Leadership in Organizations: Concepts and Theories

November 4, 2012

This week’s post sets us up for a look in to some of the numerous concepts and theories pertaining to leadership. Larry Coutts, Ph.D. and Director, Research and Development at EPSI Inc. has reviewed an incredible amount of literature on the matter and shares with you the highlights of his findings.

As organizations strive to create high-performing workplaces that anticipate and respond to dynamic changes in the workplace and the global community, the role of leadership becomes increasingly important. After 80 years of research and over 10,000 scientific studies, we know that quality of leadership is central to the survival and success of organizations.

The Nature of Leadership

But what is leadership? Is it different from “management” or “administration?”  Historically and practically, these terms have been used interchangeably. Are these terms really synonymous? Many researchers think not, believing that management requires administrative oversight, but not necessarily the manifestation of leadership. Leadership implies providing a vision of the future and inspiring others to find ways to make the vision a reality. As such, a large component of leadership is implicitly future-oriented. In contrast, management and administration refer more to present-oriented activities. For example, based on the work of Rabindra Kanungo at McGill University, the key differences between “management” and “leadership” can be summarized as follows.



1.      Engages in day-to-day caretaker activities: maintains and allocates resources Formulates long-term objectives for reforming the system: Plans strategy and tactics
2.      Exhibits supervisory behaviour: Acts to make others maintain standard job behaviour Exhibits leading behaviour: Acts to bring about change in others congruent with long-term objectives
3.      Administers subsystems within organizations Innovates for the entire organization
4.      Asks how and when to engage in standard practice Asks what and why to change standard practice
5.      Acts within established culture of the organization Creates vision and meaning for the organization
6.      Uses transactional influence: Induces compliance in manifest behaviour using rewards, sanctions, and formal authority Uses transformational influence: Induces change in values, attitudes, and behaviour using personal examples and expertise
7.      Relies on control strategies to get things done by subordinates Uses empowering strategies to make followers internalize values
8.      Status quo supporter and stabilizer Status quo challenger and change creator

To understand the leadership role, it is necessary to understand the variety of tasks that get carried out in successful organizations. As depicted in Figure 1, Quinn (1988) has categorized these tasks in a model known as the “Competing Values Framework.”  The tasks are divided along two dimensions: an internal-external focus and a flexibility-control focus.

The internal-external dimension refers to the extent that the focus is either inwards (toward employee issues and/or production processes) or outwards (toward the marketplace, government regulations, and the changing social, environmental, and technological conditions of the future). The flexibility-control dimension refers to the competing demands of staying focused on doing what has been done in the past versus being more flexible in orientation and outlook. Figure 1 also outlines the variety of roles (i.e., innovator, broker, producer, director, coordinator, monitor, facilitator, and mentor) that a leader must adopt.


Figure 1: Leadership Roles and Competencies

Check in with us next week for more on the topic… In the meantime, if you have any questions that you’d like answered, there’s no time like the present!

Larry Coutts, Ph.D.



Bass, B. M. (1998). Transformational leadership. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Conger, J. A., & Kanungo, R. N. (1998). Charismatic leadership in organizations. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Fiedler, F. E. (1967). A theory of leadership effectiveness.  New York: McGraw-Hill.

Hersey, P, and Blanchard, K. H. (1988). Management of organizational behaviour. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Hersey, P, Blanchard, K. H., & Johnson, D. E. (2001). Management of organizational behaviour, 8th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

House, R. J. (1971). A path-goal theory of leader effectiveness. Administrative Science Quarterly, 16, 321-338.

House, R. J. (1996). Path-goal theory of leadership: Lessons, legacy and a reformulated theory. Leadership Quarterly, 7, 323-352.

House, R. J., & Aditya, R. (1997). The social scientific study of leadership: Quo vadis. Journal of Management, 23, 409-474.

Kanungo, R. N. (1998). Leadership in organizations: Looking ahead to the 21st century. Canadian Psychology, 39(1-2).

Kirkpatrick, S. A., & Locke, E. A. (1991). Leadership: Do traits matter? The Executive, 5(2), 48-60.

Lowe, K. B., Kroeck, K. G., & Sivasubramaniam, N. (1996). Effectiveness correlates of transformation and transactional leadership: A meta-analytic review of the MLQ literature. Leadership Quarterly, 7, 385-425.

Quinn, R. E. (1988). Beyond Rational Management. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Inc.

Schriesheim, C. A., Cogliser, C. C., & Neider, L. L. (1995). Is it trustworthy? A multiple-levels-of analysis re-examination of an Ohio State leadership study with implications for future research. Leadership Quarterly, Summer, 111-145.

Yukl, G. (1998). Leadership in organizations (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Yukl, G. A., Wall, S, & Lepsinger, R. (1990). Preliminary report on validation of the management practices survey. In K. E. Clark & M. B. Clark (Eds.), Measures of leadership (pp. 223-238). West Orange, NJ: Leadership Library of America.


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