Academic journal article Academy of Strategic Management Journal

The Role of Situation in the Leadership Process: A Review and Application

Academic journal article Academy of Strategic Management Journal

The Role of Situation in the Leadership Process: A Review and Application

Article excerpt


Though the dynamic concept of leadership has been under review for many years, its complexity has been soaring with the changing demands of the situation influenced by various variables such as leader's characteristics, followers' attributes, behavior, leader-follower relationship, and others.

In simple terms, leadership is an interaction between two or more members of a group that often involves a structuring or restructuring of the situation and the perceptions and expectations of the members. The situation in part defines the leadership process; it influences the leader and interacts with the leader's attempts to influence his or her followers. According to Murphy (1941), situations in which people find themselves create needs, and it is the nature of these needs that defines the type of leadership that best serves the group.

Hence, the purpose of this paper is to review the role of situation in the leadership process supported by some of the prominent situational leadership models including the path-goal theory, situational leadership model, and contingency model. Additionally, a critical factor that has a significant influence on the situation is discussed--power as an ability to exercise influence on people and its role in influencing leadership situations.

The final section of this research includes analysis of few real business world situations and its subsequent influence on leaders' behaviors, followers' reactions, and leader effectiveness. Interestingly, it was found that leaders adopted different leadership styles variant upon the needs of the concerned situation which affected their leadership effectiveness.


Leadership has been a fascinating and elusive concept of research for many years. Scholars and researchers have offered many definitions in the past; however, this organizational behavior is still understood as an emerging principle with more complexity. In 1974 Stogdill concluded that "there are almost as many definitions of leadership as there are persons who have attempted to define the concept" (cited in Shani & Lau, 2000, p.44). In the most basic terms, leadership involves influence, it occurs among people, those people intentionally desire significant changes, and the changes reflect purposes shared by leaders and followers (Daft & Noe, 2001).


Many past studies have attempted to comprehend leadership from a variety of perspectives, and over the years, it has witnessed transformational changes in its context. Initially, leadership was based on the "Great Person Theory of Leadership," whereby 'great leaders' were born with some personal qualities to lead (Pierce & Newstrom, 2003, p.6).

In the next phase, the focus shifted to identify the personality attributes that endows an individual with the potential to emerge as a successful leader and differ from a non-leader in his or her effectiveness. Hence, with this began the era in which leadership was perceived as a psychological phenomenon. In his 1948 study, Stogdill identified certain personal factors that are associated with leadership such as intelligence, dependability, persistence, self-confidence, adaptability, among many others. Based on the review conducted by Mann (1959), it was observed that there is a "strong relationship between personality and leadership perceptions (who is the leader)" (Pierce & Newstrom, 2003, p.61).

Thereby, the focus turned towards a variety of other themes such as influence of behavior on performance and satisfaction of the followers'. As defined by Bowers & Seashore (1966), leadership is "organizational useful behavior by one member of an organization family toward another member or members of that same organizational family" (Pierce & Newstrom, 2003, p.161). Following which based on several studies, some key broad categories of effective behaviors came into prominence such as consideration (behavior reflecting friendship, warmth, trust), and initiation of structure (behavior defining roles and responsibilities of followers, providing directions, instructions) (Bowers & Seashore, 1966). …

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