Chapter 2: Groups In Organizations

2.5 Leadership


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What is Leadership?

Leadership is probably the single most discussed topic in business literature today. An effective leader can inspire an organization to produce better quality products, ensure first-rate service to its customers, and make amazing profits for its stockholders. An ineffective leader, on the other hand, can not only negatively impact products, services, and profits, but ineffective leaders can also bring down an organization to the point of ruin. There should be no surprise that organizational leaders are very important and leave a lasting legacy not just on the companies they run but also on society as a whole. The following is a list of some important business leaders (you may or may not have heard of) from the 20th and 21st centuries along with a brief description of what they accomplished. This amazing list of business leaders run the gamut from the small-town entrepreneur to people taking the helm at large international organizations. All of them are leaders, but their organizations vary greatly in what they deliver and their general purpose (both for-profit and non-profits).

Name Company Accomplishment(s)


Jeff Bezos

Revolutionized how people buy products using the internet and then spurred a secondary revolution in the use of electronic books with the Amazon Kindle.


Cynthia Carroll



Anglo American

After becoming CEO of Anglo American in 2007, a large international energy company based out of London, Carroll became very concerned over the number of fatalities in its South African mining facility. After another fatality, she shut the mining operation down for indefinitely shut down the operation and invited all relevant stakeholders to the table to discuss mining safety. Her leadership ultimately led to a complete retraining of mine workers and a revolution in mining safety in South Africa. Her leadership on the topic led to a 62% reduction in fatalities within her own company in just five years.


Ruth Handler



Mattel & Nearly Me

Cofounder of the giant children’s toy empire Mattel. Her most lasting legacy is probably the creation of the Barbie and Ken dolls. After retiring from Mattel, she heads the Nearly Me company, which sold prosthetic devices for victims of breast cancer.


Joan Ganz Cooney



Sesame Workshop

Founded the Children’s Television Workshop (now Sesame Workshop) and invited the collaboration of Jim Henson. Today, there are 145 Sesame Workshop locations around the world creating unique and culturally specific programs for young children. Sesame Street has won 118 Emmys, more than any other show in history, and 8 Grammys over the years.


Hu Maoyuan



SAIC Motor Corporation

Maoyuan is the CEO of the SAIC Motor Corporation, the largest state-run automotive manufacturer in China. Historically, the organization has used partnerships with other automotive giants (e.g., GM, Volkswagon, etc.) to fuel its automotive needs. Under Maoyuan’s leadership he is now trying to be an exporter of Chinese engineered and built cars around the world.

While the above list of diverse leaders is interesting, examining what others have done (and are doing) is not necessarily the best way to help us understand what “leadership” actually is. However, before we can explain what “leadership” is, we need to differentiate between two terms that are often confused for each other: management and leadership.


When one hears the word “management,” there is an immediate corporatization of the concept that tends to accompany the term. However, management (the noun) or managing (the verb) are very important parts of any organization. With the rise of the modern corporation during the industrial revolution, there was a decent amount of research examining how one should manage. For our purposes, we define the term manage as the communicative process where an individual or group of individuals helps those below them in an organizational hierarchical structure accomplish the organization’s goals. Notice that the term is communication focused and active. Meaning that managing is something that is active and ongoing. Therefore, management would refer to those individuals who use communication to help an organization achieve its goals through the proper utilization organizational resources (e.g., employees, facilities, etc…). Levitt (1976) describes management as follows: “Management consists of the rational assessment of a situation and the systematic selection of goals and purposes (what is to be done?); the systematic development of strategies to achieve these goals; the marshaling of the required resources; the rational design, organization, direction, and control of the activities required to attain the selected purposes; and, finally, the motivating and rewarding of people to do the work” (p. 72). Notice that management is focused on the day-to-day accomplishing of an organization’s goals. Furthermore, management must rally their employees to accomplish these goals through motivation, rewards, and/or punishments. Lastly, management must ensure that they have the necessary resources to enable their employees to accomplish the organization’s goals.


Whereas management is focused on accomplishing the organization’s goals, leadership is ultimately envisioning and articulating those goals to everyone. Hackman and Johnson define leadership from a communication perspective in this fashion, “Leadership is human (symbolic) communication, which modifies the attitudes and behaviors of others in order to meet shared group goals and needs” (Hackmen & Johnson 11).

Management vs. Leadership

So, how do we distinguish between management and leadership. One of the first researchers to really distinguish between management and leadership was Abraham Zaleznik who wrote that organizations often are caught between two conflicting needs, “one, for managers to maintain the balance of operations, and one for leaders to create new approaches and imagine new areas to explore”( Zaleznik, 1977, p. 67). Notice that Zaleznik argues that management is about maintaining the path of the organization and about handling the day-to-day operations of the organization. Leadership, on the other hand, is about creativity, innovation, and vision for the organization. Look back at the list of leaders profiled, all of these leaders had a clearly vision for their organization that was articulated to their followers. If these followers hadn’t been persuaded by their leader, none of these leaders’ accomplishments would be known today. While leaders often get the bulk of notoriety, we would be remiss to remind you that every effective leader has a team of managers and employees that help the leader accomplish the organization’s goals. As such, leadership and management are symbiotic and both are highly necessary for an organization to accomplish its basic goals. In a study by Shamus, the researcher set out to empirically investigate the difference between leadership and management by asking 49 leaders and senior executives in the construction industry in Singapore to differentiate between the concepts of leadership and management. Overall, four clear difference themes emerged in his research: definition, conceptual, functional, and behavioral.

Definitional Differences

The first differences noted in this research are what Toor called “definitional differences.” In essence, while there is no clearly agreed upon definition for the term “leadership,” Toor (2011) noted that management was “described by fundamental functions that include planning, organizing, leading, and controlling organizational resources” (p. 313).  In essence, leadership tends to be characterized by terms like vision, inspiration, and motivation, while management was defined by terms like action, day-to-day running of the organization, and the mundane aspects of making an organization function. In essence, leadership is defined by the ability to create a vision for the organization that managers can then carry out on a day-to-day basis.

Conceptual Distinctions

Toor admits that often people have a hard time clearly distinguishing between the terms “leadership” and “management” because there is a thin line between the two concepts. As one member of Toors (2011) study noted, “Leadership is something that subordinates or followers look up to. A leader would be able to manage well, too. But managers are not necessarily good leaders, and subordinates look up to them for instructions, not guidance” (p. 314). In essence, leadership encompasses management but is seen as “more than” just management. Many of Toor’s research participants suggest that all good leaders would have to be good managers, but not all good managers make good leaders.

Functional Divergences

When interviewing the various Singapore leaders, functional divergences also emerged in Toor’s research. Leadership was characterized by two primary functions: challenging and empowering. In essence, leaders should challenge their followers to do more and then empower them to take chances, make decisions, and innovate. Whereas, management was characterized by two different functions: imposing and stability/order. From this perspective, management should impose guidelines and ideas that are generated by organizational leadership on their followers in an attempt to create some semblance of stability and order within the organization. In essence, management is not making the “big” decisions, but rather relaying those decisions to their subordinates and then ensuring that those decisions get implemented within the organization itself.

Behavioral Differences

Lastly, Toor found what he termed “behavioral differences,” or there are clearly two different behavioral sets that govern management and leadership. Managers manage their subordinates work and leaders lead by example. While these explanations are not overtly concrete, one of the participants in Toor’s study put it

this way, “Maybe the difference is basically that you just manage in management, and you lead in leadership. In management, you enforce the regulations, whereas in leadership, you lead by example. In management, people don’t follow you; they obey you. In leadership, people follow you by their own choice.” Overall, there are clear distinctions (although admittedly convoluted) between the two terms “leadership” and “management.” We hope this brief discussion of this research has at least grasped that there are fundamental differences between the two concepts. The rest of this chapter is really devoted to leadership.

Theoretical Approaches to Leadership

As with most major academic undertakings, there is little agreement in what makes a leader. Since the earliest days of the study of business, there have been discussions of leadership. However, leadership is hardly a discussion that was originated with the advent of the academic study of Communication Studies. In fact, the oldest known text in the world, The Precepts of Ptah-hotep, was a treatise written for the Pharaoh Isesi’s son (of the fifth dynasty in Egypt) about being an effective Pharaoh (or leader). Although it’s relatively easy in hindsight to look at how effective an organizational leader was based on her or his accomplishments, determining whether or not someone will be an effective leader prior to their ascension is a difficult task. To help organizations select the “right” person for the leadership role, numerous scholars have come up with a variety of ways to describe and explain leadership. According to Hackman and Johnson (pp 72)  “Over the past 100 years, five primary approaches for understanding and explaining leadership have evolved: the traits approach, the situational approach, the functional approach, the relational approach, and the transformational approach”. The rest of this section is going to explore these different approaches to leadership.

Trait Approach

The first major approach to leadership is commonly referred to as the trait approach. This approach looks for a series of physical, mental, or personality traits that effective leaders possess that neither non-leaders nor ineffective leaders possess. We start with this approach to leadership predominantly because it’s the oldest of the major approaches to leadership and is an approach to leadership that is still somewhat in existence today. The first major study to synthesize the trait literature was conducted by Ralph Stogdill in 1948. In 1970, Stogdill reanalyzed the literature and found six basic categories of characteristics that were associated with leadership: physical, social background, intelligence and ability, personality, task related, and social. Research has found a variety of different traits associated with leadership over the years.. In fact, one of the fundamental problems with the trait approach to leadership is that research has provided a never-ending list of personality traits that are associated with leadership, so no clear or replicable list of traits exists.

Even communication researchers have examined the possible relationship between leadership and various communication traits. In an experimental study conducted by Limon and La France (2005), the researchers set out to see if an individual’s level of three communication traits could predict leadership emergence within a group. The three communication traits of interest within this study were communication apprehension, argumentativeness and verbal aggressiveness  Ultimately, the researchers found that an individual’s level of argumentativeness positively predicted an individual’s likelihood of emerging as a leader while an individual’s communication apprehension negatively predicted an individual’s likelihood of emerging as a leader. Verbal aggression, in this study, was found to have no impact on an individual’s emergence as a leader. In other research, leader verbal aggression was found to negatively impact employee level of satisfaction and organizational commitment while argumentativeness positively related to employee level of satisfaction and organizational commitment.  These three communication traits demonstrate that an individual leader’s communication traits can have an impact on both an individual’s emergence as a leader and how followers will perceive that leader. The original notion that leaders were created through a magic checklist of personality traits has fallen out of favor in the leadership community.  However, more recent developments in leadership theory have been reintegrating the importance of personality traits as important aspects of the process of leadership. Shane (2010)  he argues that while genetics may not cause humans to become leaders or entrepreneurs, one’s genetic makeup probably influences the likelihood that someone would become a leader or entrepreneur in the first place. In the same vein, Dinh and Lord (2007) have argued that personality traits should be examined within specific leadership events instead of as fundamental aspects of some concrete phenomenon called “leadership.” In essence, Dinh and Lord argue that an individual’s personality traits may impact how they behave within specific leadership situations but that specific personality traits may not be seen across all leaders in all leadership contexts.

Situational Approach

As trait approaches became more passé, new approaches to leadership began emerging that theorized that leadership was contingent on a variety of situational factors (e.g., task to be completed, leader-follower relationships/interactions, follower motivation/commitment, etc.). These new theories of leadership are commonly referred to as the situational approaches. While there are numerous leadership theorists who fall into the situational approach, we’re going to briefly examine one: Paul Hersey and Kenneth Blanchard’s Situational Leadership Theory.

Paul Hersey and Kenneth Blanchard’s Situational Leadership Theory

The basic model proposed by Paul Hersey and Kenneth Blanchard is also divided into task (leader directive behavior) and   relational (leader supportive behavior) dimensions. However, Hersey and Blanchard’s theory of leadership starts with the basic notion that not all followers need the same task or relationship-based leadership, so the type of leadership a leader should utilize with a follower depends on the follower’s readiness (e.g., experience, motivation, ability). In the basic model seen in the figure below, you have both dimensions of leadership behavior (supportive and directive). Based on these two dimensions, Hersey and Blanchard propose four basic types of leadership leaders can employ with various followers depending on the situational needs of the followers: directing, coaching, supporting, and delegating (Hersey &  Blanchard, 2000).

Situational Leadership Model
Situational Leadership Model

Directing (Telling)

The first type of leader discussed in Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership Theory is the directing leader  (originally termed telling). A directing leader is  needed by followers who do lack both the skill and the motivation to perform a task. Hersey and Blanchard recommend against supportive behavior at this point because the supporting behavior may be perceived as a reward by the follower. Instead, these followers need a lot of task-directed communication and oversight.

Coaching (Selling)

The second type of leader discussed in Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership Theory is the coaching leader (originally termed selling). The coaching leader is necessary when followers have a high need for direction and a high need of support. Followers who are unable to perform or lack the confidence to perform the task but are committed to the task and/or organization need a coaching leader. In this case, the leader needs to have more direct control over the follower’s attempt to accomplish the task, but the leader should also provide a lot of encouragement along the way.

Supporting (Participating)

Next, you have followers who still require low levels of direction from leaders but who need more support from their leaders. Hersey and Blanchard see these followers as individuals who more often than not have requisite skills but still need their leader for motivation. As such, supporting leaders should set about creating organizational environments that foster these followers’ motivations.

Delegating (Delegating)

Lastly, when a follower is both motivated and skilled, he or she needs a delegating leader. In this case, a leader can easily delegate tasks to this individual with the expectations that the follower will accomplish the tasks. However, leaders should not completely avoid supportive behavior because if a follower feels that he or she is being completely ignored, the relationship between the leader and follower could sour.

Functional Approach

In both the trait and situational approaches to leadership, the primary outcome called “leadership” is a series of characteristics that help create the concept. The functional approach, on the other hand, posits that it’s not a series of leadership characteristics that make a leader, but rather a leader is someone who looks like, acts like, and communicates like a leader. To help us understand the functional approach to leadership, we’ll examine Benne and Sheats’ Classification of Functional Roles in Groups.

Benne and Sheats’ Classification of Functional Roles in Groups

Kenneth Benne and Paul Sheats did not exactly set out to create a tool for analyzing and understanding the functional aspects of leadership. Instead, their 1948 article titled “Functional Roles of Group Members” was designed to analyze how people interact and behave within small group or team settings.  The basic premise of Benne and Sheat’s 1948 article was that different people in different group situations will take on a variety of roles within a group. Some of these roles will be prosocial and help the group accomplish its basic goals, while other roles are clearly antisocial and can negatively impact a group’s ability to accomplish its basic goals. Benne and Sheats categorized the more productive roles as belonging to one of two groups: task and group building and maintenance roles. Task roles are those taken on by various group members to ensure that the group’s task is accomplished. Maintenance roles, on the other hand, are those roles people take on that are “designed to alter or maintain the group way of working, to strengthen, regulate and perpetuate the group as a group.” (Benne & Sheats, 2007, p. 30-35) ).  The more individualistic (unproductive) roles are roles group members take on that aren’t relevant or helpful to the group and its work. Individuals embodying these roles will actually prevent the group from accomplishing its task in a timely and efficient manner. So, you may be wondering how these actually relates back to the notion of leadership. To help us understand why these roles are functions of leadership, let’s turn to the explanation provided by Hackman and Johnson (2009):

Roles associated with the successful completion of the task and the development and maintenance of group interaction help facilitate goal achievement and the satisfaction of group needs. These roles serve a leadership function. Roles associated with the satisfaction of individual needs do not contribute to the goals of  the group as a whole and are usually not associated with leadership. By engaging in task-related and group-maintenance role behaviors (and avoiding individual role behavior), a group member can perform leadership functions and increase the likelihood that he or she will achieve leadership status with the group. (p. 89).

In essence, leaders are people who perform task and relational roles while people who are non-leaders tend to focus on their own desires and needs and not the needs of the group itself. As such, each of the task and maintenance roles can be considered functions of effective leadership.


Task Role Behaviors Description of Communication Behavior
Initiator/Orienting Proposing goals, plans of action, activities
Information Seeker-Giver Asking for or giving information
Opinion Seeker-Giver Asking for or giving opinions
Clarifier Making ambiguous statements clearer, interpreting issues
Summarizer Reviewing/paraphrasing what was said
Procedural Suggesting agenda or process, sequence or flow.


Maintenance  Role Behaviors Description of Communication Behavior
Gatekeeper Helps all members take turns speaking
Harmonizer Reduces tension by reconciling disagreements, suggesting compromises
Tension reliever Reduces status differences, encourages informality and joking
Supporter Agreement or otherwise expressing support for another’s’ comment.


Individual  Role Behaviors Description of Communication Behavior
Withdrawer Avoids participating, refuses to take a stand or give a response
Blocking Prevents progress by raising objections without providing alternative.
Recognition Seeking Seeks spotlight and bosting on personal achievements
Self-Confessor Uses group as audience to report on personal matters
Dominator Manipulates group and tries to take over direction of group
Joker Lack of involvement by telling stories and jokes that don’t help the group

Relational Approach

The next approach to leadership is called the relational approach because it focuses not on traits, characteristics, or functions of leaders and followers, but instead the relational approach focuses on the types of relationships that develop between leaders and followers. To help us understand the relational approach to leadership, let’s examine Blake and Mouton’s Managerial Grid.

Robert Blake & Jane Mounton’s Managerial Grid

While the grid is called a “management” grid, the subtitle clearly specifies that it is a tool for effective leadership. In the original grid created in 1965, the two researchers were concerned with whether or not a leader was concerned with her or his followers or with production. In the version we’ve recreated for you, we’ve relabeled the two as concern for relationships and concern for tasks to keep consistent with other leadership theories we’ve discussed in this chapter. The basic idea is that on each line of the axis (x-axis refers to task-focused leadership; y-axis refers to relationship-focused leadership) there are nine steps. Where an individual leader’s focus both for relationships and tasks will dictate where he or she falls as a leader on the Managerial Grid. As such, we end up with five basic management styles: impoverished, authority compliance, country club, team, and middle-of-the-road. Let’s look at each of these in turn.

Blake and Mouton’s Managerial Grid


Impoverished Management

The basic approach a leader takes under the impoverished management style is completely hands off. This leader places someone in a job or assigns that person a task and then just expects it to be accomplished without any kind of oversight. In Blake and Mouton’s (2011)  words, “the person managing 1,1 has learned to ‘be out of it,’ while remaining in the organization… [this manager’s] imprint is like a shadow on the sand. It passes over the ground, but leaves no permanent mark.”(p. 308-322).


Authority-Compliance Management

The second leader is at the 9,1 coordinates in the leadership grid. The authority compliance management style  has a high concern for tasks but a low concern for establishing or fostering relationships with her or his followers. Consider this leader the closest to resemble Fredrick Taylor’s scientific management style of leadership. All of the decision-making is made by the leader and then dictated to her or his followers. Furthermore, this type of leader is very likely to micromanage or closely oversee and criticize followers as they set about accomplishing the tasks given to them.


Country Club Management

The third type of manager is called the country club management style  and is the polar opposite of the authority-compliance manager. In this case, the manager is almost completely concerned about establishing or fostering relationships with her or his followers, but the task(s) needing to be accomplished disappears into the background. When assigning tasks to be accomplished, this leader empowers her or his followers and believes that the followers will accomplish the task and do it well without any kind of oversight. This type of leader also adheres to the advice of Thumper from the classic Disney movie Bambi, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”


Team Management

The next leadership style is at the high ends of concern for both task and relationships, which is referred to as the team management style. This type of leader realizes that “effective integration of people with production is possible by involving them and their ideas in determining the conditions and strategies of work. Needs of people to think, to apply mental effort in productive work and to establish sound and mature relationships with one another are utilized to accomplish organizational requirements.” (Blake & Mouton, 2011, p. 317). Under this type of management, leaders believe that it is their purpose as leaders to foster environments that will encourage creativity, task accomplishment, and employee morale/motivation.


Middle-of-the-Road Management

The final form of management discussed by Blake and Mouton was what has been deemed the middle-of-the-road management style. The reasoning behind this style of management is the assumption that “people are practical, they realize some effort will have to be exerted on the job. Also, by yielding some push for production and considering attitudes and feelings, people accept the situation and more or less ‘satisfied’ [emphasis in original].” (Blake & Mouton, 2011, p. 308-322). In the day-to-day practicality of this approach, these leaders believe that any kind of extreme is not realistic, so finding some middle balance is ideal. If, and when, an imbalance occurs, these leaders seek out ways to eliminate the imbalance and get back to some state of moderation.

Transformational Approach

The final approach to leadership is one that clearly is popular among organizational theorists. Although the term “transformational leadership” was first coined by Downtown in 1973, the term was truly popularized by political sociologist James MacGregor Burns in 1978. In a 2001 study conducted by Lowe and Gardner, the researchers examined the types of articles that had been published in the premier academic journal on the subject of leadership. The researchers examined the types of research published in the journal over the  previous ten years, which found that one-third of the articles published within the journal examined transformational leadership. To help understand leadership from this approach, it’s important to understand the two sides of leadership: transactional and transformational leadership. On the one hand you have transactional leadership, which focuses on an array of exchanges that can occur between a leader and her or his followers. The most obvious way transactional leadership is seen in corporate America is the use of promotions and pay raises. Transactional leaders offer promotions or pay raises to those followers who meet or exceed the leader’s goals. Rewards are seen as a tool that a leader utilizes to get the best performance out of her or his followers. If the rewards no longer exists, followers will no longer have the external motivation to meet or exceed goals.


Transformational leadership, on the other hand, can be defined as the “process whereby a person engages with others and creates a connection that raises the level of motivation and morality in both the leader and the follower.” (Northhouse, 2007, p. 176). In essence, transformational leadership is more than just getting followers to meet or exceed goals because the leader provides the followers rewards. Bass (1985) proposed a more complete understanding of transformational leadership and noted three factors of transformational leadership: charismatic and inspirational leadership, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration.

  • Charismatic and Inspirational Leadership

The first factor Bass described for transformational leaders was charismatic and inspirational leadership. Charisma is a unique quality that not everyone possesses. Those who are charismatic have the ability to influence and inspire large numbers of people to accomplish specific organizational goals or tasks. Where the transactional leader rewards followers for accomplishing tasks, transformational leaders inspire their followers to accomplish goals and tasks with no promise of rewards. Instead, followers are inspired by a transformational leader to accomplish goals and tasks because they share the leader’s vision for the future. Bass later made inspirational motivation a unique factor unto itself to clearly separate its impact from charismatic leadership.

  • Intellectual Stimulation

The second characteristic of transformational leaders is intellectual stimulation. In essence, transformational leaders “stimulates followers to be creative and innovative and to challenge their own beliefs and values as well as those of the leader and the organization.” (Northhouse, 2007, p. 183). While both transactional and transformational leaders engage in intellectual stimulation themselves, the purpose of this intellectual stimulation differs. Transactional leaders tend to focus on how best to keep their organizations and the systems within their organizations functioning. Very little thought to innovation or improving the organization occurs because transactional leaders focus on maintaining everything as-is. Transformational leaders, on the other hand, are always looking for new and innovative ways to manage problems. As such, they also encourage those around them to “think outside the box” in an effort to make things better.

  • Individualized Consideration

The last factor of transformational leadership is individualized consideration, or seeing followers as individuals in need of individual development. Transformational leaders evaluate “followers’ potential both to perform their present job and to hold future positions of greater responsibility. The leader sets examples and assigns tasks on an individual basis to followers to help significantly alter their abilities and motivations as well as to satisfy immediate organizational needs.” (Bass, 1985). The goal of this individualized consideration is to help individual followers maximize their potential, which maximizes the leader’s use of her or his resources at the same time.

Summary Remarks 

 The topic of leadership has a long and varied history within the field of communication studies. There are a variety theoretical approaches used to explain leadership, a small handful of which were described above. Each of these theory attempts to isolate and explain certain features (e..g., goals, membership relationships, etc), that affect the demonstration of leadership within a group and an organization. Leaderships is a complex communicative phenomena that can have powerful positive and negative effects on an organization.


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