Leadership and Upward Influence: A Survey of Business School Deans

By McDonald, J. Michael; Gooding, Carl W. | Southern Business Review, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

Leadership and Upward Influence: A Survey of Business School Deans


McDonald, J. Michael, Gooding, Carl W., Southern Business Review


An empirical study of how business school deans use "upward" influence tactics as a leadership tool to get things done has never appeared in the research literature on management. The purpose of this study is to examine what types of influence tactics business school deans use with their superiors. The methodology includes examining how frequently deans used various upward influence tactics and how effective those tactics were considered to be.

Additionally, the researchers seek to compare the tactics used by business school deans to those used by managers in general. Do business school deans use the same upward influence tactics as other managers? Are those tactics used as frequently by deans as by other managers? Are the tactics used by deans viewed as effective for managers?

While some might argue business school deans are no different than other managers in terms of their leadership styles and patterns of behavior, the researchers hypothesize otherwise. Business managers generally have clearly defined goals to work toward such as profitability, return on investment, cost reduction, productivity, and quality improvements. Academic deans, however, work in environments in which the goals are less clearly defined and much more subject to budgetary constraints and philosophical differences. Business school deans, in particular, often report to superiors whose backgrounds are not in business. Those superiors frequently do not share the same goals, values, points of view, or needs (e.g., AACSB accreditation) as business deans. Hence, it is incumbent upon the business dean to learn how to lead "upward." In a very real sense, the business school dean is leading upward as resources are negotiated. To be effective, the dean of business must understand that upward power (and influence) is partly based on the ability and willingness to use influence tactics. To negotiate for limited resources, an effective dean will, by necessity, have to appreciate the upward influence nature of leadership.

Literature Review

Power and Upward Influence

Leadership, influence, and power are inextricably linked. In fact, some scholars think that understanding power and the use of influence might be the most important concepts in all of leadership (Burns, 1978; Gardner, 1990; Hinkin & Schriesheim, 1989). While the concepts "power" and "influence" are often used synonymously, for this study, power is defined as the capacity to cause change. Influence is the degree of actual change in a target person's attitude, values, beliefs, or behaviors (Hughes, Gannett, & Curphy, 2002). In one sense, power is the potential that a leader has to influence others. The leader then uses influence tactics, methods, and actual behaviors to affect change in others. Several authors note that successful managers expand their power by learning how "to influence someone higher in the formal hierarchy of authority in the organization" (Ranter, 1983; Yukl & Falbe, 1990; Kotter, 1985; 1990). Early research (PeIz, 1959) suggests that upward influence is a key factor in the effectiveness of managers. Others observe that the ability to influence superiors can be "acquired, enhanced, or reduced" by a manager's behavior (case, Dosier, Murkison, & Keys, 1988; Bartolome & Laurent, 1986).

Research has demonstrated that leaders' effectiveness with subordinates depends heavily on their abilities to develop upward influence with superiors (PeIz, 1959; Bartolume & Laurent, 1986). Likewise, influence with superiors depends on the ability of a leader to accomplish things through subordinates (Uyterhoeven, 1972; Ruello, 1973). Consequently, the more the leader enters into a set of reciprocal relationships, the more a resulting cycle develops. As the leader becomes more effective in influencing the superior, he/she will become more effective with subordinates. The reverse is equally true; as the leader gains influence with subordinates, influence will be enhanced with the superior.

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