Academic journal article Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies

Enhancing Incremental Influence: A Focused Approach to Leadership Development

Academic journal article Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies

Enhancing Incremental Influence: A Focused Approach to Leadership Development

Article excerpt

In an effort to construct a framework for understanding leadership development (LD), this paper examines the available evidence regarding exactly what organizations attempt to develop under the rubric of LD, and how they attempt to develop it. After considering the conceptual and practical implications associated with various LD perspectives, the paper builds on the notion of leadership as "incremental" influence (Katz & Kahn, 1978) to propose a more precise approach to LD. This more precise approach argues that LD is the process of acquiring particular personal qualities and skills that create influence independent of the individual's positional influence. The paper then suggests how this more precise view provides a useful lens for organizations interested in assessing their LD undertakings.


The importance of leadership as a conceptual and practical topic is undisputed, with scholarly interest in leadership dating at least from the early 1900s (see Stogdill, 1948); but with biographers, historians, political and popular writers (e.g., Burke; Chaucer; Homer; Machiavelli; Shakespeare; Sophocles; and others) exploring leadership issues far longer (cf. Clemens & Mayer, 1987). Currently, business corporations accept the role of effective leadership in organizational success as axiomatic; and much recent attention and analysis now has focused on leader and leadership development (e.g., Day, 2001; Hollenbeck & McCall, 1999; McCauley, Moxley, & Van Velsor, 1998).

Approaches to leadership development (LD) are extremely varied. Some approaches focus on developing an individual's task competencies and problem-solving capacities, while others focus on the communication and transmission of visions and values (Hollenbeck & McCall, 1999). Some distinguish between developing leaders as an individual-level undertaking, and developing leadership as a social-system undertaking (Day, 2001; Palus and Drath, 1995). Some accentuate personal insight and self-awareness (McCauley et al., 1998); while others emphasize a leader's actual movement through sequentially organized, qualitatively different stages (Roberts, 1987).

This rich multiplicity of perspectives on LD is understandable, given the multiple ways in which individuals have used the concept of "leadership." Leadership can refer to attributes of personality; to characteristics of certain positions; to outcomes of certain behaviors, etc. (Katz & Kahn, 1978: 574). Consequently, it is not surprising that perspectives on how to develop leadership reflect this diversity. On the other hand, the existence of so many perspectives can potentially mislead researchers and practitioners in two related ways. First, the multiplicity of perspectives can implicitly suggest that LD simply is any undertaking which develops the individual. Second, the multiplicity of perspectives might also seem to suggest that all developmental activities are equally useful, potentially masking real differences in an undertaking's developmental effectiveness.

Since neither of these conclusions appears warranted, we undertook the present research with three goals in mind. First, we wanted to analyze the "content" of LD, identifying the attributes, qualities, skills, and abilities highlighted for development, and probing why this content is specifically relevant to leadership. Second, we wanted to identify the "processes" of LD (i.e., the methods of development), determining the strengths and limitations of these methods. Finally, we wanted to create an integrated model of LD based on the best aspects of the different approaches, to provide a guide for organizations interested in undertaking LD activities now, and to provide the foundation for more sophisticated efforts later on.

What To Develop: Perspectives On LD Content

Our examination revealed that, with a few notable exceptions (e.g., Day, 2001; Drath, 1998), individual-level conceptualizations of LD dominated the field. …

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