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Leadership styles and effectiveness of managers in a public sector enterprise.



More than ever, the success and growth of an organization today depends on effective leadership at all levels in the organizational hierarchy. The influence of leadership on a number of organizational outcomes has been well established. Goleman (2000) observed that leadership style has an impact on organizations, departments, and teams as well as on the organizational environment. Gradually, organizations are now realising the significance of leadership as a managerial skill and are therefore making leadership training as an important element in the soft skills training for their managers. In fact, apart from developing the leadership skills of employees, it is also necessary for every organization to take cognizance of the inherent leadership styles of their subordinates. It is seen that the role of leadership and of leadership style varies from industry to industry. For instance, the significance of leadership and the type of leadership required in a manufacturing company is different from the one required in a software company. Even within the same company, the type of leadership style required varies from function to function. In general, situational or contextual factors determine the desired leadership style in a manager.

From a training perspective, understanding one's leadership style is important for the individual manager in that it can sensitise him to differing situational demands on him. Further, it can help him make adjustments in his own leadership style as per situational demands.But, the fact remains that every manager has a predominant or preferred way of dealing with his employees. This preferred way may either facilitate or impede his role in the organization.

Among the situational factors, the most significant one is the type of employees to be supervised by the manager. The kind of subordinates whom managers have to lead from time to time could vary on a number of factors. Some of the pertinent factors that may differentiate individual subordinates are age, gender, job knowledge, skill level, experience, temperament, level of motivation, etc. Some of the contingency theories of leadership have considered certain key subordinate factors to prescribe the most appropriate leadership style in a given situation. One of the most prominent among these theories is the Hersey and Blanchard's (1969) Situational Leadership Theory, which has been incorporated into leadership training programmes at many Fortune 500 companies and taught to over one million managers a year (Fernandez and Vecchio, 1997).

The Hersey--Blanchard Situational Leadership Theory

Hersey and Blanchard's Situational Leadership Theory (SLT) is a contingency theory that focuses on the followers' maturity or readiness. The right leadership style, according to SLT, is contingent on the level of the followers' readiness. This aspect has been overlooked in other leadership theories. Hersey and Blanchard (1974, 1977) define the term readiness as the extent to which people have the ability and willingness to accomplish a specific task. Thus, SLT is based on a manager's leadership behaviour (in terms of 'task' and 'relationship') and subordinate readiness (Blanchard and Johnson, 2000; Hersey and Blanchard, 1993; Hersey, Blanchard, and Johnson, 2006). Task behaviour refers to the extent to which leaders plan, organise, monitor and control the activities of their sub ordinates. Relationship behaviour is concerned with the extent to which leaders maintain personal relationships with their subordinates by indulging in open communication and by providing emotional support. The readiness level of subordinates determines the appropriate combination of task and relationship behaviour for the leader (see Figure 1). There are four options of leadership styles, viz., telling, selling, participating, and delegating, which are available to the leader for managing his people. These styles essentially range from highly directive to highly laissez-faire.


The 'telling' style is a combination of high task and low relationship orientation. It works best when subordinates are neither able nor willing to do the job. While adopting the telling style, the manager has to give specific instructions and closely supervise the work of subordinates. The 'selling' style is a combination of high task and high relationship orientation. This style works well with subordinates who are willing to do the job, but don't know how to do it. The manager, in this case, has to explain his decisions to the subordinates and provide them opportunities for clarification. The 'participating' style combines low task and high relationship styles and it works best when subordinates are able to do the job but require emotional support from the manager. This style requires the manager to allow his subordinates to share their ideas, enhancing their desire to perform. The 'delegating' style is a mix of low task and low relationship orientation. This style is said to work well when subordinates are willing to do the job and they know how to go about it. The manager, while adopting the delegating style, gives subordinates sufficient autonomy as well as responsibility for making and implementing decisions.

Thus, the basic assumption of SLT is that leader task and relationship behaviours are moderated by the level of follower readiness (Blank et al., 1990). In fact, the model advices managers to adjust their style to compensate for the abi lity and motivational shortcomings in their subordinates. The leader must have the ability and sensitivity to perceive and appreciate these differences. But, leaders may still be not effective unless they can adapt their leadership style to meet the demands of their organisational environment (Hersey and Blanchard, 1993; Hersey, Blanc hard and Johnson, 2006).

SLT is an intuitively appealing model and has been found to be popular with practicing managers (Cairns et al, 1998). It has been cited in the academic literature as an important situational approach to leadership effectiveness (Yukl, 1981). The results of a study by Hambleton and Gumpert (1982) supported the validity of the theory, suggesting that, when it was applied properly, the increase in subordinate job performance was both practically and statistically significant. In another study, by Chen and Silverthorne (2005), results partially supported the SLT in that, the higher the manager's leadership score, the more effective is the manager's influence on subordinates. Previous research has linked SLT with leadership effectiveness, employee job satisfaction and performance (Breckenridge, 2000; Vries et al, 1998; Cairns, 1996).

Objectives of the Study

Available literature throws very little light on the leadership styles of Indian public sector executives using the two broad dimensions of task orientation and people orientation. Also, hardly any empirical study could be traced which has made use of the LEAD instrument to assess the leadership effectiveness and adaptability of Indian executives. In fact, very few studies were found to have used the Hersey-Blanchard model itself to understand the leadership patterns of executives.

In this context, it was felt worthwhile to primarily understand the dominant leadership styles of executives working in a public sector enterprise. The study was purely exploratory in nature since no definite conclusions regarding the leadership styles of public sector executives were available from earlier studies. Secondly, it was of interest to know whether the executives in the public sector enterprise show flexibility and adaptability in their leadership styles. The question was whether the executives tend to use the same leadership style in all situations or whether they use different styles in different situations (irrespective of the appropriateness of a style in a given situation). The third objective was to understand the effectiveness levels of the executives (as determined by the LEAD instrument) since effectiveness level is based on the situational appropriateness in the usage of different leadership styles.


Sample: The study was conducted on an incidental sample of one hundred and forty middle level managers from different units of a single company. This company is a leading public sector undertaking involved in the manufacturing of professional electronics. Those who participated in the study were attending some of the short-term Management Development Programmes organised at NITIE, Mumbai. These managers belonged to diverse functional departments of the company such as manufacturing, development and engineering, inspection and testing, communication, finance, sales, administration, HR, etc. The managers in the sample turned out to be predominantly male with only fourteen female managers. The age of the managers ranged from twenty three to fifty nine years with a mean age of 45.66 and SD of 7.81. Although data regarding the work experience of the managers was not captured, most of them were found to have a minimum experience of around twenty five years.

Tool: The Leader Effectiveness and Adaptability Description (LEAD) instrument developed by Hersey and Blanchard (1988) was used to assess the leadership effectiveness and adaptability of the executives. The instrument is designed to provide insight into a manager's perception of how he/she behaves as a leader in certain given situations. There are twelve situations described in the instrument and the respondent has to select from among the alternative solutions the one that he/she believes is most appropriate for the situation. The four alternative choices given for each situation represent eac h of the four combinations of high or low task and relationship behaviours, i.e., HT and LR, HT and HR, LT and HR, and LT and LR. In the model, these four styles are termed as telling, selling, participating, and delegating, respectively. The leadership style of the respondent is determined by counting the number of choices indicated for the four styles.

The LEAD questionnaire measures the respondent's dominant and supporting styles from the four possible alternatives. In addition, the LEAD questionnaire measures the respondent's style adaptability or effectiveness. The leadership style adaptability is the measure of the leader's ability to use an appropriate leadership style in a given situation. Out of the twelve situations given in the questionnaire, each style is appropriate in only three situations. Improper use of the styles results in negative scores on effectiveness. The effectiveness score ranges from -24 to +24 and is determined by adding the values assigned to the alternatives chosen for each of the twelve situations. The most appropriate to least appropriate alternative choices from among four in each situation are given scores +2, +1, -1, and -2, respectively.

Data Collection: The LEAD instrument was administered to the managers while they were undergoing training at NITIE. The questionnaire was filled by the respondents in the presence of the investigator. To minimize the effect of social desirability on the scale, the respondents were not initially told as to what the questionnaire actually measured.

Results and Discussion

This study being exploratory in nature, responses of the one hundred and forty middle level managers were analysed using appropriate statistics to arrive at meaningful conclusions about their leadership styles, adaptability in leadership style as well as effectiveness. The statistical package used for data analysis was SPSS Version 10.0. Descriptive statistics such as, score ranges, means and standard deviations of the variables considered in the study were initially computed. These are presented in Table 1.

It is clear from Table-I that, out of the four leadership styles, Style-2 has maximum mean value while Style-4 has the minimum mean value. This shows that, managers from the company being studied prefer to use Style-2 leadership more often and prefer to avoid Style-4 leadership while dealing with their subordinates. Style-2 (or selling style), which is a combination of high task and high relationship orientation, is appropriate to deal with "unable and unwilling" type of subordinates. It is not known whether the subordinates who are reporting to the managers are mostly of the unable and unwilling type because assessing the ability as well as willingness levels of the managers was not within the purview of this study. It is quite likely that the managers either perceive their subordinates to be both unable and unwilling or they consider the selling style to be the best style to adopt in the context of their organisation.

In general, the managers' preferences (from high to low) for the four styles were found to be in the order, Style-2, Style-3, Style-1, and Style-4, respectively. The minimum scores on styles 1, 3, and 4 is seen to be '0' indicating that some managers not at all prefer to use these styles of leadership at their workplace. An inspection of the data sheet shows the frequency of score '0' in Style-1, Style-3, and style-4 to be 12, 6, and 111, respectively. Interestingly, it is observed that a very large section of managers (approximately 79 percent) refrain from using Style-4 leadership. Lack of balance in the use of styles is clearly evident from the results. The mean scores for the four styles would have been around 3.00, had there been some balance in the use of these styles.

The range of the effectiveness score in the LEAD instrument is -24 through 0 to +24. In this study, the effectiveness scores of the managers

ranged from -8.00 to +17.00, with a mean score of 6.74, which is somewhat above average. On the whole, the managers seem to be wanting in leadership ad aptab ility or effectiveness.

The inter-correlations among the variables studied are given in Table-II. As regards the correlations among the four styles, all the pearson correlation coefficients are found to be negative, with most of the values being significant. This is on account of the relative choice format employed in the LEAD questionnaire, wherein style scores are interdependent. So, higher scores on some styles would mean lesser scores on the others. Correlation coefficients of Style-2 and Style-3 with Style-4 are not found to be significant, but the trend is negative. As such, the score range for Style-4 is very low, with a very low mean and SD, which probably explains the insignificant correlations obtained.

Out of the four styles, Style-1 (i.e., HT and LR) is negatively related to effectiveness, whereas, Style-3 (i.e., LT and HR) is positively related to effectiveness. This means that managers who are task masters (i.e., telling style) are not effective while those scoring higher on the participating style of leadership show greater effectiveness or leadership adaptability. In respect of age, only Style-4 (i.e., LT and LR) is seen to be correlated with it. It seems that with increasing age managers are adopting the delegating style more. Age is also not correlated with effectiveness. This means that managers higher in age are not necessarily more effective vis-a-vis their younger counterparts. Since almost all the participant managers have risen from the ranks in the company, their experience level is commensurate with their age. One would find a high association between age and experience of the managers if a correlation between the two is worked out. Therefore, work experience also does not seem to be related to the managers' effectiveness.

In the next step of analysis, possible similarities/differences in the four styles as well as effectiveness for groups differing in age were explored. Median age of forty six was used as the cut-off point for dividing the sample of one hundred and forty managers into two groups, namely, low-age group of 23-46 years (n1 = 74) and high-age group of 47-59 years (n2 = 66). The differences in the mean scores on the LEAD scale for these two groups were tested for their significance using Student's t-Test. The results are given in Table-III.

Table-III shows two of the five t-values to be significant. Firstly, t-value for Style-1 is significant, indicating that the high- and low-age groups differ in terms of their use of telling style. The correlation of age with Style-1 did show some trend (see Table-II). Analysis using t-Test has shown that managers in the low-age group are prone to use more telling style than managers in the high-age group. This phenomenon is normally observed in many other organizations also. Younger managers generally think that they are expected to use the method of command and control on their subordinates, while maintaining sufficient distance with them. As the managers become older, they perhaps realize this style to be counterproductive and therefore switch over to other styles.

The second significant t-value is in respect of Style-3. Correlation of age with Style-3 was not significant, though a p ositive trend was noticed. But, t-value shows that managers in the high-age group use more participating style than those in the low-age group. When both the t-values are seen together, what emerges is that the two groups clearly differ in terms of their relationship orientation. The high-age group is probably more relationship oriented than the low-age group. Another interesting fact is that, Style-3 is highly associated with effectiveness, which implies that effectiveness increases with increase in relationship orientation. It also plausible that effective managers have more relationship orientation than task orientation in their styles.

Further analysis of the data consisted of identifying the dominant leadership styles of the low-age and high-age groups of managers. The style having the maximum score is considered as the dominant style of the respondent. The frequency distribution of the dominant leadership styles of managers falling in the two groups is presented in Table-IV. Cases where there is a tie in the maximum score are separated and put under 'Combinations of Styles.'

Results given in Table-IV show the frequencies in respect of Style-1 and Style-3 to be varying considerably. While Style-1 is predominantly utilized by the low-age group, Style-3 is relatively more preferred by the high-age group. These findings are in line with the results obtained after the t-Test and reported in Table-III. Further, it can be seen from Table-IV that there is no marked difference in the frequencies of the two groups for Style-2. As regards Style-4, not a single manager from the two groups has manifested this as a dominant style.


The conclusions of this study could be generalized to apply for middle level managers working in this public sector company. Firstly, the managers, irrespective of their age group, seem to have a clear preference for Style-2 leadership style over the other three styles. On the contrary, Style-4 is very rarely preferred by the managers. Secondly, the leadership adaptability or effectiveness level of the managers is seen to be in the above-average category. This means that the managers do not seem to use the different leadership styles judiciously and in accordance with the situational demands. Thirdly, it was observed that managers tend to adopt Style-4 more with advancing age, though the overall use of this style remains very low. However, contrary to expectation, the managers' effectiveness did not increase with age. The fourth observation was that Style-1 is comparatively more preferred by managers from the low-age group, whereas, Style-3 is comparatively more preferred by those from the high-age group. Finally, it has emerged that Style-2 is the dominant style of the managers irrespective of their age group while Style-4 is not a dominant style for any of the managers.

There are a few limitations of this study which could be overcome in future attempts to extend this study. The major limitation of the study is that, the key characteristics of the subordinates, viz., ability level and extent of willingness (which together determine their maturity level in the Heresy Blanchard Model), have not been taken into consideration. Therefore, it is not possible to know the appropriateness of the preferred leadership styles which the managers use while dealing with their subordinates. The other limitation is that the styles of the managers were determined through the LEAD questionnaire wherein only a limited number of hypothetical situations are presented and a sel f-rep ort technique is employed to get the responses. It is not sure as to whether the questionnaire responses truly reflect the actual leadership styles of the managers they exercise as they confront such situations in the company. Notwithstanding these limitations, this study throws some light on the existing leadership styles of the managers in the company. This understanding can pave the way for training interventions required in the company.

Implications for Training

The implications of the findings could be significant for management development in today's context wherein organizations are increasingly making use of self-assessments of soft skills while identifying training needs of the managers. This study provides a strong case for developing the leadership skills of the middle level managers in the company through proper training. In general, the managers are found to have preponderance of a particular style which is hindering their leadership adaptability or effectiveness. Through training they could be sensitized about the situational appropriateness of the different styles and also the need for flexibility. Based on the trends indicated by the study it is believed that manager in the lower age group are playing the role of a task master whereas the managers in the higher age group are playing a delegating role by abdicating their responsibilities. Through training, younger managers should be made to move away from Style-1 and judiciously use other styles by adopting more relationship orientation On the other hand, older managers should avoid getting stuck in Style-3 as well as Style-4 and start using other styles which have more task orientation. This would bring about more balance in their leadership styles. Goleman (2000) stated that leaders who want the best results should not rely on a single leadership style.

The SLT is widely used in management training, particularly on Blanchard's (1985) version of executive coaching. For instance, the Norwegian Institute of Management has used this method in their training (Irgens, 1995). According to Hersey, Blanchard, and Johnson (2006), leadership training entails executives to develop and apply the three basic competencies in influencing--diagnosing, adapting, and communicating. Firstly, executives are trained to develop the sensitivity and diagnostic ability to sense and appreciate the differences in organizational contexts. This sums up the belief of Schein (1965) that "the successful manager must be a good diagnostician and must value a spirit of enquiry" (p. 61). Secondly, executives are made to adapt their leadership style to meet the demands of their work environment. This means that, they have to actually demonstrate certain behaviours which are in line with the appropriate leadership style required in a particular situation. Thirdly, executives are imparted skills in communicating their message in a way that their subordinates can easily understand and accept. The managers considered in this study need to build on all the three basic competencies for leading. It is felt that the company's gains could be immense if the management undertakes a training intervention on these lines for all the middle level managers.

Note: The name of the company has been withheld to protect its identity.


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Dr. Shreekumar K. Nair Professor, National Institute of Industrial Engineering, Mumbai.
Descriptive Statistics

Variable Minimum Maximum Mean Standard

Age 23.00 59.00 46.88 7.81
Style-1 0.00 7.00 2.88 1.51
Style-2 2.00 12.00 5.90 1.88
Style-3 0.00 10.00 3.18 1.78
Style-4 0.00 3.00 0.28 0.80
Effectiveness -8.00 17.00 8.74 4.82

Inter-Correlations Among the Variables

 1 2 3
1. Age -
2. Style-1 -0.14 -
3. Style-2 -0.05 -0.4 ** -
4. Style-3 0.12 -0.35 ** -O.66 **
5. Style-4 0.17 * -0.22 ** -0.12
6. Effectiveness -0.02 -0.43 ** 0.07

 4 5 6
1. Age
2. Style-1
3. Style-2
4. Style-3 -
5. Style-4 -0.02 -
6. Effectiveness 0.27 ** 0.05

* Significant at 0.05 level.

** Significant at 0.01 level.

Mean Scores on the LEAD Scale for Low and High Age Groups
and the Results of t-Test

Variable Group N Mean SD SEDM t-value

Style-1 Low 74 2.89 1.55 0.25 1.9 *
 High 88 2.39 1.43

Style-2 Low 74 8.03 1.95 0.32 0.88
 High 88 5.78 1.75

Style-3 Low 74 2.88 1.44 0.30 -2.04
 High 88 3.48 2.05

Style-4 Low 74 0.20 0.49 0.10 -1.59
 High 88 0.38 0.89

Effective-ness Low 74 8.55 5.05 0.78 -0.49
 High 88 8.94 4.12

* Significant at 0.05 level.

Frequently Distribution of Dominant Leadership Styles of Low
and High Age Groups

 Style-1 Style-2 Style-3

Low-Age Group 6 53 6
 (Age 23-46 Yrs.)
High-Age Group 2 47 11
 (Age 47-59 Yrs.)
Total 8 100 17

 Style-4 Combinations
 of Styles

Low-Age Group 0 9
 (Age 23-46 Yrs.)
High-Age Group 0 6
 (Age 47-59 Yrs.)
Total 0 115
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Author:Nair, Shreekumar K.
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Apr 1, 2009
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