Academic journal article Journal of Leadership Studies

A Behavioral Approach to Leadership: Implications for Diversity in Today's Organizations

Academic journal article Journal of Leadership Studies

A Behavioral Approach to Leadership: Implications for Diversity in Today's Organizations

Article excerpt

Executive Summary

Most attention has been given to internationalization and information technology as future challenges facing organizational leaders going into the 21st century. Although diversity is sometimes mentioned, it is usually not considered a leadership issue. A major reason is that the dominant leadership theories (e. g., situational, transformational, or exchange) do not deal with the operational level of specific diversity initiatives. The purpose of this article is to first review the diversity initiatives facing today's organizations and the failure of popular leadership theories to address this challenge. Then, the remainder of the article suggests how a behavioral approach to leadership may help to successfully address some of the major diversity initiatives.

The Diversity Challenge

Diversity is increasingly recognized as one of the most significant challenges faced by all organizations today (Cox & Beale, 1997). Because the reactions to diversity are so emotional and divided among the general public and managerial leaders in particular, organizations have begun to develop ways of achieving diversity in different ways (Thomas, 1996). Diversity is even described by a number of terms such as "pluralism", "multiculturalism", and "celebration of differences." In the organizational context, this variety of terms is used interchangeably with little consideration as to the implications created by each. The end result is that it is difficult to attain and implement a commonly agreed upon definition of diversity that meets the needs of today's organization.

Despite the definitional controversy, in order for organizations to prepare for the future, workforce diversity must be given more consideration as public and private entities attempt to search for a competitive advantage (Milliken & Martins, 1996; Nemetz & Christensen, 1996; Thomas, 1996). The interest in workforce diversity is due to several factors. One factor centers around the changing demographics in the United States (Luthans, 1998; Stephanopoulos & Edley, 1995; Thomas, 1996). The simple fact is that the workforce by the year 2000 will be comprised of mostly minorities and women, with Hispanics comprising the largest increase. Therefore, organizational leaders must prepare for a work environment that will be much different than in the past. It will be heterogeneous in employee composition.

The need to institute diversity can be supported by the positive performance outcomes associated with a pluralistic workforce. Wright, Ferris, Hiller, and Kroll (1995) conducted a study that examined organizations that embraced diversity and organizations that had failed at diversity attempts and the subsequent effects of these occurrences on stock price. Journal articles were reviewed from 1986 to 1992. Organizations considered to be proactive in diversity were those that won awards from the Department of Labor (DOL) for having excellent affirmative action programs. Organizations that were felt to be failing at diversity were those that reported news of discrimination lawsuit settlements. Stock price valuation of these organizations on the days surrounding the announcement of the DOL awards or settlements were reviewed. Wright et al. (1995) found that those organizations who won the DOL awards showed an increase in stock price. Conversely, organizations that settled discrimination lawsuits saw decreases in stock price. The researchers concluded that implementing initiatives which promote a pluralistic workforce provide bottom line advantages to the organization and should be included as part of an overall company objective. Also, leaders have an incentive beyond promoting good citizenship behavior. They also can affect their organization's performance outcomes.

The effectiveness of a diversity initiative such as equal opportunity is dependent upon not just the leader, but all of the organization's members. …

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