Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Upward Influence and Grades in Higher Education

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Upward Influence and Grades in Higher Education

Article excerpt


The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of propensity of student upward influence behaviors with instructors on classroom performance. Students from a mid-sized regional comprehensive university returned completed surveys. Support for the proposed model was found and findings suggest that student self-perceived individualized consideration and passive leadership styles predict grades received for coursework from instructors. Limitations, implications for instructors and students, and directions for future research are discussed.


Extant leadership literature demonstrates many aspects of downward influence from leader to follower. However, leadership can also be viewed as a process of mutual and counterinfluence between leaders and followers where followers have the potential to influence, shape, and even direct leader behavior (c.f. Bass, 1981). This so-called upward influence can be considered informal because subordinates exercising influence do not have formal authority or hierarchical power over the superior (Chacko, 1990). Just as upward influence is found in business organizations, it is also found in higher-education classroom environments. Instructors have reward power over students in terms of the grades given in a course and as such there is potential for students to influence grades received by employing any number of upward influencing tactics.


Recent literature has focused on individual success associated with followers gaining compliance from leaders in a higher organizational level (c.f. Cable & Judge, 2003; Farmer, Maslyn, Fedor & Goodman, 1997; Kipnis & Schmidt, 1998). This concept is referred to as upward influence where followers using multiple influence tactics are able to gain favor, better relationships, and even enhanced perceptions of promotability from such behavior (Thacker & Wayne, 1995). A study by Chacko (1990) examined the effects of subordinates' use of specific upward influence-directed behaviors such as reasoning, coalition, higher authority, bargaining, friendliness, and assertiveness to influence superiors. Findings from the study suggest that reasoning and coalition were the most often used upward influence tactics and that followers use assertiveness and higher authority more often when leaders exhibit low structure initiation and individualized consideration behaviors.

Maslyn, Farmer, & Fedor (1996) point out that most research on upward influence assumes that such behaviors are a single event and that follow-up actions are irrelevant. However, the opposing view that upward influence is an ongoing process is reasonable considering the process of leading and following is itself an ongoing process. Consequently, formal influencing (downward) and informal influencing (upward) together encompass the leadership relationship between leaders and followers. This ongoing process is illustrated by Maslyn et al. where findings suggest that upward influencing behaviors after a failed attempt at informal influence can be predicted with situational variables such as goal importance. In the case of college students, grade in a course is an important measure in the present study given the findings from Pollio and Beck (2000) which suggest that grades represent primary goals to students in the learning process.

Leadership from the point of view of the leader has been studied in a variety of ways. Transformational and transactional leadership have generated much research including studies focusing on the emotional intelligence of transformational leaders (Barbuto & Burbach, 2006), employee cynicism (Bommer, Rich, & Rubin, 2005), and technology acceptance (Schepers, Wetzles, & Ko, 2005) to name a few. One component of transformational leadership is individualized consideration behavior. Individualized consideration is the degree to which a leader focuses on the needs of each follower and develops them to their full potential. …

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