performance


Xu, Xiao-Dong, Zhong, Jian An, Wang, Xiao-Yan, Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal


In traditional leadership theories it is suggested that leaders affect the job performance and satisfaction of employees to a large degree. For example, in the view of Howell and Dorfman (1986), leadership behaviors have a direct effect on employees' job satisfaction, organizational loyalty, work pressure, motivation, and team cohesion, all of which, in turn, affect job performance. However, with the development of managerial reutilization and standardization, and also because of the comprehensive abilities of employees, leadership behaviors have begun to appear less important in Chinese enterprises. Certain individuals, tasks, and organizational variables have gradually begun to act as partial or complete substitutes for the effectiveness of leadership activities. Thus, substitutes for leadership have become a common phenomenon in many work situations in China.

The substitutes for leadership model proposed by Kerr and Jermier (1978) has become a classic paradigm in substitutes for leadership studies. In this model the authors analyzed 13 characteristic variables that displace leaders in output effectiveness, with the focus of the model on three dimensions: subordinate, task, and organization. The variables in the subordinate dimension are as follows: individual ability, experience, training, and knowledge; indifference toward organizational rewards; professional orientation; need for independence. Variables in the dimension of task are: intrinsically satisfying; providing its own feedback concerning accomplishment; unambiguous and routine. In the dimension of organization the variables are: formalization; inflexibility; close-knit, cohesive work groups; peer support; spatial distance between superior and subordinates; and organizational rewards not within the leaders' control. These factors can effectively substitute for leadership to varying degrees.

Researchers have identified significant relationships among substitutes for leadership, job satisfaction, and performance outcomes. Jernigan and Beggs (2010) found that organizational formality, tasks characterized as intrinsically satisfying, and tasks providing direct feedback to employees were all associated with increased job satisfaction. Conversely, tasks characterized as unambiguous, routine, and methodologically invariant, and also the presence of close-knit, cohesive work groups were all associated with decreased job satisfaction. Muchiri and Cooksey (2011) demonstrated the significant positive effects of substitutes for leadership on performance outcomes. Similar results were reported by Kunzle, Zala-Mezo, Kolbe, Wacker, and Grote (2010). However, with the exception of a study conducted in Taiwan by Farh, Podsakoff, and Cheng (1987), we have found that, to date, most substitutes for leadership researchers have based their studies in a Western cultural setting. Therefore, researchers have sought a greater focus on the nature of the samples to be included in tests of substitutes for leadership (Howell, Bowen, Dorfman, Kerr, & Podsakoff, 2007), and noted that cultural background will be an important factor (Avolio, Walumbwa, & Weber, 2009). As there is currently little relevant empirical research that has been conducted in China, our purpose in this study was to analyze how the substitute factors proposed by Kerr and Jermier (1978) influenced the minds and behaviors of employees in Chinese enterprises.

Rhoades and Eisenberger (2002) found that perceived organizational support had a positive effect on job satisfaction and organizational commitment. It has been shown that both high cohesion and the support of colleagues play positive roles in job satisfaction within a work group (Kwak, Chung, Xu, & Cho, 2010; Tekleab, Quigley, & Tesluk, 2009). Job satisfaction is also affected by effective feedback, which is provided by the mission of the organization and by task characteristics. Good work, group cohesiveness, and high mutual support can often lead to better job performance and job satisfaction, which, in turn, often have a high correlation with work activities. …

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